As pet parents, we know dealing with dog anxiety is heartbreaking. For some, their precious pooch is too anxious to be themselves when visitors come over, and for others, it means a huge performance whenever you want to leave the house.
Every doggo has a unique personality, and they feel a range of emotions that they communicate through various actions and behaviours. Here's how to identify anxious dog behaviour, why your pup gets anxious and ways of helping dogs with anxiety.
Cowering, shivering and whining are some of the most common displays of doggy anxiety. But, pups don't always behave the same or express themselves in the same manner; that's why it's up to us to learn what to look out for so we can help our four-pawed besties.
We know the question on everyone's lips is; why does my dog get anxious? Unfortunately, this question has a different answer depending on your floof's temperament, age and life experiences.
There are, however, three key factors that canine behaviour experts have flagged as the most common reasons dogs feel anxious.
Senior dogs often start showing signs of anxiety or become anxious because of cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) as their brain ages. Like the effect of Alzheimer's disease in humans, CDS causes a decline in awareness, memory, perception and learning in doggos, which understandably leads to old souls feeling confused and anxious.
According to studies, 14% of dogs suffer from separation anxiety. The answer to why fur kids get separation anxiety lies in doggy genetics and genealogy. Dogs weren't always man's best friend; canines started as wild pack animals, and through years of domestication and selective breeding, we have made them our companions.
However, their need to be a part of a pack has never left them, and it's why dogs experience separation anxiety when we leave them alone.
To our paw-some pups, we are part of their pack, and when we leave them alone, they feel abandoned because they don't understand that we are coming back and it's not forever.
Sadly, separation anxiety is one of the most frustrating types of dog anxiety for pet parents. Despite it stemming from your fur kid missing you, it often leads to destructive behaviour and, as some owners know, heart-wrenching cries and excessive barking when you aren't at home.
Fear is an essential part of canine and human survival, and it isn't something anyone can control. Various environmental factors, stimuli and situations can cause fear and lead to doggo anxiety.
Both audio and visual stimuli can induce fear-related anxiety in dogs. Sudden sounds startle, loud noises sound even louder, and high pitches can hurt your dog's sensitive ears.
While unfamiliar visual stimuli like someone wearing a hat or even a person carrying an umbrella can result in a lot of confusion, fear and anxiety in your pup.
To our fur babies, familiarity means safety and comfort. Before domestication, canines weren't only animals who lived in family groups; they also established and maintained territories to protect their pack and claim resources.
When we introduce pups to unfamiliar environments, like a vet clinic or dog park, their need for safety means figuring out new territories, finding their place in the doggy social hierarchy and locating resources - which is more than enough to give anyone anxiety!
Meeting new people creates fear and anxiety in dogs because, in their eyes, this new person or group of people are unknown and therefore unpredictable.
How would you feel if you just met someone and they started to touch you or physically lift you off the ground? That's what dogs go through! As eager dog lovers, we often forget that doggos need time and reassurance that someone new isn't going to hurt them, harm us, steal their toys or eat their food before they feel secure enough to make friends.
Experiencing or witnessing a terrifying or traumatic event causes a psychiatric disorder in humans and dogs called post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD symptoms in dogs include chronic anxiety, hypervigilance, avoidance, sleep disturbances, the fear of being alone, decreased interest in activities, or misplaced aggression.
Any pet parent with a rehabilitated, rescue or shelter pup will agree that past traumas and doggy PTSD can lead to tremendous anxiety in dogs of all ages, no matter how long they've had a forever home and loving parents.
We wish there were a one-size-fits-all solution for helping dogs with anxiety, but a single cure-all dog anxiety treatment doesn't exist.
However, we highly recommend speaking to your veterinarian about helping you identify your doggy's stressors; and find a personalised treatment plan for your pup's uniques situation. Your vet will also rule out any possible dog health problems that might cause your floof anxiety.
1) Learn to speak dog
Learning to read your dog's body language is the key to unlocking what your loveable pooch thinks and feels. Once you understand your dog, it's easier to prevent and avoid situations or stimuli that make your pup feel anxious. Learn more about dog body language here.
2) Exercise and mental stimulation
With regular mental stimulation and exercise, your doggy has a place to put all that nervous energy and can focus on being alert or taking in their surroundings.
Without an outlet like chasing a ball or going for walkies, a dog's pent up nervous energy and boredom generally result in them chewing your favourite shoes or shredding their bed.
3) Obedience training
One of the best tools for managing dog anxiety is obedience training. This type of dog training lays the foundations for a trusting and healthy relationship between you and your fur kid and makes it easier for them to socialise.
Counterconditioning is a dog training strategy used to treat dog anxiety. The purpose of counterconditioning is to change your pooch's response to anxiety-inducing stimuli. Usually, professional dog trainers teach anxious dogs to sit or focus on their owners instead of displaying anxious or aggressive behaviour.
5) Doggy socialisation
Proper dog socialisation helps prevent fur kids from developing anxiety and helps your dog become a cool, calm and collected canine.
Essential, by teaching your dog to meet new people, other dogs, animals or enjoy new places and experiences, you help avoid and decrease exaggerated fight or flight responses driven by anxiety.
We hope our guide to identifying and dealing with dog anxiety will allow you to understand your darling doggo's behaviour and help you find the best way to help them deal with their anxiety.
Please note that this blog is for information purposes only. Valgray for Dogs encourages pet parents to consult a veterinarian before making any changes or decisions about treating their dogs.
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