What Is Anxiety and Stress in Dogs
Believe it or not – dogs can get stressed too. They may seem to have the cushy life with none of the usual stressors that us humans have. For example – dogs don’t work, have family problems, or worry about finances. So why exactly are they stressed?
Different Types of Anxiety and Stress
Dogs are stressed out in different ways and they exhibit that stress through bad behavior. Following are some of the types of stress that your dog may experience during its lifetime.
- Generalized Anxiety - This type of anxiety occurs because the dog has an excess of energy. They become hyper active and want to do something to alleviate their boredom. In most cases, dog owners see generalized anxiety as their dog misbehaving, thereby missing the chance to relieve their dog’s anxious demeanor.
- Separation Anxiety - This one is fairly obvious and happens to all dogs, especially if the dog is left alone at home.
- Phobia and Fears – have you ever seen your dog hide or shake during fireworks? Perhaps they’re afraid of the vacuum? Their reaction might be entertaining, but these stressors actually take their toll on your dog.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorders – OCD in dogs can occur due to past trauma and may lead to extreme behavior such as obsessive licking, biting, or chewing to the point of self-harm.
Symptoms of Anxiety and Stress in Dogs
Different anxiety types have different symptoms, which makes it important for owners to pay close attention to their pets. Following are some of the most common indicators of anxiety and stress:
- Biting or gnawing – bored and anxious dogs will start to gnaw on anything they can take hold of. You might think that your dog is relapsing to his second puppy phase, but in many cases, it’s the excess energy and anxiety compelling them to find something to do.
- Licking or biting – licking is common in dogs, but it should not reach the point that their feet bleed because of it. The licks and bites often occur due to an obsessive compulsive disorder that needs to be addressed quickly.
- Pacing and shaking – this is a clear indicator of stress and fear that every dog owner should be able to notice. You probably see this most often during vet visits.
- Whining and barking – stressed dogs tend to bark and whine at the slightest problems. The sounds are incessant and unending - often towards their owners or some other object. You’ll find this fairly common in dogs suffering from phobia or obsessive compulsive disorder.
- Shedding – as with humans, dogs that start to lose their precious coat are reacting to an overwhelming amount of stress hormones. You’ll have to pay close attention since some shedding is normal, especially during specific seasons. However, if the amount is beyond what you’re used to and combined with other symptoms, your dog may be stressed.
- Aggression – anxiety and stress also have a typical response – anger and aggression. When confronted with a problem, some dogs prefer the fight response instead of flight. For example – have your dog ever growled at you when they figured out that you’re going to give them a bath?
- Avoidance – some dogs choose the flight response and will hide during anxious situations. Their preference for hiding is extreme, to the point where they don’t even socialize with their owners.
How to Prevent Anxiety and Stress in Dogs
So how do you prevent anxiety from catching up to your dog? Some stress sources can be prevented so that they don’t become a problem in the first place. Here are some things you can do:
Get the dog used to your routine when leaving. Pets tend to react to external stimuli like grabbing your keys, putting on your shoes, and so on. Once they see you do those things – they know you’re going out and the stressors kick into place.
A good solution is to practice doing these slowly, allowing your dog to calm back down while you’re still in the house. For example, get ready but don’t leave yet. Sit on the couch and wait until your dog relaxes back again. Open the door and close it without leaving – do this repeatedly until your dog no longer responds to the stimuli. You essentially prevent them from anticipating you leaving so that they don’t get over anxious when you’re gone.
Of course, you can also try doing something unique – you can try creating a dummy of yourself that the dog can snuggle to while you’re gone. Dress up a pillow in your clothes so your dog will feel comfortable while you’re away. This is a technique currently being used by some dog owners and have gone viral online.
Some dog owners also treat avoidance symptoms by giving their dog their very own safe space. By doing this, the dog knows that there’s also something he can turn back to if he doesn’t feel like playing with his owners.
How to Treat Dog Anxiety and Stress
Treatment of stress and anxiety in dogs is more or less the same with prevention. Here are some great treatment advice:
- Take your dog out for a walk on a daily basis. The walk expends his energy so that he won’t have time to be anxious when you’re gone. Of course, as we all know – exercise also releases happy hormones that help combat stress. It’s also a great exercise for you.
- Allowing your dog to get used to the source of stress is also a good idea. For example, you can try giving your dog a calming massage during fireworks or when the vacuum is running. This tells them that the vacuum is not as bad as they think. This is called conditioning and can be used in various instances.
- Establish a routine. A dog that knows exactly what, where, and how to go about his daily life is a happy and sure dog. From the placement of his doggy bowl to the time of his walk – all of these will give him the assurance he needs.
Of course, there are situations when you can’t solve the problem yourself in which case, you’ll need to consult with a dog behavior specialist. This happens in extreme instances when your dog is adopted and came from a bad home. You will find however that all dogs are worth saving and when given time and patience, they can recover from the anxiety and be happy and healthy.