Dogs suffer from anxiety just like people do. Any dog breed is susceptible to anxiety and, if left untreated, it can lead to serious behavioral problems. There are three basic reasons that dogs become anxious:
- Fear. Dogs express fear-based anxiety in reaction to several triggers. These might include thunder or loud sounds like fireworks, strange places, strange people, or unusual surfaces such as a slippery linoleum floor.
- Separation (which also can be fear-based). Separation anxiety strikes when dogs do not have the coping mechanisms to deal with being left alone. This type of anxiety is estimated to affect around 14% of the dog population and has led to an untold amount of destruction within homes.
- Aging. Just like their humans, some dogs are prone to forms of forgetfulness and dementia as they age. Your dog’s ability to think and process information may begin to decline. This can lead to anxiety in senior dogs.
Most pet owners can tell when their dog is afraid of certain things like fireworks or slippery floors. But what many pet owners don’t know is that anxiety is the root cause of many common behavior problems. These include aggression and destructive behaviors like chewing.
Here are some signs that your dog is becoming anxious:
- Excessive drooling
- Excessive licking or biting the skin
- Tail tucked, body crouching
- Attempting to flee
- Barking, whining
- Chewing or destruction of objects
- Urinating or defecating in the house
Dogs With Anxiety Can Become Aggressive
Dog aggression is the most dangerous result of anxiety. It may manifest in barking, growling, or biting. Many anxious dogs will lash out with misplaced aggression if provoked. For example, an anxious dog may attack another dog in the yard if the target is beyond reach outside the fence.
There are various ways to treat anxiety in dogs. These include training, medical assistance and in-home treatments. The first step is to speak with your veterinarian to ensure that the cause is not a more serious medical condition. Here are some pet anxiety do’s and don’ts to keep in mind, from our veterinary advisor Dr. Little.
Once you rule out anything that might be causing physical pain in your dog, you may want to contact a qualified dog trainer or behaviorist. The trainer should show you some positive motivational techniques that will either divert the behavior by replacing it with another behavior or desensitize your dog to whatever is scaring him or her. Most phobias can be reduced through a long-term commitment to serious, positive conditioning.
Here are a few steps you can take in addition to working with a trainer:
- Aerobic Exercise. Regular exercise is the cure for many issues. Just like in people, it relieves stress almost immediately through the production of serotonin, the brain’s “feel-good” chemical. Exercise is the best way to release pent-up energy. It’s the perfect opportunity to give massive benefits to both you and your dog. Make a routine of walking your dog, running with your dog, playing fetch, or enrolling in agility classes. It will also offer a more intensive bonding opportunity for the two of you.
- Massage. The power of touch cannot be emphasized enough. Schedule a time each day where you can give your dog some hands-on relaxation. Everybody pets their dog, but few people make time to offer a deep, muscle-relaxing massage that will improve circulation and get the calming pheromones working. This exercise will bond you with your dog and offers many health benefits to both of you.
- Nutrition and Supplements. If you are feeding your dog a corn-based diet, now is the time to switch to a better quality food. Check the ingredients on your bag of dog food. Talk to your veterinarian about the best quality nutrition for your dog.
Last but not least, think about the stress levels in your home. Is your own lifestyle affording you time for relaxation? Your dog may be mirroring your moods. If you are experiencing anxiety, they almost certainly will too. It may be time to examine your habits and develop a healthier lifestyle for the benefit of your dog, and for yourself too.
If you think your dog may be experiencing anxiety, contact your veterinarian.