Like us, dogs have anxieties and fears. A dog’s anxieties, may not be the same as our own anxieties, but they cause stress and physical reactions just the same.
Some common dog anxiety problems include –
- Separation anxiety – A dog gets anxious when left alone.
- Noise anxiety – A dog becomes fearful when exposed to loud or unusual noises. Some examples include fireworks, thunderstorms, garbage trucks, and more.
- Travel anxiety – The car is like a den, but dogs are unaccustomed to moving dens. Therefore, they may become unsure and stressed over something so new and unexpected.
- Confinement anxiety – A dog gets anxious when he feels trapped or confined. If a threat should arise, a confined dog may be unable to escape or flee.
Symptoms of Dog Anxiety
When dogs are anxious, they may engage in repetitive or displacement behaviors to relieve their stress. For example, when we are anxious, we may pace, bite our nails, or play with our hair.
Dogs may also pace, groom, and more. Some dog anxiety behaviors may lead to property destruction, may cause us harm, or may simply be undesirable to our human sensibilities. This may include –
- Non-stop barking.
- Chewing up furniture, walls, shoes, garbage, and anything else in sight.
- Pooping and peeing in the house, crate, or other confinement area.
- Eating his own poop.
- Aggression toward people, dogs, or other animals.
Punishment or aversive techniques will do little to stop these anxious dog behaviors in the long-run, because punishment does not address the source of the problem, which is the dog’s anxiety. In fact, suppression of these displacement behaviors, through pain and dominance methods, will make the problem worse, because pain increases stress and uncertainty.
Below are some common ways on how to deal with dog anxiety.
1. Desensitization Exercises
One of the best ways to help a dog deal with his anxiety issues, is by slowly desensitizing him to the problem stimulus.
In the desensitization process, we start with a weak version of the stimulus that is triggering the anxiety attack.
The stimulus must be weak enough, so that my dog is able to stay calm in its presence. Then, I get him to focus on me, by doing eye-contact commands or simple obedience exercises.
If my dog is able to focus and stay in-control, I reward him with a very high priority treat. For desensitization purposes, I usually bust out the really good stuff. I try to pick a highly aromatic or smelly treat that my dog loves, but does not usually get to eat. The smell will help to engage his nose, and further distract him from the source of his anxiety.
When he is comfortable with this exercise, is calm, and able to follow simple commands, I very slowly raise the strength of the problem stimulus. I make each session short, fun, and very rewarding.
In this way, my dog learns alternative behaviors for dealing with stressful situations. He also learns to associate something that was previously a source of fear and stress, with something positive (nice smells, yummy treats), and with being calm.
2. Calm Environment
Another important aspect of helping an anxious dog, is to create a calm and predictable environment for him, in his daily life.
- Fixed routine – I set a fixed schedule for feeding, walking, play-time, leaving the house, coming home, and more. I also establish a fixed set of rules, and a consistent way of enforcing them. A very fixed routine and rule-set, helps our dog understand what to expect from us, and also what we expect from him in return. Greater certainty reduces anxiety and stress.
- Staying calm – Most dogs are very good at picking up the energy of the people around them. My Shiba Inu, for example, is very sensitive to what I am feeling. If I get stressed and anxious, he picks up on that immediately and becomes anxious himself; but with a hundred times more gusto! Therefore, it is important for us to stay calm and in-control.
- Relaxing massage – Some trainers suggest giving our dog a massage to help him relax. There is also the special TTouch massage method, which uses circular finger motions to help relax our dog’s body.
I tried the TTouch method briefly on my Shiba Inu, but it did not seem to have much of an effect on him. Desensitization exercises, together with a fixed routine and consistent rules, helped us most.
3. Calming Equipment
There are a variety of products designed to help calm our dogs. The attraction of such products, is that they require little to no work from us. However, it is also unclear how effective they truly are.
a) Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP)
DAP is a synthetic chemical that was developed based on a hormone produced by nursing mother dogs. Mother dogs produce this hormone to help their puppies feel calm and secure. It also helps the mother dog establish a positive bond with her puppies.
