Dog Under Blanket

It's no secret that mental health problems are pretty common in people, with approximately 1 in 6 of us Brits reporting symptoms each week [1]. But, did you know that it's even more of a problem for our dogs? 

 A study conducted in 2016 [2] suggested exactly that, and broke it down into three main types: noise sensitivity, general fearfulness, and separation anxiety. They found that approximately 1 in 3 of our dogs exhibited symptoms of noise sensitivity, 1 in 4 of them show general fearfulness, and 1 in 5 show signs of separation anxiety. These numbers then went on to be replicated in a study of Finnish dogs in 2020 [3]. 

How Can I Tell If My Dog Has Anxiety?

Common signs of anxiety in dogs include:

  • hypervigilance / being alert all the time
  • restlessness / unable to settle
  • aggression, such as lunging, barking, or snarling at other people or dogs
  • excessive barking
  • excessive panting and/or drooling
  • eliminating in the house (if house trained)

If your dog is showing even one of these signs, there is a chance that they are anxious. However, being anxious or fearful for a short period isn't a bad thing: it's helpful for our dogs to recognise real threats and act to protect themselves. The issues start when our dogs are feeling this way for a prolonged time. If your dog is doing these things for more than a couple of days, it can be a good idea to reach out for help.  

I Think My Dog Has Anxiety - What Can I Do? 

If you're worried that your dog may have anxiety, you should first reach out to your vets to rule out any chance of a physical cause. If your vets are happy that your dog is healthy physically, it's time to reach out to an appropriately qualified and accredited behaviourist. A behaviourist will be able to develop a treatment plan that's tailored for you and your dog. Look for someone who is listed on the ABTC register.

In the meantime, though, there's lots you can do to help your dog out. 

  1. Work out if anything in particular stresses your dog out. Common triggers are other dogs, unfamiliar people, visitors to the home, sudden loud noises, and being left alone. If you notice any trends, minimise or eliminate your dog's exposure to these triggers until your behaviourist can work with you.

  2. Consider NOT walking your dog for a while. Anxious dogs can often struggle to cope with the big, wide world, which means that they may not actually enjoy the walks you're going on. This can make them more stressed, and they may then struggle to cope with other things that are going on. It's more than okay to keep your dog at home, and play games or do some training sessions with them instead. 

  3. Get them to use their nose! Sniffing is an inherently calming activity for your dog, so it's a great way for your dog to chill out. Try hiding a couple of treats around a room, and let your dog find them. However, do remember where you put them so you can find them if your dog struggles. 

  4. Encourage licking. Licking is another naturally calming activity, so is hugely helpful when managing an anxious dog. Get a LickiMat, smear on some wet food or some doggy peanut butter, and let your dog at it! If your dog is particularly quick at getting through LickiMats, try freezing it beforehand. 

  5. Use a calming home spray. These are formulated with valerian, which is a naturally calming herb, and can help stressed out dogs to feel more at ease. Simply spray it around the home, and let your dog relax. 

  6. Stick to a routine. This doesn't need to be a concrete routine where you do the exact same things every day, but think about things in terms of how much energy your dog needs. Try to keep their active hours to the same times, and their nap times to the same times each day. This predictability can help our dogs to feel more in control of their lives. 

  7. Make sure your dog is getting enough sleep. We all struggle with stress when we're overtired, so it should be no surprise that our dogs are more easily overwhelmed when they're running on empty. The average dog needs about 15 hours of sleep each day, with puppies, older dogs, and anxious dogs needing closer to 20 hours. Make sure your dog has access to a calm area with a comfy bed, and set them nap times when they can snuggle up and get some Z's. 

  8. Give them a safe space to retreat to. Sometimes, for our anxious dogs, the world can just be a little overwhelming. Because of this, it's really important to allow our dogs the chance to walk away from stressful things and decompress. Make sure your dog has somewhere they can go to where they won't be disturbed - and, if they go there, you (nor anyone else) should approach them. If you need them for any reason, such as you need to go to an appointment with them, call them away from that area, and then reward them heavily for coming out to you. 

  9. Consider giving them a massage. If your dog enjoys physical contact with you, they may really benefit from a massage. The Tellington TTouch method can work wonders for calming our dogs down when they're feeling stressed.

  10. Take the time to understand what your dog is telling you. Our dogs are always talking to us, and we can help them to feel heard and understood if we take a moment to learn about their communication style. Body language is incredibly important for them, and we can help them to feel more safe if we can see what they're saying, and respond appropriately. 

Have you got an anxious dog? Have you tried any of these tips, or have any of your own to share? Let us know by leaving a comment! 

 

Post by Alyssa Ralph MSc BSc(Hons), Holistic Pet Services

 

References:

1. McManus, S., Bebbington, P. E., Jenkins, R., and Brugha, T. (2016) Mental Health and Wellbeing in England: the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014. Leeds, UK: NHS Digital. Available at: https://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/23646/

 

2. Tiira, K., Sulkama, S., and Lohi, H. (2016) Prevalence, comorbidity, and behavioral variation in canine anxiety. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour. 16: 36-44. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2016.06.008

 

3. Salonen, M., Sulkama, S., Mikkola, S., Puurunen, J., Hakanen, E., Tiira, K., Araujo, C., and Lohi, H. (2020) Prevalence, comorbidity, and breed differences in canine anxiety in 13,700 Finnish pet dogs. Scientific Reports. 10: 2692. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-59837-z

 

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