Just like us, dogs can experience anxiety too! A recent study found that canine anxiety can be broken down into three categories: noise sensitivity, general fearfulness, and separation anxiety. Around 1 in 3 of our canine friends show symptoms of noise sensitivity, 1 in 4 of them have general fearfulness, and 1 in 5 show signs of separation anxiety.
What does this look like?
The most common behaviours include:
- Hypervigilance (appearing alert all the time)
- Restlessness (unable to settle)
- Aggression, including lunging, barking, or snarling at other people or dogs
- Excessive barking
- Excessive panting or drooling
- Urinating in the house (after being house trained)
Dogs with anxiety can exhibit one or multiple symptoms and it’s best to try and combat it as soon as you notice. It is also worth pointing out that if your dog is showing one of these symptoms for a short amount of time, it is not something to be overly worried about as this is your dog’s natural threat response. Our advice is to monitor your dog for a few days and see if they improve, then consider giving us a call or trying the tips below.
So what can I do to help?
The first people to speak to about any concerns around anxiety would be your vets (us!) to rule out physical illnesses that could exacerbate or cause your dog’s symptoms. After this, you can try talking with an animal behaviourist or trial some of our suggestions below and see if the symptoms improve. Remember we are always here if you have any concerns you would like some advice with. In the meantime here are some recommendations:
- Work out if there is anything specific that upsets your dog. The common triggers to look out for are: other dogs, unfamiliar people, visitors to the home, sudden loud noises, and being left alone. If you notice any trends, minimise your dog's exposure to these triggers and reward your dog for any positive behaviour they show when around the trigger. If their response isn’t improving, consider getting a behaviourist to help.
- Consider taking a few days off from your usual walks. Anxious dogs can often struggle to cope with the big, wide world, which means that they may not actually enjoy the walks you're going on. A solution would be to walk at quieter times of the day or in more private places. Alternatively, giving your dog enrichment activities from home and missing the walk altogether may help when your dog is feeling very anxious.
- Get them to use their nose! Sniffing is an inherently calming activity for your dog, so it's a great way for your dog to chill out. Try hiding a couple of treats around a room, and let your dog find them.
- Encourage licking. Licking is another naturally calming activity, so is hugely helpful when managing an anxious dog. Get a LickiMat, smear on some wet food or some doggy peanut butter, and give it to your dog! If your dog is very quick at getting through LickiMats, try freezing it beforehand.
- Use a calming home spray. These are formulated with valerian, which is a naturally calming herb, and can help stressed out dogs to feel more at ease. Simply spray it around the home, and let your dog relax. These also come in the form of a diffuser if you find this particularly helpful.
- Stick to a routine. This doesn't need to be a concrete routine where you do the exact same things every day, but think about things in terms of how much energy your dog needs. Try to keep their active hours to the same times, and their nap times to the same times each day. This predictability can help our dogs that struggle with separation anxiety in particular.
- Make sure your dog is getting enough sleep. We all struggle with stress when we're overtired, so it should be no surprise that our dogs are more easily overwhelmed as well. The average dog needs about 15 hours of sleep each day, with puppies, older dogs, and anxious dogs needing closer to 20 hours. Make sure your dog has access to a calm area with a comfy bed, and set them nap times when they can snuggle up and get some Z's.
- Give them a safe space to retreat to. Sometimes, for our anxious dogs, the world can just be a little overwhelming. Because of this, it's really important to allow our dogs the chance to walk away from stressful things and decompress. Make sure your dog has somewhere they can go to where they won't be disturbed.
- Take the time to understand what your dog is telling you. Our dogs are always talking to us, and we can help them to feel heard and understood if we take a moment to learn about their communication style. Body language is incredibly important for them, and we can help them to feel more safe if we can see what they're saying, and respond appropriately.