There is nothing more upsetting than realising your dog is feeling anxious. At times, it may feel like there is little we can do to help them. Luckily, once we learn to read the signs of dog anxiety and discover what it is our dogs are reacting to, there is lots that can be done to help give them their confidence back and have them feeling calm and content once again.
Of course, our dog can’t verbally tell us when they are feeling uneasy. However, they can certainly communicate their feelings through their actions and body language. Signs can be subtle or obvious. Regardless, it can sometimes be tricky to know if our dog’s new behaviour is anxiety related or not.
Tell-tale signs of dog anxiety
Some of the more tell-tale signs include:
Hiding away from people and other pets
This isn’t always as obvious as a dog ducking under a table when they hear a loud bang. It may be as understated as a dog quietly retreating to the next room when they start to feel uncomfortable.
Barking and howling
Some breeds are more prone to barking when anxious than others. It can be a bark that goes on for a long time. This behaviour poses a particular challenge if dogs yap incessantly when their owner is not home; typically leading to irritated neighbours.
Panting can occur for a myriad of reasons including when hot, when in pain and when feeling stressed. This is often a loud and fast pant which can go on for a long time and is not related to recent exercise.
This is one of the more obvious signs of anxiety and, sadly, is one that us veterinarians see all too commonly in nervous dogs placed on our consulting room table. This shaking is likely an outward display of all of the pent-up energy and adrenaline coursing through the dog’s body in preparation for their ‘fight or flight’ reaction.
Having their ears and/or tail held down
A dog with their tail held firmly between their legs is not a happy camper. This is commonly seen when the dog is in the presence of someone who they see as more dominating, such as when a large, boisterous dog runs over to them in the dog park. They may also have a slight tail wag, though this should not be misconstrued as meaning they are happy.
Acting hyper e.g. pacing, digging and being destructive
This is a big one and often what causes owners the most trouble. This is especially when their doors and sofas are being ruined. It is important to understand that the dog is not acting out of malice. They are simply terrified and have a lot of frustrated energy they need to somehow get out.
While anxiety can have a host of causes that will differ from patient to patient, there are a few situations that trigger anxiety the most. Some of the top contenders are: Loud noises such as thunder storms and fireworks, being left alone, going to intimidating places such as the vet or groomer and being introduced to new people or animals. There is also a type of anxiety that can be experienced by aging pets who have canine cognitive dysfunction/ canine dementia.