Do you know if your dog is suffering from anxiety? Here is a list of several symptoms to watch out for and various solutions to help solve your furry family member’s nervous tendencies.
Does your dog cling to your side or cower behind you whenever new people visit or you take him to new places? If she seems to get especially nervous in normal, everyday situations, she could be suffering from anxiety. Here’s a short overview of this disorder and a list of suggestions that you can try to help your little guy or gal gain confidence and become more comfortable in their own skin.
Symptoms of Dog Anxiety
Andrew Horan, owner and head trainer at Citizen K9 in Gainesville, Virginia says that dogs who are skittish and have an overwhelming look of fear in their eyes may be experiencing anxiety. If she is very severely anxious, she may follow you like a shadow and refuse to leave your side. If she is crate-trained, she may try desperately to break free. If strangers come near, perhaps she becomes overprotective and growls or snaps at them in an attempt to protect you from the “intruders.”
Other symptoms of dog anxiety may include panting, whining, drooling, sweating paws, and pacing. While in the midst of a nervous episode, she may shake or tuck her tail under for a prolonged period of time. When some dogs get nervous they might cry, bark, chase shadows, or urinate all over the floor when left alone.
Causes of Dog Anxiety
Horan says that really severe anxiety could be caused by a traumatic event that took place while your dog was just a puppy. Horan is certified in Canine Training and Behavior Modification through the Triple Crown Academy for Professional Dog Training in Hutto, Texas. Horan says that severe anxiety can also be triggered later on in life, as in older dogs, though this is less common than triggers from the early years.
More often than not, a dog’s anxiety is normally caused by any stressful event that caused him to lose confidence. Confidence stealing events include anything that causes changes in the environment, such as moving, marriage, or divorce. Anna King, a graduate of the Animal Behavior College who works as a dog trainer and behavior specialist at The Local Bark in Rancho Cordova, California, says that anything new, even minor events, can trigger anxiety in dogs. Some dogs are simply more sensitive than other dogs and do not adapt to changes as easily.
As you try to determine the cause of your dog’s anxiety, ask yourself the following questions:
- Have there been any changes at all made to your dog’s environment?
- Has there been a divorce, marriage, birth, or death in your family that resulted in new people moving in or familiar people leaving?
- Has the daily house schedule been altered in any way (e.g., starting school or a new job)?
- Are there any people in the house who are anxious, upset, or angry?
- Are there any chaotic disturbances that take place in your home on a regular basis?
It may be worthy to add that pets that are aging or suffering from health issues may be especially prone to anxiety, especially pets experiencing loss of vision, loss of hearing, chronic pain, mobility issues, and thyroid problems.
One final cause of dog anxiety has nothing to do with the environment, and everything to do with genetics. Some dogs can simply inherit anxious traits from their parents. If a dog seems to be anxious because of family history, then steps need to be taken as early as possible to prevent it from interfering with his quality of life.
Preventing Anxiety in the First Place
You can begin decreasing your dog’s chance of developing anxiety as soon as she is old enough to be socialized. This is especially important if she comes from parents who are anxious themselves. Begin by introducing her to new things during each and every socialization session. By doing this, you help her to gain confidence and avoid the development of nervousness when exposed to different events or environments. Continue this “exposure therapy” with lots of rewards and praises even as she ages into adulthood to increase her chances of being free of anxiety.
Boost His Confidence to Decrease Anxiety
After you have figured out what is causing your dog’s anxiety, you can gradually and consistently begin to work on exposing him to mild versions of the stressor. You will want to gradually increase the intensity of the exposure therapy until your dog gains confidence. For example, if your dog gets anxious when new people come over, enlist the help of some friends who your dog is less than familiar with. Have your friends come over in short bursts and then leave quickly. After your dog seems calmer around them, have them stay a little bit longer. If your dog gets anxious around other dogs or on a walk, try the same gradual exposure method until he is more relaxed. Whatever the stressor is, you want to help your dog build a positive association with it.
If your dog is severely anxious and none of your attempts to expose him seem to be helping, you may need to seek the help of an experienced trainer or behaviorist who will be able to fully assess your dog’s anxiety and help you formulate the best plan of action.
Obedience classes have also been found to decrease a dog’s anxiety. Teaching your dog a few basic commands, such as sit and stay, may help him to focus on your and your commands rather than whatever is stressing him.