Dog anxiety is a problem that affects many dogs, with research showing that anywhere between 15% and 50% of our dogs show some symptoms of anxiety. When you add to that the sheer scope of things they get anxious about, which includes a fear of noise, people and objects as well as anxiety at being left on their own, you’ve got a problem that can be difficult to identify and deal with.
The effect of anxiety on dogs is to create what often looks like ‘bad behaviour’ and can lead owners to think they have a poorly trained dog rather than an anxious one. For example, some dog owners will use ‘shock collars’ to control excessive barking, but if the barking is caused by anxiety, they are treating the symptom rather than the root cause of the problem and the anxiety will remain.
This confusion can lead to the wrong approach to solving the anxiety and can sometimes make the problem worse. Take for instance a dog pooping in the house; to their owner it can look like their dog needs more house training, and they may well punish the dog for his behaviour. However, this approach is likely to make the dog more anxious as they will not understand what they have done wrong or why they are being punished.
Dog Anxiety Symptoms
Because all dogs have different personalities, they also react differently to stressful situations, however their anxious behaviour largely falls into these groups.
Nuisance Noise: Excessive barking, howling, whining, yelping or crying
Dog Behaviour Problems: Your dog chewing everything, digging, scratching at doors, carpets and windows and in extreme cases completely destroying furniture and breaking through plasterboard walls!
Physical Symptom of Dog Anxiety: Panting, drooling and salivating excessively, pooping and urinating in the house, hyper greetings when you return home, non-stop pacing, trembling, hiding and self-mutilation (like chewing tail or paws until raw).
Causes of Dog Anxiety
You sometimes hear it said that a dog suffering from anxiety, particularly separation anxiety, must be being neglected, however this is rarely true, as too much attention can cause anxiety too. The reality is that a dog’s anxiety can be triggered in all sorts of ways, ranging from a lack of socialisation when they were puppies, through to a reaction to a major change in their life, including:
- Moving house (change of territory)
- A major change in their pack (i.e. someone leaves due to divorce)
- The arrival of another dog
- The arrival of a baby
- A change in their health (feeling vulnerable, aging)
- A major incident in early life (like abandonment)
- The transition from puppy to adult dog
Study of the wolf pack also suggests that a dog that takes on the role of pack leader within your household may also suffer with anxiety as this role makes them responsible for safeguarding the rest of the pack. This is something they obviously cannot do if you go out and leave them home alone.
Finding the Right Dog Anxiety Treatment
There are a number of different approaches to solving the problem which include the use of training, non-prescription medication, prescription medication and the use of a range of products specifically designed to reduce anxiety.
Dog Anxiety Training
A specific training programme based on behaviour modification and desensitisation can get rid of a dogs anxiety completely. The techniques used for desensitisation will gradually expose the dog to their anxiety triggers in a controlled way, teaching the dog to be calm at low levels of exposure and then gradually increasing their tolerance to that trigger.
This might sound complicated but in reality can be as simple as starting by leaving your dog alone for a few seconds until they do not get anxious when you do and then increasing the time they are left by a few more seconds, each time waiting until they are calm and relaxed before moving on.
Training needs a consistent approach, and must not be based on punishment for their behaviour as it is likely to make it worse, nor should it be based on comforting the dog for their behaviour as this could encourage the dog to use their symptoms as a means of attention seeking.
Dog Anxiety Medication
There are a variety of non-prescription medicines that can be bought over the counter (or on the internet) that claim to help calm a dog and at the same time are naturally based, so contain nothing that could be harmful to your dog.
Prescription medication will only be recommended for extreme cases of dog anxiety and you will need to get them from your vet. Some will have a seditary effect on your dog and others can alter the general mood of your dog. It can take a few weeks to get the level of medication right in your dog and there can be side effects including allergic reactions, the potential of liver damage, lethargy or depression, vomiting or diarrhoea. You should research these medications carefully and take advice from a professional before giving them to your dog.
Many vets will recommed the use of a training programme alongside medication for maximum effect.
Dog Anxiety Products
There are numerous products that are used to help alleviate anxiety, including toys stuffed with food to distract your dog or favourites toys for them to play with. There are also a range of other products including a pheremone plugin that works like an airfreshner, and pressure wraps that work physically to help keep the dog calm. Again you need to research them and decide if they are right for your dog.
Dog Anxiety Solutions
Dog anxiety is unlikely to go away if just left alone, infact over time it is more likely to intensify and for the behaviour to get worse. And while the problems can seem too big to tackle for some dog owners, by investing some time and patience into understanding anxiety, identifying the symptoms in your dog, and then using the training and products available to you, you can get rid of it.
You can learn more about dog anxiety by watching a free video series created by a professional dog trainer, click here to access it now.