Does your dog suffer from anxiety and what you can do about it
Updated: Jun 27
Did you know that many dogs suffer from anxiety most of the time and their owners don’t even realise it?
That’s right your gorgeous little companion that you love more than anything in the whole wide world might be anxious and you didn’t even know it.
Now that is an uncomfortable thought isn’t it?
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF ANXIETY IN YOUR DOG?
Dogs mainly communicate using body language. They don’t actually talk using barking very much at all. If you understand their body language, you can start to pick up the signs of anxiety that they show very frequently. They are essentially talking to you almost continually telling you how they are feeling.
There are many signs of anxiety that dogs display using this body language. These are just some of the most common ones.
SCRATCHING Quite often if your dog is scratching, it is not due to being itchy at all. Have you noticed that when you are in the vet’s waiting room that sometimes your dog may suddenly develop an intense itch and want to scratch? It is probably because he is worried.
SHAKING HIS WHOLE BODY This is a clear sign that he thinks there is too much pressure. He is telling you that he is having trouble coping with the situation.
RAISING ONE FRONT PAW IN THE AIR This is usually when he is sitting but can also be when he is standing. He is saying that he is worried and therefore anxious.
PULLING MADLY ON THE LEAD If your dog is pulling you around the block on the lead. He is not a dog that is happy to go for a walk. He is actually stressed by the pressure on the lead because you have not shown him how to walk on a loose lead. Imagine if you had a collar on and someone dragged you around the block. You would be stressed and anxious too wouldn’t you?
PANTING Dogs that are anxious will quite often start to pant even though they are not hot.
WHINING OR BARKING This is usually an anxiety behaviour. Dogs that are not anxious don’t feel the need to bark or whine.
AGGRESSION This can sometimes be related to feelings of insecurity and therefore anxiety.
BOISTEROUS OUT-OF-CONTROL BEHAVIOUR This is quite often related to anxiety. Many people see their dogs jumping all over them and behaving in a boisterous manner as being happy. This may not be true. These dogs are sometimes stressed and anxious. A dog that is not anxious behaves in a calm, relaxed manner.
WEEING AND POOING IN INAPPROPRIATE PLACES WHEN PREVIOUSLY TOILET TRAINED This can happen when the dynamics of the household has changed and can definitely be anxiety related.
DESTROYING FURNITURE OR OBJECTS WHEN LEFT ALONE Often called Separation Anxiety. This one is pretty obvious and easy to recognise.
AGITATED BEHAVIOUR Again this is also easy to recognise.
THE REASON FOR ANXIETY IN DOGS
There can be many triggers that highlight anxiety in dogs. It can be a new member in the household, loud noises, thunderstorms, inconsistent rules in the house, incorrect handling, rough treatment, another dog etc. There are many, many examples, but these are only triggers, they are not the real underlying reason that your dog is anxious.
The reason that your dog is anxious is because he feels that you are not showing strong leadership and that you are not capable of taking care of him. If a dog has a strong leader who shows him in language that he can understand, that he or she is clearly in charge, an anxious dog will calm down.
The reason that I am so clear on this principle is because I see it time and time again on my dog travels training people and their dogs. It is always the same solution. If you can show clear leadership to your dog he will definitely calm down.
WHY IS LEADERSHIP SO IMPORTANT
It is so important to show leadership to your dog because they like to live in a set hierarchy or pack. They feel secure and safe when they know their position within this pack. You and your family are essentially your dog’s pack and his place must be at the bottom of the pack. As much as you love your dog, he shouldn’t be making the decisions in your household.
The way to explain to him, in dog language, that you are his leader and therefore in charge, is with the use of body language. Anxiety in dogs occurs when you do not show that you are clearly in charge with this body language. It is of course always about showing sensitivity and balance as you set these boundaries.
There has been much discussion about the pros and cons of so-called ‘Dominance Theory’, that is the need to dominate your dog using over-the-top aggressive behaviour. This is not what I am talking about here. I am talking about a conversation with your dog using body language, as it is the way dogs communicate and they understand it easily, to explain that you are taking charge of him and will keep him safe. If you do this with your dog, the anxiety disappears and he will become relaxed, calm and focused.
HOW TO HELP A DOG WITH ANXIETY
I have a video below, taken of my Spoodle, Georgie, during the training process. You will see how she progressively calms down. This is an example of showing strong leadership to her and therefore reducing her anxiety. She is a sensitive dog, who can become anxious if I do not show her this strong leadership.
On this particular day, we had been walking. She was a little unsettled as it was windy and as we came around a corner a large plastic container almost landed on top of us. Georgie was startled, and so was I. We continued on our walk and almost immediately around the next corner a lady with a big Airedale Terrier came walking out of her yard, with the dog barking at Georgie. This was enough to completely unnerve her. We proceeded around the next corner and I did the following exercise which completely changed Georgie’s state of mind from almost hysterical to calm and relaxed. The process took about 40 minutes, but was very important to do.
TRAINING AN ANXIOUS DOG
We stopped on the grass beside the footpath and I stood with very upright, strong posture with my shoulders back, and pulled out my phone to pass the time, as I knew this was going to take a while. I just stood in that position, essentially ignoring Georgie and allowed her the time to work it out. She needed to see that I wasn’t worried or anxious and I was just going to stand there until she settled down. The only things I insisted on were that she did not pull on the lead, she did not enter my personal space and she did not jump up on me. She could move around me wherever she liked as long as she maintained the loose lead and respected my space. If she pulled, I pulled her back and immediately dropped the pressure on the lead.
It was important that I did not attempt to comfort Georgie and this is a common mistake that many people make. This was important for two reasons. The first is that I would be rewarding the insecure behaviour. The second was from Georgie’s perspective, she was worried about her safety and was unsure who was in charge to take care of things. If I had shown her a softer energy, bending down to pat and comfort her, she would have assumed from my behaviour and body language, that I was definitely not in charge and therefore we were both going to be eaten by that big Airedale Terrier that we saw!! This would have escalated her anxiety.