Just like humans, dogs are no strangers to anxiety! While anxiety can afflict one or all dog breeds, each dog can see different effects. While all dogs will experience anxiety at some point, like all humans, if left untreated, a dog may develop anxiety disorders much worse.
Separation anxiety in dogs
* A dog can develop separation anxiety when left alone for unusually long periods of time.
Imagine leaving your dog home alone while you run to the store. Even if you are only gone for about 20 minutes, upon arriving home you are greeted by piles of torn fabrics and crumbling sofa cushion fillings! Sometimes it's scratch marks on your door or damaged furniture. Why would your beloved pet cause so much damage?
Your first instinct might be to scold your puppy, which is quite natural. We often think of our dogs as human children and we might scold a child for creating a mess. In reality, dogs are not human children and don't think the same way, especially not in these situations!
Scolding or punishing a dog for damage related to separation anxiety will likely cause the
animals to fear something outside the house disturb you and only increase their anxiety when you leave.
Separation anxiety is thought to affect 14% of dogs !
What exactly is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety in dogs is exactly what the name suggests, anxiety in your dog caused by your absence or separation. It's actually extremely common, and almost all dog owners will face some form of it!
Let's say you just adopted a puppy. The little one has never really spent much time away from his mother and litter, but suddenly finds himself in a completely foreign situation. It is natural for this puppy to become attached to your presence. When left alone for the first time, it can be scary!
Or, you just saved a dog from the shelter. He is used to spending the day with other dogs and shelter workers. The transition to your home is a huge change, so it automatically begins to bond with your presence. He has no idea what to do when left alone!
Why did my landlord leave me alone?
Will he ever come back to my place?
What if he's injured there?
Why is he so mad at me?
How am I going to eat?
Your dog probably doesn't think in those exact "human" terms, but that's the general idea. He or she becomes extremely uncomfortable when left alone! Your dog doesn't always understand why you left him and whether or not you will come back.
How to avoid separation anxiety
You need to slowly, gradually, let your pet adjust to the absences over time. This is a training concept called " counter-conditioning by desensitization or simply conditioning if your dog has not yet developed anxiety.
You want to "desensitize" your dog to being left alone by introducing very short periods of isolation and then increasing them very slowly. It is only with this method (or medication) that you can avoid this intense anxiety when you are leaving.
First stage :
start with very short absences. Maybe you can just leave your dog in a room, with the door closed, for a few minutes. Act completely normally, as if everything is fine and nothing has changed when you return.
lengthen the interval time. Try to leave the house for about 10 minutes, and increase it very gradually. Behave completely normally when you return (do not shower your dog carefully).
Third step :
After a few days of gradual adaptation, once your pet is noticeably calm when you leave and when you return, you can start to extend the duration of absences to a few hours.
Note : Separation anxiety is very common when an owner suddenly leaves their dog alone for several hours at a time, without any preparation!
Fear anxiety in dogs
* This dog is fearful, a perfect example of aggressiveness linked to fear. Notice how the ears are behind the forehead. This dog doesn't want a confrontation, but feels he may have to defend himself.
Imagine the mistreated or mistreated dog, the terrified dog in the kennel, scared of anyone walking past their crate because they've been taught that humans mean horrible things! Essentially, it's the same concept in humans - we get anxious when we're afraid.
Fear-related anxiety in dogs can be caused by things like people and strange animals or unfamiliar, loud noises such as fireworks, situations that remind the dog of being unwell (eg, travel anxiety, fear of cars), the vet's office, even strange surfaces.
Of course, it will depend on the dog, but in general, older dogs tend to experience fear anxiety more often or more easily.
The scared kennel dog
Imagine that fearful dog in the kennel. He is most likely slumped in a corner with his tail tucked between his legs and his head bowed, trying to make himself appear as small and delicate as possible.
This dog is probably terrified! While a dog normally has the option of “fighting” or “flying”, its flight option has been removed. He doesn't understand what's going on and doesn't want to "fight" this much bigger, unknown animal (you), so he tries to make himself look as threatening as possible.
- Tail tucked in between the legs
- Slouching posture
- Ears flat against the forehead
- Head tilted down, avoiding direct eye contact
- May be shaking
This same dog could bark his teeth and growl, preparing to defend himself, if he feels that is the only option left. It might sound dangerous to a human, but it's still scary body language.
