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Seeing your dog anxious or agitated can be almost as distressing and unpleasant for us owners as it is for our pets. Nobody likes to think that their pets suffer in the same ways we do as humans, but the truth is that many dogs suffer from anxiety, and each dog may react differently to it.
So understanding your dog’s anxiety, what causes it and exacerbates it, and how it can be treated can help you bring your pet a renewed sense of calm. You’ll need patience and a lot of love, but it is possible to create calm for even the most anxious of pups.
What causes anxiety in dogs?
Though not all causes of anxiety are immediately obvious, there are a few root issues that could lead your dog to feel stressed or unhappy. Fear is one of the most common reasons for dogs to lose their sense of calm. This could be caused by loud noises, other animals or people, new environments or situations they aren’t used to, or visual stimulation like hats, sticks, or other items that they relate to trauma or simply don't understand.
Many dogs also suffer from separation anxiety when they are left alone or if their owner leaves their sight. It’s thought that this affects up to 14% of dogs, and it can be just as distressing for owners who feel unable to leave their dogs, or who return to destroyed or soiled homes due to their pet’s fits of anxiety.
As dogs age they can develop an anxious demeanor, often linked to cognitive dysfunction. As their awareness begins to decline they become confused, and anxious as a result.
How to tell if your dog is anxious
You might notice a change in your dog’s behavior before you link their actions to anxiety, while in other cases the cause and effect might be clear. If your dog is displaying one or more of the following symptoms, the chances are it could be caused by anxiety or fear.
- Excessive barking
- Destructive behavior
- Pacing and restlessness
- Urinating or defecating in the house
- Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
If you notice any of these symptoms as a result of certain events then you will be able to identify the cause of their anxiety fairly easily. If they happen consistently, it can be harder to pinpoint the source. But living in a state of fear is bad not only for your dog’s mental health but for their physical state too.
Focusing on ways to calm your dog if they frequently suffer from attacks of anxiety is important because once a dog becomes aggressive there’s a chance they could harm you, someone else, or themselves.
Similarly, if your dog works themselves up so much that they display destructive behaviors then they could harm themselves as well as doing damage to your home.
How to prevent anxiety in dogs
Preventing anxiety altogether can be difficult, especially in older dogs, if they’re predisposed to fear then it’s likely you’ll notice the problem once the issue has already set in. But if you’re training a puppy, or have identified the source of your dog’s fear and know how to avoid it, then it can be possible to train your dog into being calm in their nature.
For dogs with specific fears, situation avoidance is the best way to prevent an attack of anxiety. For example, avoiding places where they might come into contact with other dogs or certain types or people or loud noises, if you know one of those situations to be their trigger. This means that, most of the time, you can avoid any stressful situations for you and your dog. And when their source of anxiety can’t be avoided you can prepare how to treat it ahead of time.
If you and your dog can grow to understand one another’s body language then your bond will become stronger and you will feel safer and happier with one another. Knowing that your dog is scared just by looking at them can help you keep them away from negative situations and also prevent situations from escalating or arising. Similarly, if your dog understands you in return then they will feel safe to have you as their leader and will be more likely to take a cue from you that they don’t need to be scared.
Dogs are pack animals and they are wired to follow a leader. So it’s every job owner’s responsibility to present themselves as that leader as soon as possible. If your dog isn’t obedience trained, they can lose their understanding of situations as they won’t know who to look to as the leader of their pack. It establishes trust and understanding between the two of you which will help your dog develop a healthier mental state.
As well as being well trained at home, your dog should be well trained to deal with other dogs and people too. The more people, places, and other animals your dog can meet when they’re young, the fuller and more well-rounded their understanding of the world will be. And in turn, they will be less likely to react with fear when they encounter new situations.
Regular exercise and a healthy diet isn’t just essential for your dog’s physical wellbeing, but it contributes to their mental health too. A lack of physical stimulation can lead to anxiety, depression, and destructive behavior which is why it’s crucial they get to exercise every day. And a healthy diet not only prevents diseases that can damage your dog’s mental health, but it will also include nutrients that support their brain and cognitive function.
How to treat anxiety in dogs
How you treat your dog’s anxiety will depend on their unique set of causes and triggers. If you think your dog might be suffering with anxiety, the first thing to do should always be to consult your vet. They will be able to advise on treatments and training to help restore their sense of calm.
But if you want to try some at-home remedies for promoting calmness in your dog from home, there are a number of effective methods.
Training your dog well as soon as possible is a good way to prevent anxiety. But if the damage is done, or if they’re just an especially worried pup, there is further training you can try to help them work through their troubles. You can try it yourself but it’s tough, so you might prefer a professional trainer to help you with either counterconditioning or desensitization training, depending on your dog’s type of fear.
If you know the source of your dog’s anxiety, desensitization can help them overcome their fear by gradually exposing them to the situation and building positive associations with it. Counterconditioning will help dogs change their response or reaction to their fear, which is especially useful for dogs that bark or become aggressive when triggered.
Changing their diet
Do you know what’s in your dog’s food? Picking something that’s healthy and they love eating can be a challenge. But if your dog eats dehydrated kibble or other processed food, there’s a chance they could be consuming nasty ingredients that affect their mental state.
As well as unhealthy foodstuffs, some processed dog foods have been found to contain chemicals, heavy metals, and fillers and allergens that cause cognitive problems and confusion that can lead to aggression.
Changing to a 100% natural diet consisting only of ingredients you’ve heard of and can trust is an easy way to balance out your pet’s mental health.
Vets can prescribe different medications, including antidepressants, to help your dog feel calm again. This is especially common for older dogs whose cognition is beginning to deteriorate, but can also be used to help dogs who suffer from situational stress for example around fireworks or car rides.
Natural products like CBD can also be used to help treat anxiety in dogs, but it’s important to research the facts, side effects, and dosages needed. If you think CBD treatment might be useful for your dog, read our blog on the subject here.
There are a range of supplements on the market that target specific anxieties and help dogs feel calm in the long term. Front of the Pack’s Harmony is clinically proven to target anxiety to help your dog live a stress-free life, and the results can be seen in as little as 90 minutes.
It’s made with Ashwagandha that moderates stress and cortisol levels, L-theanine that promotes a state of calm, and Relora alleviates nerves and cuts off anxiety at the source, and comes in a handy sachet you can carry in your pocket for immediate use.