Dog Anxiety: what pet owners need to know

Dog Tips Jul 20, 2020

Like humans, dogs can suffer from stress. And, just like us, it affects each pup individually. Meaning that how your pooch exhibits their anxious behaviours can depend on a lot of things, including their history, circumstance and even their breed.

Unfortunately, there's a general lack of understanding around the complexities of dog anxiety, which can cement ongoing stress-related behavioural problems if they're not dealt with appropriately. And of course, this can make it more tricky to handle in the long term.

And because each pup is unique, you'll likely encounter a myriad of unexpected challenges and setbacks when trying to deal with an anxious puppy.

But don't despair because we've put together a simple guide to help you identify any stress-related behaviours your pup may be displaying. As well as offer some guidance on moving forward.

Anxiety checklist

Some medical issues are often mistaken for anxiety—for instance, canine urinary incontinence. So make sure you rule out any medical conditions for things such as toileting accidents before you explore treatments and therapies for stress.

Another critical tip is to always remain calm and consistent when dealing with your anxious pooch. Yelling and physical punishment are unlikely to change any behavioural issues. And will likely only increase your pooches stress levels.

And remember that dogs can sense our own reactions to stressful situations. So, try to be consistently relaxed and confident around your fur-baby.

  • When leaving your dog alone, keep your goodbyes short. Also, it's better if you don't make a fuss when you return.
  • Even if your dog whines or makes other unhappy noises, don't react with soothing sounds, as this will only reinforce the behaviour.
  • Teach simple training commands to let your dog know that you're in control.

You'll find that when you are calm and self-assured, your dog will feel more at ease in any situation.

Behaviour and breed

Some dog breeds are considered more susceptible to anxiety. German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers and Boxers, for instance, are deemed more prone to stress. But a lack of socialization during the first months of life or being a rescue dog can also indicate a high risk of the disorder.

But any dog can develop phobias for objects, people or specific situations because of past traumatic experiences.

Probably, the most common expression of doggy stress is separation anxiety. And this is often displayed through destructive behaviours when left home alone. But there are other situations when your pooch may get excessively worried:

  • They may be triggered by loud or unusual noises.
  • You may notice some behavioural issues following a sudden change in routine.
  • Your dog may get stressed out if they feel confined. This can be in a small space, or they may even react badly to being hugged.

Each of these situations can manifest fear and generate a habitual negative response.

Signs and symptoms

Most dogs will exhibit their anxiety physically. And some things to look out are:

  • Constant barking and howling
  • Urinating or defecating
  • Intense pacing and restlessness
  • Hiding or withdrawal
  • Aggression
  • And destructive chewing

Escaping, scratching and digging are considered typical doggy traits but constant displays of this type of behaviour can also be linked to stress. It's essential to monitor your dog to get a better understanding of personality versus actions that are problematic to health and home life.

Disciplining your dog for what you think is naughty behaviour rather than anxiety could make things worse. People often confuse anxiety with boredom, attention-seeking and inadequate training. So before seeking treatment for your dog's anxiety, make sure you understand the triggers.

Physical exercise

Once you know what you're dealing with, implementing some simple changes can help. For instance, regular physical exercise can help soothe an anxious pup. So, ensure your pet goes for a walk, jog or swim daily. Try to vary the types of activity to keep your puppy intellectually stimulated too. And when you can't go outside, engage your pet in fun and exciting games such as durable chew toys or a food puzzle.

Daily vigorous exercise and mental stimulation can help:

  • Relieve the stress
  • Keep your fur-baby healthy
  • Get rid of pent-up energy

The outcomes of exercise on your dog's behaviour are far-reaching. They'll likely be less destructive in the home, for instance. From a human perspective, it's essential to match activities to your lifestyle and your dog's personality. That way, they'll be more manageable, and you're more likely to stick to a healthy routine.

Desensitize your dog

The gradual exposure to situations you know your dog reacts negatively to can help them overcome general anxiety. And this low-intensity stimulus teaches your dog they are safe and secure. And a positive reward, with treats or one on one playtime, will help cement their confidence. Some everyday stress inducers to be aware of are:

  • Cars (or anything with wheels!).
  • Loud or strange noises; fireworks are a big one for many dogs.
  • Crowds such as busy farmers markets.
  • Being alone is probably the one most dog owners are familiar with.

Training your dog to be independent early on means you can safely and confidently leave them alone. Take it slow at first. Leaving the house for a few minutes at a time initially. Then slowly build up the time your pet is alone. Eventually, your dog should be at ease when you leave the house but be vigilant of any stress indicators before you progress.

Introduce a crate

If done correctly, crate training is an excellent aid for your pup's anxiety and being properly crated should make your dog feel safe and relaxed. The success of crate training can vary from dog to dog but if you're keen to give it a go try:

  • Putting favourite treats and toys inside for positive association.
  • Giving your puppy lots of opportunities to enter the crate voluntarily.
  • Let your furbaby explore the new space.

The bottom line

Giving an anxious pup treats or making positive gestures may reinforce stress as a positive behaviour if done incorrectly. It may feel like you're comforting your fur-baby, but it's not.

And if you do have to leave your dog for a more extended period, make sure they're with everyday items such as a favourite toy.

Consider hiring a dog walker if you leave your puppy alone for more than a few hours daily.

And perhaps look into smaller boutique kennels rather than larger, louder spaces when you go on holidays. This should help keep your furbaby calm and comfortable while you are gone.

You should always seek the assistance of a vet or professional trainer if your dog's negative behaviours are persistent. And remember that there are different types of stress. So not all symptoms are the same.

With guidance and medical intervention, you can help your dog overcome his fears, and ensure they lead a long, happy and healthy life with you.

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