Understanding Your Dog's Anxiety: A Guide for Pet Owners
By Christine D. Calder,
Calder Veterinary Behavior Services, www.caldervbs.com
Do you have a dog who seems scared or nervous a lot? Just like people, dogs can feel anxious or afraid too. It is important for us to understand what our dogs are going through so we can help them feel better. Let us learn about the different kinds of anxiety in dogs and how we can help them.
What is Dog Anxiety?
Dogs get anxious or scared when they expect something bad to happen, but they are not sure what or when. Imagine how you feel when you are nervous about a test at school – that is how anxious dogs might feel. There are different kinds of anxiety that dogs can experience:
1. Generalized Anxiety: This is when dogs feel nervous in many different situations. They might always seem on edge, cannot relax, or get scared easily. It is as if they are always worried but do not know exactly what they are worried about.
2. Noise Phobia: Some dogs are really scared of loud noises. Thunder, fireworks, and even loud cars can make them panic. They might try to hide, bark a lot, or even try to run away.
3. Separation-Related Disorder: Dogs with separation-related behaviors get really upset when they are away from their family. Some have a fear of missing out. They might cry, bark, chew things up, or have accidents in the house when they are left alone.
4. Situational Fears: Dogs can also develop fears related to specific situations or environments, such as visits to the vet, encountering strangers, or being in crowded places. These fears can cause significant distress and behavioral changes.
Why Do Dogs Get Anxious or Fearful?
Dogs can feel anxious for many reasons, and fears are a normal emotional response to something dangerous. Sometimes, fear and anxiety develop because of their past experiences, like if they have been in a shelter or had a scary experience, or there was a loud noise that they could not identify. Other times, it might be because they are sick or in pain, which can make them more irritable and less tolerant, or they may become more defensive.
Helping Your Anxious Dog
Helping your dog with anxiety is a bit like solving a puzzle. You have to try different things to see what works best for them. Here are some ideas:
1. Create a Safe Space: Make a cozy spot in your house where your dog can feel safe. This could be a quiet room with comfy bedding, some of their favorite toys, and maybe even some soft music playing.
2. Training and Games: Teach your dog fun tricks and play games with the dog. This helps the dog focus on something other than what is making it anxious. You can teach the dog to look at you when it is nervous, offer a chin rest for reassurance, or to touch your hand with its nose to keep it moving or help it refocus.
3. Stay Calm During Scary Times: If your dog is scared of noises like thunder, try to act like everything is normal. This shows the dog there is nothing to be afraid of. You can also try giving it special toys or treats during these times to help it relax and feel better.
4. Teach Relaxation: Relaxation exercises, like learning to settle on a mat or taking deep breaths, can help your dog cope better. These exercises can be the foundation for changing its behavior and making it feel calmer.
5. Medicines and Vet Visits: Sometimes, dogs need a little extra help. There are special medicines that can help the dog feel more relaxed and treat its anxiety. Always talk to your vet before giving your dog any medicine. The vet can also check if your dog’s anxiety is because of a health problem.
Fears and anxieties in dogs are pretty common, but there are many ways to help them feel better. By understanding what your dog is going through and trying different ways to help it, you can make a big difference in its life. And the best part? You will strengthen your bond with your