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How to Spot Anxiety and Desensitize Your Dog

When it comes to dogs, we think of wagging tails and happy, tongue out, doggy smiles. So when your pooch shows signs of anxiety and anxious behaviors, it can feel very worrying.

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Warning signs aren’t always obvious, so we’ve highlighted what causes anxiety in your dog, how to spot it, and some helpful tips to help your dog feel calm.

Causes of anxiety in dogs. Dog anxiety is usually caused by triggers in their environment. It stems from fear of the unknown, so if your dog wasn’t well socialized as a young puppy, they can develop stress and anxiety around new encounters  such as people, animals, new places and even objects around the home.

Noise is another common cause of anxiety, especially fireworks. These loud noises and unfamiliar sounds overwhelm our dogs’ senses and they quickly become stressed, and in some cases, frantic.

Separation anxiety is another common form of dog anxiety, and is estimated to affect between 13 to 18% of dogs. It usually happens when a dog is left home alone and they find it hard to relax or get comfortable when they’re away from people they love. This can lead to destruction, excessive barking and other unwanted behaviors.

Sometimes separation anxiety can be confused with boredom, so it’s important to understand the true cause of your dog’s behavior when you’re away from them. If their behavior is due to a lack of mental stimulation, try out boredom busters such as chew toys and lick mats.

How to spot anxiety in dogs. Our dogs rely on body language and behavior to communicate with us, so keep an eye out for some of the more common behaviors a stressed or anxious dog might display. The behavior experts at Tails.com have identified these signs of anxiety:

  • Ears back
  • Restless or at high alert
  • Destructive behavior
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shaking, cowering or hiding
  • Panting
  • Growling or baring teeth
  • Biting or snapping
  • Barking or howling
  • Unwillingness to interact

 

If these behaviors are frequent and ongoing, it’s important to speak to a vet or behaviorist to help you identify the source of your dog’s anxiety.

How to treat anxiety in dogs. Speaking to your vet is the first step. They can help you identify the type of anxiety your dog has as well as possible triggers. Your vet will also be able to rule out any potential medical conditions that could be causing your dog’s behavior.

Your vet may suggest behavioral therapy to manage your dog’s anxiety through training. A certified behaviorist will usually introduce desensitization or counter conditioning methods.

This is where you work on gradually changing your dog’s response to the trigger. Behaviorists usually suggest you slowly expose your dog to their trigger in small doses while rewarding positive behavior with treats and praise.

Your dog will soon realize there is nothing to fear and only good things happen when they’re around the trigger. It’s important to remember with any training, patience and perseverance is key.

Exercise is as much a mood-booster for dogs as it is for humans. Burning off your dog’s energy reduces the likelihood that they’ll become wound up or hypersensitive to their surroundings. With highly anxious dogs, you can try exercising them in places or at times when they’re unlikely to encounter their triggers.

If your dog is extremely anxious, your vet might prescribe medication such as Trazadone. It can help to relieve some of the symptoms and make your dog feel more relaxed — I’ve used it with my dogs to curb anxiety during fireworks. We recommend having a chat to your vet if you think your dog might need medication.

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Brandie Ahlgren is founder and editor of CityDog Magazine. She, and her team of dog-loving editors, dig up the best places for you to sit, stay and play with your four-legged friends. Brandie, and her boxer Thya, reside in West Seattle and can often be found hanging out at Westcrest Dog Park.

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