Just like humans, dogs experience anxiety. Dog anxiety can affect all breeds, but commonly affects each dog differently. Although anxiety is something that all dogs experience from time-to-time, if left untreated, dog anxiety can lead to behavioral and other issues. So… how do you know if your dog has anxiety?
What causes dog anxiety?
Like with humans, anxiety can have a variety of causes. Three of the most common types of dog anxiety are: separation anxiety, noise anxiety, and social anxiety.
According to the AKC, separation anxiety affects around 14% of dogs. These dogs are unable to find comfort when they’re alone or when separated from their families. This anxiety often manifests itself in behaviors like peeing and/or pooping in the house, destroying furniture and furnishings, and barking.
Noise anxiety can be result from loud or unpleasant noises produced by thunderstorms, fireworks, construction sites, or even vacuum cleaners. There’s a reason so many dogs wind up in shelters or, unfortunately, lost after July 4th. Dogs will run, hide, bark, or sometimes pee to signal they are scared or threatened.
Social anxiety is anxiety to different people or environments. Unfamiliar items like hats or umbrellas can trigger anxiety, as well as strange or stressful environments like the vet’s office, a retail store, or even the car, can trigger dogs.
What should you look for?
It’s important to understand what kinds of things or environments triggers your dog’s anxiety. Look for these symptoms:
- Peeing or pooping in the house
- Destructive behavior
- Excessive barking
- Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
Some of these symptoms may be the result of occasional anxiety-causing events, but any of these can become recurrent. As you can guess, the most dangerous symptom of dog anxiety is aggression. It could manifest as a direct act towards a certain person or other animal, or as an indirect act when a person or other dog comes between the dog and the source of the dog’s aggression.
Destructive behavior is also worth noting. You’ve probably experienced your pet tearing up a stuffed animal or something more valuable in your home when you leave, but dogs in a state of heightened anxiety are also at risk of harming themselves. Attempts to break out of dog crates, windows, and even doors can result in scary injuries and expensive vet visits.
What can you do?
A high anxiety dog can be stressful but there are lots of things you can do to help. Our professional dog trainer, Nicole Ellis, has compiled a list of tips to help your pup – and you – deal with anxiety:
- Work on crate training. Take your time with this training, making sure it’s always positive and fun, so keep your sessions short. The crate should become a safe place for your dog where he/she can visit when they feel uncomfortable or stressed.
Work on building confidence. Use puzzle games to exercise your dog’s brain. This activity builds confidence also relaxes them a bit from their anxiety. Start super simple, such as leaving a treat just on/around the puzzles, so your pet becomes comfortable with the item itself. Then work up into hiding it in easy to more difficult places. My favorites are the iDig, Nina Ottosen puzzles, Kong toys, the iFetch Frenzy, and Pet Play’s wobble ball.
- Sign up for a class with your pet. I’d recommend scent work or agility. These are both great things to work on for your dog’s confidence. Also, just being in a new, safe environment with you can help grow your dog’s confidence and help them overcome their fears. Remember, be patient. Start with a short class and give lots of praise (and treats!) as you see progress.
- Set your dog up for success. As you understand what triggers your dog’s anxiety, you can work on getting your dog’s attention before the anxiety escalates. For example, if your pet gets anxious seeing other dogs, stop when your dog is far away (~25 feet) and work on some simple behaviors such as sit and touch to get their attention. Then lead your dog away from the other dog, to calm the situation before it escalates. Continue at this, getting closer and closer to the other dog each time and rewarding calm behaviors each step along the way.
- Try calming vests. Sometimes a calming vest can work. They’re like a weighted blanket or a giant hug for your pet. But these don’t work with all dogs. If you want to try before purchasing one, you can make your own using an ace bandage. Warning: Don’t put it on too tight – we don’t want your pet to lose circulation!
- Try CBD products. Note: not all CBD products are equal, and, in some states, like California, veterinarians aren’t legally allowed to recommend them. If you’d like to test it, find a CBD oil or product that is has been tested, with no additives. My favorites are Hempmypet, Honest Paws and Treatibles.
If you find over time your pet isn’t progressing, talk to your vet. There are veterinary behaviorists that could help you understand what your pet is going through and help recommend specific strategies to help lower their stress. Vets can also rule out other health issues.
Best of luck finding your Zen (and theirs)!