If you have noticed your pup is acting stressed, the best thing you can do is identify the symptoms, causes, and then act as soon as possible to help heal your dog. Catching these signs during the early phases is key to getting any anxiety issues under control.
Let's explore why dogs get anxious, how to identify the signs, and what you can do about it.
Signs of a Dog Feeling Anxiety
Decoding your dog's body language for signs of anxiety isn't hard if you know what to look for. Some subtle signs of anxiety to watch for are seeking solitude and hiding away from you and other people, especially if they have never done that before.
On the other hand, some dogs will actually seek out more comfort and affection when anxious. Shaking and panting is another sign of dog anxiety. If they shake and pant excessively they may be feeling stressed, nervous, and anxious. Paw biting and chewing also signal anxiety. They may lick the fur on their paws and legs as well.
More apparent signs of anxiety in dogs are excessive barking, howling, aggression towards other dogs, excessive energy, pooping indoors when they never have before, destruction of furniture and other household objects, and panic attacks. Panic attacks in dogs vary widely, but some common symptoms are pacing, rapid breathing, panting, drooling, ears down, tail between legs, whining, and excessive barking.
- Panic attacks
- Excessive barking and/or howling
- Excessive energy or sleeping
- Aggression towards others dogs
- Destruction of house items
- Seeking more affection than usual
- Seeking solitude and hiding
- Biting, chewing, and licking paws
History of Dogs Feeling Anxiety
Today, it is estimated that nearly two-thirds of all dogs suffer from fear and anxiety, which is a staggering amount. Dogs don't have to necessarily worry about where to hunt their food or if a predator will get them, but they have new anxieties about being left alone, thunderstorms, traveling, or any number of fear-provoking situations.
Anxiety was not always understood as a mental disorder in humans, and even more recently it was still not known whether dogs could really suffer from mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. However, recent studies have shown they do indeed suffer in the same way humans do from these mental illnesses.
Many dog owners claim their dog developed anxieties and fears following a traumatic event. For instance, someone took their puppy to a fireworks display on the 4th of July with the intent that they puppy may enjoy the light display. Rather, the puppy was terrified of the loud booms and barked, cried, and tried to run away from the fireworks as fast as possible. The dog was even defecating as he was running away from the loud booms. Since the event, the dog is now scared of loud sounds that resemble fireworks and will bark excessively until they noises stop.
Science Behind Dogs with Anxiety
Dogs suffering from anxiety and stress has been a common issue that spans a large period of time. Some dogs are born with a higher genetic tendency to be more fearful or anxious than other dogs. We see this in humans as well - some people are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and fear than others are.
This is due to chemical imbalances in the brain. However, it is more likely that your dog has developed anxiety from some sort of traumatic experience that happened during their lifetime.
For instance, maybe your dog had a bad experience with fireworks that made him very fearful. Moving forward, your dog may be very scared of loud noises like things falling, thunder, fireworks on the TV or in real life because they can pull from their memory bank and remember how scared they were during that initial traumatic firework experience.
Training for Dogs with Anxiety
You need to encourage them to feel calm and comfortable by playing with them, petting them, or doing something they like in that new environment.
If your dog is showing signs of stress and anxiety, it is tempting to want to calm them down by showing an abundance of affection and giving them treats, however, this must be avoided as your dog may think you are rewarding them for anxious behavior. If they do wind up acting out, you also want to avoid any harsh punishment. This will only serve to make them more anxious and fearful in that environment and situation.
You will also need to try desensitization exercises with them. This is when you try and have them react neutrally to the thing(s) that give them anxiety. You would begin by exposing them to a weak version of whatever is causing them anxiety, like being left alone. Then you gradually increase the exposure to the stimulus in higher degrees until they can remain calm at the highest degree of exposure. This can be achieved by rewarding them treats when they are being good and distracting them by engaging their other senses.
Creating a safe place for your dog when they are feeling anxious is also a great way to help them cope with their anxieties. One example of this is to teach your pup that their crate is a safe and happy place to go when they are feeling scared and anxious. Have toys and blankets in the crate to keep them warm and comfortable. You can even cover the crate fully or partially with a blanket to make it even more like a den.
How To React When Your Dog Feels Anxiety
Don't force them to interact with other dogs.
Keep them away from situations that are overstimulating.
Be gentle with them - especially when training.
Make sure you give them time to recharge.
Safety Tips for When Your Dog Feels Anxious
Seek professional help if needed.
Don't force them into uncomfortable situations, especially with high energy dogs.