Scientific studies *do* show that DAP has a positive effect on puppies. However, it is unclear whether DAP helps with anxiety problems in adult dogs.
There are also a variety of natural calming scents, including lavender, and other herbal remedies.
b) Dog Calming Music
“Music has charms to soothe a savage breast, To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”
Music can certainly help calm us down and soothe our nerves. Therefore, it is not such a big stretch to imagine that it can also be helpful to our dogs. However, the wrong kind of music can actually increase anxiety in dogs.
What is the right kind of dog music?
According to sound researcher Joshua Leeds,
“Rock music, jazz, heavy metal made them more anxious. Classical slowed them down. It just relaxed them in a way that the other music seemed to irritate them.”
~~[Want to Calm Fido Down? Try Music!]
The Thundershirt looks like a dog winter coat. It wraps around the torso of a dog, and works by exerting constant pressure on the dog’s body. Proponents argue that this pressure, can have a calming effect on the dog’s nervous system.
However, the only study I found was a very limited experiment, from an unsubstantiated source. Therefore, it is unclear whether the claims made on the effectiveness of Thundershirts are true.
Note – Pressure wraps will not work on all dogs. Some dogs may get even more anxious, when they experience continuous pressure on their body. In addition, it is unlikely that pressure wraps can fully solve our dog’s anxiety issues. Wraps and other calming equipment, are commonly used together with desensitization and other dog behavior modification techniques, to achieve true long-term success.
Depending on the dog and the situation, you may need to incorporate training with the cape to show an effect. The Anxiety Wrap recommends an 11-step treatment program for separation anxiety that includes using the wrap and leaving toys filled with favorite food treats for the dog to enjoy while you are gone.
Some people also use clocks or heartbeat pillows, to help calm new puppies.
Do not medicate your dog with over-the-counter human drugs, on your own. Dogs have very different physiology than humans, and dosage is very dependent on weight.
I always consult with my vet before giving my dog any medication.
Some medications used to suppress a dog’s anxiety response include –
- Clomipramine(Anafranil) – This drug was originally developed to treat OCD in humans. With dogs, it is sometimes prescribed to treat OCD and separation anxiety issues.
- Fluoxetine(Prozac,Sarafem,Fontex) – Fluoxetine is perhaps most well-known by its tradename Prozac. Prozac is used to treat heavy depression, OCD, and serious eating disorders (Bulimia nervosa) in humans. Eli Lily makes a special Prozac for dogs called Reconcile.
For lonely dogs with separation anxiety, Eli Lilly brought to market its own drug Reconcile last year. The only difference between it and Prozac is that Reconcile is chewable and tastes like beef.
- Sedatives – Powerful sedatives such as benzodiazepine (benzo) are prescription only. Some lighter sedatives such as antihistamines (Benadryl) and valerian can be obtained as over-the-counter medications for humans. Do not give sedatives or any other medication to dogs, without first consulting with a veterinarian.
The dog medication business is now a very profitable enterprise, and there are a large number of dog drugs available for purchase. These medications treat anything from separation anxiety, OCD, and depression, to motion-sickness, forgetfulness, and obesity. Most dog medications are short term solutions and may have serious side effects.
Dog Anxiety Problems
I believe that the best way to help our dogs with their anxiety issues, is through desensitization, as well as a calm and relaxed home environment.
Dog calming equipment and medication are very tempting solutions, because they involve little to no effort from us. However, their long-term effectiveness is highly questionable. These methods work by suppressing or muting the effects of anxiety, rather than addressing the source of the anxiety itself.
This is in contrast with desensitization and home management techniques, which target the anxiety stimulus, and teaches the dog new ways to cope with fear and stress. Rather than just suppressing symptoms, desensitization helps to build a dog’s confidence, and promotes a stronger bond between him and his human companions.
Ultimately, behavior modification and desensitization techniques lead to long-lasting effects, and a better quality of life for a dog and his family.
