Just like humans, dogs have different personalities. Some are happy-go-lucky. And unfortunately, some, just like people, can suffer from anxiety.
How do I know if my dog is anxious?
An anxious dog may pace, pant, whine, or not be able to settle. Some other signs can include barking (though there are many reasons a dog may bark), and drooling.
The dog in this video is suffering badly from severe anxiety due to a storm moving in. You can see she’s panting, pacing, licking her lips, and can’t be soothed by the owner.
Why is My Dog Anxious?
“My dog wasn’t anxious before.”
Have there been any big changes in the dog’s life? Many things that can be stressful to humans can also create anxiety in a dog. Moving to a new home, a change in who lives in the home, a change in schedule, and changes in how people are getting along in a home, may all create anxiety in a dog that hasn’t shown it before.
But if not much has changed in your dog’s home life, and your dog was not previously anxious, you should get a vet check. There are numerous medical conditions that can cause dog anxiety. Ruling out anything medical is important before trying to help your dog.
As dogs age, you may also see anxiety. Sometimes what’s under the anxiety is pain. Sometimes it’s loss of sensory information when an old dog starts to go blind or deaf. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, which is like doggy dementia, can also cause anxiety. It’s especially important to get a newly anxious oldster checked our for medical causes.
“My dog has always been anxious.”
1. Recently adopted dog
If you’ve recently adopted a dog, your pup may simply need time to settle in. Moving from home to home or from shelter life into a home, can be anxiety provoking for many dogs. There are new sounds, new smells, new routines and it can all be stressful in the beginning.
2. Fear of noises.
The big 3 for noise anxiety are hunder, fireworks, and gun fire. If your dog is terrified by any of these things and is exposed to them, do speak to your veterinarian. There are medications that can be helpful. Your pup should not have to suffer. The 4th of July is an especially bad time for dogs with noise phobias.
Aside from medication, it can help to run a fan or use white, pink, or brown noise to buffer and soften the upsetting noises. You can use tv or music too but since there are gaps where the spooky noises will still be heard. A steady static-like noise works better.
Some people report that the Thundershirt and DAP plugins (or collars or spray) can help soothe some dogs.
In some cases, noise phobia is severe and the triggers include way more than just the big 3. This can be gut wrenching for the dog and the owner. It needs multifaceted treatment with a veterinarian and certified dog trainer working with the owner to help the dog.
3. Separation anxiety.
For some dogs, being left alone can cause anxiety or even total panic. Signs of separation anxiety include the dog showing stress when the humans are going through a routine that tells the dog the human is leaving soon. Dogs are great at learning associations. When you pick up a leash, they know they’re going for a walk. And when you start to get dressed or put your shoes on or pick your keys up, they know you’re leaving.
Dogs with separation anxiety may also tear the house up while you’re gone as well as potty in the house.
If your dog is tearing stuff up when you’re not home, don’t punish the dog! If the behavior is coming from anxiety, you’re just going to make it worse.
This is a serious panic disorder and needs professional intervention, ideally from a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer (CSAT) who specializes in these issues.
Should I comfort my anxious dog?
YES!!!! Please comfort your anxious dog!
Some people worry that if they comfort their dog when the dog is anxious, that it will make the dog more anxious or the dog will depend on them or that it’s somehow rewarding the anxiety.
In a thunderstorm, it’s ok to cuddle your dog or pet him to help him calm down. It’s also okay to speak in soothing tones.
Don’t ever punish or yell at your dog for being anxious. They need help!
What else can I do to help my dog’s anxiety?
What Else Can I do to Help My Dog’s Anxiety?
- Medications. If your dog is anxious much of the time, seek a veterinary behaviorist or VB. VB’s have more training and are specialized in dog behavioral problems. They may recommend medication to treat your dog’s anxiety. There are not many VB’s in the world and if you don’t have one, UC Davis offers a free vet-to-vet consultation and will work with your primary care vet.
- Exercise. Just like humans with anxiety, many dogs need more exercise. It’s not generally going to be magic if your dog has severe issues, but having time to play, to run, and to burn off energy, can help reduce anxiety even if it doesn’t eliminate it.
- Dog Appeasing Pheremone (DAP). This is a hormone that puppies smell when nursing. There is some research that suggests it may help soothe adult dogs. It comes in a spray, collar, and diffuser. I prefer the spray and will spray it on some tissue and tuck it into a dog’s collar. You can purchase it many pet shops or online at Amazon or other vendors.
- Thundershirt. Temple Grandin noted that cattle calm down when in a cattle shoot receiving vaccinations. Infants also calm down when tightly swaddled. This seems to be the theory behind the Thundershirt. I have not personally had worthwhile results but others report they are helpful. Be aware that the sound of the velcro coming off may frighten some dogs and make them even more anxious.
- Behavior Modification. Depending on your dog’s triggers, you may be able to help your dog using systematic desensitization and counter conditioning with the help of a certified dog trainer.
Anxiety is horrible to experience. And when dogs are anxious, owners can suffer too.
If you need help with your anxious dog and you’re in the greater Sacramento area, sign up for a free 15 minute phone consultation.