anxiety in dogs

Have you ever wondered if dogs can have anxiety? It isn’t uncommon for owners to see signs of anxiety in dogs when they are getting ready to leave the house. However, there are much more subtle signs of anxiety in dogs that you may not even be aware of. Being aware of these little displays of anxiety can help keep your pooch more relaxed and happier in their everyday life. First lets take a look at common stress triggers for dogs.

Anxiety in dogs can come from a number of different factors but the most common categories are environmental, phobias, separation, or illness. It is also important to remember that just because your dog is anxious, doesn’t mean you are a bad pet owner. Anxiety in dogs can be found in even the most loving homes, it all depends on your dog’s personality and background. Environmental stressors can be as simple as changing your pet’s daily routine, changing food, or moving. Dogs experience phobias just like their owners do and it can be from a past trauma or due to lack of exposure. Phobia stressors are most commonly loud noises, though even a strange visual appearance like a person wearing a bulky jacket can also cause stress due to a phobia. Separation anxiety is just what is sounds like, when your dog gets anxious over you leaving them. And last but not least, illness can also be a stressor for your dog. Since they can’t tell you that something hurts, they will display physical symptoms like shaking or may also hold their head and tail low.

The most subtle signs of anxiety in dogs are known as displacement behaviors. These behaviors seem like normal, everyday behaviors but they are displayed at a time of stress and act as a way for the dog to suppress their anxiety. These signs are yawning, licking lips and nose without food, scratching, biting at their body, sniffing, or shaking off though the dog is not wet. Knowing when these are a sign of anxiety in dogs versus normal behavior isn’t always easy, but you can start taking notice of when the dog has this action to find connections.

When is it displacement behavior and when is it regular behavior?

  • Did you just ask the dog to obey a command and they started suddenly scratching themselves? This is a sign of anxiety.
  • Did your dog just wake up from a nap and is yawning? This is most likely not a sign of anxiety.
  • Are children playing with your dog and your dog is licking their lips and nose? This is a sign of anxiety.
  • Did your dog come in from playing outside and is now scratching? This is most likely not a sign of anxiety.

Another sign of anxiety in dogs is avoidance, which can also be subtle but can’t be confused with common, everyday behavior. Avoidance behaviors happen when the dog wants to remove itself from the situation that is causing them stress. These signs are getting up and walking or running away from the situation, turning the head away, hiding, barking while backing up, or rolling over to display their belly while.

When is it avoidance behavior and when is it regular behavior?

  • There is a loud bang or yelling in a room and your dog gets up and leaves. This is avoidance.
  • Your dog hears a noise behind them and turns their head to see what it was. This is regular behavior.
  • You are vacuuming the house and your dog is barking at the vacuum and backing up. This is avoidance.
  • It is a hot day and your dog rolls over on their back and exposes their belly and has relaxed body language. This is regular behavior and most likely an attempt to cool down.

Other more common signs of anxiety in dogs comes in the form of very easy to read body language. Your dog may have their tail between their legs, their tail is between their legs and wagging, a curled tail breed has their tail straight, ears back, or going to the bathroom in the house despite being house trained.
Anxiety in dogs should always be brought to the attention of your vet who can help you determine the cause of it – environmental, phobia, separation, or illness. When you do notice these behaviors, try to take not of what was happening prior to it. This will help the vet share the best possible resources with you and your dog to find a solution. Your solution may be as simple as more exercise or in more severe cases a specialized trainer in the area may be recommended to you. There are many ways to work with and manage anxiety in dogs, so we will help you work through whatever it is that is worrying your pooch so you can both be happy and relaxed!