Dogs are supposed to be happy, right? When you get a dog, you expect him to be funny, always running around, chasing his tail or the neighbor’s cat, yapping and barking to keep intruders at bay. Except that’s not always the case and sometimes you watch your dog hiding in a corner, barely interested in what’s going on, whimpering, or refusing to eat. Unfortunately, these are all signs of anxiety in dogs.
As it turns out, man’s best friend is not exempt from this all-too-human problem.
To make things even worse, your pet has no way of telling you what’s bothering him and you have to figure it out in order to help them.
Here are the main causes of anxiety in dogs, the symptoms, and the remedies to try and help your furry friend.
What Causes Dog Anxiety?
Anxiety in dogs can be caused by many things, some of them are related to your pet’s age, while some have to do with a negative experience, a change in the family situation, or by diseases, especially in senior dogs.
While there are some breeds that are more sensitive than others, it is important to know that all dogs can come down with a bout of depression or become anxious.
It can happen at any age and many pet owners are surprised to see their once happy-go-lucky dog freaking out, anxiously sitting in a corner or displaying signs of aggression. It can be heartbreaking watching dogs in distress when all we want to do is help reduce or relieve suffering for them.
As with humans, you cannot just treat the symptoms, you have to go to the root of the problem and deal with that directly. Left untreated, anxiety in dogs can have serious consequences. If the dog refuses to eat or doesn’t want to come out for a walk like he used to, his health will suffer.
Types Of Dog Anxiety
Let’s have a look at the most common types of anxiety in dogs.
Separation Anxiety in dogs
There are two types of separation anxiety in dogs:
- Separation anxiety that affects puppies
- Separation anxiety in dogs that are left alone while the family is out of the house.
When you bring a new puppy home everyone in the family will want to pet him, cuddle him and feed him tasty little treats. Your enthusiasm is understandable and the dog will enjoy being the center of attention, at least to some extent.
The puppy’s separation anxiety will most likely become apparent at night when you put him in his brand-new crate, expecting him to go to sleep by himself after an exciting first day.
This is the moment your new puppy will start acting anxiously, missing his real family, his mom and his siblings. They used to sleep together and he found comfort in their warmth and now he’s all alone with a bunch of strangers. Everything is foreign to the poor soul – the room, the sounds, the smells.
He might have enjoyed being cuddled and all, but now he wants home. This explains why many puppies whimper and bark at night. And this is how they end up sleeping in your bed. You’re not their real mom, but at least they’re not alone anymore.
Another type of separation anxiety in dogs is when you leave home and your pet finds himself alone. According to the AKC, some 14% of dogs suffer from this type of anxiety. Dogs don’t understand the concept of having a job or errands to run.
All they know is you were right there in the kitchen having breakfast and suddenly you’re not there anymore. In their mind, they’ve been left alone and God only knows when or if you’ll come back!
Breeds that are most prone to this type of anxiety are:
- Cocker spaniels
- Standard Poodles
- Border Collies
- Great Pyrenees
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
- Siberian Huskies
- German Shorthaired Pointers
- Chesapeake Bay Retrievers
While the following breeds tolerate being left alone rather well, provided some toys are provided to chew on:
- Chow Chows
- Basset Hounds
- French Bulldogs
- Shar Peis
- Boston Terriers
- Irish Wolfhounds
- Lhasa Apsos
- Bull Terriers
These breeds tend to be more independent and some of them like to sleep a lot and have a more relaxed demeanor in general.
Dogs can outgrow this type of separation anxiety, once they learn the pattern and understand they will see you again. This will require some training and a lot of patience.
Car Anxiety in dogs
For some dogs, a car is a fun experience, it’s exciting, the chance to shove their head out of the window, take in a million interesting smells and let their fur and tongue blow free in the wind!
If your dog suffers with car anxiety, it’s a totally different prospect. Let’s face it, for a nervous dog, there’s nothing natural about strapping yourself into a loud metal box on wheels and hurling off at an unnatural speed.
The whole experience can be really stressful for both you and your dog, and it may get to a point where you can’t even get your furry friend anywhere near the car, let alone inside.