Approach with caution
Of course, you don't want to go near a scolding dog because you don't want to get bitten. The shy dog in the corner could be just as unpredictable! Keep in mind that even this scared little puppy can look cute, he might see you as a potential threat and could stand up for himself if he deems it necessary.
This dog needs time to decompress and gradually adapt to its environment! The last thing you want to do is make him feel overwhelmed. Let him feel comfortable at his own pace.
Make your environment non-threatening
In the meantime, show the dog that you are not a threat. Leave him treats and other tasty things. Talk to him in a calm, non-threatening tone. Let him participate in puzzles and games, if he wishes. Make sure their surroundings are calm and peaceful.
Age-related anxiety in dogs
* Older dogs can become easily frightened, hyper-reactive and more anxious.
Unfortunately, almost all dogs that reach a certain age will have to endure this at some level. As they get older, dogs can naturally begin to experience more anxiety. Sudden noises may sound more surprising. Dogs can become more and more sensitive and irritable. Their tolerance for things like touching and restraint may decrease.
It's just a reality for older dogs. Anxiety can increase even more as they lose senses like sight and hearing.
Help your older dog
There are several things you can do to control and then limit the anxiety your older dog is experiencing! In addition to working with your vet, follow the simple suggestions below:
Avoid loud noises
Your older dog is particularly sensitive to louder, higher-pitched noises, and this will continue to increase. Things like fireworks, gunshots, or screaming can be a much bigger problem than ever before! If possible, try to limit loud noises as much as possible.
Correct a dog by berating him or even shouting “No! May seem like a natural move for a parent, as it could work with human children. This is not a good idea even for young dogs and is rarely, if ever, the suggested training method, but can be especially difficult for older dogs and their increased anxiety.
On that note, do your best to avoid yelling or even arguing loudly, no matter if it's directed at your pet or another human.
Organize the dog house
Your older dog may start to lose their sight when cataracts (normal and very common in older dogs) start to develop. He might even go completely blind!
A domestic animal does not need to rely on its hunting senses to survive and does not need to see to continue living a happy life. However, you need to adapt to this vision loss by making it easier to navigate your home.
Don't move furniture or rearrange, allowing your puppy to memorize the layout of the house.
Remove any sharp edges or random objects on the floor.
Consider a ramp for your stairs or any other surface he may need to climb or jump on.
Medicines prescribed by the veterinarian
Unfortunately, there is a pretty significant stigma with drugs and dogs. On the flip side, countless Americans are taking medication to help them with day-to-day living! While mental disorders were frowned upon and “taboo” sixty years ago, they are now much better understood and accepted by humans.
Your older dog may experience the same issues as humans! It doesn't take much to get far with an anxious dog, and there's nothing wrong with prescription drugs. Consider talking with your vet about what simple treatments can do for your pet.
Symptoms of anxiety in dogs
So what are the symptoms of anxiety in dogs, and how do we know if our animals are anxious? Many of the symptoms below are universal, while some can become extreme to the point of causing injury or danger if left untreated!
Symptoms of anxiety in dogs
- Urinate or defecate in the house
- Destructive behavior
- Excessive barking
- Go back and forth
- Compulsive or repetitive behaviors
It's not uncommon for an anxious dog to lash out at a perceived threat. They would just try to defend themselves and might not understand exactly what is going on. It is important to use caution with an anxious, aggressive or fearful dog. Sometimes fearful dogs can be more dangerous because you don't know what they are going to do, while dominant aggressive animals express their intentions very clearly.
Pot accidents at home
Urinating or defecating at home is not uncommon for anxious dogs, and doesn't mean they've forgotten about their training. Rather than berating your pet for these accidents, make an effort to limit anxiety!
Depression is a possible consequence of untreated anxiety, especially in older animals. To successfully treat depression, you have two basic options.
The first option is to treat the root cause of the anxiety. If the dog has no reason to be anxious, his depression will subside.
You also have the option of speaking with your vet about medications.
Drool or gasp
Excessive drooling or panting can be a sign of two different things; dehydration or anxiety. In cases of anxiety, this panting can often be accompanied by repeated deep yawns. These are all signs that an owner should learn to recognize.
Dogs often look for an outlet when they are anxious, which can easily turn into some kind of destruction. This is especially common in dogs with separation anxiety.
Treating Anxiety In Dogs
Talking with your veterinarian is the best way to start your journey when battling anxiety with your dog. Not only will your veterinarian help you identify the type of anxiety your dog is currently suffering from, but they can help you determine if this anxiety is simply situational and easy to treat, or if it is starting to become an increasingly overwhelming problem. for your pet.
