It's Dog Anxiety Awareness Week and we wanted to write a blog on canine anxiety and what it may mean for you and your furry friend. It wasn’t too long ago that this condition was not acknowledged. In recent years, canine mental health has been much better recognised. We now know that our dog’s mental health is something we need to be aware of and support.
What is canine anxiety?
Canine anxiety comes in many forms and can incorporate:
- Noise phobias. While fireworks are the main culprit, dogs can also be fearful of e.g. gun shots and the vacuum cleaner.
- Separation anxiety. Some dogs find it highly stressful when left alone or when their ‘preferred’ owner leaves them in the care of someone else.
- Fear-related anxiety. Experiences like a trip to the groomers or a day out in the city can cause some nervous dogs a huge deal of stress.
- Age-related anxiety. Though not every dog experiences this, some find life harder to cope with as they get older. This is especially true for those dogs who suffer with cognitive decline.
What signs should I be watching out for?
While we can all recognise the anxious dog quivering in the corner of the vet’s waiting room, some signs of stress are more subtle than this. Be on the lookout for:
- Pacing or restlessness
- Uncharacteristic aggression
- Excessive barking
- Destructive behaviour
Your dog may show a range of the above symptoms and can show different signs depending on the level of their anxiety. For some, they may initially go quiet and watchful and this can then progress to more obvious symptoms with time.
What causes a dog to become anxious?
This is a great question. Unfortunately, we don’t always know the answer. Those who have been poorly socialised when younger are at a higher risk of becoming anxious adults. Without exposing them to different situations when young, they may be spooked by them when older. It is also true that those with little to no routine or training may find the world harder to cope with.
Some dogs are genetically predisposed to being nervous nellies.
Many owners who have taken on rescue dogs assume they have been neglected or abused due to their behavioural issues and anxiety. However, this is not always the case. For many, it will simply be that they did not have proper socialisation and exposure during key phases of their early life.
So, what can I do?
If you have recognised that your dog is showing signs of anxiety you will be keen to remedy the issue. While there isn’t likely to be a quick fix, there are plenty of available options.
They key is identifying your dogs triggers and putting yourself in their shoes. The more we understand the behaviour, the better chance of us treating it successfully.
Consider the use of training methods such as desensitisation and counter-conditioning. It can help to work with a behaviourist who will make a tailored plan that is specific to your dog’s needs. Some will do well with prescription anxiolytic drugs prescribed by their vet.
A calming food will help the vast majority. Pooch and Mutt’s Calm & Relaxed food contains ingredients that can naturally alleviate stress. As it is high in L tryptophan, dogs can make more serotonin (the ‘feel good hormone’). The chamomile is added to promote relaxation and to aid sleep. Another important ingredient is the prebiotics. These contribute to a healthy gut biome. The gut and brain are closely linked and a healthy gut supports a happy brain.
Many ‘stress heads’ benefit from calming products such as an Adaptil collar or plug in. The release of dog appeasing pheromone sends a calming message and helps dogs relax.
Do not under estimate the important of a solid routine. Dogs love predictability and feel comfort in getting up and being fed and walked at the same time each day.
Work hard on keeping your dog’s mind busy. As is true with us, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Bored dogs can have too much time to overthink and become anxious. Provide them with lots of interesting training, long walks and games.
I’m worried about the pup I got during lockdown struggling to cope when I go back to work; what can I do?
You are not alone! We are faced with a situation we have not been in before and a great deal of young dogs have not received much socialisation due to the pandemic. They are also used to us being around 24/7 and it will be a shock to the system when normal life resumes.
As much as you can, try to make the change gradual. This may mean spending some time alone (perhaps upstairs) without your dog. Similarly, go on some long walks without them if you can. Try not to make a big deal of these absences. We need them to understand that us leaving is normal and we will come back. When away, consider keeping them entertained with e.g. a Kong stuffed with Meaty Treats or a nice chew.
When you do go back to the office, work hard to keep your pup’s routine as close to it was before as you can. Give them time and, hopefully, they will have settled into your new routine within a few weeks.