Last updated: 24 Nov, 2023
Published on: 30 Jun, 2017
How to tell if a dog is anxious and how to help
Some dogs are anxious, just like some people can be anxious.
Some dogs may be genetically predisposed towards anxiety - just like some people are. Other dogs may develop anxieties as a result of stressful or scary past experiences - or simply by not having experienced certain things before.
Anxiety can manifest in many ways - separation anxiety, noise and storm phobias, dog to dog aggression, leash reactivity, to name but a few.
The good news is, there are lots of simple things you can do to help anxious dogs feel better!
Firstly, let’s talk about dog body language.
Learning to read your dog’s body language is so important! If you don’t know what to look for, you might not even be aware of when your dog is feeling stressed or anxious.
Some of the signs are subtle, but once you know what to look for, you and your dog will be on the road to stress-free times.
If you spot any of these early warning signs, it’s time to act. Don’t wait until your dog is resorting to growling or biting to communicate its unease. Distract your dog with something pleasant (treats are always good!), and move your dog onto a less stressful situation.
Secondly, if your dog is suffering from some form of anxiety that’s making you or your dog’s life difficult, seek professional support.
Start with a vet check-up to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be causing or contributing to your dog’s anxiety. Sometimes a physical health issue can be at the root of the problem.
Then, get some practical support from a professional behaviourist who uses positive training methods. A behaviourist will be able to help devise a behavioural modification plan and help address the cause of the anxiety, which will give you the tools you need to move forward. Find a behaviourist here.
Beware of any training or behavioural modification companies that employ punishment techniques. Punishing a fearful or anxious dog only makes matters worse.
Thirdly, try these easy tips to keep your hound happy.
Consider crate training
Giving your dog a safe space to retreat to when life gets a bit too stressful and scary can make a world of difference to an anxious pooch. Your mission is to make the crate the most wonderful place on earth! Find out more about crate training here.
Give your dog a job!
Boredom can breed worry, but keeping your dog’s body and mind busy can help keep those anxious feelings at bay. As well as regular exercise, why not put away your dog’s regular food bowl, and get your dog to work for its dinner by using food-dispensing toys! Or hide treats around the house for a fun hide, sniff and seek game while you’re out.
Respect your pet’s personal boundaries
All dogs have different personalities, in the same way that people are all different. Some people love going out, enjoy loud parties and thrive on meeting new people. Other people prefer to hang out at home with a good book and are much happier in small gatherings with close friends. Bear that in mind when managing your expectations of your pet’s behaviour. Some dogs are always going to find off-lead dog parks with lots of boisterous dogs challenging.
Fill your dog’s life with positive experiences
Whenever you can, give your dog lots of positive life experiences - whether that’s leaving some fun and tasty treat-filled toys when you go out for the day, or distracting your dog during stressful vet visits by arming yourself with some chopped-up chicken loaf. Liver treats are your friend!
Chuck out the word “naughty” from your vocabulary!
Anxiety-driven behaviours are sometimes misinterpreted as your dog being “naughty”. Ever gone out for the day, only to return to find your best shoes chewed to pieces? And then noticed your dog acting “guilty”? Actually, your dog may feel anxious when you are out, and chewing releases endorphins which makes him feel better. And he chooses your shoes, as they smell like the one he loves! He’s also learnt that when you go out, you are unpredictable when you get home. You might be happy to see him, or you might be aggressive, telling him off for chewing the shoes - which just increases the anxiety and the chewing! Try to remember that when issues arise, your dog isn’t trying to give you a hard time - he’s having a hard time.
It can be a really rewarding experience to foster or adopt a dog with anxiety and work with them to help manage and overcome their issues. For more detailed information on anxiety in pets, check out Dr Sophia Yin’s articles here.