I have an 8 year old Shiba, and suddenly started acting very frightened 2 days ago until now. Can not sleep unless someone sleeps with me, or else he cries and barks ( which he never does.) Someone has to be with him inside the house or else he cries so much and goes crazy, we can hear it from outside. Wherever we go, he is glued to us. Even in the bathroom, pretty much glued to our legs. ( he never enters the bathroom). I am very worried about him, this is not him at all. We have been having bad weather here, and a hurricane is going on in Florida (I am in new jersey). I mentioned it to a co-worker and she was such in shock saying her dog is doing the same thing. Any tips on what to do? much appreciated!
I have a 4 year old Great Pyrenees mix she’s 40-50 pounds (she’s a runt) and while her mother was pregnant she was abused and badly malnourished and I rescued one of the puppies. Her name is Juliet and I’ve had her since she was 7 weeks old and she’s ALWAYS been fearful, I remember the first time I got her and I had to crawl under a building and pull her out and she started screaming, it broke my heart.. She has scars on her head that was there when I got her and none of the other puppies are like her. I figured the reason she has an eating problem was because she’s the runt and possibly her overbite but sometimes it’s so bad I have to make her eat and I honestly feel like she tried to starve her self sometimes. She has terrible separation anxiety and won’t leave my side. She’s never had a problem with any dog or cat, she loves them. But the problem is people. She’s an inside dog and sleeps in her crate with my smaller dog which is a chihuahua rat terrier mix, but it seems like her anxiety has gotten worse. She barks at everything. Things that wasn’t there before for example a cardboard box in the floor that wasn’t there before will freak her out. She’ll bark and growl and won’t budge until I pick her up and make her touch it and sniff it and then she’s okay. She HATES big trucks. And boats and bicycles and even children. The reason she doesn’t like children is because she’s never been around any but she doesn’t like people either! And she’s been around them she’s just never liked them for some reason. I do not trust her around children or around people she doesn’t know well. Sometimes she will randomly start growling (not at me) at the wall or the window, even her shadow. My grandmother thinks she is going crazy but I think she just has a problem with her brain and I really want to help her. She’s really sweet.. just I want to fix this. When people walk by my house (I have a very large fence) she freaks out and chases and barks at them. When people run or make fast moments they freak her out. (She’s fine with everything I do, it’s just other people) when my boyfriend comes over and she LOVES him, sometimes she’ll bark at him and she won’t let him touch her. If he’s wearing a hat it freaks her out. It’s little things.. If the vacuum is in the living room and it wasn’t before it freaks her out and she won’t go near it. I’m afraid that one day she will hurt someone and I don’t want anything bad to happen to her, she’s helped me through a lot and I love her so much. She really just needs help and I don’t know how to help her.
Nicola Taylor says
Hi. About two years ago, our JRT, developed a fear of going into our local pub. She was fine before that and we could happily take her anywhere dog friendly.
She slowly started to show signs of not wanting to go into any building at all or walking through town.
Just lately, she does not even want to come into our own house. She hides under bushes and our caravan, shaking with fear.
Nothing bad has happened.
We don’t know what has triggered this reaction. She is only really happy when outside, even in the rain and she has always hated the rain.
I could really use some help. I have a 1 year old pitbull terrior/boxer mix. We rescued him from the shelter when he was 9 months old (we’ve had him for 5 months). He used to be such an energetic puppy and very loving. Within the past couple months he has lost a lot of his hair. We took him to the vet and they started allergy things on him (thinking it was an allergy problem. I’m starting to think it’s his anxiety. He is very anxious with loud noises, car rides, and sometimes even a lot of people around. I’ve never had this happen before so I don’t know how to help him. He has another vet appointment on the 14th but if anyone has an idea of how I can help him until then, it really appdeciate it!