If you do finally get him inside, that’s when his anxiety will really kick in resulting in:
- constant barking
- excessive drooling
None of which is fun for your dog, but it also creates an incredibly stressful environment to drive in for you which can be both distracting and dangerous.
The thing to remember is that your dog might have negative associations with your car. In the mind of your dog, the sight of the car might mean a trip to the vet, or a trip to the dog groomers, or he might associate it with leaving him at a kennels while you go on holiday.
You need to show your dog that your car equals fun and excitement.
As always with an anxious dog, retraining their mindset can take time and patience, but it is rewarding. You can literally open up your furry friend’s world to the kinds of fun and adventure he’d never experience in his own neighborhood.
Start slowly, try and coax him over to the car, don’t open the door, don’t attempt to put him inside, just show him the car is nothing to be afraid of, take your time. This could take minutes, hours or days. Reward him with treats when he gets closer, give lots of praise.
When he’s comfortable next to the car, try opening the door. If he hasn’t bolted, try coaxing him inside with some treats. If he goes inside, keep repeating the ritual of going in and out of the car.
Increase the time inside the car, but don’t start the engine yet, keep praising and giving treats, you want him to really like being in the car.
Then start the engine. When your dog is happy with the engine running, it’s time to go for a drive, but before you do, it’s a good idea to take your dog for some exercise to really wear him out.
Take his blanket and favorite toy, there are even some calming sprays you can try to keep him on an even keel.
It’s also a good idea to bring along a partner to sit in the back with your furry friend to feed him treats and praise him while you travel.
The last very important thing you need to do, is go somewhere fun! The beach, a park, the woods, somewhere your dog is going to love.
Car anxiety for dogs can be overcome with patience and understanding, before long your dog will associate your car with trips to fun places, and he’ll be dragging you out for a drive.
Crate Anxiety in dogs
Crate anxiety is quite common in dogs, and there could be many reasons for your dog’s fear.
One common reason is that they just haven’t had time to get used to it before they are shut inside and left alone, so react to this strange scary situation by howling and barking for attention or trying to get out, which will often lead to injuries.
Another common reason is that some owners use the crate as a punishment for when their dog has done something wrong. Unfortunately, this has a negative effect on how the dog now sees the crate, it’s a bad place, a place of punishment, doggy hell, so why would he ever want to go back inside there?
Never, ever use a crate to punish your dog!
Maybe the word crate is the wrong way to describe it, if we called it a den it probably wouldn’t seem so bad, and a den is exactly how a dog will associate it when trained correctly.
It takes time and patience to crate train a dog, especially an anxious dog, but there are huge benefits to putting in the effort with crate training.
Make sure you have the correct size crate for your dog, if it’s too cramped, he won’t want to be in there for very long.
Place the crate in a secluded spot in the house, somewhere you feel would be calm and quiet for dogs. Try covering the crate with a breathable sheet so that the crate feels secluded and less exposed, just like a natural den.
Place your dog’s favorite bed/ cushion/blanket inside as well as tasty treats for him to sniff out, and give him lots of praise when he does go inside so he begins to associate the crate as a nice place.
Leave the door open long after he starts going in. You want him to go in and out by himself, feel relaxed enough to lie down on his bed, maybe take a few naps over a few days before you even start thinking about closing the crate door.
When it’s time to close the crate door, only do it for a very short amount of time, and then slowly increasing that time over the next few days or weeks.
Take your time, patience is the key.
Crates are a divisive subject for certain dog owners, many have issues with using them. They see it as cruel and hate the idea of caging their furry family member up for any period of time.
However, if used correctly, a crate can become a safe haven for an anxious dog, a peaceful comforting den where a dog can get away from whatever is troubling him.
Noise Anxiety in dogs
This type of anxiety can develop suddenly in dogs of all ages, even in those pets who didn’t use to mind a thunderstorm or the 4th of July fireworks.
Border Collies and some other breeds of herding dogs are more prone to this form of anxiety as they are sound sensitive by nature. They were bred to pick up threatening noises and tend to the animals in their care. Once again, it is mainly a question of the dog not understanding what’s going on.
When you hear the fireworks, you might rush to the window to catch a glimpse of the display in the sky, but your pet doesn’t know it’s a public holiday and people are out celebrating. Also, as these events are rare, maybe once or twice in the year it’s not like your dog can get used to it.
