Recognizing Anxiety in Dogs
Recognizing anxiety in dogs requires knowing your best furry friend’s body language and behavior patterns, and being able to understand when your pup is stressed. You can tell when a dog is relaxed by their actions and posture. For example, his eyes are in a soft gaze, his ears are held semi-erect and forward, and his mouth is relaxed, almost as though he’s smiling. His posture will also be relaxed and open to the surrounding environment.
Anxiety can come on all of sudden, or it can happen gradually. The best way to avoid anxiety in dogs is to use preventative tools, such as obedience training, socialization, good nutrition, exercise, avoiding things that you know trigger anxiety in your dog, and reading your dog’s body language so that you can step in before your pup’s anxiety reaches unmanageable levels.
How do you know when that happens?
Here are the top 5 things to look for in an anxious dog:
- Eyes. The whites of the eyes may be more pronounced. There may be a persistent glare or stare as the dog scans their environment. our pup might even avoid eye contact altogether both with humans and other animals.
- Ears. They might be more erect or lying flat and back against the head. It’s harder to tell with dogs that have floppy ears, but you can still see it if you look at the movement at the base of the ear.
- Mouth. The mouth will be closed tightly, and lips might be pulled back like he’s prepared to snarl, growl or even snap or bite. Many dogs will vocalize when they are anxious with a whine, bark, growl or whimper.
- Body. Some dogs will stand erect, raise one paw, or attempt to move away from whatever is scaring them. Dogs also tend to turn their head or whole body away, or even cower in a slinking movement. Excessive drooling, shedding, trembling and sweaty paws also indicate a dog in distress.
- Behavior. Dogs that are anxious will alter their activity levels to either being hyperactive and more on edge, or some may freeze and and refuse to move. A change in eating and drinking habits, being more clingy, excessive licking, scratching, jumping, humping, urinating or defecating in the house after having been housebroken, or any sort of drastic change in behavior is usually a sign that your dog is stressed or anxious.
As pet parents, we want nothing more than for our dogs to be happy. So, if your dog is acting anxious, it’s important to understand the three types of anxiety most common to your best furry friend.
- Fear Anxiety. Loud noises, strange people, animals and places, and visual stimuli such as hats and brooms can cause an unsuspecting pup to become anxious. These fears might seem like no big deal to humans, but for dogs, they cause a lot of anxiety.
- Separation Anxiety. It’s estimated that about 14% of dogs are unable to cope or find comfort when they are left alone or separated from family members. This anxiety usually manifests in unwanted behaviors such as urinating or defecating in the house, destroying furniture or property, and barking.
- Age-Related Anxiety. This type of anxiety mostly affects senior dogs with Cognitive Dysfunction Symptom (CDS) which is a condition in which memory, learning, perception and awareness begin declining, kind of like with Alzheimer’s in humans.
Whatever the underlying cause for your dog’s distress, the most important thing to do is alleviate it as quickly as possible. The longer a dog remains anxious, the more likely they are to be affected by their unstable state of mind in the long term.
Once you know that your dog suffers from anxiety, it’s important to seek help and narrow down your options to the one that you think will be most beneficial to your furry best friend.
The first option is training and counterconditioning. In counterconditioning, the dog is trained to react in a more positive manner to whatever they are feeling anxious about. So, instead of barking or cowering from something, the pup is trained to just sit down and wait for further instruction.
Another form of training is called desensitization, which relies on gradually introducing the anxiety causing thing to the dog in small doses and at a low intensity. With repetitive exposure and rewarding positive behavior, your dog will soon learn to cope with the object of his or her anxiety in a more appropriate way.
The second option is medication and/or natural remedies. In some cases, when dogs are dealing with an extreme form of anxiety, your veterinarian might suggest using medication such as antidepressants, benzodiazepine for predictable stressors such as thunderstorms or car rides, and selegiline for dogs that suffer from CDS. Natural remedies like pheromones and aromatherapy are also great at helping dogs to relieve anxiety, and can be used on their own or in addition to any of the above training methods or medications.
The most important thing to remember is that an anxious dog is not a happy dog. So take action as quickly as possible. With the right strategy, pet parents can help their best furry friends overcome anxiety, and prevent dangerous and/or damaging behaviors.
Your pup is always there for you. If your dog has anxiety, it’s your turn to be there for him.