Your Complete Guide to Dog Anxiety
How to Identify, Prevent, and Treat Anxiety in Dogs
Sharing your home and heart with a dog is one of life’s most rewarding experiences.
Studies have proven that owning a dog can improve your health in many ways, up to and including lowering your risk of having a heart attack.
But having a furry best friend can also come with some serious challenges, especially if you’re worried that your pup could be suffering from anxiety, which strikes dogs just as frequently as it does humans, and can make you feel heartbroken and powerless.
Anxiety can affect dogs of any age or breed, and while a bit of temporary stress is a normal part of life, if dog anxiety is left unchecked, it can develop into more worrisome behavioral and health issues.
But how do you know if your dog is anxious?
This guide is here to help by explaining everything pet parents need to know about dog anxiety.
We’ll go over the common symptoms, causes, and treatments of dog anxiety, as well as give you some tips on how to prevent anxiety in your pup.
After reading our guide to dog anxiety, you’ll have the information you need to help your nervous pooch and be able to feel empowered as a knowledgeable pet parent.
But in case you don’t have any time to spare, you can skip to our dog anxiety FAQ at the end.
Ready to help your dog live an anxiety-free life? Let’s get started with the basics...
The good news is there are plenty of signs that your dog is feeling anxious.
You just have to know what you’re looking for when it comes to identifying anxiety in dogs, which is one of the main reasons we’ve created this guide.
Some of the most common symptoms of dog anxiety are:
- Panting or drooling
- Pacing or fidgeting
- Whining or whimpering
- Shivering or trembling
- Excessive paw licking
- Hiding or trying to escape
- Constant barking or howling
- Urinating or defecating indoors
- Aggression toward pets or people
- Tucking the tail between the legs
- Dilated pupils and avoiding eye contact
- Destructive behavior like chewing or digging
It goes without saying that aggression is the most dangerous and troubling of the listed symptoms of dog anxiety. Whether aggressive behavior is directed at dogs or people, watching your pup suddenly begin to growl or lunge in anger can be sad and shocking.
Having accidents in the house after being potty trained is a less frightening but undeniably frustrating sign of dog anxiety.
An anxious pup might also begin to dig up carpeting or try to break out of their crate, which can result in painful (and expensive) injuries.
What Types of Dog Anxiety Are There?
Now that you know how to spot an anxious pup, let’s talk about the different types of dog anxiety, as well as what causes them to occur in the first place.
We’re going to start with the most common type of canine anxiety.
Separation Anxiety in Dogs:
One of the things we love most about dogs is how social and lovable they are.
Dogs are pack animals that truly enjoy being around people and other pups.
But when left alone or separated from their human family, many dogs are unable to comfort themselves, which leads to the panic and destructive symptoms of separation anxiety in dogs.
Fear-Induced Anxiety in Dogs:
Anxiety caused by fear is also very common in dogs.
This type of dog anxiety can be triggered by loud noises, exposure to new people or places, car rides or trips to the vet’s office, or even encountering unfamiliar walking surfaces like wood flooring or concrete.
Age-Related Anxiety in Dogs:
Older dogs can suffer from aging-induced anxiety, which is related to canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), a condition that’s similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
The memory, perception, and mental clarity of senior dogs begin to decline as they age, and this very understandably leads to confusion and anxious feelings.
Illness-Induced Anxiety in Dogs:
Certain illnesses and medical issues can lead to anxiety in dogs. Some of the most common culprits of illness-induced anxiety in dogs are hearing loss, diabetes, and hypothyroidism.
Signs of anxiety can many times lead to a diagnosis of disease in dogs, which makes regular communication with your pup’s vet especially crucial.
General Anxiety in Dogs:
There are some dogs who just seem to be born nervous. These pups have what’s known as a generalized anxiety disorder.
General anxiety in dogs is just as common as it is in humans, and it should be taken seriously by pet parents, starting with a veterinary consult and discussion about the best treatment of canine anxiety for your pup
What Are the Causes of Dog Anxiety?
- Illness or pain from physical trauma
- Fear of a new person, place, or thing
- Mental or physical abuse in a previous home
- Central nervous system diseases or toxins
- Neglect or abandonment by a previous owner
- Time spent in a pet shelter or animal rescue
- Being deprived of social interactions as a puppy
- Long-term confinement in a pen, crate, or on a chain
- Prolonged exposure to loud noises like gunfire or fireworks
- Being forced into an unfamiliar and frightening environment
- Any or all of the above situations can cause dog anxiety.
Even if you’ve had your dog since they were a tiny puppy, you might find yourself dealing with separation or general anxiety in your dog, especially if your pup is one of the breeds that most frequently suffer from being anxious.
What Dog Breeds Are Prone to Anxiety?
Although any dog can suffer from any type of anxiety, there are certain breeds that are more prone to being anxious, especially when it comes to being left alone.
