Dogs are loving and faithful companions, but just like people, they are prone to anxiety. Why does your beloved dog transform from an affectionate and energetic friend into a ball of fearful, anxious stress?
Experts consider stress, anxiety and fear in dogs as behavioral problems. These are actually three separate reactions, and it is possible that your dog will not exhibit all three.
Fear is triggered by circumstances, a person or an object. Sometimes, reacting with fear is appropriate, but other times it is not. Dogs experience anxiety because they are afraid of danger or impending disaster. Anxiety may manifest both in behavior and with physical symptoms. By contrast, a dog that is under stress may experience behavior changes as well as immunological and physiologic responses. When stress is a consistent issue, dogs may develop ailments related to the gastrointestinal tract, the respiratory system or the skin and hair. Dogs under chronic stress may exhibit exaggerated fear responses as well as obsessive behavior.
Canine anxiety may have many causes, but the most common ones are fear, separation and aging. By examining each of these causes, it is possible to determine what may be underlying your dog’s anxiety.
Fear is a common cause of anxiety in dogs. Typically, a fear response is triggered by unfamiliar animals or people, loud noises, unexpected visual stimuli or being in a new or strange environment. Sometimes, fear is caused by being in a specific situation, like riding in a car or a visit to the vet. Other dogs respond with fear while on unfamiliar surfaces, such as wood floors. Some dogs may have a brief fear response to these stimuli, but an anxious dog may have an out of proportion reaction that lasts much longer.
Researchers believe that approximately 14 percent of dogs suffer from separation anxiety. When these dogs are left alone, it is difficult or impossible for them to make themselves comfortable. In response, they may urinate or defecate in the house, bark incessantly, destroy furniture and other household goods and engage in other undesirable behavior. Dogs that were previously abandoned are more prone to separation anxiety, but it can happen to almost any dog. For instance, a sudden change to the dog’s schedule can trigger separation anxiety.
As dogs grow older, they may develop a condition that is known as cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Dogs with this disorder may experience issues with awareness, perception, learning and memory. In many ways, this syndrome is similar to Alzheimer’s in people. Confusion and anxiety are common signs of this condition in senior dogs.
Other, less common causes of anxiety may include a medical condition such as hearing loss, a hormone imbalance and hypothyroidism. Past trauma, such as abuse or abandonment, can crop up as anxiety throughout the dog’s life. Some dogs exhibit anxiety because they lacked proper socialization as a puppy. Dogs that were not exposed to other dogs between 14 and 16 weeks of age or that were separated too early from their mother may demonstrate social anxiety as well.
Symptoms of Anxiety
How do you know if your beloved four-legged family member is suffering from anxiety? Several symptoms are relatively common in anxious dogs. If you are observing these signs in your dog on a regular basis, this is an indication that anxiety is a chronic issue.
Among the symptoms of anxiety are aggression, depression, drooling and urinating or defecating indoors. Dogs that exhibit excessive panting, barking, pacing, restlessness or destructive behavior similarly may be suffering from anxiety. If you notice that your dog regularly engages in compulsive or repetitive behaviors, this is yet another symptom of chronic anxiety.
You may see your dog occasionally exhibiting these behaviors as the result of a specific event that causes anxiety, but when these behaviors are recurrent, it is the sign of a larger issue. Aggression typically is considered the most dangerous symptom as it may cause the dog to behave in an inappropriate manner toward other animals or people.
Housebroken dogs may become anxious, particularly when separated from their family. This can lead them to poop or pee indoors, a frustrating situation that also can cause property damage.
Separation anxiety similarly may manifest as destructive behavior. It is common to find such damage centered around windows and doorways, but some dogs are known to inadvertently harm themselves as a result of this behavior. When a dog attempts to get out of a crate, a door or a window, they can seriously hurt themselves and require a visit to the vet.
Treatments and Prevention
If you notice the signs of chronic anxiety in your pup, then it’s time to schedule a visit with the vet. The vet can assist with identification of the type of anxiety from which your dog is suffering. This may help to uncover the possible triggers of the anxiety. Veterinarians also can diagnose any medical conditions that may be causing or contributing to your dog’s stressed-out state.
Your vet may recommend several treatment options that include training, anxiety medications and CBD oil.
Training strategies emphasizing counterconditioning may be helpful for anxious dogs. The objective of this training is to alter the dog’s response to the anxiety-inducing stimuli. Ideally, your dog will learn to substitute troubling behavior for something that is more desirable, such as focusing on the owner or sitting down.
Another training strategy involves desensitization. In this approach, the owner slowly and gently introduces the anxiety source to the dog. With decreased intensity and small doses, repeated exposure and providing rewards for positive behavior can help to manage anxiety.
A professional dog trainer is your best friend when it comes to providing additional training or counterconditioning for your pup. Ask Doglando how they can help with your anxious dog.
Additionally, your vet may prescribe anxiety medication for your dog. Common medications used to treat this condition include clomipramine and fluoxetine. When an anxiety-inducing event is on the horizon, these prescriptions may be supplemented with benzodiazepine to help alleviate additional stress.
If your dog’s anxiety is caused by cognitive dysfunction syndrome, your vet may prescribe selegiline. This drug is known to reduce many of the symptoms of the disorder.
CBD oil is reported by many dog owners as a successful anti-anxiety substance for dogs. No scientific study yet supports this conclusion, so it may be wise to consult with your veterinarian before making CBD oil a part of your dog’s routine.
It further may be possible to alleviate your dog’s anxiety by looking for ways to prevent stress. Additionally, you may want to consider using anxiety-prevention strategies before your dog shows signs of stressed behavior.
For instance, practicing good socialization can help your dog to avoid problems with anxiety. Make sure that your dog is introduced to many people, animals, places and situations at a young age. Regularly taking your pup to Doglando is just one way to accomplish this.
Obedience training is another excellent tool for helping your dog to prevent or manage anxiety. Successful training lays the groundwork for a healthy relationship between dog and owner. With trust established, your dog may be less likely to develop anxiety down the road.
Obedience training also is critical because it helps the pet parent to become familiar with their dog’s body language. When you learn to read the signs that demonstrate that your dog may be feeling anxious, you can take a proactive approach to the situation and perhaps head off a disproportionate reaction.
Learn and Grow at Doglando
Doglando provides the ideal surroundings in which to socialize your pup. Sign up for some training as well, and you are on your way to ensuring that your dog is a good citizen that is calm and affectionate.
Visit Doglando today to learn more about how our services can enrich your pup’s life.
Teena Patel is a Certified Dog Trainer and Behavioral Counselor who works with pet owners and owners of doggy daycares to bring her philosophy of Enrichment to the canine population. After almost two decades of successful dog training under her belt, Teena has done away with the standard doggy daycare “warehousing” of animals in kennels and runs. In place of an industrial model, she focuses on what is right for the dogs as living beings, providing experiences that improve and enhance their behavioral health. Coupled with a program of careful training, the Doglando experience results in companion dogs who are better-behaved, better integrated into their families, and above all, much happier. True to her passion, Teena Patel gives dogs the freedom “to be dogs”.