When it comes to dogs, we think of waggy tails and those happy dog smiles. So when your dog shows signs of anxiety and anxious behaviours, it can feel very worrying.
Warning signs aren’t always obvious, so we’ve put together this blog on what causes anxiety in your dog, how to spot it, as well as sharing some helpful ways to help your dog feel calm.
Why is my dog anxious?
The first 16-18 weeks of a puppy’s life is their socialisation window. This is a crucial time for them to explore the world. As part of this, you should give your puppy space to interact with other dogs (a mix of breeds and sizes is great) and to introduce them to new situations, objects and people.
A properly socialised dog shouldn’t find new things terrifying. Exposing your dog to different experiences allows them to develop confidence and good social skills when interacting with other dogs. It can also help to prevent the development of anxieties in later life.
Causes of anxiety in dogs
Dog anxiety is usually caused by triggers in their environment. It stems from fear of the unknown, so if your dog wasn’t well socialised as a young puppy, they can develop stress and anxiety around new encounters – like people, animals, new places and even objects around the home.
Noise is another common cause of anxiety – especially in fireworks season. These loud noises and unfamiliar sounds overwhelm our dogs’ senses and they quickly become stressed, and in some cases, frantic.
Separation anxiety is another common form of dog anxiety, and is estimated to affect between 13 to 18% of dogs. It usually happens when a dog is left home alone – they find it hard to relax or get comfortable when they’re away from people they love. This can lead to destruction, excessive barking and other unwanted behaviours.
Sometimes separation anxiety can be confused with boredom, so it’s important to understand the true cause of your dog’s behaviour when you’re away from them. If their behaviour is due to a lack of mental stimulation, try out boredom busters such as chew toys and lick mats.
How to spot anxiety in dogs
Our dogs rely on body language and behaviour to communicate with us, so keep an eye out for some of the more common behaviours a stressed or anxious dog might display.
- Ears back
- Restless or at high alert
- Destructive behaviour
- Loss of appetite
- Shaking, cowering or hiding
- Growling or baring teeth
- Biting or snapping
- Barking or howling
- Unwillingness to interact
If these behaviours are frequent and ongoing, it’s important to speak to a vet or behaviourist to help you identify the source of your dog’s anxiety.
How to treat anxiety in dogs
Speaking to your vet is the first step. They can help you identify the type of anxiety your dog has – as well as the possible triggers. Your vet will also be able to rule out any potential medical conditions that could be causing your dog’s behaviour.
Your vet may suggest behavioural therapy to manage your dog’s anxiety through training. A certified behaviourist will usually introduce desensitisation or counter conditioning methods. This is where you work on gradually changing your dog’s response to the trigger.
Behaviourists usually suggest you slowly expose your dog to their trigger in small doses whilst rewarding positive behaviour with treats and praise. Your dog will soon realise there is nothing to fear – only good things happen when they’re around the trigger. It’s important to remember that like with any training, patience and perseverance is key.
Exercise is as much a mood-booster for dogs as it is for humans. Burning off your dog’s energy reduces the likelihood that they’ll become wound up or hypersensitive to their surroundings. With highly anxious dogs, you can try exercising them in places or at times when they’re unlikely to encounter their triggers.
If your dog is extremely anxious, your vet might suggest that you try medication. It can help to relieve some of the symptoms and make your dog feel more relaxed – we recommend having a chat to your vet if you think your dog might need medication.
Common dog mental health issues
Depression: dogs experience depression in a similar way to humans. Your might might seem withdrawn and sad.
Canine Compulsive Disorder: when dogs get anxious, stressed or frustrated, they can develop compulsive behaviours to help them cope, such as spinning, barking, air snapping and more. They usually occur frequently throughout the day and for long periods of time.
Social anxiety: when dogs aren’t socialised as a puppy, being around other dogs and people can be scary – and lead to aggressive behaviours. Socialisation when dogs are young is important to make sure they feel comfortable in new situations when they’re older.
Separation anxiety: it’s a common condition that’s stressful for both dogs and owners. The anxiety can start as soon as you put your coat on or grab your keys, so working out the triggers will help you and your dog feel comfortable when it’s time to leave.
Why is my dog whining for no reason?
Dogs might whine for any number of reasons – excitement, frustration, attention seeking, pain, or simply because they want something. It can be a learned behaviour to get what they want or it might be because something else is going on.
Whining out of the blue for no reason could mean your dog is feeling worried, lonely or unhappy about their current situation. If your dog starts whining just before you leave the house, or starts panting and pacing, separation anxiety might be the cause.
If you think your dog is suffering from a form of dog anxiety, book an appointment with your vet. Anxiety and mental health disorders are tough for dogs and their owners, but by seeking help you’ll be well on your way to seeing your dog happy and relaxed again.