Anxiety & Behaviour
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What is dog anxiety?
Just like with people, dogs can also feel stressed. Although, not necessarily for the same reasons we do. After all, pets don't have to worry about paying bills, do they! However, there are usually logical reasons for their anxiety. Dog anxiety usually involves a fear of a certain place, person or object or being separated from their beloved pet parent. In most cases, it can result in unusual dog behaviour, such as excessive barking, urinating inside and shaking, which is why it is always best to deal with it as soon as you think your dog may be feeling anxious.
What causes anxiety in dogs?
Many factors can cause stress in dogs. And, like people, every dog is different. They'll react to various stresses in different ways. You can split the most common causes into three categories:
Anxieties relating to fear can vary with each dog. They can include loud noises such as storms or construction, meeting new people or dogs, being in a new environment, new items such as umbrellas or hats and going to places they don't like such as the vets. In some cases, they're avoidable. In others, not so much. Unfortunately, that means at some point your dog is likely to experience fear-based anxiety.
Separation anxiety affects around 14% of dogs. It's a massive cause of anxiety in our furry friends. It occurs when your dog feels anxious or uncomfortable being left alone for any length of time. In the majority of cases, this is when their pet parent leaves them alone in the house. But in severe cases, it can even be when they leave the room or just their sight.
Anxiety in older dogs is usually related to their cognitive function. Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) in dogs is similar to the early stages of Alzheimer's in people; it often affects their awareness, learning, memory and perception. This can, of course, lead to stress in varying degrees as they're finding it hard to do things they're used to doing.
Dog Anxiety Symptoms
- Excessive barking
- Urinating or defecating around the house
- Destructive Behaviour
- Excessive chewing
Dog anxiety treatments
Treating dog anxiety isn't always as simple as taking some medication; it takes understanding a dog's behaviour, as well as their fears, to help. If you think they are suffering from anxiety and you're not sure why, the first thing you should do is take them to the vets. They can help you identify the cause, as well as rule out any other medical issues that may be causing their anxiety.
Once you know what it is, if possible, you can try to remove the source of fear—for example, taking the 'scary' object out of their view, avoiding busy areas or keeping them in familiar environments. Unfortunately, in many cases, it's almost impossible to avoid - either through necessity or it being out of our control. A key example of this is leaving your dog.
Unfortunately, we can't all take our pets to work with us! One way to help with this is through distraction. Try putting on the radio when you leave the house, giving them chew toys to focus on or talking to them whilst they're in the car. You can also try exercising your dog before the situation to help tire them out. These can be useful for one-off stressful occasions, such as moving house, but aren't permanent solutions to change their behaviour. Here are 3 ways to help deal with dog anxiety in the long run:
Dog behaviour training
One way to help is through understanding dog behaviour. If you understand how they behave overall, it will help you to deal with your specific furry friend. A great way to do this is by taking them to dog training or dog obedience classes. These can be for all kinds of dog and, along with helping their behavioural problems, can even alleviate their anxiety. You can also teach them positive habits at home to help reinforce their obedience training as well as good dog behaviours to help them deal with their anxiety.
Dog anxiety medication
If your dog's anxiety seems serious, you can visit your vet and ask about calming medication for dogs. Do make sure you get your vet to sign off on it first though; don't try to get medication without consulting them. You can also ask for specific dog separation anxiety medication if you feel that’s the only issue, but if it is their nervous behaviour in general, then look for specific anti-anxiety medication for dogs and other pets.
If you don't want to resort to medication straight away, then go natural. Home remedies and products are very popular, as they mean you can help your dog deal with their anxiety and change their behaviour without the same serious side effects of dog anxiety medications. There are many types to choose from in this area, including natural anxiety tablets for dogs as well as chews, powders and liquid supplements. They use calming ingredients such as chamomile and passionflower and help them feel calm and peaceful. If they are exhibiting negative behaviours as a result of their anxiety, such as chewing furniture, you can also try a natural anti-chew spray to deter the bad habit.
Preventing dog anxiety
One of the best ways of stopping anxiety and negative dog behaviours associated with this is to teach them while they're young. Puppy anxiety can be widespread, as they are still learning about the world and how to deal with scary objects, people and situations. If you teach them from a young age that there is nothing to fear, then you'll ease their stress and anxiety later in life. Reinforcing good dog behaviours such as being in a crate, sitting in the car with a dog seat belt on and playing with appropriate chew toys is a great move and can let them understand what they can and can't do. By doing this, you can stop any bad habits before they even start!
Dog anxiety is never going to be simple, and it takes time and dedication to help your furry friend through those tough times. The best things you can do is teach them positive behaviours at a young age. Try to avoid stressful situations as much as possible and, if there is something that can't be avoided, keeping them calm with soothing words and natural calming products is the way forward.