How to Work with Your Dog’s Anxiety

help dog's anxiety - smiling napping dogIt can be agony to watch your dog suffer from anxiety. It is especially painful if you’re not sure what to do about it, and there seems to be no way to help. But usually, there are ways to help your anxious pup, both in the short-term and in the long run. Here’s how to work with your dog’s anxiety:

Understanding Anxiety in Dogs

Anxiety is a normal part of life. It’s related to fear, which is the nervous system’s response to a real or perceived threat. When your dog perceives a threat, their body will prepare for the freeze, fight, or flight response. Anxiety is when your dog anticipates future threats by preparing too well.

Symptoms of anxiety in dogs may include shaking, barking, drooling, panting, trembling, withdrawal, and lethargy. Dogs in the midst of anxiety can also sometimes experience heart murmurs; in most cases, they are harmless and resolve themselves as the dog relaxes. They may also develop lesions from scratching at themselves. A dog may hide and tuck in its tail.

Destructive behavior can manifest, but it is not always a sign of anxiety in dogs. If your pup is destroying the furniture, it might be because they are afraid and dislike being alone. This is more common with separation anxiety. There are several common fears and phobias in dogs. When it comes to anxiety, the general types of anxiety recognized in dogs are noise anxiety, separation anxiety, and social anxiety.

How to Help Your Dog’s Anxiety

Whether your dog is generally anxious or you’re working on something specific, like keeping your dog calm during fireworks, here are some of the many ways you may be able to help alleviate your dog’s anxiety:

1. Increase Training

Anxiety may be getting to your dog partly because their concentration levels are too low. Without keeping themselves busy, they spend more time worrying.

Try playing new games with them, teaching them new skills, and new walking routes. The more engaged they are in the here and now, the less energy they will use on anxious thoughts and behaviors.

2. Increase Exercise and Play Games

Increase their exercise and play games with them. Exercise alleviates stress, and increases endorphins – even in dogs! Playing games with your pup can help them build confidence as well.

3. Swaddle Your Pup

During stressful moments, wrap your dog in a big hug, or a blanket, to let them know they are safe. Compression shirts can also give your dog that sense of safety, especially when it comes to something like storm anxiety and calming your dog during a storm.

4. Massage

In this same vein, massage can be very helpful to soothe dogs. Use long and smooth strokes to calm your dog’s nerves. You can also try circular motions to calm them.

5. Soothing Music

Soothing music can help your dog with anxiety. In the same way that certain types of sounds and melodies can calm a person, dogs can be calmed by certain sounds. iCalmDog makes musical recordings specially designed to help dogs calm down.

6. Behavior Modification and Desensitization

In more serious or intense cases of anxiety, especially those caused by fear or phobia, you can work with a professional to use behavior modification and desensitization to help your dog’s anxiety. These methods expose your pup to small amounts of the stressor at hand and attempt to lessen the anxious response over time.

Separation anxiety, which is very common in dogs, can be alleviated through this technique. You can leave your pup at home on their own for increasingly larger amounts of time, and tie these experiences to rewards like extra playtime, cuddles or treats to give them positive reinforcement.

If they are afraid to be around people, have a few less familiar, but trusted, friends or family members visit regularly. Slowly build up their tolerance to the source of their anxiety and they may start to have a less anxious response. A similar approach can be used for cases of car sickness in dogs that are caused by a fear of the car.

7. Pay a Visit to Your Vet

They will be able to make the call on what kind of anxiety your dog has, and whether or not they need medication. Your vet can also help you figure out the best way to help your dog when they are feeling anxious. They may even recommend trying some catnip, which is one of the plants that are safe for dogs that can help alleviate anxiety in some cases.

These are just a few ways to work with your dog’s anxiety. Before starting a new activity or routine, or giving your dog anything, it’s a good idea to visit your vet to get them cleared for those things and to rule out any underlying health issues or irritations that could be contributing to, or causing, your dog to be anxious.