You want your dog to be happy and healthy, so any sign of anxiety or fear is cause for concern. Luckily, most episodes of worry and fear are brief and typically in response to specific events, such as when the dog encounters its mortal enemy, the vacuum cleaner. But if your dog shows signs of anxiety, fear, or stress too often, then you're dealing with behavioral problems that you need to address.
Effective approaches depend on what the dog is really going through and why. While words like "fear," "stress," "worry," and "anxiety" are often used interchangeably, they do have distinct definitions. "Fear" is a response to a specific presence. The dog might fear a person, for example, or it might fear being in loud, crowded areas. Sometimes fear is justified, but it can also occur at inappropriate times, such as a dog that has never acted up around the sound of your footsteps suddenly becoming scared.
"Anxiety" is a type of fear, mainly of danger or potential catastrophe. Again, sometimes anxiety is a normal response to a worrying situation. But if the dog appears tense and hypervigilant too often and in response to things that shouldn't cause anxiety, then this is an issue.
"Stress" is a behavioral and physical response to situations that cause anxiety and fear. Stress takes a toll on health. Just as humans can have job stress that results in chronic indigestion, so too can dogs have stress that leads to skin, stomach, and respiratory illnesses and conditions, along with increasing phobias and odd behavior.
Dog anxiety – a phrase that's often used to refer to the multiple conditions of anxiety, fear, worry, and stress in dogs – is no fun for you or your pet, but the good news is that there are ways to treat it. Whether your dog displays fear, worry, or the results of stress, you and a veterinarian can come up with a good treatment plan.
In this post, we’ll explore 10 signs of dog anxiety to help you identify anxiety issues as they arise.
10 Signs Of Anxiety In Dogs
You'll see 10 signs listed in this article, but please keep in mind that the dog doesn't have to display all of these, nor does the appearance of some of these indicate actual anxiety. Dogs can encounter situations that elicit valid responses of fear, anxiety, and so on. These are just the more common signs that can clue you into something that needs to be checked out. Also, pet parents should be aware that sometimes behavior that seems fearful or worried is the dog's way of reacting to other health issues that require a diagnosis from a veterinary professional.
1. Increased Vigilance
Some dogs are naturally vigilant and always on the lookout, but they're still generally calm. If your calm, friendly dog seems to be on alert much more, is more agitated, and/or reacts badly to people they usually wouldn't react badly to, pay attention.
Assuming the dog isn't suffering from a physical medical condition with symptoms that mimic this behavior, start looking at when and where the dog acts up. If it's to a specific stressor, remove it. Does the dog act up when around huge groups of dogs in the dog park? Find a different dog park or try going at times when it's not as crowded. Also create a quiet space for the dog in your home, where it can go to hide out and breathe.
2. Urinating or Defecating Indoors
This is a straightforward loss of body control when dealing with excitement or anxiety. Once in a while, in response to a very exciting or understandably scary incident, is just a reaction to that incident. But if this keeps happening, especially if the dog was previously house-trained, it requires treatment. Start the process of house-training your dog again as if they were a new puppy. When you leave your home or do something where you can't supervise the dog, limit the dog's access to the areas in the house that they seemed to use the most, as they can become used to those areas being "OK" even if you don't think they are. Keep the dog crated or placed in their usual sleeping area, as they will be less likely to use that area as a second bathroom.
Some dogs are just drooly, but if yours normally isn't, it could be a potential sign of anxiety. You must be sure nothing else is causing it, however, such as a dental problem. If everything else checks out, look at dog-soothing methods such as placing them in the harness they use in the car, if the anxiety seems related to driving. As drooling is often related to nausea, you may want to ask your vet about anti-nausea medication.
If your dog has been resting and is not in a hot environment, they shouldn't be panting. Normal panting occurs during and after exercise and when it's very hot. Anything else could indicate a problem. In this case, it's possible the anxiety behind the panting could be related to pain, and you'll need to discuss this with your vet.
