11 signs of anxiety in dogs and how to treat it

When it comes to our pups, we often think about happy smiles and wagging tails. But when dogs feel anxious, they can show all kinds of worrying behaviours. They’re no longer the happy-go-lucky pooches we’ve come to love. But that can be concerning for us dog parents, because we all want our dogs to be happy and care-free.

But what are the signs of anxiety in dogs, and how can you help your pooch feel calm and relaxed again? Read on to find out…

Causes of anxiety in dogs

Dog anxiety can be caused by a variety of triggers in their environment. And it often stems from fear of the unknown. If your dog wasn’t well socialised as a young puppy, they can develop stress and anxiety around new encounters, like new people, other animals, unusual places, or objects around the home. 

The first 16-18 weeks of a puppy’s life are known as the ‘socialisation window’. The socialisation window is a crucial time for puppies to learn what’s normal and where they should be cautious in life. 

During these first few weeks, it’s important to allow puppies to interact with a variety of other dogs (different breeds and different sizes) and introduce them to various situations, objects and people. Such as people wearing hats or glasses, people with beards, or kids on bikes or in pushchairs. 

Noise is also a common cause of anxiety. Especially around fireworks season. Most dogs that become scared and anxious have never experienced these loud noises when young. Which means these unfamiliar sounds overwhelm their senses and they quickly become stressed, and in some cases frantic. 

Exposing your puppy to many different experiences allows them to develop confidence, good social skills when interacting with other dogs, and prevent the development of specific anxieties in later life.

Separation anxiety is another common form of dog anxiety and is estimated to affect between 13-18% of dogs. Separation anxiety in dogs occurs when they’re left home alone. They are unable to relax or find comfort while separated from the people they love. And this anxiety can result in various destructive and unwanted behaviours. 

But it’s important to understand if the behaviour is caused by true separation anxiety or simply a result of boredom when left alone. Because if it’s due to a lack of mental stimulation, this may be resolved by providing boredom busters like chew toys and lick mats while you’re out. 

What does anxiety in dogs look like?

Whilst our dogs can’t speak and tell us what’s wrong, they can still communicate with us by demonstrating different behaviours. And here are some of the common behaviours that a stressed or anxious dog might display:

  • Ears back
  • Restless or at high alert
  • Destructive behaviour
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shaking, cowering or hiding
  • Excessive yawning
  • Licking lips
  • Panting
  • Growling or baring teeth
  • Biting or snapping
  • Barking or howling
  • Cowering and withdrawing
  • Unwillingness to interact

If any of these behaviours are frequent and ongoing, your dog could be suffering with anxiety at a deeper level. It’s important to speak with your vet to help identify the source of the problem. 

How to treat anxiety in dogs

The first step to treating dog anxiety is to talk with your vet. Your vet will help you identify the type of anxiety your dog has, as well as the possible triggers. They can also help you rule out any potential medical conditions that could be causing your dog’s behaviour. 

Depending on the cause of your dog’s anxiety, your vet may suggest behavioural therapy to manage the anxiety through training. A certified behaviourist may introduce desensitisation or counter conditioning methods where you can gradually change your dog’s response to the trigger. 

The behaviourist may suggest you slowly expose your dog to their trigger in small doses while you reward positive behaviour. Through training your dog will soon realise there is nothing to fear. And only good things happen when they’re around the trigger. But it’s important to be aware that this can take patience and there’s no single magic fix. 

Just as exercise is known to relieve anxiety in humans, it’s also the same for dogs. Lots of exercise will burn off your dog’s energy, reducing the likelihood that they will become wound up or hypersensitive to fearful events. If your dog is highly anxious, consider exercising them at times when they are unlikely to encounter a fearful event to reduce anxiety triggers. 

For especially severe cases of fear and anxiety in dogs, medications can be prescribed by your vet. Medication should always be used as a last resort and in combination with behavioural therapy if possible. 

What part does diet play in poor behaviour?

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Diet can play an important part in mental health, for both humans and dogs. Feeding your dog foods that include the natural amino acid tryptophan (such as turkey and oats), will boost your dog’s serotonin levels which can reduce anxiety.

Vitamin deficiencies can also lead to mental health issues and poor behaviour in dogs. Vitamin A and Vitamin E are important for maintaining a healthy immune system and boosting cognitive ability. Both of which are crucial for keeping your dog physically and mentally healthy. Vitamins B1, B6 and B12 are also fundamental for keeping dogs mentally balanced. Considering a diet high in mind-boosting vitamins alongside training can go a long way to keeping your dog calm and happy. 

