Dog anxiety is the name for any fear, discomfort, or frustration your pet might feel. It’s really common. Studies suggest nearly three quarters of dogs show some symptoms. But the signs of anxiety can differ from pup to pup—and some have them worse than others.
That’s normal. Every dog’s different, with its own personality, behaviors, likes and dislikes, and fears and concerns. And no matter what’s up, there are effective ways to treat these feelings—and to give you and your bestie peace of mind.
Here’s what you need to know about dog anxiety—from possible causes to how to spot it, and what you can do to make your pet feel better.
What is dog anxiety?
Dog anxiety refers to any feelings of fear, stress, nervousness, or agitation that your dog can feel. Just like us, our pets can find themselves in situations where they’re uncomfortable—and that can affect their behavior.
In fact, many vets believe that many typical “bad” doggy behaviors are really signs of anxiety—but that we humans can struggle to draw the link between a dog’s behavior and its feelings. This can be a problem, because we risk making those negative feelings worse if we misrecognize the cause.
And, if left unchecked, anxiety can impact your dog’s overall health and well-being.
What are Signs of Anxiety in Dogs?
Each dog may feel anxiety a little differently. But there are some key signs of dog anxiety to look out for. It may affect your furry friend in ways that you hadn’t expected.
Common signs include:
- Excessive barking, or whining.
- Aggression—towards you, unfamiliar humans, or other dogs.
- Restlessness, including pacing or fidgeting.
- Shivering or cowering, or changes to posture like tucking their tails or becoming rigid
- Panting and drooling.
- Changes to eating habits—such as a lack of interest in food.
- Self-harm. This can be scratching, licking, or biting themselves. Any new scratches or sores you notice could be the result of anxiety.
- “Bad” destructive behavior—most commonly, tearing up furniture, carpets, or shoes, digging, or escaping.
Other more subtle signs of stress or anxiety can include:
- Showing the whites of their eyes.
- “Chuffing”—i.e. exhaling noisily with a little bark.
- Saliva around their mouths.
Showing these symptoms every so often doesn’t mean there’s a problem. It’s natural for animals of all shapes and sizes to be a little nervous now and then. But you’ll notice if your dog is repeatedly showing signs of anxiety—and it could be worth looking into the cause.
What are the Main Causes of Dog Anxiety?
There are four main causes of dog anxiety. But it’s natural for a nervous pup to be triggered by more than just one cause.
- Noise sensitivity. One of the most common forms of acute stress is noise sensitivity, with as many as half of all dogs affected. Most common are reactions to fireworks or thunderstorms, but triggering noises don’t always need to be loud. Squeaky doors, TVs, fans, or washing machines can all cause symptoms of anxiety.
- Social anxiety. Another common form of acute dog anxiety is social stress. It can often be associated with aggression and is most likely caused by:
- Other dogs. This is most likely when your pup meets another dog that’s bigger or more aggressive. But it’s not always that way. Being big and socially shy happens too!
- Unfamiliar humans. It’s common, but excessive reactions, like aggression, can be a problem.
- Separation anxiety. Separation anxiety can occur when dogs are left alone. On return, you may find chewed up carpets or other damage to your house, as well as doggy pee and excrement inside. Your pup may also be excessively happy to see you.
Separation anxiety is more likely if your dog has experienced a dramatic or unpleasant change:
- Ageing-related anxiety. The final major cause of dog anxiety is ageing. Your pup might feel new aches and pains as they get older, or they may feel a little disorientated if their brain isn’t as sharp as it used to be. Understandably, this can make them a little stressed and more prone to other anxieties too.
Are Certain Breeds More Prone to Anxiety?
The majority of dogs experience anxiety in one form or another. But there’s evidence that different breeds are more likely than others to show different types of anxiety. For example,
- Lagotto romagnolos, wheaten terriers, and mixed breeds seem to be most likely to experience sensitivity to noise, according to studies including this one.
- Spanish water dogs, Shetland sheepdogs, and mixed breeds are more fearful of other animals and strangers, according to this study.
- In the same, over 10% of miniature schnauzers showed aggression to other dogs, while less than one percent of labradors did the same.
Ultimately, though, it differs from dog to dog. And anxiety is not merely genetic, but is affected by your behavior and your pup’s past experiences too.
Treating an Anxious Dog
There are many ways to treat dog anxiety. But the right treatment will depend on the dog, as well as on the type of anxiety they’re experiencing.
The good news? An anxious pup doesn’t have to be anxious forever.
