A Guide to Dog Anxiety: Causes, Signs & How to Help

Dr. Linda Simon MVB MRCVS 28 June 2022

 

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?

Being over-excited, acting nervous and separation anxiety in dogs is not uncommon. We know that every dog is different, so will react to situations in different ways. 

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 causes anxiety in dogs?

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.

Signs & symptoms of dog anxiety

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:

  • Panting
  • Drooling
  • Pacing or restlessness
  • Uncharacteristic aggression
  • Shaking
  • 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.

How to deal with dog anxiety

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.

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.

How to deal with separation anxiety in dogs

As with any kind of training, dogs’ brains work by association. Separation anxiety in dogs is very common but helping your dog get used to the situation can help them cope better. Remember, a sleepy pooch is a stress-free pooch: ensuring your dog is well exercised is always important, but it’s especially helpful when prepping for stressful or exciting times. If your dog is trained to bring the ball back, playing fetch is a fun way to get rid of excess energy! When your dog is tired out and ready for a nap, they’re less likely to show signs of separation anxiety. You’ll usually find dogs that can be left alone are content because they are well exercised, so feel more relaxed. Practice makes perfect! Invest some time to get your dog used to being left alone by instigating a positive routine when you’re leaving:

  • Try and make time to take your dog for a short walk before you leave, even if you won’t be gone for long.
  • When you get home have a place that you can settle them in, where they feel safe. Maybe on their bed, or in their crate.
  • Spend a few minutes giving them a bit of a fuss before you leave (and maybe a treat!). A few of our Calming Crunchies make for a great farewell snack to get them relaxed and happy.

Have other family members who are usually in your home encourage the routine as well, so your dog becomes comfortable with the experience no matter who is settling them in and leaving. Practising this routine every time your dog will be left alone will help creative a positive association with the experience!

How to deal with anxious dog barking

Dog barking is a natural behaviour and it can be a sign of stress. While dog barking shouldn’t be rewarded, it’s important your dog understands when it’s ok to bark. Dog barking is common when there’s a knock at the door; your dog does this to alert and protect you! If this is a common occurrence, it might drive you barking mad…

  • Try popping the radio or television on to help mask the noise of the knocking, the distraction may help them feel more at ease.
  • Encourage your dog to settle down and stop barking before you answer the door, telling them firmly to ‘sit’ should help.
  • Once they have settled for a few seconds without barking, reward them with praise or a treat, to positively reinforce their good behaviour.

How to calm an anxious & restless dog

Your dog may be restless due to excitement, nervousness, or stress. Natural remedies are a great way to help keep your dog happy and relaxed; herbs such as chamomile and lavender are naturally calming:

  • Choose grain-free food/treats with added natural calming ingredients
  • Try using a calming spritz to help your dog relax. To make your own: Mix a few drops of lavender essential oil with water in a small spray bottle. This is great for spraying around their bed, or the seats of your car if your dog gets stressed during travel.

We get lots of positive feedback from our customers for our calming products. Calming Crunchies, which contain stress-busting chamomile, make the perfect bedtime treat. If your pooch is generally anxious or excitable, take a look at Pooch & Mutt Calm & Relaxed grain-free food. Rich in serotonin boosting L-Tryptophan, the dry food contains natural ingredients to help keep your dog relaxed and happy. We recommend using the food as your dog’s main meal source for up to 6 weeks to see full benefits.

Food & treats to help with dog anxiety

Here at Pooch & Mutt, we are proud of our Calm & Relaxed range; food and treats which can form an important part of the multi-modal treatment plan to aid anxious pets.

Importantly, nervous nellies should be fed on calming diets constantly, rather than the day of the anxiety-inducing event. They work best over time and are very safe to feed life-long. 

Our Calm & Relaxed food is packed full of natural ingredients which help to settle the nerves and reduce hyperactivity.

  • L Tryptophan is a precursor to several important chemicals such as melanin and serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which can facilitate better self-control and promote calming emotions. (The ‘feel good hormone’)
  • Chamomile (yes, the same ingredient that is in your tea!) has been known for its stress reducing properties for many hundreds of years. Traditionally used to treat insomnia and more recently proven to help in the treatment of mild to moderate anxiety, this herb has some truly powerful properties but is best at promoting relaxation and to aid sleep.
  • Prebiotics. These contribute to a healthy gut biome. The gut and brain are closely linked and a healthy gut supports a happy brain.

Of course, as with all of our range, the Calm & Relaxed diet is nutritionally complete and is appropriate for long-term feeding. Made with 45% high-quality turkey and plenty of sweet potato as a source of slow-releasing carbohydrates, your excitable pooch will feel satisfied after every meal.

Calm & Relaxed Mini Bone Dog Treats are ideal to use when on the go and as rewards during basic training. 

  • A source of Valerian Root, these yummy treats offer a very mildly sedating effect, which can help to simply take the edge off.
  • The Vitamin E within these treats is a powerful antioxidant which can potentially defend against the biochemical changes associated with both stress and depression. 

14 comments

Hi Wendy, It sounds like you may need some professional training help if your dog is snapping at you when you try to brush him, there are lots of helpful training videos on youtube if you type in ‘How to prevent dogs from biting when being brushed’. You could start by introducing him to the brush with treats and get him used to it first before attempting to brush. If your dog does also not like walking, again, it may be in your best interest to seek professional help. Unless a dog is senior or injured we wouldn’t recommend putting them in a backpack, again, it may be best to seek some professional training advice on how to help your dog behave on the lead and enjoy their walks more.

Team Pooch @ 2022-08-17 10:25:46 +0100

How can I brush Billynic when he runs away if I pick the brush up. Even if I am brushing my hair., If I try and brush him anyway, he snarls and snaps. Also are doggy back packs any good? Billynic doesn’t like a lot of legs and I have to use public transport. I’m thinking when I travel by train. I need to be able to wheel a small suitcase as well as have Billynic

Wendy Gates. @ 2022-08-17 10:24:02 +0100

@Diane Thackeray It could well be they’ve not been fully socialised around other dogs. The last few years have been tough! I would recommend seeing a dog trainer if it’s bothersome and they can help tackle their fear which is most likely what the behavioural change is a response of. Hope that helps!

Team Pooch @ 2022-04-22 15:07:43 +0100

Hi @Lorraine Loftus let us know how you go on! We also have a calming spotify playlist (https://www.poochandmutt.co.uk/blogs/health/calming-music-for-dogs-relaxed-pooch-playlist) which you can put on whilst you leave the house. It’s built from music that’s scientifically researched and proven to have a calming effect. Please keep us updated of your progress :)

Team Pooch @ 2022-04-22 15:07:43 +0100

Hi @Shirley Mccolgan have you tried putting your dog onto the calm & relaxed dry food? I would also recommend some training into their body language so you can understand triggers that are making them stressed and fearful. Once you know the triggers it’s far easier to try and help!

Team Pooch @ 2022-04-22 15:07:43 +0100
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