Ultimate Guide to Dealing with Dog Anxiety and Reducing Stress

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18 Minute Read
Updated September 29, 2021

Have you noticed some odd behaviours from your dog recently? Anxiety can make your dog act out in some crazy ways, but knowing how to identify and treat dog anxiety can get them back to their normal, happy, and healthy selves again. 

Just like humans, dogs can suffer stress too. The causes of stress in canines can vary, so it’s important to know the signs of dog anxiety and the best methods to prevent and treat your stressed pooch. Depending on the dog’s personality, the signs of stress can range from subtle to extreme. 

Canines usually communicate through body language, and if you keep a close eye on your dog’s normal behaviours and routines, then reading your dog’s body language isn’t that difficult. 

Dog anxiety impacts your four-legged friend’s mental and physical health. In this article, we will explore how to help a dog with anxiety. 

12 Common Dog Anxiety Symptoms

Your dog can become stressed for a variety of reasons. Some dogs experience separation anxiety and cannot cope with being alone. Others are afraid of loud noise and suffer horribly during holidays when fireworks are used for celebrations. 

Change can also cause dog anxiety. Many pups are so in tune with their owner’s emotions that if their beloved human is feeling depressed or sick, Fido may react with fear and emotional turmoil too.

No matter what the cause of stress, most anxious dogs exhibit at least some of the following dog anxiety symptoms: 

1. Whining or Barking

Barking, whining, and growling are forms of communication and self-expression. Dogs regularly vocalize, and even though some are more vocal than others, the way they verbally communicate could be an indicator of stress. 

When your dog feels stressed, he may bark to get attention or just as a self-soothing mechanism. Though this may be a habit that you (and your neighbours) find annoying, it’s one of the most obvious signs that you need to make some changes in your dog’s routine.

Whining is another sign of anxiety in dogs. Anxious dogs might seem afraid or tense, so whining or crying might be an act of self-soothing.

Excessive whining often indicates pain or discomfort. It could be joint pain from arthritis, or something as simple as an irritated wound or a bug bite. This unusual behaviour should raise alarm bells and might warrant a trip to the veterinarian to rule out any physical pain or illnesses.

Dogs often combine whining with barking; Many even form a distressed pattern between the two vocalizations when coping with a stressful situation. 

2. Pacing and Shaking

Dogs shake sometimes, and it’s perfectly normal. The canine might shake to shed water after a bath or a dip in a lake. He might also roll in the grass and then shake to clear debris from his coat. Typically, a dog shaking is comical, but it is entirely different when a dog shakes from stress. 

Some dogs will tremble when they are taken to the veterinarian. Others will start to shake when they hear a loud noise like thunder or fireworks. Shaking is a clear indication of severe anxiety in dogs. 

Pacing is a sign of agitation or uneasiness. A dog will often walk repeatedly around the room, circling or walking back and forth from door to window and back again. This is common with separation anxiety, as your dog will be on the lookout for you until you arrive. 

3. Licking, Yawning, and Drooling

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A dog is much like a human and will yawn when tired or bored, but yawning can also indicate anxiety. A stressful yawn is usually prolonged and can accompany a whine. 

As your pet becomes more agitated, he may start to drool or lick his lips excessively. Car rides, vet visits, and crowded events can all lead to your dog feeling extremely nervous. Look out for drool and licking behaviours to tell if your dog is struggling. 

Some dogs will lick their feet and focus on the area between the toes, which is almost like an act of self-soothing. Extreme separation anxiety in dogs can cause the animal to lick sores in their skin.  

4. Body Posture

A dog’s natural stance is to distribute weight on all four legs evenly. When the animal starts to shift its weight from its rear legs, it is often cowering in fear or stress. A scared canine often tucks his tail between his legs and hunches his back, so most of his weight is on the front feet and legs. The dog’s body becomes rigid with anxiety. 

Learn more about How to Read Dog Body Langauge to help catch nervous behaviours and act to help soothe and comfort your pooch. 

5. Eye and Ear Changes 

A stressed dog will blink rapidly and have dilated pupils. When fearful, you’ll also see the white (sclera) area surrounding the pupils of the eye as the dog opens his eyelids. He may look startled or on guard. 

