Dogs and anxiety. What do you need to look out for?
A dog’s life isn’t always as easy as we might think it is. It’s important to understand how to manage any stresses your dog has, including anxiety. It’s key to understand the type of anxiety your dog is experiencing so that you can then help navigate it quickly and manage it in the best way for your dog. We take a look at how to spot anxiety in your dog and how to support them.
What is dog separation anxiety?
Many of us have been working from home for an extended period of time, which means that we’ve got to see plenty of our dogs. It’s great that we’ve got to be with our dogs for such a long time, but what happens when the government restrictions end and we start to head back to work?
Dogs are loyal creatures and they love spending time in the company of their owners. If you notice that your dog follows you from each room, scratches at windows and doors, whines, barks or chews things that they shouldn’t when you leave them alone, then these may be signs of separation anxiety. Much like people, dogs form strong bonds. It’s not fully understood why some dogs suffer more from separation anxiety and other dogs are perfectly fine in their own company, but as an owner, you need to understand and manage their emotions.
If your dog is barking, whining or even urinating when they’re left alone, remember that this isn’t them misbehaving. It may be that their anxiety is triggering a panic response and that they just want you around.
What are the signs of anxiety in dogs?
There are lots of giveaway signs that can show your dog is experiencing stress and anxiety. If you are in the process of adopting a puppy, or have just welcomed a young dog into your home, make sure you ask the breeder or rescue shelter staff if they have spotted any signs of anxiety. Dogs can experience anxiety from 14 weeks old and their initial experiences with other dogs can impact them.
If you notice your dog is panting constantly and demonstrating repetitive behaviours, this could be a sign of anxiety, along with drooling, shaking, placing their tail between their legs, hiding and licking their lips regularly.
If your dog is toilet trained and changes their usual toilet routine and begins going in different spots in the house, this could also be a sign they are feeling stressed.
Pay attention as well to their behaviour around different people. Similar to humans, dogs will often try to remove themselves from situations that make them anxious. Keep a close eye on their behaviour when you have people visit your home.
I think my dog has anxiety, so what do I do now?
First and foremost, make sure your dog has a safe space of their own to retreat to when they need it. Ideally, it will be in the same place all the time. This might be a crate tucked away under the stairs or in a quiet room with plenty of their favourite blankets for comfort. If your dog knows that they always have this option when they get overwhelmed, they’re more likely to feel comfortable.
Take into account though that not all dogs like going into cages or crates. Some dogs may feel caged and can be more likely to panic, so don’t force it if your dog doesn’t settle in one. There are plenty of other ways you can create a calm environment for them: consider closing the curtains so they can’t get overwhelmed by outside sights and noises, turn on the radio or television for background noise and gently reassure them when you leave.
Many dogs respond well to having plenty of toys to keep them stimulated and distracted and a calm, regular routine. For example, when you are leaving your dog alone in the house or to go out, keep it low key and quiet so they don’t associate you leaving with high emotion.
Ensure you always reward and praise your dog when they calm down and never, ever punish them for any behaviour relating to their fear or anxiety, no matter how challenging it gets.
If you are still struggling, there are diffusers and sprays available with a pheromone in that can calm them, but if you are still at a loss, then contact your vet for advice. They will be able to give guidance if the anxiety is chronic or if the anxiety is relating to a specific issue.
Owners returning to work may have quite an impact on some dogs with separation anxiety.
Why is my dog showing signs of anxiety?
Sometimes dogs can experience seasonal anxiety with the different events and noises that come with them! It’s common for dogs to be anxious around Halloween, bonfire night, Christmas and New Year. All tend to have regular fireworks, more people knocking at your door and visiting which can all overwhelm dogs. So consider the time of year and take steps to help support them.
How can I calm my dog’s anxiety when I stop working from home?
A lot of people will be facing this challenge! If you are likely to be working away more often after a long period of working from home, there are things you can do to help your dog adjust to periods of separation:
• Make sure your dog has an area that feels fun and safe, so ensure they have a cosy bed they love, toys to play with and plenty of fresh water.
• Begin to build up the time they are left alone gradually.
• Stay calm and make minimal fuss when you leave them.
• Reward their good behaviour so they associate this time alone as a time to relax, rest and be praised on your return.
It can be worrying seeing your dog experience anxiety as we all just want our pets to feel safe, loved and content. Using our initial steps above should help you identify the problems and help them resolve it, and ultimately, never be afraid to seek professional advice to help your dog be the happiest, and healthiest, they can be.
Will my dog’s separation anxiety go away?
Much like treating anxiety in people, it can be hard to cure anxiety in dogs. Every dog is different and there is no fool proof method to make your dog’s anxiety go away.
What is important to remember, is that if you manage to get your dog’s anxiety under control, that this doesn’t always mean that they will be cured forever. Negative experiences, moving home or changes in their life can – in extreme cases – trigger their anxiety and make your dog nervous. However, there’s no reason why your dog can’t overcome their anxiety. You just need to understand and be accommodating to your dog’s needs.