Dog Anxiety: Signs Your Dog is Anxious and Why

As a dog parent, it’s crucial to research and become familiar with dog anxiety symptoms, and some common causes of it.

· 7 min read
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Dog anxiety can be difficult to detect and understand. As a dog parent, it’s crucial to research and become familiar with dog anxiety symptoms, and some common causes of it.

Unfortunately, our canine pals can’t just tell us what’s wrong when they start feeling out of sorts. This means many pet parents need to become experts in identifying body language signals, and understanding changes in their dog’s behaviour that could point to anxiety.

The trouble is that symptoms of dog anxiety aren’t always clear. They can often overlap with signs of other mental or physical health conditions. For example, a common health condition in older dogs is dementia and cognitive decline, which can cause anxiety. Additionally, the personality and behaviour of your dog can evolve and change as they get older, making it harder to pin-point impending problems.

The good news is that learning how to identify possible instances of anxiety in your pooch could mean you get one step ahead of some serious issues.

Causes of Dog Anxiety

There are different types of dog anxiety and different causes. Before you can help your dog with their anxiety, it’s best to figure out what’s causing it.

Below are some common causes of dog anxiety:

  • Separation anxiety due to fear of being left alone or separated from you
  • Loud or unfamiliar noises
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Anxiety due to being in a new environment
  • Anxiety due to aging or declining cognitive function
  • Confusion
  • Travelling
  • Being uncomfortable with strangers in their vicinity
  • Anxiety due to past trauma (if they’re a rescue dog) such as past abuse
  • Anxiety due to needs not being met (such as needing food, or a walk)
  • Illness-induced anxiety due to symptoms of illness
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Signs Your Dog is Anxious: Behavioural Changes

Symptoms of dog anxiety often fall into two distinctive categories: behavioural changes, and signs shown in body language. Behavioural changes are often the most problematic symptom of dog anxiety, as they often lead to undesirable conduct, such as barking excessively, or destroying furniture.

Just like your dog picks up on signs or cues that you’re upset or anxious and need comfort, you also need to be able to pick up on signs that your dog is anxious.

The most common behavioural signs of dog anxiety include:

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Aggression

Fear and anxiety-related aggression can be common among dogs. When your pup feels nervous, they can experience a fight or flight response similar to us humans. While some dogs will run away from the source of their fear, others will attempt to protect themselves, by snapping, biting, or barking. Around 60 to 70% of all dogs bark threateningly at strangers or animals they don’t know.

Aggression can present in a number of ways, from bared teeth and snarling, to growling, biting, and scratching. If your dog starts to show aggression as a result of anxiety, the worst thing you can do is punish their behaviour by shouting or tugging on their lead. Often, this will only make the aggression worse. Instead, it’s best to remove the dog from the situation, figure out the source of the anxiety, and expose them to the stimuli slowly, to help convince them whatever they’re afraid of isn’t a threat.

Urinating or Defecating in the House

Dogs can go to the bathroom in unwanted places for a variety of reasons. This is particularly true among younger puppies, who haven’t fully learned how to control their bowels.

However, urinating and defecating in the house are also common symptoms when they’re trained not to, could also be symptoms of various kinds of anxiety.

Dogs with separation anxiety, for example, often urinate or defecate shortly after their owner leaves them, even if they’ve already gone to the bathroom outside. If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, there are a few things you can try to address the problem, such as hiring a dog sitter, or leaving a special toy with your pup to keep them entertained when you’re gone.

Some pups also suffer from submissive urination. This is when a dog pees unexpectedly after hearing loud noises, or when a person approaches them. A good way to address this issue is to expose your dog to new situations slowly, so they’re less likely to feel frightened or overwhelmed.

Destructive Behaviour

Destructive behaviour is another common symptom of dog anxiety, particularly in clingy pups who struggle with separation issues. If your pup has separation anxiety, they’re more likely to focus their aggression on entry and exit points. They may chew door frames, or scratch at windows.

Destructive behaviour isn’t just problematic for your furniture and belongings, it can also be dangerous for your dog, as they could risk harming themselves. A good way to address the issue is to pay attention to when your pup is most likely to become destructive. If they’re aggressive when alone, then consider leaving some of your scent behind to soothe them.

It may also be helpful to invest in some stronger dog toys, so your canine friend has something to focus their destructive behaviour on.

Barking

Barking is something that most dogs will do at random times throughout the day. They bark to let you know they’re happy, hungry, or just because they’re excited. However, anxious barking can be particularly problematic for a dog owner. When a dog is barking as a result of fear, it can often last for a long time, and be much louder than usual.

