How to support an anxious dog
Dogs are loyal and loving companions; they are a part of our family. Just like humans, dogs can experience anxiety. This can range from short term, such as bonfire night, to chronic longer lasting anxiety. As loving dog owners, it's our job to understand what may be causing the anxiety and learn how to best support them. This article looks into what can cause anxiety, what behaviours your dog may display and what we can do to help them feel more comfortable.
What can cause anxiety?
It’s important to understand that not one dog is the same, and while one thing may not affect one dog, it can be a real trigger of anxiety to the other. Common causes of anxiety include:
- Loud noises
- Lack of social conditioning in younger age
- Change in routine- home move, less exercise, new baby
- Trauma from past experiences- especially if your dog has been a victim of neglect/abuse or has been attacked by another dog
Signs of anxiety
It can be quite hard to identify anxiety for your dog. The only way dogs can communicate is through their body language, so it’s really important that we can spot these cues and intervene wherever possible.
According to Blue Cross Vets, subtle signs of anxiety include (but are not limited to):
- Pinned back ears
- Whites of their eyes showing- referred to as ‘whale eye’
- Licking their lips
More recognisable signs of anxiety include:
- Cowering away from people/dogs
- Tail between legs
- Barking and signs of aggression
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive drooling
- Toileting in the house
Some of these signs can also be a sign of a medical condition, so if you are concerned, please seek advice from your vet to rule this out.
5 Ways you can support your dog
- Create a safe space - have an area in your home which your dog can retreat to when they’re feeling overwhelmed. Vets 4 Pets note that some dogs don’t respond well to a crate and this may actually make them panic more. Make sure the space is comfortable and has everything your dog needs, such as water, food and toys. Also, make sure the area is free from any potential stressors, such as loud noises or other pets.
- Keep to a routine - a change of routine can be really unsettling for your dog. Creating a routine, and sticking to it can help settle your dog. Ensure you feed, walk and play with your dog at similar times each day.
- Let others know - if your dog’s trigger of anxiety is mainly caused by other dogs or people, there are ways you can let people know to keep away. Yellow is adopted by many as a way of letting people know that your dog needs space. If a dog gets a bit too close, Petplan recommends putting yourself between your dog and them. If your dog doesn’t like people, ask people not to approach your dog and to ignore them.
- Do not punish your dog - telling your dog off for behaviour caused because of anxiety is more likely to increase their stress level. Additionally, it may actually change one behaviour for another (e.g barking turns to biting). It’s important to remain calm for your dog and try to remove them from the anxiety-provoking situation.
- Seek support- it’s really important to note that anxiety can be improved for your dog, they do not have to ‘live’ with it. You can speak to your vet and/or a trained behavioural specialist who can offer professional advice and recommendations to help ease your dog’s anxiety.
Whilst anxiety in dogs is quite common, it’s important to understand that you both don’t have to suffer in silence. Seeking advice from a professional and creating a safe environment for your pet are the first steps in living a happier and healthier life together.