Loud noises, like the rumble of roaring thunder, are threatening to a dog, especially if he’s had to deal with the terrible noise of a storm while all alone in the house. The natural reaction of a dog caught in such a situation is to hide in a corner or try to escape and get away from the danger.
There have been cases of pets trying to break through a door or window during a thunderstorm because a dog has no way of knowing things are even worse outside.
In some cases, dogs injure themselves trying to escape. One such negative experience is enough to trigger anxiety in dogs when they sense an approaching storm. As you well know, dogs, like many other animals, are more sensitive than us humans and they can sense subtle changes in air pressure or static electricity and they are able to predict a storm without watching the news.
Long before you hear the first rumble of thunder you might find your pet cowering anxiously in the bathroom or a dark corner and no amount of coaxing will get him to come out.
Some dogs are afraid of loud car engines, the noise of the vacuum, or the washing machine.
Your pet might have been afraid of the vacuum since he was a puppy, and you’re probably used to him hiding under the bed while you do the cleaning, but don’t be surprised if such a phobia develops seemingly out of the blue.
It’s never without a reason, it’s just that you don’t know what negative experience your dog associates with a certain loud noise. We’ve just got to help them realize that it isn’t something to be fearful of, which will make them much calmer and happier.
Fear Of Change
Like it or not, most people are fearful of change and dogs are no strangers to such feelings. There are many types of changes in your household or your family situation that might affect your dog.
Many pet owners have had to deal with their dogs becoming anxious after the birth of a child in the family. Pet parents put it down to a form of sibling rivalry, and it is understandable.
A dog who used to be pampered will certainly feel nervous seeing all the attention lavished on the new baby. This is indeed a form of jealousy, but it can also be seen as a form of guarding resources. This is why it is important to introduce your dog to your new baby properly in a safe and gradual way.
Your dog depends on you for everything, to love him, feed him at regular hours, and take him out for a long walk. Your pet will resent being taken out on a quick walk for the most stringent necessities and will make a connection when you rush back to be by the baby’s cot.
The baby is threatening his most valuable resource, you! The same might happen when you get a new partner and don’t lavish so much attention on your dog or, indeed, when you bring home a new pet and everyone’s excited about that.
Other types of changes that might affect the dog are decorating the home, painting the walls a different color, changing the furniture or the floor. You might be surprised to discover the dog doesn’t want to stay in the living room anymore or is afraid to go down the hallway.
In some cases, the dog is bewildered by the new smell or maybe he has found the new floor too slippery for his tastes. Some might assume the dog has developed a behavioral problem, but in most cases, it’s a real phobia, which you need to identify to help your dog overcome his fear.
Another change that might make your pet anxious is a new dog in the neighborhood. It doesn’t have to be a particularly large dog, maybe it’s just the way that dog barks or even how he looks and it’s enough to make your pet refuse to go outside or to pull in another direction trying to avoid a certain street.
Symptoms Of Anxiety In Dogs
Anxiety ridden dogs will act extremely intense or nervous, display symptoms of anxiety in various ways and you might miss the clues if you don’t know what to look for. Here are the main symptoms of anxiety in dogs.
- Aggressive behavior, like growling or even biting for no apparent reason, might be a symptom of anxiety in dogs. This can happen when your dog is afraid of a stranger or if you’re trying to force him to do something he doesn’t want to while he’s having an anxiety attack. Keep an eye out for anxious body language in your dog that may show before they get aggressive. A dog hiding in the bathroom during a storm might react furiously if you’re trying to kick him out to take a shower. This is not a behavioral problem and the dog does not deserve to be punished when he’s clearly scared out of his wits.
- Barking excessively and howling is a common way for dogs to express their separation anxiety and you can tell just how loud your pet can be by the angry look on your neighbor’s face. Check out this article on ways to stop a dog from barking.
- Restlessness and an inability to relax can be a sign of anxious behavior. You may find your dog constantly pacing around and unable to settle anywhere.
- Destructive behavior appears when a dog is left alone for longer periods. If you leave the house, a scared dog can chew anything that takes his fancy while you are away. You may find he’s been destroying stuff, trashes toys or he might scratch at the door or a wall trying to escape.
