Telltale Signs of Anxiety In Dogs to Watch Out For
Despite a schedule that includes nothing more than sleeping, eating, and playing, you would think your dog should automatically be happy. But the truth is that even under the best circumstances in the world, your canine friend can still struggle.
Even though it may seem like they are living a care-free lifestyle, your dog can still suffer from anxiety. Treating dog anxiety can be difficult as your dog can not really effectively communicate the reasons behind it.
You have to learn to read body language and be aware of the signs of anxiety so we can help our buddies cope.
If you are worried that your pet may be anxious, this article identifies signs of anxiety and the symptoms too. An understanding of these will help you best care for your dog.
Causes of Anxiety in Pet Dogs
Just as some people are naturally more anxious than others, some dogs are more prone to anxiety. This can be down to genetics and indeed some breeds are more prone to anxiety.
Dogs that form a hyper-attachment to specific people, can also suffer from separation anxiety. This is anxiety the dog experiences when left alone.
When they are left and that person isn't present, the dog goes into panic mode and starts acting out. Dogs with separation anxiety make up around 14% of all dogs it is thought.
Dogs may experience greater levels of anxiety if they had experienced trauma in early life. Also, environmental factors such as high noise level or commotion can lead to dog anxiety.
With separation anxiety dogs have the chance to act out away from your watchful eye you may return home to find things chewed or that your dog has peed in the house for example.
Other forms of dog anxiety such as those triggered by noise phobia can result in a different style of acting out. Your dog may run away, for example, start pacing or barking. We will now move on to explore the potential outcomes you may witness when a dog has anxiety.
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
Chewing- Chewing on any object they can find is your dog's way of stress relief. Releasing negative energy through the destruction of slippers, door frames amongst others is commonplace with dog anxiety.
There is, however, a better way! Leave your dog with toys specifically designed for chewing or a bone for example. Make sure that whatever you leave them is dog friendly and safe.
Running Away- A sign of anxiety, escaping behaviors are dangerous for your dog. Often triggered by loud noises where your dog has anxiety that is related to noise phobia.
The only way to deal with this practice is to try and keep your dog on a leash where this could become a problem i.e in built-up areas. Also, ensure your house and the boundary to your home is secure.
Yawning- Constant yawning is a sign of anxiety that oftentimes is missed. It is more than just your dog getting sleepy. Combined with lots of lip licking and it could well be that your dog has anxiety. These body language signs of nervousness potentially show that your dog is suffering from dog anxiety and could benefit from help.
Hiding- Dogs that are anxious try to avoid situations that create anxiety within the nervous system.
Therefore they may hide away from people and avoid situations or things that scare them.
Meeting with a dog trainer for naturally fearful dogs can be a good way to help. They generally are conditioned with a reward system approach to become more comfortable with the things that scare them.
Shaking- Trembling when scared is one of the easier body language signs that we as owners can pick up on. If your dog looks visibly scared chances are that they are.
This is time to comfort your dog. Pick them up pet and reassure them. However, use caution as your dog's anxiety can naturally turn to aggression.
If this is happening often it may be that your dog needs the help of a behavioral therapist.
Pacing- One of the key signs of anxiety in dogs is when they are frequently pacing around your house. This may be due to general boredom.
In order to help this form of anxiety, you can introduce more exercise for your dog. This works to stimulate your dog and furthermore the production of positive brain chemicals such as serotonin works to boost mood.
In addition, another way to help with boredom would be to introduce puzzling games and stimulating toys, discovery mats are a good example of this.
Non-Stop Barking- Being vocal as a reaction to something they hear or see outside for example is normal.
When your dog barks constantly with no apparent reason for this it may be the case that your dog has an anxiety disorder. Your dog may well have a noise phobia.
A good way to help your dog and alleviate anxiety in this circumstance is to use music therapy. Playing gentle music or indeed white noise can help to mask the trigger sounds for the barking.
Pee Dribbling- Leaving a trail of pee around the house is a massive sign that dogs are experiencing anxiety. Urine dribbling or indeed defecation happens during the "fight or flight response" to fear.
Your dog produces a nervous system response, much like us humans do. This results in relaxation of the bladder and anal sphincter muscles that then allows these accidents to occur.
Try to be mindful of the fact that this is not due to your dog forgetting their training or intentionally acting out, it is a by-product of fear.
Do not yell at your dog in these circumstances as it will accentuate the anxiety and reinforce that they have something to fear.
Tail Thumping- We tend to think of all tail movements with dogs to indicate that they are happy. However, this is not the case.
Think of tail thumping as the slower more sheepish movement of the tail. If when you are returning home your dog is tail thumping rather than the high paced frantic tail-wagging of a happy dog, it may be that they are suffering from separation anxiety.
In this case, the way to help them is to try bonding with them this will help them feel more at ease.
In addition, an important technique is to make your home environment more comfortable for them. Introduce a safe haven corner of your home exclusively as your dog's space. Have their favorite indoor toys snuggle blanket, soft material comforting goods around them to help them feel secure.
Indeed something that helps most dog's separation anxiety cases is the use of a calming dog bed.
The materials and design of these beds will help a separation anxiety dog as they mimic the feeling of nestling with their mom when they were a pup.
What Happens When Dog Anxiety Goes Untreated
Anxiety in your dog should be treated quickly to avoid it reaching dangerous levels.
Anxiety can scale up very quickly in dogs if it is not nipped in the bud quickly. This means that a dog that started out as mildly anxious can be destroying things in the house, self-harming, or running away in a relatively small space of time.
Some people do not attribute these behaviors to health conditions and therefore think the dog is just acting out being naughty deliberately.
It is a sad fact that this can lead to the dog being re-homed. This in turn then leads to further anxiety for dogs put in this situation.
Alternative Treatment Options for Your Dog
Anxiety can become hardwired in the brain over time, therefore the earlier it is detected and treated the better it will be for the dogs.
Medical Treatment- In extreme cases of anxiety where the anxiety is so high it inhibits the dog's ability to learn, medications may be prescribed.
Anti-anxiety medications can be used to take the edge off of the fear that leads to anxiety. For instance sometimes where a dog is severely noise phobic they can be given anti-anxiety medication when a thunderstorm is a forecast for example.
These medications are not sedatives, sedatives merely mask a problem and can in turn lead to dogs becoming wearier of noise in general.
Behavioral Training- As aforementioned behavioral training by way of associating something your dogs fear with a reward i.e a treat or something they like can have a dramatic positive effect.
For example, a dog that fears car journeys can be over time conditioned, firstly rewarding them when they get close to the car. Then stepping this up rewarding them again when they get into the car, and then before a ride.
This can progress in stages until they have a treat after the ride has taken place. Each dog is an individual, however, and you will need to understand that each dog has individual needs that will dictate how quickly you can work through these conditioning steps.
Hug Your Dog When Fear Arises- Old school approaches stated that you should not pet or cuddle dogs during times of anxiety as this behavior is then reinforced. However, nowadays a new school of thought has emerged.
Treat anxious dogs as if they are crying during anxiety, go ahead give them a cuddle. On the market now you can buy thunder shirts to help dogs get over the anxiety of thunderstorms for instance as the pressure exerted makes them feel that they are receiving a cuddle from you.
As previously mentioned calming dog beds can help and work very effectively in the same way.
The beds are hence not only effective in dealing with separation anxiety but also other forms of anxiety where a cuddle from the owner would reassure, dogs can instead nestle into the safety and comfort of a bed.