Anxiety in Dogs
JUMP TO: How to help your anxious dog
Most dog parents are unaware that dogs exhibit stress in recognizable ways. We also aren’t aware of how our own actions and body language can affect our dogs’ stress levels. So, we unintentionally cause our dogs anxiety when we take them into situations that make them uncomfortable, fail to recognize their signals, and make no effort to help them. From our dog’s point of view, he has done everything possible to show that he is stressed, but these humans, unlike most other dogs, just haven’t picked up on the signals. Our dogs must sigh in disgust.
|Stress Signals to Watch For
- Tucked Lower Tail
- Half-moon Eye (a white
arc around the pupil)
- Excessive Drooling
- Sweaty Paw Prints
- Extreme Shedding
- Won’t Take Treats
- Turning Away
- Moving Slowly
- Shaking Off (as if wet)
- Lip Licking
- Whining or Growling
- Freezing (Watch Out!)
|How People Stress Dogs
- Leaning over dogs
- Reaching over dogs’ heads
- Approaching dogs directly
- Staring at dogs
- Hugging or Picking Up dogs (especially true for children & strangers)
- Being inconsistent – it’s ok to do __, then it isn’t, then it is
- Forcing dogs into uncomfortable situations
Common Examples of How We Contribute to Our Dogs’ Stress
- Staying at a dog park even if our dog is being bullied or is isolating himself.
- Watching as our child chases, pulls, falls on, picks up & hugs our stressed dog.
- Walking our dog on sidewalks directly toward another dog or person.
- Tightening our grip and pulling back on our dog’s leash when we are worried about our dog’s reaction to another dog or stranger.
- Assuming that our dog understands what we want from him without training the cue or teaching the behavior first.
- Relying on fear and intimidation to train our dog.
- Punishing our dog for reactions that are based on fear and involuntary.
- Ascribing human motives to dog behavior.
How to Help Your Anxious Dog
Don’t Put Your Dog in Situations that Exceed His Ability to Cope.
Don’t force your anxious dog to interact with other dogs or strangers – whether at the dog park or in your neighborhood.
Make sure that you and the dog professionals you use introduce your anxious dog to anything new gradually.
Learn your dog’s stress signals, so you will know when he has had enough.
Walk at quiet times of the day if that’s when your dog is least anxious.
Never Punish a Growling Dog.
A growling dog is threatened and anxious.
A growl is the most polite way a dog has to tell you that what is happening is making him uncomfortable.
Dogs that are punished for growling may stop warning and bite instead.
Using Harsh Methods on a Fearful Dog Doesn’t Make Sense.
Fear and anxiety, which are the primary causes of aggression, are INVOLUNTARY emotional reactions.
If we punish dogs when they are already anxious and fearful, we may escalate their aggressive responses or temporarily shut down behavior.
Punishment causes some dogs to associate what’s around (children, other dogs, strangers, objects) with the punishment.
Leadership, Not Dominance, Can Help Your Dog Feel More Secure.
Leadership does not rely on intimidation and fear to control behavior. Alpha rolling, muzzle grabs, yelling, staring, hitting, choking, and shocking are not leadership. These techniques scare fearful dogs and antagonize more assertive ones.
Your dog needs to trust that you will protect him, not fear that you will punish him.
Ask your dog to sit and wait before you feed him, let him out the door or throw a ball to teach him focus and self control.
Work With a Trainer on a Behavior Modification Plan, So You Can Help Your Dog Feel Less Anxious.
Use de-sensitization to help your dog cope with what frightens him. De-sensitization involves minimal exposure to what frightens your dog that is gradually intensified according to the dog’s comfort level.
Use high-value treats to change your dog’s association with what frightens him from negative to positive. This is called counter-conditioning.
Sometimes, a change in habits (for example, calm departures & arrivals home) or a method for relaxation (certain music, dog appeasing pheromones, anxiety wraps) can also help relax your dog when he would normally be stressed.
These anxiety guidelines are based on a workshop presented by:
E. Kathryn Meyer, VMD
Veterinary Behavior Clinic
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior
President (2008 - 2010)