Strategies for Managing Dog Anxiety
Easing a Fearful Pup
When a dog is fearful of loud noises, or other people and/or dogs, there are things to try:
- Avoidance. It’s not going to be always possible. But avoiding situations you know will scare your dog—public transport, rooms with loud music, or busy areas—will be an important first step.
- Touch and affection. One way to ease dog stress is through touch and massage. But you don’t want to force them, particularly if they’re very agitated. Encouraging your pup to come to you, using treats, will make them feel in control, while short, slow strokes, with soothing words and deep breaths, can calm them down.
- Safe spaces. Anxious dogs benefit from a familiar, comfortable place they can be when they feel anxious. Providing one—with familiar blankets and well-loved toys—can ensure they feel safe. But it’s not so easy when you are out and about.
- Counterconditioning. Counterconditioning (sometimes known as desensitization) is a method to change a dog’s response to a stressful stimulus. But it’s not a quick fix. Instead, you’ll gradually introduce a scary situation (in small doses) and combine it with something they love, like a treat. Over time, they’ll associate a scary thing with positive thoughts—and hopefully they’ll no longer be scared.
Managing Separation Anxiety in Dogs
Separation anxiety can be difficult for both you and your dog, particularly if they are very stressed. But there are ways you can make it better:
- Leave gradually. Putting on your shoes can be a trigger for separation anxiety. By tying your laces and then hanging around, you’ll remove the association between your action and the dog’s stress.
- Make entrances low-key. If your pup gets overly excited when you return, keep things chill. Don’t pay them attention immediately—even if they’re jumping up—and then approach talking softly and slowly. This way, they learn it’s not a big deal.
- Encourage independence. Separation anxiety can be worse if you’re offering continual attention when at home. Setting boundaries when you’re not touching or fussing can help.
- Exercise. Dogs who don’t exercise much are more likely to be anxious. Exercise releases serotonin, which helps us all relax, it tires them out, and it stabilizes their mood. Exercising together before you leave can be a great strategy for managing separation.
How Can I Calm My Dog’s Anxiety Naturally?
Alongside the above methods, there are natural products out there that can successfully calm your dog’s anxiety. Look for ingredients that support the natural calming mechanisms of your dog, such as:
- Ashwagandha. A natural remedy medicine recommended for humans and animals to help manage stress, ashwagandha helps regulate levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. In humans, it has been found to reduce signs of stress—and it is effective and safe in dogs too.
- L-Theanine. An amino acid found in black tea, l-theanine has been found to reduce symptoms of anxiety in dogs that are suffering from noise sensitivity. L-Theanine boosts activity in part of the brain responsible for relaxation—without inducing drowsiness.
- Magnolia bark extract. A medicine long used in Chinese culture, magnolia bark has been used to treat depression, anxiety, and even cancer and inflammation. In humans, treatment with magnolia bark results in lower cortisol levels and improved mood. In dogs? Studies have shown “significantly reduced fear-related behaviors”.
At Front of the Pack, we’ve put the clinically proven natural benefits of ashwagandha, magnolia bark, and l-theanine into Harmony, our dog supplement for soothing pup anxiety.
Other Treatments for Dog Anxiety?
- CBD oil? Some pet parents have reported success in reducing dog anxiety with CBD oil, or cannabidiol, the oil from the cannabis plant. While its effects have been studied in humans, there’s not yet evidence that it works in dogs.
- SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). These are a type of drug widely used by humans with depression. In very serious circumstances, dogs can be given SSRIs to manage their anxiety. However, there can be side effects—and they will need to be prescribed by your vet.
- Homeopathic remedies. There are many “natural remedies” for dog anxiety out there, including lavender and violet leaf. Many dog owners swear by them, but there is not a lot of evidence that they work.
- Pheromone diffusers. Finally, there’s the option of diffusers designed to spread pheromones throughout your home. These can be plugged in to release these chemicals throughout the day. Do they work? There’s some evidence they may work for some dogs. Ultimately, though, every pup’s different and you may need to try a few different options.
Dog Anxiety: Final Thoughts
Dog anxiety can be tough. It can affect your home, your wellbeing, and the health and happiness of your furry friend. It’s not something that has to be just normal. There are effective treatments out there to make your dog more calm and confident.
FOTP’s Harmony supplement could be exactly what you and your pup have been looking for. Packed with naturally soothing, clinically proven ingredients like ashwagandha, magnolia bark, and l-theanine, it can be added to your dog’s food or enjoyed as a treat on the go—wherever an anxious pup might need it most.