- Urinating and defecating are also signs of anxiety in dogs. You might be surprised that the dog peed all over the carpet when you know he’s house-trained and you’ve never had such a problem before. Such expressions of fear are more common if a dog is scared by loud noises or suffers from separation anxiety. In some cases, your dog might not soil the house but will be begging to go out more often than usual.
- Panting and licking his lips when the dog hasn’t been exercising and it is not a hot day also signs that he is feeling stressed out.
- Hiding in a dark place is a common symptom in dogs who are afraid of thunderstorms or scared by loud noises.
- Digging and trying to escape from the backyard are frequent manifestations in hunting dogs desperately trying to follow a scent, but they can also be symptoms of anxiety.
- Shivering is a clear expression of fear, shaking in fear or your dog both panting and shaking, can be a sign that your dog is visibly nervous unless, of course, the dog has a condition that causes them to shake otherwise.
- Apathy and refusing to eat are also possible signs of anxiety and can be indicators your dog may be suffering from depression.
It is worth noting that sometimes these behaviors do not signify anxiety. Some dogs (and particular breeds are more prone to this) will bark because they’re more ‘chatty’, and we’ve all met dogs who just drool a lot, generally.
As you get to know your dog you’ll come to understand their personalities, and learn how to identify when something’s wrong.
The best advice we can give, though, is to make sure that you keep track of when something seems off and speak to an expert if there’s any reason for concern.
Dog Anxiety In Older Dogs
Older dogs can get a medical condition called cognitive dysfunction syndrome, or CDS which is similar to Alzheimer’s disease for humans. They can become confused, stressed, start to lose their memory, become less aware and be unable to learn.
As most anxious behavior begins when the dog is still young, CDS is easier to recognize because it only appears when the dog is getting older. There’s no cure for it, and it affects around 28% of dogs aged 11-12, and this likelihood increases as the dog gets older.
You should remember that older dogs are more likely to suffer with other health issues, so if you suspect your senior dog has this condition, make sure that that you get a diagnosis from your vet to rule out any other illnesses.
Senior dogs also have a lot of physical problems that can make them anxious. Your old companion might suddenly develop separation anxiety when you leave the house or at night. Also, he might start following you around and try to be near you at all times.
At the same time, mobility problems, which are quite frequent in senior dogs, might make your pet reluctant to move around and go exploring like he used to. When the dog has pain in the joints, for instance, he might also become sensitive to touch and growl to be left alone.
Loss of senses, also common in advanced age, can make a dog lose interest in the world around him. Cataracts or other eye problems might make him into more of a clumsy dog, bumping into chairs or doors as he’s unable to see where he’s going. Your dog may start preferring to sleep in his corner where he feels a little safer.
Many senior dogs also lose their hearing so they will react less and less to your calls. That being said, dogs with hearing problems are easily startled when you suddenly appear in front of them or touch them, triggering a fear response that is totally uncharacteristic.
Another reason senior dogs become more apathetic is the fact they cannot regulate body temperature as well as they used to and prefer to sleep on a cozy pillow.
Can Dog Anxiety Be Cured?
The good news is that many forms of anxiety in dogs can be cured or at least you can manage the symptoms. It’s not always simple and it requires a lot of patience, but your furry friend is definitely worth it.
The important thing is to understand what’s causing the problem and find the best way to deal with it.
You can’t prevent thunderstorms, nor can you forbid fireworks on New Year’s Eve but you can help your dog find a safe place.
In many cases, using positive training can help a dog overcome his fears. For instance, separation anxiety can be alleviated by following a ritual to let the dog know you’re leaving. Sneaking out of the house will only make matters worse, causing your pet to panic when he inevitably discovers you’re gone and he is in the house alone.
To make things easier you can try to make your absence progressively longer. First, leave for just five minutes, the next time, stay away from the house for half an hour, then make it one hour and so on.
This will help your dog understand you will come back and in the meantime, he can entertain himself with his toys. Some people leave the radio or the TV on so the dog won’t feel so lonely.
Each time you return, make sure to respond appropriately to your dog’s expression of joy when he sees you again. By that, we mean you shouldn’t make a big fuss of them when you come back in, you should just ignore their excitable behavior until they calm down.
