Many people experience stress and anxiety to varying degrees in the course of their lives, be it due to problems at work or with their social lives. While most can find ways to manage their stress levels, others can find that the pressure they come under is hugely damaging to both their mental and physical health. The same is true of dogs, who due to their lack of ability to rationalize away problems, can quickly start to exhibit signs of ill health due to emotional distress. There are a variety of reasons that a dog can start to feel anxious – mostly to do with their social lives and daily routine.
While these causes may seem minor to an outside observer, stress and anxiety can lead a dog to undergo behavioral changes (such as increased lethargy or even aggression) and can even be a factor behind the development of severe health problems (such as insomnia, stomach ulcers, hair loss, weight loss and a compromised immune system). As such, it is wise to neutralize the causes of anxiety in a dog’s life before they become a serious issue.
What Causes Anxiety In Dogs?
Travel – Most dogs enjoy a fairly predictable living environment that they view as part of their ‘territory’, providing a safe harbor that they can return to at will. This is the reason behind levels of wariness towards strangers who approach their owner’s property (such as delivery drivers) and their somewhat predictable ‘patrols’ of their house. However, while dogs are fine with frequent day trips to the park or beach, constant travel to new and seemingly disconnected locales can induce feelings of anxiety due to the lack of familiarity.
As a means of reducing the stress that your dog may feel while traveling on a long-term basis, try to maintain a sense of continuity and balance in the routine. If your furry companion is provided with the same bed or cushion to sleep on each night, this can reduce stress levels. Similarly, if your pup is traveling due to work, regular affirmation of their skills and value via rewards can be used to calm them.
Conflict With Other Animals – One of the most common scenarios in which dogs will become anxious, is if they are left in a kennel for a significant period of time. While separation from their owner can also induce stress, one of the main reasons that kennels may prove intimidating is the presence of other, potentially unfriendly dogs. This can also occur at home, where a neighbor’s unfriendly dog can act in a constantly aggressive manner towards your pooch. Time away from the problem and behavioral training can go a long way toward stopping your dog from becoming stressed, but a more effective solution is to end the conflict itself.
This can be done via methods such as supervised interaction with the dog with both owners present, or by simply removing one of them from the situation (by using a fence to obscure sightlines or simply by taking a different route on a morning walk). That said, cutting contact between the two feuding animals is by far the easiest and safer solution in the long term, as dogs do not reconcile their differences easily.
Socialization – The vast majority of dogs love to explore new environments and meet new people as well as other canines. However, too much of this activity can start to wear thin and test the dog’s patience, causing irritability and loss of energy. Constantly having new people and animals entering their home can cause the dog to feel uncomfortable, especially if this is a sudden change in lifestyle. To prevent this, accustom your pooch to meeting new people and guests from a young age. Take them into public spaces and have friends interact with them when visiting. This will desensitize your pup to frequent contact with people and animals. This can be effective in the long-term, as habits learned and reinforced from an early age will typically stay with your dog for life.
Dog training classes can also prove stressful, as your four-legged buddy will be expected to perform new tasks in an environment surrounded by strange people and dogs. While rewards and praise can help alleviate this, some dogs benefit more from individual attention from the trainer or from training at home instead. Conversely, social isolation can also prove a source of anxiety for any animal with a natural group instinct.
Poor Nutrition – Canines are much more sensitive to nutritional deficits in their diet than people are, exhibiting symptoms much faster than humans if they do not receive the proper amount of vitamins and minerals. This will have physical effects on a dog’s health, and can also take a mental toll. This is because the dog will find it harder and harder to perform the tasks required and to keep up with other animals during playtime.
Feed your dog a properly balanced diet, containing a high level of protein (red meat, fish, and poultry) and fats along with the essential minerals needed for good health. Along with an adequate diet comes an exercise requirement. Obesity can lead not just to emotional problems such as anxiety and depression, but to physical conditions like heart disease and joint pain. If your pup lacks mental and physical stimulation, they will find other ways to entertain themselves as they become more and more restless, often destroying furniture and other household items.
The Vet Can Give Advice
It is very straightforward to attend to the physical health of your furry friend, but their mental health is just as important. It may be wise to consult your veterinarian if your pooch's anxiety seems to be excessive. By taking steps to minimize anxiety in their dog’s life, owners will often find that their own lives will by no coincidence become much easier as well. Reducing your pup's anxiety makes for a happier household all around.