The following list includes dog breeds that suffer from separation anxiety most frequently.
Vizsla: This beautiful hunting dog from Hungary is not only a high-energy breed, but it’s also a highly social one, which means a lack of exercise or being home alone can easily lead to anxiety and distress in Vizslas.
Toy Poodle: Bred to be a companion animal, the Toy Poodle typically has a gentle temperament, but this breed also requires a lot of attention and affection from their people. Toy Poodles can become anxious and depressed if left alone for long periods.
Bichon Frise: This is another dog that was bred to be a companion, and while the Bichon Frise makes an amazing lap dog, it thrives on being with its human family, and the Bichon Frise can suffer severe distress when alone for extended periods of time.
Border Collie: An extremely intelligent and high-energy breed, the Border Collie was bred to herd sheep, and it’s a dog that needs plenty of physical and mental stimulation to avoid boredom. Border Collies can quickly become anxious when not kept active.
German Shepherd: This working breed is famous for playing a large role in law enforcement, but the German Shepherd can also make a wonderful companion if it stays active and stimulated.
Separation anxiety is very common in German Shepherds that are left home alone with nothing to occupy their time.
Labrador Retriever: One of the most popular family dogs, the Labrador Retriever is known for its sweet temperament, but because the Lab is so social, this breed can easily go from a relaxed companion to an anxious mess when left alone all day.
Jack Russell Terrier: This is another high-energy breed, and the Jack Russell requires a lot of mental and physical stimulation to stay happy and healthy. JRTs have been known to get into quite a bit of trouble when left alone, and separation anxiety can cause the Jack Russell Terrier to turn into a furry little destruction machine.
Australian Shepherd: Another high-energy and highly intelligent breed, the Australian Shepherd is a working dog that needs a job to feel satisfied, which means Aussies require plenty of mental and physical stimulation in a typical suburban home to keep anxiety at bay.
Cavalier King Charles: This breed makes an awesome lap dog and loves to spend time with its human family. Although the Cavalier King Charles doesn’t need anywhere near as much exercise as other dogs, it can quickly develop separation anxiety when left home alone, and it’s been known to bark long and loud to share the news.
German Shorthaired Pointer: Bred to be a hunting partner, the German Pointer is a smart and active dog, and definitely a breed that can quickly become bored if not kept stimulated and entertained. German Pointers have been known to suffer from separation anxiety quite easily, and typically show you by obsessively self-grooming.
If your furry best friend is on this list of anxious dog breeds or suffers from generalized or separation anxiety, you can help them stay happy by doing your best to maintain a consistent schedule, keeping a calm home environment, and making sure your pup gets plenty of regular exercise.
How Do You Treat a Dog With Anxiety?
Your first step in treating dog anxiety should be a visit to your pup’s veterinarian.
Your dog’s doctor can help you to identify what type of anxiety your pup is struggling with and then assist you in finding the safest and simplest solution.
Your vet will create an anxiety treatment plan for your dog.
Depending on the severity and leading causes of your pup’s anxiety, their doctor might recommend several options, including behavioral training, anti-anxiety meds, and alternative therapies.
Dog Anxiety Training Strategies
Quite a few vets recommend behavioral modification techniques for anxiety relief in dogs.
One of the most common training strategies used to reduce dog anxiety is known as canine counter-conditioning, which requires the pet parent to help their dog replace anxious behavior with a more positive one like focusing on people or a toy.
Another strategy for reducing dog anxiety is desensitization, which is where a pet parent slowly introduces their pup to the source of their anxiety in small and slow doses.
This allows some dogs to become more confident around their anxiety triggers.
Not all dogs will benefit from anti-anxiety training techniques or even be able to tolerate them well, so your safest choice is contacting a reputable dog trainer or canine behavioral specialist for professional help and advice.
Anti-Anxiety Medications for Dogs
Some veterinarians will want to prescribe medication for dog anxiety.
This is especially true in severe cases where a dog has become aggressive or has been injured when especially anxious.
A few of the most common anti-anxiety medications for dogs include SSRIs like fluoxetine (Prozac) or benzodiazepines like alprazolam (Xanax).
Be sure to have an in-depth conversation with your vet if they’re recommending prescription medication for your dog’s anxiety, as many of them can come along with some serious side effects, including cognitive dysfunction or rapid heart rate.
Natural Remedies for Dog Anxiety
Many pet parents have reported success with natural dog anxiety treatments like hemp oil or canine massage.
If you’re worried about the possible harmful side effects of prescription anti-anxiety medications for dogs, you should absolutely let your vet know.
Do some research on the best natural dog anxiety relief options and have an honest conversation with your dog’s doctor about them.
Chances are pretty good you’ll be able to find a calming chew for dogs that’s safe, effective, and tastes great!
How Can You Prevent Anxiety in Dogs?