5. Destructive Behavior
This symptom is exactly what it sounds like: your dog becomes destructive. It can be moderate, such as chewing up a pillow when the dog is still new and nervous about being in your home, but it can also become very disruptive, including destroying door frames and furniture. If you can figure out why your dog is anxious, address that first. A new dog who came from a rescue could be very nervous, so creating safe, calming spaces and providing engaging activities might help. A dog that's started chewing after a major change in diet could be suffering from calorie intakes that are too low. Or, the dog might not have good outlets for its normal energy, in which case giving it more chew toys and increasing the number of opportunities it has to run and play may be the best option.
Maybe your dog's energy level has gotten so low that destructive chewing would actually be a good sign. Fear and anxiety stemming from the loss of a companion or going through a major change can lead to depression in dogs. In most cases, the depression is temporary; in these cases, try to be with the dog and comfort it. If you introduce a new companion, do it carefully to ensure the two get along. In cases where nothing seems to work, medication might be the best route.
7. Too Much Barking
The barking caused by anxiety is usually the dog's attempt to get your attention or find you. Whether the anxiety is due to separation anxiety or another cause, the dog wants you there with it right now. While you address the core cause of its anxiety, also train it to be quiet using treats.
Being restless and pacing about is a very common symptom of dog anxiety. It's not unusual to see this when there are lots of loud fireworks going off, for example. Give the dog a safe space, and if the anxiety is due to loud noises, a thunder shirt or dog videos might help. For chronic issues, medication or supplements may be in order.
9. Compulsive Behaviors
Compulsive biting and gnawing, especially at its own body, compulsive chasing, spinning, and other repetitive behaviors are another sign the dog is anxious. You need to interrupt the behavior. Discuss ways to do this with your vet, such as playing, giving the dog food-puzzle toys, or training the dog to respond to commands such as "sit."
10. Sleep Changes
If you’ve noticed your dog’s sleeping patterns are off, it could be a sign that they’re dealing with anxiety. However, anxiety can both cause changes in sleep and be a result of lack of sleep.
Treating Anxiety in Dogs
Dog anxiety treatment generally falls into three categories. One is environmental management; by removing items that create anxiety, providing a safe space to retreat to, and ensuring the dog doesn't have to go to places it doesn't like, a lot of anxiety can be reduced or soothed. Behavioral modification is another branch of treatment; interrupting compulsive behaviors and re-training the dog to eliminate outside are two examples. Dog anxiety medication also helps in many cases. These can range from supplements that help calm the dog to medications that affect brain chemistry.
Signs of Anxiety in Dogs: Frequently Asked Questions
What are the symptoms of anxiety in dogs?
Common symptoms of anxiety include increased vigilance, drooling, panting, restlessness, compulsive behavior, changes in sleep patterns, more barking than usual, urinating or defecating indoors, destructive behavior, and depression. Sometimes a dog might have some of these symptoms for a very brief time or in understandable circumstances. Other times, the symptoms are actually related to a medical issue. Ultimately, you need to speak with your vet to determine what's going on.
How do you know if your dog has anxiety?
Document what your pet is doing and what it's been through. Show these records to the vet and discuss what seems to calm the symptoms (or if nothing seems to calm the symptoms). Sometimes home remedies for dog anxiety backfire, so you'll really want to speak with the vet first.
Why do dogs get anxious?
A dog can become anxious for several reasons. Separation anxiety is a common cause, as are changes in environment and diet. Previous trauma and lack of adequate socialization, as well as premature weaning, can lead to anxiety as well.
Do some breeds have more anxiety than others?
Yes. Working and herding breeds are more prone to anxiety, especially if they don’t have an outlet for their energy.
Can dog anxiety be treated?
Yes. You and your vet, working together, can manage if not solve the dog's anxiety. It may take a combination of behavioral and environmental management as well as medication.
Your dog deserves to be happy and playful, not worried and anxious. Find out why your dog's behavior is the way it is, and meet with your vet to discuss treatment. Dutch.com connects pet parents with licensed veterinarians who can diagnose issues, including anxiety, and determine the best course of treatment for your pet. The best part? It’s all accessible from the comfort of your home, thanks to our veterinary telehealth system.