Not all pet owners understand the severity of their furry friend's anxiety or even if their dog has anxiety.
Anxiety in dogs is relatively common, especially in their early years or when they are a rescue pup. Whether you're a new dog owner or new to navigating the world of anxious dogs, we understand how difficult it can be to raise a nervous pup, so we're here to help you identify dog anxiety and what you can do to help them.
Different Types of Anxiety and Common Anxious Behaviors
The first thing to keep in mind is that many dogs experience different types of anxiety and nervousness. So it's essential first to identify what your dog is experiencing. Here are the most common types of anxieties seen in dogs:
- Separation Anxiety - when your dog acts out or acts nervous when his or her master is away. Here are some common signs of separation anxiety according to the ASPCA:
- Urinating and defecating
- Barking and howling
- Chewing, digging, and destruction
- Attempting to escape
- Travel Anxiety - when a dog acts nervous when going for a car ride. Here are some common symptoms related to travel anxiety:
- Motion sickness
- Excessive slobbering
- Noise Anxiety - when a dog is nervous or is fearful of loud noises such as thunder, fireworks, and large crowds, to name a few. These are the behaviors your dog may demonstrate if he/she is experiencing noise anxiety:
- Attempting to escape
- Social anxiety - when a dog is nervous when meeting new people or new animals. Your dog is likely to show the following signs if he/she has social anxiety:
- Excessive Slobber
- Cowering behind owner
- Generalized anxiety - constant symptoms of fear and nervousness regardless of the dog's situation and environment. The above signs can also be demonstrated in this case, but here are some other behaviors to look out for:
- Running away
- Cowering in the corner of a house
- Licking or chewing his/her own body excessively
- Not eating
- Frequent urination
- Inability to settle down
How to Help: Training
When you notice your dog has anxiety or demonstrates similar behavior, it's essential to start training immediately. With each type of anxiety comes a little bit of a different approach. However, the biggest thing you’ll be working on, in any case, is changing your dog's negative association with the trigger. Here are some tips on how to train your furry friend that's dealing with any anxiety:
- Purchase and utilize food puzzle toys that can keep your dog busy while you're away. Just be sure to take away these toys when you are home, so your dog sees the toy as a special treat for good behavior when you are away.
- Start by only leaving for 10-15 minutes, then gradually increasing the time you're away as your dog becomes more comfortable with your absence.
- Understand your pre-departure ques. For example, if you always put your shoes and coat on or grab your keys before leaving, your pup associates those activities with your departure. Instead, do all the things that you usually do before you leave and then stay home. If you do this, it shows your dog that these ques aren't always going to lead to you leaving, which will get him or her more comfortable with your pre-departure routine.
- You don't want to remind your dog that you're leaving or that you've just been gone for a long time, so don't give him or her a ton of attention right before you leave or right when you come home. Once your dog has calmed down after you've arrived home, you can give them the amount of attention you desire.
- Consider crate training as an option. As long as you create a safe environment in the crate, your dog may prefer to stay there when you're away. Crate training may not be logical for all situations; use your best judgment to decide whether or not you utilize this option.
- Create a safe and comfortable space for them. Creating a place where they know they are safe can dramatically affect their experience in the car.
- Slowly get them used to riding in the car. On the first day of travel training, get them in the car and reward them when they calm down. The next day, get them in the car and drive around for a few minutes. Reward them again if they were calm throughout the entirety of the drive. Gradually increase the time you spend with them in the car to get them more and more comfortable on long car trips.
- Offer refuge or a safe place during times when there are loud noises. Many dog owners will opt for a comfortable crate with a blanket draped over it as a thin sound barrier.
- Bring your dog inside and play music or turn on the television to partially drown out the sound.
- Pressure wraps have been proven to help keep dogs come during times of distress. Pressure wraps essentially give your dog some added pressure that feels like a sort of "hug," which can help them feel more relaxed.
- Exposure therapy is also an option for dogs. If you can't always offer one of the above options, you can try exposing your dog to a low level of noise in a controlled environment, then reward them as they get accustomed to it. Slowly increase the levels louder and louder over time until they learn to tolerate it.
- Exposure practices are by far the most beneficial type of training. Try starting with a reasonable distance between your dog and the subject (whether it's a human or another dog), then gradually decrease the length, rewarding good behavior as you move closer. If your dog begins to act up or demonstrate anxious behavior, increase the distance or remove you and your dog from the situation until he or she calms down.
- If your dog mostly struggles with human interactions, start by letting your dog meet one person at a time and try to let your dog start the interaction.
- When a dog has anxiety, consistent and routine training by redirecting bad behavior to good behavior is the best practice. Make sure you start by rewarding good behaviors only rather than punishing for bad behavior.
- Everyone in the household should be actively involved in the training, so your dog is comfortable staying home with anyone in the household.
Seeking Medical Treatment from Your Veterinarian
While training is always the first step to helping your dog cope with and overcome anxiety, medical treatment may be a viable option in severe cases. Dr. Adam Densih, on the petMD website, recommends that you should seek treatment from a vet when "...it has adversely affected the animal's quality of life, when it is impacting on the owner's happiness, and definitely before the behavior becomes habitual."
In cases like these, veterinarians can prescribe an immediate and short-term anti-anxiety medication for situational anxiety. Generalized and frequent anxiety can be treated with a daily anti-anxiety medication in the most severe cases. When your dog has anxiety of any form, don't be afraid to ask your vet for help. Some vets may give you more training advice and tips before defaulting to a prescription drug.
Other Factors to Keep in Mind
While different dogs need different amounts of exercise, keeping your dog stimulated and active can reduce anxiety levels tremendously. Make sure to research your dog's breed and how much exercise they require. Remember, a healthy dog is a happy one! And with that said, make sure your dog is getting plenty of nutrients and eating a well-balanced diet.
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