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How to Handle Your Pet Anxiety

Posted on May 14th 2021

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How to Handle Your Pet Anxiety

Anxiety is common in dogs and causes them to display inappropriate behaviors. This is frustrating and sad for us pet owners - we all want our dogs to be happy and healthy.

Many contributing factors can cause your dog’s anxiety.

  • A great number of external stimuli can trigger anxiety in your dog, like loud noises or new guests in your home.
  • Dogs may feel anxious if they’re used to having you around all the time and you suddenly aren't there. With Covid under a little more control, more people are heading back to the office which may stir up anxiety in your dog.
  • Dogs exhibit anxious behaviors when they’re scared. This is common when it comes to unfamiliar surroundings, loud noises or traveling by car.
  • Anxiety can affect all breeds of dogs but may affect each dog differently.
  • Some signs of anxiety in dogs include whining, barking, trembling or defecating in the house. You may even find that your dog becomes destructive or hostile when anxious.

Just like humans, dogs react to stressful situations and display their emotions in different ways. If your dog suffers from anxiety, you are not alone! This is a common issue that many pet parents face, and fortunately, there are many ways to address your dog’s anxiety and prevent future episodes. The first step is to determine what is causing their distress. Once you pinpoint the reason, you can begin anxiety management.

Types of Anxiety in Dogs

Fear of loud noises

Many dogs are highly anxious during loud noises, like thunderstorms and fireworks, and summers tend to have a great deal of both! With Memorial Day Weekend around the corner, you may worry how your pet will fare with all the noises, lights, and smells of parties and fireworks.

Dogs often experience hightened anxiety during loud noises such as thunderstorms or fireworks.

Some experts estimate 40% of dogs have noise phobias. Fireworks are noisy, scary, unpredictable, and smell like something is burning. The blast of a firework is much more intense to the sensitive ears of our beloved canine companions. And, if you're in a place your dog is unfamiliar with, blasts from the fireworks can amplify the uneasiness your dog may already be feeling. More dogs run away from home during firework holidays than any other time of the year.

Travel Anxiety

When you love your dog, you want to take them with you wherever you go! Although many dogs love riding in the car, some dread the experience. It is important to take a test drive with your dog before taking them on a Memorial Day Weekend road trip.

There are several reasons travel can trigger anxiety in a dog. If the usual destination is the vet, dogs may associate your car with the vet. Or, the problem can stem from discomfort, like motion sickness or instability while driving.

Look out for drooling, trembling, chewing or licking themselves and vomiting. In severe circumstances, some dogs will even try to escape while riding in the car. It is important to keep an eye out for any of these signs to prevent an unpleasant car ride for you and your dog.

Dogs can often experience travel anxiety during car rides or on road trips.
Separation Anxiety

Anxiety in your dog is usually caused by some change in routine, environment, or activity. Many pet parents across the nation are experiencing this right now, as areas are reopening after COVID-19 shutdowns. Dogs have become used to having their humans around all day, but people are heading back to the office. This can cause separation anxiety in your pets, as they have grown used to having their owner home all day.

Separation anxiety can often show up in dogs when a change in routine or environment occurs.

Separation anxiety is estimated to affect around 14 percent of dogs. Dogs experiencing separation anxiety are unable to find comfort when left alone. Symptoms of separation anxiety vary from dog to dog. Some exhibit destructive behaviors, like chewing up doors or furniture, while other dogs whine and bark.

Changes in Environment

Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and with all the festivities to be had, you must keep your canine companion in mind. While you may want to bring your dog with you to a barbeque, they might not be as up to the event as you hoped.

Many dogs experience fear or anxiety in social situations they are not accustomed to, and they may act out or behave in ways that are out of character. Your dog may act unpredictably if crowds and parties are out of its comfort zone. If your dog is experiencing anxiety, it may exhibit aggressive behavior. Look out for signs like barking, growling, or jumping towards unfamiliar people.

Handling Your Dog's Anxiety

Counterconditioning

Counterconditioning changes your dog’s response to the stimuli causing their anxiety. In other words, you are training your dog to start seeing the stressors as a good thing instead of a negative thing.

Try giving them something nice when the trigger happens, so they enjoy it instead of dreading it. Counterconditioning can teach your dog that good things happen when they ride in the car. Associating treats, toys and fun destinations with the car (or other anxiety-provoking stimuli) teaches your dog to associate travel with fun. This will ease travel anxiety in the long run, and make road trips pleasant for everyone.

Desensitization

Desensitization is gradual exposure to the triggering stimuli, starting at a very low level and building up.

For travel anxiety, this technique can also help by acclimating your dog to the car. Depending on the severity of the anxiety, you may need to begin with just standing near the car with your dog. If your dog’s anxiety is less severe, you can begin sitting in the back seat with her while the car is parked. Start with a couple of minutes a day, gradually increasing the time spent in the car with her. Once your dog is comfortable spending time in the parked car, take her on a short journey followed by a reward. Rewarding positive behavior is key to managing your dog's anxiety.

Is your pet experiencing separation anxiety when you leave the house? Try to identify what activities lead to you leaving the house. This could look like putting on your shoes, picking up your keys, or grabbing your jacket. Once you have identified them, begin doing these tasks when you aren't leaving the house. This will desensitize your dog to the triggers and show them that they aren't such a big deal.

Desensitization is a method of gradually exposing your pet to the triggering stimuli, to help ease anxiety overtime.
Exercise

Starting a physical exercise routine can help soothe your dog’s anxiety. A few minutes of exercise before a car trip will burn off some of your dog’s energy and tire her out. She may even settle down for a nap once you’ve hit the road.

Exercise is also a practical solution for easing noise anxiety in your pooch. Allow your dog to exercise if you know a loud event like a thunderstorm or fireworks is approaching. This will help her burn off energy that would otherwise go towards her anxiety.

Exercise is a great way to help ease nervous energy and anxiety in your pet.
Pressure Wraps

Pressure wraps are a simple, yet effective, treatment for dogs dealing with anxiety. These vest-like garments distribute pressure over your dog’s back and sides of her chest. Gentle pressure from the vest releases endorphins that promote a sense of well-being in your pup. The effect mimics swaddling a crying infant or giving a distressed person a good hug.

Creating a soothing environment

There are a few easy environmental changes you can make to curb your dog's anxiety. If your dog experiences noise anxiety, create a safe haven when it storms. Try placing her in the most sound-resistant room of your home. Choose one with no windows, and turn on some music to block out noises triggering her anxiety.

There are a few steps you can take to create a comfortable environment that will ease your dog's separation anxiety. Consider leaving clothes from a dirty pile of laundry to keep your dog company while you're gone. While it may not seem like much, leaving out a t-shirt that smells like you is calming for an anxious dog.

You can help ease pet anxiety by creating a soothing environment for your pet.
Professional training

Sometimes dogs need professional help to overcome their anxiety. In cases of severe anxiety, we recommend working with a certified behavior consultant. Professionals offer specialized training and help identify your dog's threshold for anxiety.

Dog anxiety can be stressful for both you and your dog. Remember, anxiety in dogs isn't a quick fix. It takes patience, and you must be dedicated to working with your dog to help them overcome their issues. So try not to get frustrated with your dog if they’re acting out and behaving this way. They aren’t doing it on purpose! Remember, they are expressing their anxiety in the only way they know how.