There are many different factors that can result in an anxious or stressful dog. As a pet owner, you want to be able to help your canine companion. It is ideal to consult with your veterinarian for advice on how to mitigate anxiety and stressful behaviors. However, there are some stress episodes that can occur spontaneously, and you want to be able to quickly get your pup to relax in that moment.
Signs that a dog is stressed
If a dog is suddenly stressed, he might not act like his normal self. Stressed or anxious dogs tend to shake, tremble, or they may run and hide. They may try to escape certain situations or run from inanimate objects. If your dog thinks of nail trims or bathing as stressful things, he may bolt when he sees you approaching with nail trimmers or sees you filling up the bathtub. Even if you try coaxing him with treats and sweet talk, he probably knows what’s about to happen.
Other signs of stress include panting and pacing. If a dog’s tail is tucked between his legs and his ears are back and down, flat against his head, he is likely stressed or anxious. He may try to avoid looking at you and will direct his gaze elsewhere. Nervous dogs can also vocalize and bark. Some anxious dogs can become so severely affected that they may resort to destructive behaviors. They can try to chew, scratch, or bite their way to escape a scary situation. They may even bite or chew at themselves, licking their paws or legs to the point of developing a skin infection.
What can cause stress in dogs?
Dogs can become stressed due to one or many things. Your furry friend may be averse to loud sounds like thunder or the noise from the garbage truck coming down the street. Other people or animals may cause him to bark and run or hide. Even things like new or inanimate objects can cause stress and anxiety in dogs. Some dogs become very attached to their owner or family members, so when that person leaves for the day, dogs with separation anxiety will show signs of stress.
When proper socialization is instilled, dogs can become more confident and more quickly acclimated to new things, places, people, and animals. Early socialization is particularly useful. Without socialization, dogs may be more easily frightened or stressed by these stimuli.
Genetics can also play a role in the development of anxiety, and prior experiences with trauma or stressful stimuli can also worsen anxiety. For some dogs, sudden changes in schedule or changes in the environment can be an issue. In seniors, the onset of canine cognitive dysfunction (aka doggie dementia) can cause anxiety and restlessness. Other stress-inducing health problems include heart disease, arthritis pain, and eye problems.
Helping a dog with stress
Most dogs with stress and anxiety need to go through behavior modification and training to help mitigate their clinical signs. Part of this involves training techniques such as classical conditioning and desensitization. In cases where anxiety is severe, your veterinarian may need to prescribe an anti-anxiety medication. Medications like fluoxetine and clomipramine have been FDA-approved for their usage in dogs with anxiety. There are also calming supplements, diets, and treats that are available to help keep dogs calm and stress-free.