When noticing signs of stress or anxiety in your dog, your natural inclination as a pet parent is to want to help. But maybe you’re not exactly sure of what to do. How do you decode what you’re seeing? Is it anxiety? Fear? Stress? A phobia? While these things do differ from one another, they often present themselves in similar ways and share many of the same solutions. The key to helping your dog thrive is to start with a little detective work in order to figure out what might be bringing on the symptoms.
It’s helpful to know that what typically triggers worry among dogs can range from noise to separation anxiety, exposure to new people, or disruptions in schedule and setting. Some of the visual cues will be your first clues to your pup’s anxiety. Trembling, pacing, drooling, excessive yawning, howling, destructive behavior, urinating indoors, and potentially aggression are all signs that something is up.
Has your dog been home alone?
Fourteen percent of dogs suffer from separation anxiety. Some breeds are more sensitive than others when it comes to solitude, and it’s important to know if it could be a trigger. According to veterinarians, it’s the people-pleasing pups—breeds such as labs, German shepherds, Chihuahuas, border collies, and cocker spaniels—that rank highest on the list of dogs who dislike solo time, though they are far from being the only ones to populate this category. Some rescue dogs easily fall here, too, just as much as others are exempt, depending on DNA and pre-adoption circumstances. There are exceptions to the rule when it comes to the purebreds as well. Australian shepherds thrive on company, as do Jack Russell Terriers, but that doesn’t mean you won’t encounter a trend-bucker.
In many cases, the highest anxiety moments are the ones immediately following your departure, so having a toy or a treat handy to help your dog make positive associations with your exit is helpful. This can be especially poignant for you when going back to work or school in light of being home with your pooch during the COVID-19 pandemic. They were so used to having you around that they may be even more sensitive to you being away. Also, organizing your errands to take place in one fell swoop rather than coming in and out can also help reduce the range of emotions that come along with repeated hellos and goodbyes.
Dogs that have lower separation anxiety tend to be greyhounds, Basset hounds, French bulldogs, Boston terriers, and Basenjis, among others. These pooches might do better for families and individuals who are away more, though no rule is steadfast. You might not notice separation anxiety, but you might still notice signs of stress for reasons having little to do with your presence.
Sounds like anxiety.
Loud noises from things such as thunderstorms, vacuuming, and fireworks can send a dog cowering. In fact, noise tends to be the leading cause of anxiety among dogs. Dogs’ sense of hearing is two to three times more sensitive than that of humans. Plus, the static electricity that comes from impending storms actually manifests as a tingling coat that can send a series of small shocks through a dog’s fur. An unscented, chemical-free dryer sheet (scented sheets are toxic to dogs) rubbed along their coat can be effective to minimize the static and alleviate the stress that accompanies it. Contrary to previously-held beliefs, studies have shown that comforting your dog during noisy situations can be most helpful, so according to veterinary behaviorist Melissa Bain, doling out extra snuggles in those louder moments actually matters.
The safe haven of habits.
If you’ve ruled out noise and separation anxiety, it might be changes in schedule and setting that have thrown your dog off just enough to bring forth the telltale signs of woe. A trip to the vet, the groomer, or even to a new place can try sensitive dogs in ways their pet parents might not always understand. The same goes for exposure to strangers, particularly men and children. With men, it’s sometimes their size, deeper voices, facial hair, and even hats that will incite uncertainty for dogs. With children, sudden movements or loud noises can also make for confusion and, thus, fear.
Socialization in the early months of your dog’s life can make all the difference, but if the ship has sailed, there’s still hope. Encounters with a new person or people, for example, can be defused by having the new visitor carry treats in their pockets and approach slowly. If the circumstances are spontaneous, however, keeping your dog at a distance until she’s had a chance to sniff her way to ease will help to calm her until she can make sense of her surroundings.
As an eager-to-help pet parent, you can seek solace in knowing that the simplest solution is often the best place to start. The go-to antidote to helping your dog overcome his fears and phobias is to make sure he’s getting plenty of exercise and staying busy. The Wagz Freedom Smart Dog Collar tracks your dog’s step count and exercise time to help you understand how much energy your pup is expending. It also helps you figure out how much he’s sleeping, since lack of rest can be another factor when it comes to stressors. These and other factors are calculated by our Kognition platform to give you an overall Health & Happiness Score for your pup. Understanding his behaviors helps you plot the clues to his anxiety and helps you find the most useful and positive solutions to keeping your pal happy and living the good life.