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Dog Anxiety: What You Need To Know

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The topic of dogs and anxiety is rather common for dog parents. Dogs of any breed can experience anxiety for many different reasons—from thunderstorms to fireworks. Although there are many causes, the symptoms of anxiety in dogs are often displayed through the same behaviors.

Recognizing what causes your dog anxiety is the best first step in decreasing and hopefully eliminating their anxiety altogether.

Types of Anxiety

In most instances, when a dog has anxiety, there is a root cause for the issue. Some pups may have one specific stress trigger, while others may have longer-lasting anxiety episodes that are brought on via multiple scenarios.

Dogs and Fireworks Anxiety

Although the Fourth of July can be a fun holiday full of cookouts, parades, and parties, the presence of fireworks is not quite as fun for dogs as it is for people. Whether it’s your town’s firework show or your neighbors are setting them off, with your dog’s powerful ears, they can hear the booms quite far away.

For many pups, anxiety from fireworks stems from the fact that fireworks are an unknown sound. They are unpredictable, unfamiliar, and loud and may occur while they are left home alone. As your dog’s anxiety and stress build, it can lead to behaviors such as having accidents in the house, pacing, drooling, trembling, whining, jumping fences, or other attempts to leave the yard.

Perhaps one of the best things you can do for your pup during fireworks is to limit their time alone. This can help them steer clear of more extreme reactions while also providing comfort, reassurance, and even a distraction. Other distractions could include high-value treats, puzzle toys, or a training session with many rewards.

Other comfort techniques to try with your pup are playing music, a movie, or white noise when fireworks are going off. Not only could these sounds be soothing for your dog to listen to, but they can also help with drowning out the sound of fireworks. Although these techniques may work for some dogs, other extra-anxious pups may have no desire to do anything else but to stay in one spot and try to hide.

If this is the case with your dog, then the best thing you can do is create a safe spot for them. This might already be their crate, or it could be a corner of a room, beside the couch, or under the desk—anywhere they feel safe. Try placing their bed, a cozy blanket, or a favorite toy in this spot, and do not force them to leave until they are ready.

Dogs and Thunderstorm Anxiety

With the arrival of summer and warmer temperatures, most areas will also have an increase in thunderstorms. Though, for many people, thunderstorms are often calming, our canine companions typically have a different opinion. Between the bright flashes of lightning, thunder, rain, and wind, it’s no wonder many pups get anxious during thunderstorms—many dogs sense storms and become nervous before they are even at your house.

Some common signs of anxiety during a thunderstorm include excessive drooling, panting, trembling, hiding, having accidents, and attempting to escape the house or yard. Due to these behaviors, it’s essential that you never leave your dog outside unsupervised when a storm is in the area.

Since thunderstorms are near impossible to avoid, it’s reassuring to know that there are many techniques dog parents can try.

  • Desensitize your dog
    During the winter months, when thunder isn’t present, try looking up a video or sound clip of thunder. Play it around your dog at a low volume and reward them for staying relaxed. Continue increasing the sound and rewarding your pup while continuously waiting longer and longer between rewards. The goal is to show your dog that thunder is nothing to fear and that thunder could mean receiving a treat.
  • Increase exercise
    If you know a storm is rolling your way, try to take your dog on a walk or two and burn off some extra energy. Not only can exercise help tire out your dog mentally and physically, but it can also boost their serotonin levels. All these benefits could help your dog remain more relaxed when thunder reaches your area.
  • Change environments
    For some dogs, hanging out in a room or section of the house they are rarely in may be enough of a distraction that they don’t focus on the storm quite as much. The basement could be a wonderful spot where thunder, wind, and rain aren’t as loud, and your dog isn’t able to see the lightning. A bathroom with the fan on may also be an ideal location for your dog to sit out a storm.
  • Redirect attention
    Try keeping a few extra special treats or favorite toys away until a thunderstorm arrives. Bring out your dog’s favorite items, play with them, and work on a few commands and tricks. This may be enough of a distraction that your dog’s attention will be all on their toys and treats and less on the thunder.

It’s entirely possible that your dog will not be bothered by storms at a younger age, but as they get older, the thunder will begin to stress them more. It’s best to keep an eye on your pup’s anxiety levels during storms and start trying these various techniques as you see fit.

Dogs and Travel Anxiety

Traveling can be enjoyable, even more so when you bring your best pal on the adventure. However, it’s not unusual for dogs to experience some anxiety when they travel, either by plane, boat, train, or car.

For many dogs, this anxiety can stem from the fact that all the aspects of traveling are new and unknown to them, plus traveling via a plane, train, or boat can mean entering hectic environments with lots of new sights, sounds, and people. It’s easy to see why this can be an overwhelming experience.

Working on socializing your dog is an ideal place to begin with travel anxiety. Take them to parks, dog parks, dog-friendly restaurants, beaches, local festivals, and dog-friendly stores. Allowing your dog to have relaxed, fun trips to busier environments can better prepare them for places like an airport.

If you will be traveling by boat, plane, or train and their pet regulations require your dog to be in a carrier, begin leaving your dog’s carrier out in a common room at home. Put a fun toy or a few favorite treats inside and allow your dog to become more comfortable with it. You will eventually want to work up to your dog being comfortable in their carrier for longer periods and in new environments.

In the instance that you are traveling by car, your main objective is to have your dog be comfortable getting in and out of your car and riding around in it. Try rewarding your dog when they jump in the car and give them their favorite toy. Slowly build up from a quick drive around the neighborhood to a long drive to the other side of town. You can also show your pup that the car isn’t a scary thing that’s only used to take them to the veterinarian or groomer. Instead, the car can be a fun way to reach parks, more walks, the pet store, and a friend’s house.

