The lowdown on your anxious dog

Published:
Small dog

Dog anxiety and its associated behaviours can be hard to understand and usually, being anxious can be a symptom of an underlying issue, but here’s our lowdown on dog anxiety.

Anxiety can affect dogs of all breeds and ages, and its much more common than you may think. In fact, a study found that over 70% of puppers exhibited at least one anxious trait or behaviour.

Causes and triggers for your dog's anxiety

There can be several reasons why your pupper is anxious. Here are some of the most common triggers:

Situational anxiety: This occurs when your pupper is triggered by something specific such as fireworks, loud noises, car rides or even going to the groomers. You may be surprised at the things that frighten your pupper – some are even known to fear ceiling fans!

Age-related anxiety: This can stem from cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), where perception, learning and awareness start to decline as they age. CDS can lead to anxiety and confusion.

Separation anxiety: Estimated to affect around 14% of dogs, this form of anxiety occurs when your dog is unable to self-soothe when left alone or separated from their family members.

If you aren’t sure what your pupper’s triggers are, keep an eye out for the signs of anxiety.

These include:

  • Flattened ears and hunching

  • Trembling or shivering

  • Excessive panting

  • Chewing or destructive behaviour

  • Barking and crying

Take note of when these signs occur and over time you may notice a pattern of triggers.

White dog yawning getting belly rubs on lounge

How can you prevent anxiety in your pupper?

It can be hard to determine what exactly will make your dog anxious, or if their reaction will turn into a disorder. There are, however, ways to help them when faced with anxiety-related problems.

Reading body language: It is important to notice when your pupper is uncomfortable. Body language can be a key indicator, especially if your pup has a history of aggression-related anxiety.

Pupper’s tend to mirror their pupper parent’s behaviours, body language and stress – otherwise known as transference anxiety, so make sure you are staying cool, calm and collected!

Socialisation: Proper socialisation with other dogs and people can prevent the development of anxiety. Be careful when introducing your pupper to new things, places or people, to ensure you’re doing so at a slow and mindful pace, giving your pup time and space to adjust.

Obedience: To ensure your pupper listens to you, it is necessary to establish trust. Dog trainers, obedience classes and behaviourists can be a great tool to use here.

Our good friend Mali the dog trainer says:

“Not all dog trainers take on behavioural cases, so if they do, confirm the methods they use are scientifically proven. Avoid hiring a trainer that ascribes to outdated and disproven methods based of being a “Pack Leader” or Alpha trainer. The Australian Pet Dog Trainers Association (APDT), The Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and the Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers (CCPDT) are the best places to start your search for a good trainer with a proven track record in handling anxiety cases.”

Exercise and nutrition: Your pupper’s overall health and wellbeing can also have an impact on anxiety, so it’s important that you establish an exercise routine and nourish your dog from the inside out. This will keep them stimulated both mentally and physically.

Exercise increases serotonin, which improves wellbeing and acts as a mood stabiliser against depression and anxiety. Adequate DHA and EPA levels in food nourish the brain and improve learnability and memory. Highly digestible, appropriately balanced protein can help with neurotransmitter production and signalling. A microbiome-friendly diet is known to support these functions via the gut brain axis.

Situational avoidance: It is recommended that you avoid scenarios that are likely to trigger your dog’s anxiety and to reduce their stress levels.

Important: Puppers with anxiety respond best to positive reinforcement or the help of a professional behaviourist and trainer. If your pupper is exhibiting anxious behaviour, and you are using punishment for this behaviour, it will only further enhance their anxiety.

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