Top 5 types of dog anxiety and how to treat them naturally

Published:
Reviewed by our experts. More info
Cindy Feng
Sad dog lying on sofa

Have you noticed a shift in your dog’s behaviour recently? Are they showing signs of anxiety? You’re not alone: a study found that over 70% of dogs exhibited at least one anxious trait or behaviour.

Your dog may be sensitive to triggers or may have mental health issues requiring a multifactorial approach.

It can be a tricky and frustrating problem to solve and many of us in Lyka HQ know this firsthand — some of our dogs battle anxiety too.

Understanding the triggers is crucial, but only part of the answer. We explore the top 5 common types of anxiety, triggers, treatment, and tips on how to reduce your dog’s fears naturally.

Dog anxiety symptoms — how to read your dog’s body language

Your pup can’t verbalise how they feel, but their vocalisations and body language do the talking when it comes to anxiety.

Anxiety signs dogs

Take notice of when your pup is stressed or fearful, so you can de-escalate the situation or remove your dog before they become defensive or aggressive.

Look for these telltale signs of anxiety and fear:

  • Barking or howling

  • Pacing

  • Shaking

  • Panting

  • Yawning

  • Drooling

  • Urinating or defecating inside

  • Destructive behaviour

  • Escape attempts

  • Reactivity or aggression

  • Backing away, hiding under a table or between your legs

  • Raised heckles

  • Teeth baring or curled back lips

  • Flat ears

  • Whale eyes (visible sclera — the white part of the eyes)

  • Tail tucked under their body or upright

  • Warning chuffs or growls

5 common types of dog anxiety

Although they may have overlapping signs and symptoms, the triggers of the different types of anxiety are distinct. Trace the symptoms back to the source of the problem, so you can decide on your next steps with the support of a veterinarian or behaviourist.

1. Separation anxiety

Your dog is dependent on you for their every need: food, shelter, exercise, security and belonging. Dogs can feel afraid and insecure when they are separated from the person they’re most connected to.

Severe separation anxiety can be triggered by very short absences, making dog parents feel frustrated and trapped indoors because they can’t leave their dog at home.

Up to 20% of dogs are affected by separation anxiety and it can affect any dog, but some breeds are more prone than others like the German Shepherd, Australian Shepherd, GSP, Vizsla and Labrador Retriever.

Separation anxiety triggers:

  • Your routines. Your dog is familiar with the routines that end in you leaving the house, like getting dressed then grabbing your coat, bag and keys.

  • Emotional goodbyes. Dogs are sensitive creatures: a big goodbye can make them think something negative is about to happen.

How to treat separation anxiety

Separation anxiety has nothing to do with training, it’s a complex issue that’s notoriously difficult to treat. But curing separation anxiety is possible with patient and consistent training to build your dog’s tolerance to being alone.

Your first step: reach out to your veterinarian for support (and possibly an animal behaviourist) and help devising a plan of action. This may include separation anxiety medication to reduce the panic, so they're receptive to retraining.

If your dog’s anxiety is affected by your routine, start by changing your patterns of behaviour to desensitise triggers. Then you can begin to introduce very short absences and slowly extend them to stretch their comfort zone gradually.

When you’re both ready, teach your pup to positively associate being alone with a long-lasting, high value treat or lick mat. It should be something they only get when you’re about to leave, otherwise it’ll lose its power.

If you notice any subtle signs of fear at any point, go back a few steps. The idea is to show there’s nothing to be afraid of — you won’t make any progress if they’re anxious.

2. Situational anxiety

When you hear the rumble of thunder or the first zips and whizzes of fireworks, you know what to expect. You also know where these noises are coming from and that they’ll come to an end at some point, but your pup doesn’t. To them, loud noises are an inescapable danger.

Our pups can also develop a fear of certain places or situations. Anxiety triggers can include bad experiences at the vet, groomers, daycare, dog park, in the car, or loud noises.

Hiding, shaking, whining or the complete refusal to move are all common signs of situational anxiety.

How to treat situational anxiety

Avoiding situations that are unpredictable may seem to be the best course of action, but building up your dog’s tolerance to unknown situations through controlled desensitisation training is the optimal solution.

Visits to the vet or the groomer are common triggers, even for dogs who aren’t normally anxious, simply because they associate them with painful procedures, vaccinations, or loud noises. You can’t avoid these situations, but there are ways to help your dog feel less stressed.

Did you know dogs can pick up on your anxiety? It’s called transference anxiety. If you’re nervous about taking them to the vet, it can increase their fears too. Try to remain unfazed, so your pup mirrors your calm behaviour.

Organise visits to the vet so your pup can explore the practice without any treatments, but with lots of pats, praise and treats. Happy vet visits from 8 weeks old can prevent fear from developing in the first place, but they may also work well for older dogs if you take it slowly.

If your dog will need regular grooming, desensitising them to body handling from an early age is essential. Create a habit of touching their face, ears, paws, and teeth at home and rewarding their tolerance.

If you’re out and about and a loud noise startles them, there are two options to consider:

  1. Give them a treat so they make a positive association with the noise and become desensitised to it.

  2. Head home at your earliest opportunity. Being in the comfort of familiar and predictable surroundings can help to calm your fearful dog.

If you’re noticing your pup often needs a hug, look into anxiety-reducing dog clothes. Some products apply gentle pressure to your dog's body (like weighted blankets) to help calm them.

Play relaxing music or other sounds to distract your dog. Filling your home with soothing sounds to mask the stressful ones can be just what they need, especially if you’re enjoying the music too. The most calming music for dogs is soft rock and reggae. So, get that Bob Marley album ready for the next thunderstorm!

