Dogs come in all shapes and sizes and have behaved as man’s best friend for thousands of years. So it comes as no surprise that in the many millennia that humankind and dogs have grown close, dogs continue to exhibit traits and behaviours closely recognisable to their humans. However, it’s not all tummy-rubs and treats in the doggy universe, with our lovable companions susceptible to the same fears and anxieties many people experience. From fear to abandonment, anxiety can grow within the happiest of pups and, if left unchecked, can dramatically reduce their quality of life. As responsible pet parents, it’s up to us to keep an eye on our fur babies and ensure that their physical and mental health is well attended to. By looking out for signs of anxiety and walking a mile in their paws, a good pet owner can target and treat their dog’s anxiety in various ways.
Knowing if your dog suffers from anxiety is a simple matter of paying attention. If your pet suffers from anxiety, they will go to great lengths to show you their discomfort and will respond to their stress triggers and fears in various ways such as:
When observing these types of behaviour, it is essential to consult a vet to pinpoint any potential underlying causes before diagnosing your dog with anxiety. For example, they may have additional health concerns such as incontinence due to old age or urinary tract infections. In addition, any medication you’re giving your dog may also be resulting in similar side effects.
There are various reasons that your dog may be exhibiting anxiety, with the most common one being separation anxiety, which is estimated to affect around 14% of dogs. Separation anxiety can be triggered by a change in circumstances such as a change in guardians, change in routine due to the owner’s employment or academic schedule, and environmental changes due to moving house. In addition, separation anxiety is prevalent in shelter pets due to past experiences of abandonment. Other common causes of stress in dogs include:
With anxiety, it’s essential to identify the cause before you can go about treating it. For example, if your pet’s behaviour has changed in response to your schedule or your dog is exhibiting destructive behaviours while you’re away from home, they may have separation anxiety.
Once you have spoken to a vet to ensure there are no underlying issues and have spent some time considering the triggers and circumstances around your dog’s anxiety, you may come to the decision that your pup is suffering from separation anxiety. Treating separation anxiety requires a slow approach, with patient respect to your dog’s emotional wellbeing.
Begin with attempting to leave your dog in a calming and rewarding environment, helping them to relate your absence with things such as treats, puzzle toys and calming scents like specially formulated diffuser scents or just smelly laundry to remind them of you. When leaving, ensure that you don’t make a big kerfuffle about it; your dog will sense this and interpret your absence as a cause for concern. By rewarding your dog and associating your absence with treats, you can counter condition their anxiety response.
If that doesn’t work, your dog may have more severe anxiety issues causing them to worry even before you leave the house. Pets with this stress level will show distress responses to simple actions such as picking up your keys or putting on your coat. You must retrain this behaviour through repetition and desensitisation by instead engaging in these actions in ways that they can associate with normality. This means picking up your keys and staying home, putting on your coat and making dinner, simply reestablishing the action as an everyday thing unrelated to you leaving. This process will require repetition and persistence over many days (and weeks) and should be organised and planned through a certified veterinary behaviourist.
Once they feel more comfortable, you can begin easing into brief periods of absence, slowly working up the amount of time you leave and in a controlled environment. Owners can do this method by simply going to another room for a few minutes at a time, slowly increasing as your dog becomes more comfortable. It is essential during this time to prioritise your dog’s rehabilitation and ensure that you don’t expose them to unnecessary triggers outside of the planned desensitisation.
Separation anxiety in dogs can be a complex and sensitive issue. Still, you can help your dog overcome their fears and live an overall happier life with the right attitude and approach. However, separation anxiety is just one of the numerous forms and levels of anxiety potentially displayed in dogs.
Lengthy treatments can be an overwhelming and upsetting process for dog owners, and no one likes to see their baby sad. Luckily, there are many short and long term treatments for dogs to help reduce and calm their anxiety. Methods may include:
Always remember to listen to your pup’s needs, watching out for body language and never forcing any behaviour or methods. When considering any treatment or approaches to anxiety, discuss with your veterinarian to ensure that you give your dog the best care they can get.
If all else fails, you may consider getting more creative with your dog’s treatment methods. There are various effective alternative therapies available for dog anxiety, such as:
All treatments are best considered with advice from a professional veterinarian; however, there is one treatment that pretty much anyone can get behind…
Man’s best friend has always been happy to join us on any adventure they can, so it should come as no surprise that your pup loves a good tune as much as the next! Music therapy uses various genres of music (depending on taste!) to soothe and calm your dog’s anxiety and reduce chronic pain and sleep loss. With up to 45,000 Hz of noise available to them, dogs have a significant advantage over our 20,000 and subsequently experience substantial benefits from music therapy. A 2017 study by the Scottish SPCA and the University of Glasgow shows the effectiveness of music therapy in reducing anxiety in dogs, with specific genres outperforming others. So what kind of tunes does your pup like? That’s a matter of taste, but for the most part, studies show that reggae, soft rock and classical music show the most notable results, with harp music even being used as a sedative!
When attempting music therapy, it’s important not to blast your music; for your neighbours and your pup’s sake, their ears are twice as sensitive as ours! However, remember to keep things fresh and change the music now and then, as studies show that after seven days, the effects of background noise can reduce once your dog gets used to it. In addition, there are many options available on Spotify, including Through A Dog’s Ear, a Soft Rock for Dogs Playlist and even a 14-hour podcast! Ultimately, music therapy is a fun, non-invasive therapy that can be used combined with other more extensive methods to help spot and treat stressful moments.
Music isn’t the only thing we have in common with our four-legged friends; dogs also share our love for a good pampering! A full-blown spa day could be just what the doctor ordered, with massage being a fantastic method for stress relief. Luckily, unlike pricy beauty salons and massage parlours, all you need to give your dog a good massage is two hands and a lot of love. A good massage has been proven to reduce heart and blood pressure in stressed shelter dogs and creates a solid bonding moment for you and your beloved pup.
There are many different types of massage you can try:
Following up your massage with some one-on-one bath time at a K9000 DIY Dog Wash can be a great way to tie off the perfect spa day, with a gentle scrub and lots of hugs and kisses.
The journey to treating your pup’s anxiety can be a bit bumpy, but the first step is always acknowledging the issue. Always pay attention to your pup’s needs no matter what, and ensure that you’re watching their body language to ensure that you don’t push any boundaries. Where necessary, always consult with a vet before making significant decisions regarding your dog’s health and anxiety treatments. Until you can seek professional help and advice, consider alternative therapies such as music and massage to reduce your pup’s stress and get them back on track to a happier lifestyle. Remember to keep those tails wagging!