I know, I know, this is a tough one, because let’s face it, when we walk in through the door and see that fluffy face, we are just as excited to see them and it’s hard to not be tempted to jump around with them.
But fight that urge and remember why you are doing it.
If you can show your dog that you coming back in is no big deal and they don’t get a lot of attention immediately then they will gradually realize that their excitable behavior won’t get the response they want.
Of course, once they have calmed down you can give them a cuddle, maybe a treat, but try to keep in mind when you’re tempted to make a huge fuss of them when entering the room that you’re doing it to help relieve their anxiety, so they aren’t stressing out each and every time you’re out of sight.
Also, it’s so you can actually leave your own house for more than five minutes, safe in the knowledge that you haven’t left your dog looking around frantically for you and they won’t hurt themselves or destroy anything.
You can totally do it, you’ve just got to stick at it!
Likewise, for puppies who have separation anxiety you can allow them to sleep in your bedroom, but not in your bed, which they will never leave given half a chance. Put your pup’s crate beside your bed for a few nights and then move it progressively towards the door and then into the hallway.
When your dog develops a phobia related to a certain part of the house, like a particular room, hallway, stairs or you may even find your dog afraid of doorways, you can use positive reinforcement to train him to associate that particular spot with a pleasant experience.
When a dog refuses to go through a door, try gently encouraging him with a nice treat and praise him for going out of his comfort zone. Soon they will associate going through the door with a positive experience and will do it without a second thought.
What Can Help Dog Anxiety?
Just as with humans, relaxation techniques and natural remedies can help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety in dogs. Well, you cannot get a dog to practice yoga or mindfulness, but you can try using music to calm your dog or CBD oils to combat their anxiety.
Desensitization refers to exposing your pet to the anxiety-triggering stimulus at a lower level over a period of time until the dog doesn’t show any fear signs. If, for instance, your dog is scared of thunder you can find storm sounds on the Internet and play them at low volume and gradually raise the volume over a few days.
You can do the same with firework or traffic noise and you can also use this technique when your dog is anxious about a new dog in the house or the neighborhood or if he develops a fear of some random object, like an umbrella or a walking cane.
At first, keep the offensive object at a safe distance at which the dog shows no reaction, and gradually bring it closer.
It is essential to not only look out for obvious anxiety symptoms, like barring his teeth or cowering in a corner but also at milder signs of fear. If the dog hides his tail between his legs or if his ears are pulled back and flat to the head this means the dog is not comfortable with the level of exposure to the trigger.
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There are also some anxiety products that will help with your dog’s anxiety. The first of these is a ThunderShirt. If you’ve never seen one before, it’s like a calming coat for dogs.
Thundershirts create a feeling like a dog is being hugged, it’s kind of like a dog swaddle, similar to swaddling a baby. It applies gentle but constant pressure to the dog’s body, and it can be used when there are thunderstorms, fireworks, when the dog is traveling, going to the vet, or even when you leave the house.
There are also really useful dog calming sprays, that can help calm your dog down. They can be great for all the types of anxieties we discussed above. Separation anxiety, noise anxiety and travel anxiety.
This spray by Pet Remedy is safe as it is pH neutral, although it shouldn’t be sprayed directly onto your pet so as to not cause a negative association with the bottle and whatever is making them anxious.
It can be sprayed on blankets, towels, bandanas or anything your dog may use for comfort. It is recommended that you spray some on your hands and then gently rub some around your pup’s muzzle, under their chin and on their chest and it should last up to 6 hours with only a few sprays.
Calming music can help with various types of anxiety. According to a recent study on dogs in shelters, reggae and soft rock are best to relieve stress and anxiety. Now, before rushing to get a Spotify account for your dog, it must be said that there are other types of music to help a dog relax. You can download calming music for dogs especially created for our canine buddies or you can find hours of free music for your pet on Youtube.
It’s best to test what works best for your dog, but make sure to change it from time to time, as after a few days the dog will get used to it and won’t pay any attention to it.
If your pet has separation anxiety you can leave Youtube on when you go to work. A great channel is Relax My Dog – Relaxing Music For Dogs. Check out their TV for Dogs video below!