The ears are usually held either relaxed or alert, but severe anxiety in a dog can cause the animal to pin the ears back against the head in an almost fearful way. Stiff ears and fixed gaze together could indicate that your dog may become reactive or aggressive to protect themselves. 

6. Excessive Shedding

A dog who undergoes ongoing anxiety, such as daily separation anxiety while you are away at work, might start to blow their coat, which refers to excessive shedding. If your pet starts to shed a lot, you want to take him to the veterinarian to rule out a possible thyroid problem or other medical disorder. 

However, if the pup shows other signs of stress, the shedding is probably due to anxiety. Excessive shedding could also be triggered by overgrooming. Dogs that groom to self-soothe may end up pulling out clumps of fur and damaging their skin. 

Regularly grooming your pet can help to reduce shedding and overgrooming habits, but if the underlying cause is stress, then that's the first problem you should tackle. 

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7. Dog Anxiety Panting

Panting is not abnormal for dogs. They pant to cool themselves and when participating in physical activity, but excessive panting, especially coupled with other anxiety symptoms, is troubling. 

Panting can also indicate excitement or pain, so consider your dog’s environment and body language before diagnosing anxiety. 

8. Urination and Loose Stool 

When a dog becomes nervous or stressed, he could have a sudden and uncontrollable urge to relieve himself. Often a canine with an anxiety attack will urinate a little. When your dog meets another animal or human, he might urinate a few drops due to feeling nervous over the meeting and as a sign of submission. 

The pooch might also experience loose stool when upset or complete loss of bowel function. A dog with severe separation anxiety will often defecate when left alone. Extreme and persistent stress could even lead to digestive issues that could contribute to “accidents.”

9. Food Refusal

Just like people who are upset, a dog will lose its appetite when stressed out. Fido might refuse even favourite foods if he is experiencing a nervous stomach. Unchecked, skipping meals can cause fluctuations in weight and digestive issues. 

Some nervous dogs will get really picky as a way to get attention too. If they feel left behind while you’re away, they may start to seek ways to get more one-on-one time with you when you are home. 

It’s not uncommon for fussy eaters to still take treats or tasty people food but refuse any dog food from their bowl. By swindling you into feeding them by hand, they get the attention they crave and some comfort food. 

10. Avoidance

Humans avoid unpleasant situations, and dogs do too. Your four-legged friend might try to escape from something he finds distasteful. Running away or hiding are both common reactions. 

Other dogs might disassociate by sniffing the ground. Many dogs will start to lick themselves excessively in a nervous way to pretend that whatever is upsetting them is not happening. 

Whenever your dog avoids interactions with another animal or human, you should respect their emotional state and not push the issue. If you force your dog to deal with an unpleasant situation, they might react aggressively if they feel backed into a corner.

11. Hiding

A dog who wants to avoid stress will often seek refuge behind its owner.  As pack leader, the pet sees it as your job to protect them from scary situations. The animal may even gently nudge you as they ask to move away from whatever is upsetting them. 

Other dogs might hide behind a tree or wedge themselves under the bed. Dogs hiding from loud noises often seek safety behind furniture or under the bed’s covers. It’s not unusual to see your furry friend try to squeeze his large, robust body into a hiding hole that is far too small. 

Remember, these symptoms may also mean something else is going on with your doggo. 

12. Digging and Chewing

One of the most overlooked signs of anxiety is destructive behaviours. When your dog starts to chew up furniture or dig up your garden, you might just think he's being a jerk, but it's actually a cry for help. 

These anxious behaviours can also be very dangerous if your dog tends to eat things that he shouldn't. Dogs who like to dig may end up eating dirt. If your dog rips apart your couch, some of that tasty-looking fluff might end up being a snack. 

It's important to stay on top of these bad behaviours for your dog's safety, and the safety of your house. 

Causes of Dog Anxiety and Stress

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The fear of abandonment remains one of the biggest causes of anxiety in a dog and is quite common in dogs who have been shuffled through homes, abused or neglected. Other causes of anxious or nervous behaviour include separation anxiety, fear of loud noises (thunderstorms, gunshots, fireworks), social anxiety, ageing, illnesses, and generalized anxiety. 

