Anxiety is an all-too-familiar mental health problem that many humans deal with. But when it comes to your pup, did you know that they can deal with this type of excessive worry and stress as well? While seeing your dog deal with anxiety can be anxiety-inducing on its own, there are things that can be done to help your pup cope with their worries. If you believe that your dog may be suffering from anxiety, let’s dive deeper into dog anxiety, what it looks like, and what the next steps may be.
Dog Anxiety: Why Do Dogs Get Anxious?
There are a number of reasons why dogs might be anxious. However, you can often attribute their stress and worry to three main causes: separation, fear, and old age.
As the name suggests, separation anxiety is a specific form of anxiety that dogs may experience when they’re away from their owners for an extended period of time. This type of anxiety can often be associated with bad behaviors like chewing up furniture, peeing or pooping around the house, or scratching on doors and other materials. As such, this type of anxiety may go unnoticed by owners who assume that it’s a result of behavioral issues instead of stress.
Another common cause of anxiety is situations that cause fear. While curiosity is something that we see often in our pups, fear can have a strong impact on them. Whether they’ve heard a loud noise that scared them, are in a situation that is new and stress-inducing, or even see something that they attribute to negative experiences, you can typically see that your dog is responding in an anxious manner. Fortunately, these types of events have minimal impact, but they can affect already anxious dogs moreso than dogs without anxiety.
Finally, there is anxiety that’s caused by aging. An aging dog experiences a wide variety of health issues as they grow older. Should they experience a cognitive decline or even lose their vision or hearing, they will naturally respond by being confused or frightened by their surroundings. This can be difficult for both dogs and owners to go through, but there are ways to treat this type of anxiety as well.
Of course, while it’s important to know what may cause dog anxiety, we also have to be able to recognize it when it’s affecting your dog.
What Does Dog Anxiety Look Like?
Dog anxiety doesn’t always present itself in the way we anticipate. For example, while some behaviors like pacing, panting, barking and whining, drooling, and restlessness are some of the characteristic behaviors we expect from an anxious dog, anxiety can also result in behaviors like going to the bathroom in the house, becoming more aggressive, destroying furniture and other items, and even engaging in compulsive behaviors. In some instances, these types of behaviors may be indicative of another problem, so it’s important to ask yourself why your dog is acting this way and when it seems to happen. If the behavior occurs while you’re away at work, when a certain activity with your dog comes up, or has recently developed in conjunction with a health problem they’re experiencing, it may be dog anxiety.
How Do You Treat Dog Anxiety?
The bad news is that we have to witness our dogs deal with this emotional turmoil. The good news? Like any other health problems your dog may experience, there are ways to help them navigate these feelings more successfully. The first step is to take your dog to the vet so that they can take a closer look at them and get a comprehensive overview of the situation.
If your dog’s anxiety is tameable, your vet might recommend that you put them through training or conditioning. Much like you would with humans, you can train dogs to focus on a different response to their anxiety rather than some of the behaviors that they currently display. Another strategy is desensitization, where a pup is gradually exposed to that which gives them anxiety until they begin to exhibit less of a response to the stimuli over time. That being said, it’s important to find the right trainer that has experience in these areas if you wish to see positive progress rather than backpedaling in their behaviors.
Unfortunately, not all cases of anxiety can be treated through training. Should your dog have a health condition that is causing their anxiety or should their anxiety be a result of a serious mental health issue, your vet may prescribe anti-anxiety medication and other medications to deal with the underlying causes of their anxiety. Although medication can sound scary to pet owners, it will help them experience relief from the stress that they’re dealing with and promote a better quality of life. Make sure that you talk it over with your vet so you fully understand what is being prescribed and how it will help your furry friend.
Finally, the best step in defeating dog anxiety is through prevention. If you have a younger dog that has just started showing signs of potential anxiety, make sure that you’re giving them the high quality of care that they need to live a healthy lifestyle. As long as you focus on being kind and loving with your dog (while still teaching them to be obedient), allowing them to socialize with other dogs and humans, getting them plenty of exercise, feeding them a healthy diet, and taking great care of them overall, your dog will be in a better position to fight back against their anxiety or avoid developing it to a serious degree altogether.
Dog Anxiety Is Absolutely Treatable
Any situation in which our dogs are struggling can be heartbreaking. But like most things that can impact a dog, dog anxiety is absolutely manageable and treatable. If you think your pup has anxiety, use the guide above to learn more about what it is, what the symptoms are, and what the next steps are that you need to take to get your dog the help it needs.