Written by Dr. Ericka Carroll, VMD
Anxious Dogs: Bellowing Blues and Doggie Downers
Just like us, our canine pals can also suffer from relentless worrying, indescribable fears, and sometimes just feel down on life. Left unaddressed, these concerns can lead to physical health problems and emotional unwellness. Luckily, there are things we can do to help lift Fido’s spirits and get his tail wagging. What are the signs of dog anxiety? What are the types and causes of dog anxiety? What can be done to treat dogs with anxiety? Board-certified dog veterinarian Dr. Ericka Carroll digs into this with us.
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What are some signs of anxiety in dogs?
Hello Ralphie: What are some of the signs of anxiety?
Dr. Carroll: Having treated hundreds of dogs with anxiety, I can say that no two are alike.
Dogs can show anxiety in a variety of behaviors that range from hiding to pacing to destructive behaviors such as digging at walls, tearing up furniture, running away, and peeing in the house. They can also ‘’talk’’ to us in ways that range from a sad cry or whine to an agitated bark or howl. Many times pet parents will also note their anxious dogs drooling, panting, lip licking, yawning, or holding their ears pinned back. Has your pup turned into your shadow? Read more about why your dog may be following you everywhere.
What causes anxiety in dogs?
Hello Ralphie: What causes dogs to feel anxious or nervous?
Dr. Carroll: Although anxiety can develop for many reasons, I generally tend to see three main categories.
Types of anxious behavior
Strangers, other dogs, certain objects (i.e. umbrellas, bicycles), and certain situations (i.e. car rides, walking on hardwood floors) can trigger fear anxiety in some dogs. This behavior is typically caused by several underlying factors including genetic predisposition, inadequate socialization with the fear trigger, and a previous bad experience.
Dogs with separation anxiety become distressed when left alone or are away from certain family members. These dogs might also seem agitated or nervous before people leave the home. Moves, changes in household members, or new routines may trigger separation anxiety.
Dogs can develop anxiety and phobias to many noises, such as thunder, fireworks, smoke detectors, garbage trucks, and lawnmowers. A previous negative experience or lack of early exposure to such noises are the most common reasons for noise anxiety.
What can be done to treat anxious dogs?
Hello Ralphie: What can be done to treat pups with anxiety?
Dr. Carroll: I recommend three general approaches to treating dog anxiety.
If possible, avoiding the trigger of the anxiety can be a first good step while working through techniques to address the root cause. Although it may not be possible to completely avoid the trigger, sometimes creative steps can be taken to help. For example, white noise in the background, closing blinds to avoid seeing outside triggers, and going on walks during off-peak hours can help dampen some anxiety triggers. Additionally, creating a safe space in your home where your dog can retreat to during times of stress can help lessen the anxiety response. Working with an online veterinarian is a great way to get advice on how to set up your home to help avoid anxiety triggers in your dog’s living space. Read more on how often you should walk your dog.
Desensitization and Counterconditioning
The goal of this technique is to slowly train your dog to have a relaxed response to an anxiety provoking trigger. After identifying the anxiety trigger, experiment with finding the lowest intensity of the trigger where no negative behaviors are elicited. Read more about dog anxiety and barking.
Over time, slowly increase the intensity while rewarding a calm, relaxed behavior with food, a toy, or belly rub. Over time, your dog will learn to associate the anxiety trigger with a positive reward rather than anxious feelings. An online veterinarian is a great resource to help identify anxiety triggers as well as develop a counterconditioning program tailored to treat your dog.
Medical Therapies and Supplements
A variety of medications, natural supplements, and products can be very helpful to treat anxiety. Given the numerous options available, it is best to speak with a veterinarian about which options are safest for your dog and customize a plan specific for your pup’s anxiety. A virtual veterinarian can be ideal for this to help avoid any unnecessary anxiety-proving trips to a clinic.
Three Anxiety Takeaways
- There are many triggers for anxiety including fear, separation from people, and noises.
- Addressing a dog’s anxiety is necessary for both physical and emotional well-being. A multimodal approach is key to successful treatment. Helpful tips for dealing with excessive barking.
- An online veterinarian can help identify anxiety triggers, as well as create a customized recommendation plan on how to best address a dog’s anxiety without a stressful trip to the clinic.