Determining the cause of the anxiety and knowing how to spot the symptoms can give you a leg up when learning to manage your dog’s anxiety. Take a look at the common causes of anxiety in dogs:

Dog Separation Anxiety 

Separation anxiety is often one of the worst forms of stress-related behaviour that a dog owner must deal with. It can quickly turn into destructive and dangerous behaviour. Sadly, few of us can be home 24 hours a day with our dogs. 

Most people must work or go to school. However, your dog is a pack animal and does not always enjoy being home alone.

The first time a dog owner leaves their beloved pooch alone, they are often horrified to come home and see the house completely ransacked. It is not uncommon to see holes torn in doors, furnishings destroyed, or drywall chewed to pieces. 

Animals will also urinate or defecate due to anxiety, stress, and depression from being left alone. Many will tear through the home in search of a way out. Learning how to help a dog with separation anxiety is never easy, but it is something that you and your canine companion can overcome.  

Separation anxiety in a dog is the fear of being separated from its owner. It is a canine mental health disorder. Separation anxiety is often triggered by changes in the routine, a new baby, new marriage, moving, or some other deviation from the usual pattern. 

Some dogs are so severe that they will panic even if the owner steps outside to get the mail or goes into another room where the dog cannot see them. 

Managing Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Dealing with separation anxiety is not easy. You can try the following:

      • Develop a predictable routine. 
      • Meet the dog’s mental and emotional needs, such as exercise or going outdoors to relieve themselves before you leave. 
      • Provide a crate, room, pen, or bed for your dog to call their own and fill the area with beloved toys. 
      • Use treats as favourable reinforcement.
      • Do not punish the dog for experiencing separation anxiety. 
      • Consult with your veterinarian for medications that might help. 
      • Try hemp oil or CBD True Leaf Calming Hemp seed Oil, which contains calming ingredients like chamomile and L-theanine blend with nourishing hemp seed oil to boost your dog’s immune system and ease stress.

Learn more about keeping your dog calm when he’s home alone in Helpful Tips for Managing Separation Anxiety in Dogs.

Fear of Thunderstorms, Fireworks, and Loud Noises

Does your dog whimper, cry, or pace during loud noises such as the boom of a thunderstorm or fireworks? Seeing your dog upset is painful to watch. Some dogs are susceptible to noises or storm-related occurrences. 

When the noises start, the dog whimpers, hides, tries to climb into your lap, obsessively grooms or might urinate in terror. An extreme fear of thunderstorms is often referred to as thunderstorm phobia or astraphobia. With some dogs, their fear originates from the noise. 

In such cases, the dog will usually also be afraid of gunshots or fireworks. However, other canines who fear storms react to the changes in barometric pressure, the static electricity, the scent of the rain, and the lightning that the storm generates. It is not just about the noise. 

According to Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviourist at Tufts University, some dogs seem to react to the static buildup in their fur that occurs during a storm. Larger canines appear to have a more severe reaction to static buildup. 

For more information on ways to calm your dog during a thunderstorm or other loud situations, check out our blog, Is Your Dog Scared of Thunder? How to Calm Your Nervous Dog.

Rescue/Former Shelter Anxiety 

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A dog who has been abandoned at an animal shelter often has bad memories of the experience. They constantly worry that they will be left again and that anxiety can lead to your dog acting out and other behavioural issues. 

A previous traumatic event can haunt the animal for the rest of their life and cause ongoing bouts of anxiety, especially when left alone or away from familiar people and settings. 

Though many rescue and shelter dogs learn to live happy and healthy lives, some dogs take more time and care to help them learn better and safer habits. This is something that you should be prepared for before choosing to adopt a dog

Social Anxiety

Many dogs have gotten used to a limited social life, just as we have, and this can lead to anxiety as you try to reintroduce your dog to his old social routines. A dog with social anxiety will act fine around its family but then display fear of other animals, new places, people, and other unfamiliar circumstances.

Social anxiety usually occurs in dogs who have not been properly socialized as puppies, canines who reside in a rural area, and animals who have spent a significant amount of time living as strays. 

Even if your dog doesn’t stray from their usual routine, a stranger coming over to the house, a new neighbour moving in next door, or even visiting a new dog park that your dog isn’t familiar with can trigger anxious behaviours. 