I have a 13 years old BichonX in exceptional health however with chronic anxiety diagnosed in 2012. He was taking Trazadone 50mg/day and Gabapentin for nerve pain which I am not sure that he has given his high level of anxiety. As a last resort we have put him on a one month trial of Prozac 10mg/daily along with the Trazadone which is now increased to 75 mg/day with no change in the Gapapentin. We should know in about two weeks whether this is working. This is the end of the road for our dog and it breaks our hearts, but we have had specialists, trainers, dog walkers, thundershirts, music, cuddles and more cuddles. I hope we have made the right decision for a dog who swims in the ocean, runs like the wind, retrieves like a lab but cannot be left alone. I know in my heart he is not happy like this.
have 21/2 yr old rescue golden. got him at 9 months with ibs and sep. anxiety. Seems we have conquered anxiety and food issues….is being obedience trained..doing well…however refuses or fears any jump even if bar is on ground. rushes over it, pulls leash and puts it in his mouth and runs away. Am presently holding bar in hand and putting peanut butter on it which he carefully licks off. Any solution you can suggest would be appreciated.
Julie Burley says
I really hope that you can help!
We have 2 Tibetan Terriers male & bitch, not from the same parents but from the same breeder. They are 5 and there is 8 week she difference in age.
My male gets really anxious, when hearing a noise outside, and is constantly peeing in the house, even though he has been for walks, particularly overnight.
If I move his bed to the area to which he pees, he just does it somewhere else, not only peeing but poo as well.
They have the roam of downstairs, and we have a dog flap, and like most loved pets spend most of their times asleep on our sofas.
I don’t want narbto isolate them to the kitchen with dog beds, as it’s only my male who is naughty, my female is sensitive nad would be upset at not having her comfortable sofa.
Can you suggest anything we can do? I was thinking about leaving a radio on overnight, however I’m not sure this would help.
We late in an old Victorian house which I sright on the main road so they get to hear all the neighbours, people walking past, and traffic.
Thank you advance for your help.
Mimi Ward says
We have had our sweet, gentle rescue Aussie, Taz, for about 2/12 years. He was about 2/12 years old when we got him and he this is his third winter with us. He does exhibit anxiety – panting, trembling, etc. – when we have an occasional summer thunder storm but we can deal with 1 or 2 hours of this on rare occasions. The real problem started this winter, when he developed a real phobia about fire. Since we must heat the house with wood, he begins to tremble and pant whenever we light a fire, which these cold days, (many below freezing) is a real necessity. This is the first winter he has shown these behaviors. He starts to get anxious when I bring wood into the house or crumple paper to start the fire in an enclosed stove with a glass door, so he can indeed see the flames, which seem to be the main trigger for his demanding to go outside, refusing to come back into the house, panting, trembling, pawing us etc.
I have tried desensitizing him as you have described, putting him in a cooler room where he can’t see the flames, (he just whines to come out) speaking calmly and reassuringly, extra petting and attention but nothing seems to work. I’m wondering why he has only developed this anxiety the third winter he has been with us and whet more can we do about it?
Any advice would be greatly appreciated,
debra baker says
when i leave my dog she barks when i leave the house and does not shut up until i get back any ideas i could do about it
Help! Toshi has noise anxiety, not so much to thunder or fireworks but to noises from the house settling, something on the roof, or noise coming from the apartment downstairs. The noise is not loud. I do not know how to desensitize him to these noises. I leave the tv on for him during the day to try and drown out the noise. It breaks my heart to see my Shiba shake from anxiety. How can I help with his anxiety?
Lana is a 6 month old female shiba. We have had her since she was 8 weeks old. She is crate trained and I have found everything on your blog, but lately she has been crying incessantly whenever I leave for work in the morning. She gets kongs and plenty of toys, but she does not care for them when she sees me leave. I also take her for walks before I leave and after I come home. What else can I do?
Sounds like separation anxiety. Sephy had some of that too when he was young. I slowly got him used to it by starting with very short periods of alone time, and then very slowly lengthening that time. Keeping to a very fixed routine also helps a lot with Sephy. He is very good with alone time now, but he will still get anxious if we leave at weird unexpected times.
Big hugs to Lana! What a beautiful name.