Working on these methods well ahead of your travel date could help reduce your dog’s anxiety. However, many pups could continue to experience some anxiety with traveling because they experience motion sickness in a moving vehicle. If you believe this is the case with your dog, talk with your veterinarian about possible medications or supplements that could help your dog’s queasy stomach.

Dogs and Social Anxiety

Like people who feel anxious in social settings, dogs can also have social anxiety. This type of anxiety occurs when dogs become stressed or fearful of being in new environments and meeting new people or dogs. This type of anxiety can vary from minor reactions to extreme behavior changes.

Common symptoms of social anxiety in canines can include timid behavior such as cowering, hiding behind their parent, or tail tucking. It’s also relatively common for dogs to pant more, have accidents, and even display signs of aggression such as growling or nipping.

One of the major causes of social anxiety is the lack of proper socialization, particularly when the dog is still young. Early socialization (after a puppy has been fully vaccinated) is instrumental in helping them learn to be comfortable in crowds with new people, sights, and sounds.

To help your dog overcome their social anxiety:

  1. Take them out to more socialization opportunities.
  2. Start small, with less crowded areas, allowing you to have better control of the environment.
  3. Continue to reward your dog with positive encouragement and treats whenever they have a successful outing.

Over time, you can try walking past busier parks or events, allowing your dog to get closer as they feel more comfortable. You can also try taking your dog to the pet store or dog-friendly hardware store during less busy hours.

Although decreasing a dog’s social anxiety can take consistent work for weeks or even months, the good news is that the hard work will always be worth it when you can see your dog calmly interact with people in a new environment.

Dog Anxiety With Crates

Having your dog be crate trained can be beneficial for multiple reasons. Though many dogs learn to see their crate as a safe and comfortable place they don’t mind being in, other pups may find it a source of anxiety and would rather go anywhere else.

If you notice this behavior, it’s beneficial to nip it in the bud as quickly as possible and begin teaching your dog to have positive associations with their crate. Depending on how severe their anxiety has gotten, it may be best to get rid of the old crate and start with a new one. Make sure your crate is the proper size for your dog, and pay attention to the material, type of door, and overall build of the crate.

As your dog begins to work on being more comfortable with their crate, it’s crucial that you never force them into or out of their crate—this should be a place where they feel safe. You can make the environment more welcoming by putting a blanket or dog bed inside, a favorite toy, or a few treats. Also, take note of where you place your dog’s crate.

Leave the crate’s door open and encourage your pup to come and go as they please. Some pet parents have found that feeding their dog in the crate with the door open can also be a calming way to introduce them to their kennel.

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Can My Anxiety Affect My Dog?

As outlandish as it may sound, your anxiety can affect your dog. However, that’s not to say that your dog will “catch” your anxiety as though it were something contagious. Instead, when a person feels anxious, many cues in their behavior show they aren’t feeling quite their usual selves.

A person’s body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice can all have subtle differences that our canine companions can notice. Another significant discrepancy dogs will pick up on is when a person experiencing anxiety begins changing their schedule—perhaps their sleeping schedule has changed, or they aren’t quite as active anymore.

All these changes in your body language, behavior, and overall schedule could cause anxiety in your dog. Luckily, there are many ways you can help your pup remain as anxiety-free as possible.

  • Continue a routine
    Though it is okay to have some variances in your day-to-day schedule, it’s best to try and stick with a rough-outlined routine. This can comfort your dog since they will know what to expect.
  • Keep up with physical exercise
    If your dog doesn’t receive enough exercise, then their extra energy could build up to some anxiety. Providing a few walks a day can help burn off energy, keep your pup healthy, and give them a boost of serotonin. Plus, a walk could help you feel better as well.
  • Provide mental stimulation
    Whether through training sessions or puzzle games, it’s crucial to work your pup’s mind. In many instances, such as working on new tricks or visiting a new park or store, you can provide mental and physical exercise all in one.
  • Give plenty of attention
    If you aren’t feeling your best, it may not be the easiest to exert extra energy for others, but it’s still essential that you provide your pup with some play or cuddle time every day and provide them with the attention they need. Not to mention, it’s undeniable that spending some time petting a cute puppy can help anyone feel a bit better.
  • Do what’s necessary to take care of yourself
    Having such a strong bond with your canine best pal, it’s no wonder a person’s mood and anxiety can also affect their pet. Remember that by taking care of yourself, you also take care of your pup.

If you are ever unsure about how you can help your dog with their anxiety, talk with your veterinarian or a trusted local dog behaviorist. These professionals can be valuable resources that can offer tips, tricks, and solutions.

Can Dog Anxiety Be Cured?

After learning that their dog has some form of anxiety, one of the first questions that may come to mind for a pet parent is, “Do dogs suffer from anxiety?” Although there is no definite way to know what a dog is feeling and what’s going on in their mind, it can be inferred that anxiety could affect a dog’s quality of life, depending on how bad it gets.

Thankfully, there are many products and professionals out there that can help with managing and treating a dog’s anxiety. There are countless other methods and tricks of the trade shared among other pet parents on some ways to help reduce a pup’s stressors, whether it be from thunder or traveling. If you believe your dog’s anxiety is more severe, talk with your veterinarian about possible supplements or medications that could help your best pal.

By investing time and effort and working with your dog to understand why they are anxious, you can help them get back on the path of living a calmer, stress-free life.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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