Illness 

Some illnesses such as thyrotoxicosis (Grave’s Disease), an autoimmune disorder of the thyroid gland, have been linked to anxiety in dogs. Suppose your dog suddenly starts exhibiting anxiety, and you cannot determine an underlying cause. 

Sudden and unusual anxious behaviours mean you should schedule a visit to your veterinarian for a physical and see if an illness might be causing the problem. 

Other illnesses which can cause changes in behaviour and anxiety include: 

Pre-diabetes:

Spikes and drops in blood sugar can make your dog feel weak and uneasy. Not understanding the cause or reason, your dog may act anxiously. Other symptoms include excessive thirst, weight gain, or the appearance of cataracts. 

Sudden Hearing or Vision Loss:

When a dog starts to lose its senses, they will act confused and scared. It’s not uncommon for issues with any of their senses to cause them to panic and act out. Talk to your vet about the signs of vision or hearing loss in dogs so you can give them the best care and environment. 

Encephalitis:

Inflammation of tissue within the brain often causes anxious behaviour, aggression, and unsteady gait. In extreme cases, it can lead to coma and death. This is uncommon, but changes to behaviour coupled with balance or mobility issues are something you should take seriously. 

Injury:

Injury can also lead to anxiety in dogs. While you may not see an injury, your dog’s anxious behaviour could be a reaction to pain or physical discomfort. Dogs instinctively try to hide pain so that they don’t seem vulnerable to potential predators. 

Ageing and Cognitive Decline

As a dog gets older, it often becomes anxious due to cognitive decline. Dementia causes disorientation and confusion. Many ageing canines also experience painful medical conditions such as arthritis, which leads to bouts of ongoing anxiety and fear because they simply don’t understand why they are in constant discomfort. 

Talk to your vet about your dog’s age-related issues to try to mitigate pain and build a suitable routine. This can help to reduce anxiety as your dog ages, keeping them healthier and happier. 

Generalized Anxiety 

Some dogs simply suffer from generalized anxiety that might be linked to their DNA. Certain breeds are more prone to anxiety than others. Small dog breeds are more nervous than larger breeds. Chihuahuas, toy poodles, Yorkshire terriers and dachshunds often suffer from generalized anxiety. 

Dogs bred in puppy mills also appear to suffer from generalized anxiety far more frequently than those bred by a reputable breeder. They also often have genetic health disorders that impact their quality of life and might be the root of a great deal of their anxious behaviour. 

Managing general anxiety normally involves a little trial and error to figure out what works for your specific dog. 

How to Help a Dog with Anxiety

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No one wants to see their beloved canine struggling to cope with anxiety. Let’s explore ways that you can help a dog with stress in different circumstances. Please remember that what works for one dog might not work well for another, so expect to work through a bit of a trial and error process. 

For most dogs, a mix of anxiety solutions and a stricter routine is the best solution, but it’s still a good idea to loop in your vet to rule out underlying conditions that could be contributing to your dog’s stress. 

Offer a Calming Massage and Physical Contact

Give your canine a calming massage by stroking his back, rubbing his thighs and glutes, and caressing his forehead. You can also rub the pet’s ears and neck. Try to focus on pressure points and talk in a calming voice. 

Never underestimate the power of a gentle touch and a few soft words. Sometimes Fido just needs comfort from physical contact to let him know everything is going to be okay. Try to plan a few minutes of cuddle time every day to help strengthen your bond with your dog. 

Time-Out 

Anxious behaviour is not ‘bad behaviour,’ but the pooch can benefit from a time out. Think of the time out as a reboot, not a punishment. If your dog is overly agitated, then letting him take some time to himself to relax might be the perfect way to restore calmness. 

If your dog is used to spending time in a crate, then put Fido in his crate for a short amount of time to relax. Act calmly, though. Make sure he knows he’s not in trouble and that this time out is not a punishment. 

Remember, dogs are not that far removed from their wolf ancestors. In the wild, when a canine is upset, they will seek refuge in a den. Their den is their safe haven. The crate or a small room acts in much the same way as a den. It’s a place of refuge. 