Dog-friendly music for situational anxiety

3. Social anxiety

Canine social anxiety is triggered when your dog meets other dogs or humans. This can happen with visitors at home, at the dog park or just walking down the street.

How to treat social anxiety

Controlled socialisation from an early age is the key to avoiding this, but older dogs can still benefit from this type of training.

Organise play dates with one or two known dogs who will interact positively with your pup to build up their confidence in social situations. Free rein at the off-leash park to meet lots of dogs at once can be overwhelming and create stress.

If you have visitors to your house, enlist them to help with your dog’s training. This may include:

  • Not making eye contact

  • Not patting them until the dog voluntarily approaches

  • Reinforcing good behaviour with praise and treats at the right time

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.

Although age-related cognitive decline can’t be treated per se, there are things you can do to slow the degeneration and make life easier for your senior pup.

Keep a good routine and avoid moving the furniture around where possible. Knowing what to expect and where everything is less taxing on their brain.

Make sure your dog is eating the best food for their golden years. Ingredients like omega-3 from fish, or antioxidants from blueberries, spinach and carrots can help to reduce inflammation and minimise brain cell damage caused by free-radicals.

5. Trauma-induced anxiety

Rescuing a pup from a shelter takes courage, commitment, and a special kind of love.

Sadly, not all dogs get the best start in life. Many rescue and shelter dogs have experienced abandonment and emotional trauma, and some have experienced physical abuse too. It can also be triggered by bad experiences with other dogs.

Trauma-induced anxiety triggers:

  • Sudden movements

  • Loud noises

  • Meeting new people

  • Feeling intimidated by other dogs

These dogs can also be more susceptible to separation anxiety – they may fear being abandoned again.

How to treat trauma-induced anxiety

Love and patience are key when supporting a dog who’s experienced trauma. They’re likely to have heightened awareness and reactivity and find it hard to let their guard down – a bit like our fight or flight defence mechanism.

Trauma-induced anxiety or PTSD can be complex, but with support of a behaviourist, you can focus on retraining your dog with a combination of desensitisation and counterconditioning.

Make sure your pup has many sources of comfort to help them relax, especially when you first bring them home, like heated dog toys and plush, warm bedding.

What to do if you spot early signs of anxiety in your puppy

Puppies have two fear periods: 8-11 weeks and 5-14 months, when your puppy is more alert. You’ll probably notice more hesitancy, skittish behaviour and warning barks that sound like a chuff.

Breeds that have a strong protective drive, like German Shepherds or Rottweilers, can be prone to these fear periods more than others.

It can be a big scary world for puppies with lots of new sights, sounds and smells. Give them a positive start by introducing new situations slowly through controlled socialisation like happy vet visits or body handling training.

Another great option is co-operative care training that teaches your dog how to signal their willing participation in routines like ear cleaning and nail cutting. Empowering your dog with choice can prevent fear and resistance.

You could also consider crate training your puppy. Done well, this can establish a safe space dedicated to your dog for them to retreat to.

If you start to see any anxious behaviour like trembling, growling, barking or lunging at people or dogs, seek assistance from a trainer or a behaviourist as soon as you can. Early intervention is likely to result in a better outcome.

How to reduce anxiety naturally

Diet and supplements

A real food diet can support your dog’s mental health and feelings of wellbeing. How? Through the gut-brain axis: the vital line of communication between the brain and the gut, where most of your dog’s neurotransmitters are made.

Nourish your dog’s gut microbiome with a diet rich in prebiotic fibre, nutrient-dense ingredients and adequate DHA and EPA from omega-3 fatty acids. These ingredients may help to reduce your dog’s anxious behaviour, boost their good mood, improve receptivity to training and keep your dog calm.

Lyka’s Calm Supplement is designed to amplify the health benefits of our meals. Active ingredients like decaffeinated green tea extract and passionflower extract can improve your dog’s mood, relaxed state and sleep.

Check out our deep dive on the relationship between your dog’s diet and their mental health for more detail on the importance of getting your pup’s nutrition right.

Regular vet check-ups

Underlying health conditions (like painful arthritis or uncomfortable digestive problems) can make your dog reluctant to interact with you or other dogs, contributing to their anxiety.

Lyka experts recommend a vet check-up every 6 months to monitor their health and identify any early stages of illness or disease.

Mental and physical enrichment

Physical exercise increases serotonin, which acts as a mood stabiliser against depression and anxiety and gives your dog the opportunity to release any nervous energy.

Mental enrichment activities keep their minds alert, to counter age-related cognitive decline

Training

Force-free training is a great way to strengthen the bonds of trust between you and your dog and can promote their feelings of security and safety.

Dog trainers, obedience classes, and behaviourists can reinforce good behaviour and teach new tricks — these are tools you can use in triggering situations that require distraction or reassurance.

Reducing your dog’s anxiety is possible!

Anxiety is a complex issue requiring a holistic approach to address the matter from different angles. There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution but getting their nutrition right is a great first step. Nourishing their mind and body creates a solid base to build your training and desensitisation routines on.

Lyka meals are designed by board-certified nutritionists to support your dog’s mental and emotional wellbeing and receptivity to training. Made with brain-boosting ingredients like antioxidant-rich spinach to enhance cognitive function, and tryptophan from turkey, to make serotonin — a good mood hormone.

Lyka real food meals are delivered to your door in custom-portions, so you have more time to focus on supporting your dog.

Looking for a community that understands dog anxiety? Join our Facebook group, where Lyka customers can share support and helpful tips on nutrition, health, and training.

This article was reviewed by Lyka's veterinary and nutrition experts

Need a sniff of approval?

Join the pack today with 30% off your first box.

Give your pupper a tongue-tingling taste test of your choice of recipes before you commit to a customised, regular plan.

Get started
A picture our range of Lyka meals

Related articles