What might be making my dog anxious?

Some causes of anxiety in dogs:

Just like humans, dogs can experience fear and anxiety.

Anxiety can be triggered by the following situations:

Separation from its owner

As a young puppy, he will be showered with lots of care and extra attention, but once your pup reaches adulthood, this attention often decreases. Changing routine from being with his owner for 24 hours a day, to being left alone in the house can be a major cause of dog anxiety. Initially, your dog will often yelp and bark as soon as you leave them alone. A pattern of destructive behaviour can follow, with trying to escape, urinating, digging and chewing objects when left alone for periods of time.

Afraid of noises

One cause of dog anxiety is loud noises. Many are really anxious when they hear the sound of thunder, fireworks and sometimes even a vacuum cleaner.

Travel worries

Many dogs can suffer from travel motion sickness too, in the same way that humans do. Perhaps your dog associates a journey in the car with an impending visit to the vet for his vaccines or for his monthly grooming session.

Anxious when confined

Restricting your dog to a confined space may cause stress. However if your pup is taught to accept confinement, in a puppy crate, or even in your arms, from a young age he is more likely recognise the limitations and boundaries of his environment. He may then be quite happy to remain in his crate for short periods.

Dressing up

At certain times of the year, especially at Halloween and Christmas, many owners buy cute outfits for their dogs to wear. Our dogs communicate mainly with their body language, so by kitting your pet out in a costume that covers their whole body can limit his ability to be understood. Other dogs won’t be able read any signals, like tail, ear and facial expressions. The majority of dogs will only wear a coat in the colder weather, so to be placed in an all-over body outfit, restricting their leg and head movements may be problematic for them.

Recognise when your dog is relaxed

You first need to understand and be familiar with how your pet acts and behaves when he is feeling happy and unstressed. He will normally show this in his posture and behaviour. When happy, his eyes will be round and soft, or perhaps slightly squinting. You should be able to see the colour of his eyes. Unless your dog has ears that flop down, they will be semi-erect in a non-anxious dog. When interacting with anyone, he may place his ears backwards to indicate he is pleased with the situation. He could also appear to be smiling.

Symptoms of dog anxiety problems

It’s sometimes difficult to decipher your dog’s body language, but he might be trying to let you know that he is stressed by lifting one of his front paws, licking his muzzle, yawning frequently or salivating. He will probably tuck his tail under his body or hold his ears back. Other more obvious symptoms include panting, trembling, hiding under furniture and cowering away and of course, barking constantly.

How to relax and soothe your dog

Before you rush to the shops to search for products that may sooth your dog’s stress levels, first look at how you can make him feel calmer. In some cases, changing a dog’s daily routine can help. A more predictable schedule of events, such as when he will go for a walk, or be fed can help him to feel less nervous and more confident.

A Thundershirt or body wrap can sometimes make a difference and not just during fireworks or thunderstorms. They have an effect of swaddling your pooch, employing continuous, gentle pressure and therefore reducing fear though the real cause is unknown.

Do you love listening to music to unwind? Perhaps your dog does too! Playing Classical music can reduce stress levels which can lead to excessive vocalisation.

Physical contact is believed to ease aggression and anxiety in some canines. Gentle stroking and petting during traumatic and tense situation such as giving a blood sample, can help to calm your pet.

Take professional advice

Of course, if you’re still unable to find a solution to keeping your dog tranquil and unruffled, don’t give up. It’s very important to discover the source of your pet’s stress and anxiety and to pinpoint ways to manage it. Ask your Vet for advice, or consult with an qualified animal behaviourist. Good organisations to contact are www.apbc.org.uk or www.abtcouncil.org.uk

This article was written by our good friend Derek of The Finchley Dog Walker and edited by our wonderful expert pet behaviourist Pen Higgs of Pet Shrink.

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