But all of these beneficial vitamins are often included in a life-stage suitable diet that is balanced and complete. So your pooch should receive all the nutrition they need with a high quality dog food. That way it’s not necessary to add vitamin supplements to your dog’s diet. If you want to test a tailored diet made specifically for your dog, you can 50% off your first box!

Common dog mental health issues

But there are a range of other mental health issues dog parents should be aware of. 

Depression – Dogs experience depression similar to the way we humans do. Your dog might withdraw from the people they’re closest to and generally seem down in the dumps. 

Canine Compulsive Disorder – When dogs experience anxiety, stress or frustration, they can develop compulsive disorders to help them cope. These behaviours can occur frequently throughout the day and for longer than normal periods of time. These compulsive disorders can manifest in spinning, barking, tail chasing, air snapping and more. 

Social anxiety – Social situations can cause stress and all sorts of fears in dogs. If your dog wasn’t socialised properly as a puppy, being around other people and dogs can be scary, and can even lead to aggressive behaviours. Which is why socialisation is so important at an early age, and should continue into adulthood. 

Separation anxiety – As already mentioned, separation anxiety in dogs is a common condition that can be distressing for both dog and owner. The anxiety can even trigger the moment you put on your coat or grab your keys. Owners of dogs with separation anxiety will often return home to find items destroyed or toileting accidents around the home. 

Why is my dog whining for no reason?

Dogs whine for a variety of reasons, whether out of excitement, frustration, to seek attention, pain, or simply because they want something. It can be a learned problem behaviour to get what they want, but it can also signal a mental health problem in the form of anxiety. 

Whining out of the blue and for what seems like no reason, could mean your dog is feeling worried, lonely or unhappy about their current situation. If the whining is due to separation anxiety, you may notice your dog whines just before you leave. And this may also be accompanied by other stress signals like panting or pacing. 

If you suspect your pooch is suffering from a form of dog anxiety, book an appointment with your vet. Anxiety and mental health disorders can be debilitating for our pups. But by seeking help, you’ll be well on your way to seeing your dog happy and relaxed again. 

Related blog posts:
What to do if your puppy is biting or chewing

9 top tips for anxious dogs in firework season

5 comments

  1. We have a 3yr cavapoo who has always been highly strung and nervous. She was well socialised from 9 weeks of age with our grandchildren and other visitors, plus puppy training class where she interacted with various breeds of dogs. However, after a number of weeks we stopped taking her to the puppy training classes with the advice of our vets, due to her starting with extreme saliving. As we first brought her home in the month of October, it was not long before she started hearing the sound of fireworks.
    I say all this because what you have said above regarding socialising and not hearing loud noises when very young is not true of our dog at all.
    Apart from the anxiousness in her, she is a very happy friendly dog who loves every-one

  2. Myself and my two daughters have a Sprocker Ivy, which we rescued when she was 1.5 years old. The only information we have is that her owners were elderly and one of them was very ill so the dog had to go. She had totally shut down in the shelter and sat cowering in the corner and would eat or look at anyone from she had arrived 2 weeks previously. My daughter spent a long time in the pen with her to just try to gain her confidence and eventually the eyes started to brighten up. We went back the next day and her eyes lit up and when she was put on the lead she went for a short walk and she was like a new dog. We decided then to regime her and did all the necessary paperwork etc. When she was going home she ran and jumped into the car her eyes just lit up and wagged her tail and when she arrived home she ran about the house like a mad thing totally enjoying herself. But when visitors would call she turned into a different dog and cowered away and actually lost control of her bodily functions especially if a man arrived and the older the man the worse she was and also petrified of vans. We do not know what has happened in her young days but she is now almost 4 and these phobias are still there. Maybe just as not as intense but still very much there today and very protective of us all especially my daughter that she first bonded with. I did have a guy to assess her to see what her issues were and he seemed to think as a puppy that she had not been socialised and probably kept confined and shouted at by a man as she was no doubt very boisterous as a puppy. He did not feel she had been physically abused as such and it would just take time for her to come round. The vet said something similar so we try to do what we can. I’m just wondering if anyone can give any more tips to help her overcome her fears.

  3. You any suggestions to how to stop laci and pebbles barking at dogs and animals on the tv they get high as a kite and when out there the same towards other dogs it’s a shame

    1. Hi Carol,

      The best thing to do if you’re struggling to stop them from barking at other animals/dogs (on the TV and outside) would be to either have a chat with your vet, or speak to a behaviourist who should be able to help!

      Millie

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