Dogs are extremely emotional animals and can experience anxiety. While causes for dog anxiety vary, early intervention and a clear action plan are important. Depending on age, breed, and living situations, anxiety affects each dog differently. If you believe your dog is suffering from anxiety, there are several things you can do to help.
Understand the Causes of Anxiety
Understanding what is causing anxiety is the first step to help. Some types of anxiety may be easy to treat. For example, when anxiety is related to outside changes, calming chews for dogs can work miracles. But there are other types of anxiety that may require a more complicated treatment. In general, anxiety in dogs has three underlying issues:
1) Separation: Some dogs experience extreme fear of being left alone. And when they are, they may behave poorly. When a dog is experiencing separation anxiety, it will display alarming behaviors that can go from chewing your shoes to urinating inside the house.
2) Fear: Most dogs are very sensitive to environmental factors, and they can experience fear of loud noises, strange people in the house or even a surface like grass. A very good example is fireworks: dogs tend to get heavily agitated in the presence of fireworks and need contention in order to avoid anxiety.
3) Age: As a dog gets older, stimuli are harder to process. They experience significant memory loss, which, understandably, causes anxiety. An old dog experiencing anxiety needs to feel protected and loved.
Does your dog display recurrent anxiety-related behaviors? Or is he going to a transition or change that is making him anxious? A vet may help you determine what triggers your dog’s anxiety, and how to prevent problematic behaviors. They will also determine if your dog’s anxiety can be relieved with behavioral and environmental changes. These usually include preventive strategies and training, but in some cases, medication might be necessary.
Socializing, proper nutrition and obedience training are the best ways to prevent anxiety in dogs. It is also important that owners learn to recognize a dog’s body language and certain behaviors that may indicate that they are in the presence of a stressor. Stimulating your dog with constant exercise is an excellent way to prevent anxiety.
How Training Helps
The most important tactic that you can learn in training a dog with anxiety is to replace the aggressive behavior with another one. This is known as counterconditioning. If it does not work, the training may turn to another strategy known as desensitizing. Here, a dog will be presented with the source of anxiety at a very low intensity that will gradually increase until the dog is comfortable with it. Contact a professional dog trainer to understand more if you are leaning towards training as treatment for an anxious dog.
Depending on the cause of your dog’s anxiety, the veterinarian may suggest treatment with medication. Usually, what’s prescribed is an antidepressant, and it can be really helpful when you know the dog will be experiencing an anxiety-producing event. Medication is also the recommended course of action for senior dogs, as other options may not be possible (such as exercising or radically changing their diet).
It is important to realize that a dog that is expressing erratic or problematic behaviors is usually suffering. Punishing will likely not help if the causes of those behaviors are not treated. Diagnosing anxiety in a dog is not easy, but veterinarians are prepared to help you understand what is happening and how to help. Sometimes, simple lifestyle changes, like adding 20 minutes to your daily walk can be really helpful. As a dog owner, it is important to remain attentive to sudden changes in the dog’s mood so you can help. Anxiety can also be a sign of animal abuse so if you leave your dog at a daycare facility, beware of sudden changes in behavior. This can also apply when your dog shows anxiety symptoms after being left at a dog-sitting facility for a few days.