Learn more about how to make your dog’s crate a safe space for your dog to feel comfortable in our Foolproof Guide to Crate Training

Calming Diffuser

When we feel stressed, aromatherapy can be a helpful tool for calming our nerves. While an essential oil diffuser could be helpful for your dog, a pheromone diffuser is going to be much more effective. 

Try the Adaptil Calming Diffusers, which releases a pheromone that mimics the natural pheromones emitted by a mother dog to relax her puppies. Get a plug-in diffuser to treat large rooms or a spray version so the calming pheromones can travel with your pet wherever they go. 

Dog Stress & Anxiety Solutions

Calming Dog Treats

Calming dog treats can help soothe a pooch during stressful times. As both a reward and a solution, calming treats are a very popular option. They take about 30 minutes to provide a calming impact, but they are a great option for when you know your dog will be in a situation that might make him feel anxious. Here is a list of some of our favourite calming chews:

Soft Music 

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For centuries music has been used to calm animals and humans. In 1697, William Congreve wrote about the power of music in the poem, ‘The Mourning Bride.’ Congreve wrote, ‘music has the charms to soothe a savage beast.’ Undoubtedly, music can relieve stress in a dog. Most canines even like music if you can find the right genre. 

One study found that dogs positively responded to auditory stimulants. Researchers looked at the auditory impact of classical music, metal music, pop music, and human conversation. Pets who listened to classical music rested more and barked less. 

They showed fewer signs of anxiety. The tempo and cadence have a very calming impact on the animal. However, higher, frequency music with chaotic sounds like metal or rock caused the dog to bark more and become agitated. 

Learn more about Calming Music for Dogs to make your dog’s calming routine more robust and effective. 

Anti-Anxiety Medications

If you feel like you have exhausted all options, then it’s time to turn to your veterinarian to discuss the use of anti-anxiety medications. When used properly, the medications often lessen anxiety and help your pet live a happier life. 

Depending on the drug used, your pet might have to take a daily pill or only need the medicine at times of stress. 

Mitigating Dog Anxiety Triggers

If you know a storm is coming or another event that can cause your dog anxiety, it’s best to be prepared. You’ll want to try to mitigate your dog’s stress before the cause of his anxiety starts. Planning ahead helps your pooch cope better with stressful situations. 

Plenty of Exercise

Take your four-legged buddy for a walk or a game of outdoor fetch. Physical activity helps to boost the canine’s serotonin levels which stabilize the dog’s mood. Exercise for at least 30 minutes to get your puppy ready for the upcoming stressful event. 

Bring Home a Companion

Some dogs benefit from having a companion of their own kind during a stressful situation. Remember, a dog is a pack animal and takes great comfort in a group. They feel safer and more at ease when around other canines. 

If your dog regularly suffers from anxiety, then why not consider getting them a sibling? If you are not ready to add a new dog to the family, then maybe schedule a doggy playdate with a friend’s pooch to help distract your dog from the upcoming noise of planned holidays or celebrations. 

Desensitization Training

Many pet owners work on desensitizing their pooch to loud noises or other causes of anxiety by playing recordings of thunder or fireworks at a low volume. 

If the dog remains calm, then give him a tasty treat or your dog's favourite toy as positive reinforcement. You can play storm sounds using your phone or laptop at a low level too. Slowly increase the volume, so your dog stays calm. Decrease the volume if the canine starts to show signs of stress. 

Keep Calm and Carry On

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Just like people, all dogs are unique. It’s going to take time and a great deal of perseverance to discover what works and what does not. Sometimes seeking the help of your veterinarian, dog behaviourist, animal trainers, and holistic homeopathic providers will provide helpful information and solutions. 

The most important thing to do when your pet is showing signs of anxiety is to remain calm. If your dog thinks you are upset or stressed out, he will feed off your emotions and become even more upset. However, if your dog sees you acting as cool as a cucumber, then he will probably start to calm down. 

Remember, what works for one dog might not work for another, so everything will be trial and error. With enough persistence, you can find the best way to ease your dog’s anxiety and, at some point, say goodbye to your dog’s stress altogether! 

Is your dog stressed out? Let us know your tips for success or your struggles when managing your dog’s anxiety.

Written by

Homes Alive Pets

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