This includes barking at fireworks or other loud noises that are giving your dog anxiety.

Barking, whining, and howling are some of the most common symptoms of separation anxiety. When your dog is left alone, they may start making noise in an effort to call you back to their side. When this happens, it’s helpful to leave your dog with plenty of toys to keep them distracted and entertained. You can also consider installing a camera system that allows you to talk to your pup.

If your dog is barking as a response to other stimuli, such as cars or people outside, closing the blinds and removing the source of the concern can help.

It might also help to distract your dog with their favourite dog toy, and give them some attention.

Running or Walking Away

Dogs can respond to fear and anxiety similarly to us humans. While sometimes they jump into action to defend themselves from a perceived threat, they may also choose to run away. When you’re indoors, this may not be a problem, but it can become an issue when you’re taking your pup for walks, particularly if they’re not on a tight lead.

If you think your dog might be anxious around others, it’s worth keeping them on a short lead when you’re walking, until they build their confidence.

Remember, if your pup tries to run away from a person or another source of fear, it’s important to let them have their space. Don’t try to force your dog into any situation that makes them feel anxious, or this could act as a form of negative reinforcement.

Body Language Signs of Dog Anxiety

Most of the common signs of dog anxiety can be seen in how your pooch holds themselves when they’re presented with a worrying experience. As a pet parent, one of the most important things you can do is be attentive, and watch for changes in your dog’s demeanour.

Look for common body language changes such as:

·        Flattened ears: Dogs pin their ears against their head when they feel anxious, scared, or excited. If your dog flattens their ears, they may be worried about something.

·         Tucked tail: While a wagging tail is often a sign of happiness in dogs, a tail tucked between your dog’s legs shows they’re scared or nervous.

·         Hunched body: When a dog feels afraid and wants to avoid a fight, they can often hunch in on themselves to make themselves appear smaller, or hide from the threat.

·         Lip or nose licking: Licking is perfectly normal for most dogs, but if your dog is excessively licking their nose or lip, this could be a sign of anxiety or concern.

·         Sweaty paws: Sweaty or moist paws can sometimes signify a problem with your dog’s health, so it’s worth getting them checked out. However sweaty paws can also be a sign of anxiety or nerves.

·         Wide eyes: If more of the white in your dog’s eyes is showing than normal, this is a sign they’re feeling extremely nervous and upset. Wide eyes are often accompanied by a dog attempting to back away from the source of their fear.

·         Panting: Panting can help a dog to cool down, and it’s a common symptom of exerting excess effort. However, it can also happen when a dog is stressed.

·         Drooling: Some dogs will naturally drool more than others. However, in some cases, excessive drooling can also be a sign of fear or anxiety.

·         Rolling: A dog rolling onto their back and showing their belly can sometimes be a sign of playfulness. When it’s combined with other symptoms of dog anxiety, though, it may indicate your dog is trying to submit to a threat out of fear.

·         Curling up in a corner: If your dog doesn’t normally curl up in a corner far away from you, this could be a retreating type of body language that spells out anxiety.

Addressing Signs of Dog Anxiety

If your dog suffers from any kind of anxiety, the best solution is typically to speak to your veterinarian. Never neglect signs of anxiety in your dog, or leave it unaddressed, as it could get a lot worse. Dog anxiety can have a range of causes, and your vet should be able to help you identify the kind of issue your dog is facing, and how it might be treated.

Usually, managing dog anxiety involves a combination of training and counterconditioning. Dogs can be gradually exposed to stimuli that causes anxiety to help convince them there’s no reason to be afraid. However, it can take a while before you begin to see any significant results. Some vets will even recommend medication to help reduce your dog’s anxiety.

Perhaps the easiest option is to be prepared. If you already know your dog is likely to be predisposed to certain types of anxiety, you can take steps to prevent it. A CirclePaw DNA test for dogs can tell you more about your dog breed and the common personality or behaviours typical of that breed, so that it’s easier for you to spot something out of the ordinary. It can help you identify which behaviours in your dog are normal, so you’re more likely to pick up on signs and symptoms that they’re experiencing anxiety.

The more you know and understand about your dog through a dog DNA test, the more you can help them overcome anxiety.

Resources:

  1. Merckvetmanual: Behavioral Problems of Dogs
    https://www.merckvetmanual.com/behavior/normal-social-behavior-and-behavioral-problems-of-domestic-animals/behavioral-problems-of-dogs
  2. ASPCA: Aggression
    https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/common-dog-behavior-issues/aggression
  3. Preventative Vet : Why your dog is barking
    https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/why-is-your-dog-barking