From a touch of nerves to almost debilitating stress, we are all familiar with feelings of anxiety. When mild, a bit of anxiety can actually increase alertness and improve performance. However, when anxiety builds to a moderate or severe level, both our performance and our health tend to suffer.
Just like humans, our dogs also experience anxiety. While our dogs need not worry about delivering a detailed work presentation or managing a budget, they do face stress in the form of thunderstorms, unfamiliar environments, other animals, injury, and more.
Knowing just how distressing anxiety can feel from your own experience makes watching an anxiety-afflicted dog even more heartbreaking. Luckily, there are actions that you can take to comfort your beloved dog during these stressful times.
While your dog cannot express his feelings verbally, you can gain quite a bit of insight into your dog’s inner thoughts by reading his body language. Some common signs of anxiety include shaking or trembling, pacing back and forth, frequent yawning or lip licking, abnormal appetite, increased salivation or drooling, increased heart rate and panting, and over-grooming.
All dogs are unique - some may display the signs above, while others may not. Further, an individual dog’s expression of anxiety may change over the course of his life. Watch for these common signs, but also keeps your eyes open for any general behavior changes in your dog that seem odd or unprovoked.
Lastly, you’ll have the greatest chance of successfully calming your anxious dog if you are able to determine the root cause of his condition. For example, some dogs are simply terrified of loud noises (perhaps due to trauma during their puppy years, or just as a natural tendency).
If you notice that your dog tends to tremble during storms or loud celebrations, you can take action to move him to a quiet environment or provide him access to a safe space where he will feel more protected.
It's usually best to first try the simple methods.
This is clearly one of the easiest ways to calm an anxious dog, if it is feasible. If your dog tends to cower when surrounded by other aggressive dogs, or if your dog has an irrational fear of a particular item - i.e. an item like a balloon that your dog doesn’t have to interact with on a daily basis - simply avoid locations where aggressive dogs tend to gather and remove those odd fear-provoking items.
If you simply cannot eliminate the stressor, create a safe space to which your dog can retreat and hide out - like a favorite cozy bed in a quiet corner of your living room.
Some research shows that massage can actually help to calm your dog’s nerves and promote a greater state of relaxation. Further, you don’t need to recruit a licensed massage therapist to give this technique a try. Simply pet your pup using slow, deliberate strokes - strokes that are a bit more firm and intentional than a typical pat on the head or body.
Sudden fears that appear unprovoked and out of character for your dog could be signs of a more serious underlying health issue. When dogs are in pain (from an injury or undiagnosed illness) they feel threatened and are more likely to enter a “fight or flight” state - a state in which they are uncharacteristically anxious or aggressive.
Your vet can complete a full examination and run any necessary tests to determine if some type of health complication is to blame for your dog’s behaviors. Further, if your dog is awarded a clean bill of health and his anxiety appears to be more of an ingrained personality trait, your vet may be able to prescribe one or more anti-anxiety medications that you can use in extreme situations.