Exercise is a good way to combat anxiety in dogs. Taking longer walks and having your dog run around in a park will help him sleep better at night, which is helpful for pets with separation anxiety. When you get a new dog check out their exercise requirements carefully as hunting or herding dogs often need more exercise than a quiet walk around the block in the evening.
CBD oil has been shown to be efficient for dogs suffering from a variety of conditions, such as anxiety, chronic pain, or cancer. You can find many CBD-based products for dogs, calming treats for dogs, creams, and oils. According to a 2018 study, it is safe to give your dog a dose of 2mg per kilogram. You can read more about CBD for dog anxiety here.
Hemp seeds are a great addition to your dog’s diet as they contain the perfect combination of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty oils, which offer many health benefits. Hemp seeds improve hip and joint health so they can be of great help for dogs whose anxiety is caused by constant pain and reduced mobility.
Also, there are some hemp-based products specially designed to help dogs cope with stressful situations. These hemp treats for dogs are handcrafted biscuits made with only natural, organic ingredients that are known for their calming effects on dog anxiety.
Diet changes can help manage anxiety symptoms in dogs. Try to add calming foods for dogs to your furry friend’s diet:
- Oily fish
- Sweet potatoes
- Whole rice
These foods are rich in antioxidants which can help reduce anxiety levels. There are those who believe that anxiety in dogs is related to a lack of antioxidants in the diet, especially in dogs who eat mostly dry food. Here’s a great article from Australiandoglover.com about how a dog’s food can affect their mood.
Homeopathy has several safe remedies to help your dog deal with anxiety. These remedies are very specific so you’ll need to pinpoint the exact cause of your pet’s problem.
For Example, remedies containing Phosphorus 30C is recommended for noise phobias, while remedies containing Pulsatilla nigicans 30C is a good for dogs with separation anxiety.
We recommend Homeoanimal for natural, safe anxiety remedies that target your dogs problems directly.
Essential oils are great for both humans and dogs when it comes to anxiety. The best are:
- Cedar wood
- Sweet marjoram
You can put a few drops of your chosen essential oils on a cotton ball and have your dog give it a sniff or you can use an essential oil dispenser. Alternatively, you can use a diluted solution to massage your dog’s ears or put a few drops on the collar.
Contact A Dog Behaviorist
You’ve tried everything else, and nothing seems to be working, but don’t give up.
Maybe it’s time to wheel out the big guns, you might consider calling in the expertise of a professional Dog Behaviorist, who can guide you and your dog in a much more personalized way.
A Dog Behaviorist is able to see first-hand where things might be going wrong, and correct the issue there on the spot, as well as draw up a highly personalized plan to work towards.
Having access to a professional will enable a targeted approach to dealing with your dog’s anxiety, as well as helpful tips and tricks that work for your home environment.
Anxiety Meds For Dogs
We don’t typically recommend the use of anxiety medications here at anxiouscanine.com, but we do realize that in an extreme case, if the anxiety is having such a detrimental effect on the quality of a dog’s life, then it may need to be considered as part of a longer-term plan and obviously something that should be agreed with your vet.
Some vets may prescribe anxiety meds for dogs. These are usually taken for at least 4-6 months, and are usually a last resort. They’re not always the right choice, can take a while to kick in and, like medication for human mental health problems, it can take some time to find the right one.
It is important that the anti-anxiety medication is not relied upon to be a ‘magic cure’, there should always be a long-term plan in place. The medicine should be used alongside other treatments like desensitization or counter-conditioning, to retrain your dog so that at some point they can slowly stop taking the medication as they’ll have other ways to deal with their anxiety.
Many dogs suffer from anxiety from time to time. There are lots of things that can be done to help support them, and you’ll find that it’s much less stressful to be a dog owner if you know that your pet is calm and happy. It’s a good idea to understand why your dog is acting the way he does and then work on some different solutions to combat the problems. Remember that there are lots of people who can help you and your dog get through this and that you’re not alone. The important thing is that you pay attention, care, and act. If you’ve tried some things and they’re not working, speak with a behaviorist for more help and support.
All information in the article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to replace your veterinarian’s advice.