Where Does Anxiety in Dogs Come From?
It is important to understand the difference between something that is causing a dog to experience anxiety and genuine fear rather than a personality trait.
The two are easily confused but knowing the difference can will depend on the way in which it is dealt with.
Anxiety may be triggered by many things.
We’re going to look at the three most common things that may cause anxiety in dogs.
Genuine fear of something can cause anxiety. Imagine the nervous feeling that you have when you are scared, it isn’t dissimilar to how dogs may feel.
Fear can be triggered by many stimuli such as people, other animals, objects, vet visits or loud noises. Loud noises include storms, fireworks, banging, vacuum cleaners, etc.
There are many reasons that fear can present itself in a dog. Perhaps they have previously had a bad or painful experience with the vet, a traumatic event involving an object or person or even fear of the unknown with storms and fireworks.
Whatever a dog is fearful of, it is important that we recognise it appropriately. Note that some dogs may be reacting to stimuli due to learned behaviours or being territorial rather than genuine fear.
Fear related anxiety symptoms may include:
- Excessive panting
- Excessive barking
Separation anxiety in dogs arises when a dog is unable to find comfort when left alone or separated from certain people.
This type of anxiety can manifest into destructive behaviours as well as excessive barking. You may find damaged entry and exit points in your house as well as destroyed furniture, urination and/or defecation as these are common behaviours associated with separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety can stem from situations such as a history of abuse, being over-parented, being left alone for the first time or after only being accustomed to human contact.
The longer separation anxiety is left unaddressed, the harder it is for both yourself and your dog to solve.
Common separation anxiety symptoms may include:
- House destruction
- Excessive barking
Age-related anxiety affects senior dogs and may be associated with the brain disease CCD, (Canine Cognitive Dysfunction).
Dogs with CCD experience a memory, perception and awareness decline. The lack of control and increased confusion can cause a dog to feel anxious or wary.
Brain health in dogs can be optimised by taking precautions whilst a dog is of a younger age. This can help to prevent or delay diseases that may see a decline in mental health.
Age-related anxiety symptoms may include:
- Excessive panting, shaking or trembling
- Sleeping problems
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive barking, whining or howling
- Behaviour changes such as depression
So how do we help treat anxiety in dogs?
Treating anxiety associated with fear in dogs usually begins with finding the trigger or triggers. One we know what is causing a dog to react in a certain way, we can begin to address it.
This may involve creating distractions from an object or gradual reintroductions to it. It could involve increasing mental and physical stimulation to increase the release of serotonin and to release pent-up tension or energy.
A dog trainer can help you to identify what triggers your dog. They can help to create preventative and training strategies to treat the anxiety and help them to overcome their stress.
Separation anxiety can be more difficult to try and overcome. The longer it is left, the harder it may be to train out of your dog. You could try leaving an object (like clothing), with your scent on it whilst you are away from your dog.
Don’t make a big deal of leaving or returning or even try having a word that you use that lets them know you’ll be back. This one works particularly well in dogs that have previously experienced abandonment.
You can help ageing anxiety by creating a routine that is constant in your dog’s day. This will cause familiarity and comfort. Senior dogs may not react well with change so to keep your dog’s day as settled as possible with routine.
Physically and mentally challenging or occupying them will also distract and tire them, causing their sleep/wake pattern to have a sense of normality to it.
Create a safe space for them to go to at times where they feel scared, confused and in need of some “alone time.”
You can also use calming supplements for anxiety. Products known to settle nerves and decrease stress may include calming ingredients such as Hemp, Chamomile, Withania Somnifera and Valerian Root. These ingredients work together to create a hormonal balance and promote restfulness.
Note that these types of supplements will not cure a behaviour that is learned or change the personality of a dog.
What doesn’t help a dog with anxiety
Getting another dog as a companion more often than not will not help address the problems which your dog is experiencing. It may cause them to feel more isolated or agitated. They may also be aggressive towards your new family member. If they have separation anxiety, it isn’t because they are lonely but rather because they are apart from you.
Never punish a dog for their behaviour related to their anxiety. Punishment is not an effective treatment and may only make the situation worse.
Crating a dog in an anxious state may cause them to inflict harm on themselves trying to escape. A dog should be made to feel safe in times that they are feeling uneasy.
If you are unsure which option works best for you and your dog, contact your vet or even a behaviour specialist for advice.
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