If your pup is a breed that's naturally prone to anxiety or if you've begun to notice some signs of anxiety in your dog, you might want to consider a few of the following ways to prevent dog anxiety before it starts.
Learn to read your dog's body language in order to keep an eye out for anxiety or discomfort in any situation. You can step in and turn an anxious moment into a positive one by redirecting your dog’s focus onto you or a favorite toy.
Spend time socializing your dog by taking them to new places and introducing them to new things. Proper canine socialization very often leads to a well-adjusted and polite pooch, no matter where they are or who they’re with, which is a win for you both.
Consider obedience training classes to help build trust and create an amazing relationship with your pup. Many community centers offer very reasonably priced classes where your dog can meet other dogs in a controlled environment.
Focus on nutrition and exercise to ensure your dog’s optimal physical and mental well-being from the start. Discuss the right food for your pup with their vet and make sure you’re including outdoor activities in your daily routine, such as evening walks or trips to the local dog park.
Practice situation avoidance if your pup has already been diagnosed with anxiety and you know a certain place or event will be triggering. This will help to reduce some of the stress for you and your dog while you find the best treatment for their anxiety
How Can You Calm Dog Anxiety Naturally?
If your dog has been diagnosed with anxiety, but your vet doesn’t think it’s severe enough for prescription medication, or if you prefer to keep your pup off sedatives, you can help calm your furry friend naturally with the following tips and tricks.
Serotonin Boosters for Dog Anxiety
One of the best ways to naturally relieve anxiety in dogs and humans is to increase the production of serotonin. Known as the “happy chemical,” serotonin is a neurotransmitter that’s released during exercise or feel-good moments like positive training sessions.
You can help reduce anxiety in your pup by getting them outside in the sunshine and exercising or simply by shifting their focus from the source of their anxiety to being rewarded for completing simple commands like sit, stay, or shake.
You can also encourage more serotonin production with what’s known as Deep Touch Pressure (DTP) by using a weighted blanket or at-home massage therapy for dogs. DTP in any form mimics the serotonin release we get when being hugged or cuddled.
Soothing Sounds for Dog Anxiety
Music has long been used as a way to reduce anxiety in people, and it’s also been shown to be successful at calming canines.
Classical music on the light side of the sound spectrum seems to work the best, but you can also try white noise machines or simply leaving the TV or radio on when you leave the house to help comfort your pup.
Natural Supplements for Dog Anxiety
Over the years, chemists and doctors have found many of the most powerful calming aids come not from the lab, but from Mother Nature herself.
There are plenty of options when it comes to calming supplements for dogs, so make sure to do your research and consult your veterinarian before choosing the best one for your pup.
You want to look for safe and effective calming ingredients like hemp seed powder or oil for the reduction of stress.
Chamomile and valerian root have been shown to help decrease aggression or hyperactivity. And the use of passionflower, l-tryptophan, and ginger root are great natural ways to lower cortisol levels and encourage the production of serotonin in both dogs and humans.
We hope this guide to identifying, preventing, and treating dog anxiety has been helpful!
As pet parents, we completely understand how important your furry family member is to you, and how heartbreaking it can be to watch your dog suffer from anxiety of any kind.
Learning more about the symptoms and causes of dog anxiety, as well as the available treatment options can help you to go from feeling powerless to being empowered when it comes to making sure your pup is as happy and healthy as possible.
Just remember to pay attention to the signals your dog gives you and make sure you’re doing your research on anti-anxiety medication for dogs.
And don’t forget to consult your vet with any questions or concerns. You and your pup will be loving life again before you know it!
Dog Anxiety FAQ
Don’t have time to read our complete guide on how to help an anxious pup? We’ve got you covered with answers to the most frequently asked questions about dog anxiety!
Does my dog have anxiety?
Most dogs give you clues when they’re feeling anxious. Keep an eye out for trembling, whining, and tail tucking. Aggression, destructive behavior, and going to the bathroom indoors after being potty trained are very common signs of separation anxiety.
What can cause anxiety in dogs?
While dog anxiety has many causes, the two most common by far are fear and separation. Pups who have been separated from their human family or have moved to a new home can easily become anxious and need a bit of soothing support.
How to identify separation anxiety in dogs?
Common signs of separation anxiety in dogs can be as simple as increased barking or whining, or as serious as becoming aggressive toward other pets or even people.
If your dog has a sudden personality change, you should contact your vet immediately!
How to deal with sudden anxiety in dogs?
If your pup suddenly begins to show signs of anxiety, like panting or pacing, you should talk to your dog’s doctor as soon as possible. Your vet might want to prescribe an anti-anxiety medication or recommend a high-quality natural calming supplement.
How can I calm an anxious dog?
One of the easiest ways to support an anxious dog is by helping them to relax. Try playing classical music or placing an item of your clothing in your dog’s crate when you’re gone, and be sure to talk to your vet about the best treatment of anxiety for dogs.