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
- 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?
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 anxietyin 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.