The more time we spend with our dogs, the more we feel like we have an intuitive knack of knowing how they’re feeling at any given time. They’re great at expressing when they’re happy, hungry, tired or just want a good belly scratch, but unfortunately anxiety is a lot trickier to notice in dogs and you’d be forgiven for incorrectly interpreting these symptoms. The more you know about what triggers anxiety in your dog, the quicker you can notice the signs and seek help for them.
What causes anxiety in dogs?
Particular sounds, situations and environments can all lead to anxiety and stress in your dog. These situations can include:
- Being apart from their owner, that is, separation anxiety.
- Car travel
- Moving house
- A new baby in the home or unfamiliar visitors
- Building or renovation work
- Veterinary visits and returning from hospitalisation
- Hectic/noisy events (Christmas, fireworks, thunderstorms, parties)
- Change in routine (pet sitters, new job routines)
For some dogs, the cause is less obvious and possibly related to temperament, genetics and past negative experiences.
What are the symptoms of anxiety in dogs?
Correctly interpreting your dog’s body language is very important. Below are some of the initial reactions that your dog may display when they come across an anxiety inducing experience:
- Lip licking
- Ears pinned back, lying flat on the head
- Corners of the mouth pulling back, which may appear like they’re ‘smiling’
- Hypervigilant, constantly scanning the environment, running around the house or yard constantly
- Tucked tail
- Hair on their back going up
- Hiding behind your legs or furniture
- Turning or looking away
- Panting and drooling
- Sudden urination or defecation
- Destructive behaviour
- Defensive aggression – growling, biting, barking
How to help a dog with anxiety
Avoid their triggers
The best way to help your dog with anxiety is to identify the signs and triggers for their anxiety and to remove them from these situations. Reassure your dog and never punish them for their reactions. Seek advice from your local Greencross Vets team, veterinary behaviourists and certified behaviour trainers who use positive training methods, and avoid your dog’s triggers until their anxiety has been managed.
Socialise them early
The critical socialisation period of a dog is when they are 4-16 weeks old. This is the period where a dog’s brain actively learns how to accept and interact with other members in social groups (dogs, people and other animals) and their environment. For a puppy to develop into a friendly, confident and happy adult, regular handling and being exposed to novel situations in a non-threatening manner during this period is very important.
Research has shown that puppies who are not exposed to other dogs and people during this critical period are more likely to develop fearful and aggressive behaviour, and behavioural problems later in their lives. Therefore, it’s very important to socialise your puppy before they’re 16 weeks old.
One of the most useful ways to reassure or appease your anxious dog is to use Adaptil. Adaptil is a synthetic copy of the natural pheromone that a puppy’s mother releases during nursing. This pheromone is only detectable to dogs, so you and your other non-dog pets won’t notice any difference but your best friend will feel safe and secure and experience less fear and stress.
When you’re on the go, pheromone collars or sprays are available. Spray can be applied to a bandana that your dog wears and will last for 2 hours.
When you’re at home, set up a diffuser to create a relaxing environment for your dog. Collars and diffusers will need to be changed monthly.
Some wet and dry dog foods are especially formulated to help relieve anxiety. For instance, they may have naturally-sourced active proteins that have a calming effect on dogs. You can explore available options on the Petbarn Food Finder and speak with your local Greencross Vets team for recommendations.
If you suspect your canine companion may be suffering from anxiety, always seek the advice of your vet. Especially when the symptoms rapidly appear over a short period of time, they could possibly relate to medical problems or pain that causes an increase in irritability.