Understanding Dog Anxiety and Stress

You’d be surprised at the number of ways dogs and humans are similar. For example—although dogs can’t verbally express their feelings, they experience them as intensely as we do. And often with the same consequences. So, dogs experience stress and anxiety too. These are standard but unpleasant emotions; you must ensure your dog processes them properly and doesn’t develop chronic stress or anxiety disorders.

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You’d be surprised at the number of ways dogs and humans are similar. For example—although dogs can’t verbally express their feelings, they experience them as intensely as we do. And often with the same consequences. So, dogs experience stress and anxiety too. These are standard but unpleasant emotions; you must ensure your dog processes them properly and doesn’t develop chronic stress or anxiety disorders. 

But here’s the tricky part — how do you recognize your dog’s anxiety? And what can you do to treat it? Before you get your pup from Pawrade.com, we’ll cover some answers to these questions right here.

Causes of Dog Anxiety 

Just like with humans, dog anxiety comes from various sources. However, some of the most unpleasant ones are:

  • Aging
  • Separation
  • Fear

Fear can trigger anxiety for various reasons — unknown animals or people, loud noises, strange visual stimuli, specific situations, and uncomfortable environments. That’s why your dog gets anxious during the car ride to the vet. Also, certain dogs don’t like wood floors and grass; it depends on the specific pet. 

Naturally, their reactions to these stimuli are different as well. Some dogs only briefly react to a specific stimulus, while others become far more agitated. 

By comparison, separation anxiety affects a smaller percentage of dogs — by some estimates, a little below 14 percent. And we’re not talking about long-term separation stress because that’s something all dogs experience. You can’t just separate them from their owners for months and expect them not to react.

However, short-term separation anxiety is when dogs aren’t comfortable when separated from their owners for even an afternoon. It usually manifests in unacceptable behaviors they wouldn’t otherwise exhibit, like defecating and urinating indoors, constant barking, and destroying furnishings and furniture. 

Over time, dogs may start showing signs of age-induced anxiety as well. Older dogs often suffer from CDS — cognitive dysfunction syndrome. If a dog has CDS, its awareness, perception, memory, and learning abilities slowly decline, something akin to early Alzheimer’s in people. The confusion dogs feel in these stages of their lives naturally leads to anxiety. 

Symptoms of Dog Anxiety

Now that you know some of the different sources of dog anxiety, the real question is — how do you recognize that your doggo is going through a stressful period? Here are some of the classic warning signs:

  • Compulsive behavior
  • General restlessness
  • Constant pacing
  • Barking (more than usual) 
  • Depression
  • Unusually destructive behavior
  • Aggression
  • Defecation or urination indoors

Remember that none of these symptoms are guaranteed signs of anxiety and stress; dogs may do any of these things once or twice for many reasons. However, if you notice that any of them are recurrent, you’re probably looking at a stress-inducing problem. 

Also, among all the others we’ve listed above, aggression is the surest sign of dog anxiety. Also, defecation and urination in improper places generally point to separation anxiety; stressed-out dogs can get worked up to the moment where they can’t control themselves and poop or pee inside, even with extensive potty training. 

Separation anxiety also often results in destructive behavior. Most damage happens in windows, doorways, and other points of transit, entry, and exit. The dogs who reach a certain level of anxiety may even harm themselves while attempting to escape from windows, doors, and dog crates. 

How To Treat Dog Anxiety

So, considering the symptoms and causes of dog anxiety — how do we treat it? We all want to make our doggos feel better when stressed out, but we don’t always know how to do the right things to make that happen. 

Ultimately, the best course of action is always to speak with a veterinarian first. They’ll be more adept at determining your dog’s specific type of anxiety and its likely triggers and origin. Plus, your vet will help you conclude whether the stress is situational and acute or if it’s turning into a chronic, overwhelming problem for your beloved pet. 

You can also rely on your veterinarian to check your dog for other medical problems that might cause your pet’s anxiety. After that, they’ll also recommend a treatment plan. In practice, excessive anxiety and stress might come from multiple factors at once, so you may need a combo of preventative actions, training, and possibly medication to address them. 

Anti-Stress Training Strategies For Dog Owners

Dog owners use various training strategies to reduce their dog’s anxiety. Counterconditioning is one of the more popular ones, where you try to alter your pet’s response to stress-inducing stimuli. Generally, this is done by putting a more desirable reaction in place of the aggressive one—like cuddling with the owner instead of barking and pacing. 

Desensitization is also used, mostly in cases where the dog’s anxiety towards an object or person is unfounded. In this process, dog owners gradually introduce the pets to their stress trigger — usually in smaller doses, which are gradually increased.