4 signs your dog has anxiety and how to treat it
Although many of us love our dogs, one of the harder things about our relationships with them is that they are unable to communicate with us.
That’s why we need to be aware of the signs of anxiety so we can help them as best as we can.
Animal behaviourist Kate Mornement and vet Sandra Nguyen spoke to ABC Life about the signs to look out for in your four-legged friends.
There are different types of anxiety in dogs, such as:
1. Separation anxiety
This anxiety is the most common form of anxiety and is when your dog doesn’t like to be separated from you.
"Dogs [often] associate everything they value in their life — company, play, food, going for walks — with when people are around," Dr Mornement says.
Dr Mornement says dogs need to learn to cope with being away from their humans, and the best time for that to happen is when they are young.
2. Fear of loud noises
When thunderstorms or fireworks go off, this can trigger anxiety in dogs due to the loud noises.
"Dogs are naturally fearful of those events because they are loud and scary, so they learn to associate the [lower level] noise of wind or rain with those events," Dr Mornement says.
3. Changes in environment and resource guarding
Less common forms of anxiety include moving houses or going for a trip in the car.
"Even things like changes to work hours, the owners travelling — any sudden change to normal routine can prompt anxiety," Dr Mornement says.
Resource guarding can also be a problem if a dog is anxious about a valued item being taken away.
Signs to look out for
There are some common signs that you should look out for in dogs, but it’s also important not to dismiss behaviours that we sometimes consider normal.
For example, "not eating can be a sign that we would potentially put down to [an] upset stomach, but it could be anxiety", Dr Nguyen says.
Some of these signs include:
- Howling when owner isn’t home
- Escaping the yard
- Destroying furniture
- Not eating
- Self-harm, which includes excessive licking or chewing
However, there are some ways that you can treat anxiety in dogs.
1. Behavioural training
For separation training, Dr Nornement recommends working to change your dog’s negative association to something. Dr Nguyen agrees.
"Get them near the car, then reward them, the next day get them in the car, and reward them, then the next day drive them around and reward them," she says, noting each dog will have individual needs when it comes to how quickly you can progress through each stage.
2. Medical treatment
In extreme cases of anxiety, you can give the dog medication to relax. Dr Morement says that the medication “takes the edge off”.
"I work with animals where they need medication because sometimes the anxiety is so high it inhibits the animal's ability to learn."
However, the medication isn’t “fixing the underlying reasons” for the anxiety. You should speak to your vet as to whether medication is suitable for your dog.
3. Cuddle them
There is new thinking that you should comfort and touch your dog’s when they’re experiencing severe anxiety. Dr Nguyen explains:
"It's just like with kids: cuddle them when they're crying."
4. Get them a friend
If your dog’s separation anxiety is because they’ve lost their canine friend, getting another dog can help, according to Dr Mornement.
"If the separation anxiety came about from the dog losing a companion, and the dog is used to having another dog around all the time … getting another dog can solve it."
However, if your dog is anxious because they’re not near you, getting another dog “does not make one bit of difference”.
What happens if your dog’s anxiety is left untreated
"A dog that started mildly anxious can get much worse in terms of scaling up to destroying furniture, self-harm and running away," Dr Nguyen says.
"Some people think the dog is doing these behaviours deliberately and 'just being naughty', so they end up being surrendered or rehomed."
Does your dog have anxiety? What did you do? Let us know in the comments.