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When Your Dog Has Anxiety
Just like us, dogs can experience anxiety. When dogs get stressed, like any other animal, their autonomic nervous system kicks in and prepares them for fight or flight. Anxiety occurs when a dog is anticipating unknown or imagined fears, but has a physical response to these fears. The most common behaviors associated with dog anxiety are:
The most common form of anxiety in dogs is separation anxiety. If your dog exhibits any signs of anxious behavior when you two are not together, this is a good indicator your dog may be experiencing separation anxiety. Other signals your dog is feeling stressed or anxious include body language. Dogs who are stressed may lower their ears, show the white of their eyes, lick their lips and freeze in place.
Dogs can also experience social anxiety, which usually happens if a dog is not socialized very early on in life. You sometimes see this in rescue dogs. Dogs with social anxiety can be fearful of people, strange surroundings or other dogs. If you notice signs of anxiety in your dog, it’s important to intervene early to help relieve your dog’s stress.
What to do
Note, not all destructive behaviors are due to anxiety. Some are due to boredom or lack of proper exercise. If your dog is exhibiting anxious behavior, take him or her to the vet to get a diagnosis.
If your dog is experiencing separation anxiety, make sure he or she gets plenty of exercise. Long walks can build your dog’s confidence, relieve some of the adrenaline from anxiety and help curb destructive behaviors. Also, increase your dog’s training. Mental stimulation is a good distraction from anxiety, and keeping your dog’s body busy will keep his or her mind relaxed.
You can also use behavior modification and desensitization to help ease fears. For example, if your dog experiences social anxiety, you can expose him or her to social situations for short periods of time while rewarding your dog. This can help change your dog’s association of social situations to a positive one over time.
Swaddling your dog can also help ease anxiety. There are products on the market like the Anxiety Wrap or the ThunderShirt designed to help keep your dog calm. Swaddling a dog is not like swaddling a baby, so pay careful attention to the directions on these products.
There are medications available to help when you have exhausted other methods, but these are usually a last resort. Medication may be combined with several different methods and therapies to help ease your dog’s anxiety.
Finally, remember that this anxiety wasn’t built overnight and won’t be cured overnight. It will take time, training and patience to work through it, but it will be well worth the effort in the end to improve your dog’s mental health and your relationship with your dog.
If you have questions about your dog’s behavior, contact us. If we can’t answer your questions, we will point you in the right direction.
Lisa Marino, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP, PMCT, has taken her varied teaching experiences and applied them to helping owners understand and train their beloved four-legged family members. She has more than four years’ experience leading group dog training classes at Best Paw Forward in Hartland, WI, and opened Head of the Class Dog Training LLC in Winchester, VA in 2012, where she conducts group classes and private lessons, as well as helps owners to modify their dogs' problem behaviors.
Lisa earned her CPDT-KA in 2012, is a 2015 graduate of the prestigious Karen Pryor Academy and is a Pat Miller Certified Trainer.
She has 4 registered therapy dogs and is a Pet Partner Therapy Team Evaluator and a member of HOPE AACR. As a former middle school teacher, she works well with families and children and does school presentations on various dog related topics.