It's also important to rule out any potential medical conditions that could cause pain or discomfort and increase anxiety. Together, the two of you can decide on the best course of action for your pet!
The " dog conditioning is the cornerstone of dog training. This is literally how a dog learns new skills and behaviors. Through continuous repetition (attempting the same task over and over again in the same way) the dog learns a new skill and is conditioned.
“Classical conditioning” refers to learning by association. If you think about it, that's how humans learn too! The principle was invented by Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, in the 1890s. Pavlov's dogs is still famous today!
What if your dog has formed associations, through conditioning, that you don't want? When experiencing anxiety, your pet has learned to associate a trigger (something they are afraid of) with an upset or uncomfortable feeling. Consider the example below:
Example of fear anxiety: the lake
* The dog above is likely a Labrador, descendant of hardy working dogs bred to endure the frigid waters of eastern Canada. Most Labradors are natural swimmers and can't get enough of them, but what if the above puppy has never swam in their life?
You decide to take your puppy on the sailboat for a day of fishing! He has never encountered water deeper than his belly before and certainly never had to swim. You are not worried because there is no reason he should ever get off the boat.
As you sink into the bay and deeper waters, your furry friend couldn't be happier! That is, until an unusual gust of wind knocks your sailboat onto its side and little Fido falls overboard. Remember, he's never had to swim in his life, and all of a sudden he's walking over 80 feet of water. Fido is frantic, desperately trying to get back on your boat and get you to safety.
Fido learned to fear water
Thanks to this traumatic event, Fido now refuses to set foot in any body of water and is terrified of your sailboat. How will you ever cure Fido of his intense anxiety around water?
Counter-conditioning through desensitization training
Slowly introduce a dog to the negative stimulus he is afraid of, in this case water, while offering the incentive of something he likes more. For example, even though the dog in the example above is now terrified of water, you can try luring him to a lake with a delicious piece of steak or meat. Once he approaches the water's edge, give him the food reward.
Repeat this a few times, until the dog begins to associate approaching the water with the meat you are rewarding him with. Now lure him into the shallow end of the lake, just enough for his paws to get wet, before rewarding him with the meat.
At this point, he's not afraid to get his paws wet. Very gradually over time, keep increasing this distance. Make sure to reward him after every attempt. Eventually he will be ready to overwhelm his limbs, then his belly, they swim a bit for his reward!
Desensitization is a technique of exposing the animal to a stimulus that would normally cause an adverse reaction at an extremely low level so that there is no response. As the animal becomes less reactive, it is desensitized by exposure to progressively more intense levels of the stimulus (VCA Hospitals).
Over time, you would have "counter-conditioned" this dog, in this case Fido above, to not only tolerate water, but to enjoy it!
Chew toys and comfort items
Un simple chew toyr, like a Kong (for example), can greatly help your pet stop thinking about what is causing this anxious behavior. Not only are they a fantastic distraction, but chew toys (like this Kong) can contain soothing treats or “rewards” that the dog has to work for, successfully distracting from the cause of that anxiety.
You could even go further and develop a fun game for your dog! It can even become a simple but very effective form of counter conditioning training (see above).
Take for example fireworks, which many dogs are afraid of. To distract yourself from those scary booms, start playing a tracking or puzzle game! Even simple chew toys, like the one below, can provide a wonderful distraction!
Counter-conditioning and desensitization are usually associated in such a way that low intensity stimuli are initially associated with high level rewards (VCA Hospitals).
* Chew toys can help provide distractions for anxious dogs.
Like any other type of behavioral training learning the root cause of the anxiety problem and dealing with it is the best way to deal with overall anxiety. After all, anxious behaviors are only symptoms of their cause!
For example, absences cause anxious feelings in dogs with separation anxiety, so work to help that dog cope with the absences.
Many dogs are afraid of car rides. What made them fear the car and how can you help them feel comfortable? Counter-conditioning would be used in the same way as the water-fearing dog example above!
Is your pet afraid of sharp, sudden, loud noises? If this makes your pet anxious, turn them away from loud noises or try to eliminate them.
Psychotropic drugs prescribed by a veterinarian may also be an alternative, especially if your dog's anxiety is extreme and possibly harmful. Find our article on the different dog diseases such as Leishmaniasis in dogs and Lyme disease.