How to Recognize and Manage Stress and Anxiety in Dogs

We all get a little stressed or anxious at times, and so do dogs. Stress and anxiety are perfectly natural emotions and are a part of being alive. Unfortunately, some dogs are more disposed to anxiety than others. And left untreated, repeated anxiety can turn into a full-blown anxiety disorder, which is no fun for you or your pup. Therefore, it’s essential for every dog owner to know the signs of stress and anxiety in dogs and what to do to manage them.

Causes of Stress and Anxiety

There are many potential causes for a dog’s stress and anxiety, too many to list. But here are some of the most common causes:

  • Aging — Dogs experience cognitive decline as they age, which can be frightening and disorienting.
  • Loneliness or separation — These dogs cannot find comfort when left alone and might turn to destructive behavior.
  • Boredom — Regular activity can help to prevent many symptoms of anxiety.
  • Fear — Some dogs react to specific triggers like fireworks or going to the vet. 

Recognizing Stress & Anxiety

If you think your dog is stressed or anxious, the first step is to take note of any signs and symptoms. To stop the cycle of anxiety, you must what is causing the anxiety. Sometimes, this is one easily identifiable thing, and other times the root is a myriad of factors.

When tackling anxiety in dogs, we must remember that dogs are not people. Dogs express their emotions differently from humans. Sometimes, this means a dog will lash out or react with aggression. This is not out of resentment. Rather, aggression is often the last resort. A dog behaving aggressively is probably just upset as the human receiving the aggression. To properly manage anxiety in your dog, patience is a must.

With that out of the way, here are the most common signs that your dog is stressed or anxious:

Whining and Barking

Dogs whine and bark the same way that people speak. Oftentimes, this can be desirable, like when a barking dog scares off an intruder, or if a dog whines when they need to go potty. But sudden or excessive whining and barking can be a sign that something is amiss. If you can’t identify anything else wrong—like a physical illness—then anxiety might be the culprit.

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Destructive Behavior

Sometimes when a dog is stressed or anxious, they will take it out on the environment around them. This can look like chewing up furniture or even attempts to break out of their crate. It’s never pleasant—not to mention expensive—to come home to a destroyed house, but it’s also dangerous for your dog. 

Destructive behavior is especially prevalent in dogs with separation anxiety. In these cases, the damage is often localized to where you enter/exit the house.

Panting

Panting seems completely innocuous. What’s more natural than for a dog to pant? Well, dogs pant when they are tired or overheated, but that’s not the only time. Dogs who are excited tend to pant, and so do dogs that are stressed. Panting is unlikely to be the only sign, but if your dog is panting excessively even when they have not exercised, then they may be panting out of stress.

Body Language

Make sure to check in with your pup’s body language. Anxious dogs will sometimes shake or have an exceptionally stiff posture. They might shift their weight to their rear legs. Sometimes, anxious dogs will “shut down” and freeze in place. Only you know what is normal for your dog and what is not.

Pacing

Anxious dogs have been known to pace. This happens when they are stressed and cannot settle down. Brief pacing is fine but repeated and prolonged pacing can be red flags. If you can, take note of what was happening when your dog started to pace. This will help identify the underlying cause of the anxiety.

Bladder Control

When Fido leaves his mark, our first instinct is often anger. But urinating or defecating in the house can be a sign of stress and anxiety. Make sure your pet gets plenty of potty breaks. If they’re still going in the house, the cause might be stress. Be sure to have your vet rule out any physical problems first.

Aggression

Aggressive behavior in dogs is no laughing matter. Each year, over 300,000 people seek out Emergency Room care for dog bite injuries. Remember, a dog reacts with aggression not out of spite, but because they are scared. 

Dogs usually start by growling to show they are uncomfortable. Do not try to punish the growling, as this can encourage your dog to bite, instead. If you can, try to put your dog at ease. This might look like trading the shoe they’re not supposed to have for a treat or giving your dog a place to relax that is quiet and sheltered.

Managing and Preventing Stress and Anxiety

The first step to managing anxiety is to consult your Veterinarian. This is essential because they can help you make a treatment plan that is specialized to your dog. This guide offers only a suggested course of action because it has been generalized to all dogs. Not every piece of advice will apply to every dog.

Training

There are two types of training to treat dog anxiety: there is counterconditioning and desensitization. Counterconditioning changes the dog’s response to the stimulus. For example, you might make them focus on you instead of the trigger. Desensitization repeatedly exposes the dog to the trigger to 

Unfortunately, retraining dogs with anxiety is not a walk in the park. A professional dog trainer might be necessary.

A well-trained dog is also essential to preventing anxiety. Proper training builds trust and ease socialization with other dogs.

Medication

In some cases, medication is necessary. Dogs that develop severe anxiety disorder will need prescription medication. If the anxiety is predictable, like feeling scared during a thunderstorm, then your vet might prescribe a medication like benzodiazepines to take before the stressor happens.

Medication is rarely a cure-all. Rather, it eases symptoms to a manageable level so that training and other interventions can be effective.

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Other Treatments

Lately, natural treatments like CBD or Hemp treats have become popular. These products are not psychoactive, and many studies support that they are safe and effective and easing pain.

Calming chews are another great way to manage anxiety, especially if it is situational. Chews typically have melatonin, l-tryptophan, or other products that mellow and relax your pup.

Never give your dog more than the recommended amount.

The Bottom Line

Anxiety is a perfectly normal emotion. Not every dog that experiences stress or anxiety will develop a full-blown disorder. Nevertheless, it’s important to track and manage anxiety whenever possible, and if it’s chronic, come up with a treatment plan with your vet. Anxiety is never pleasant, but it is treatable. With a little help, your pup should feel more like themselves in no time.

Tyler Kupcho
Author: Tyler Kupcho

Animal lover, proud husky parent. Writing Intern at DogFriendly.com

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