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How do I know if my dog or puppy is anxious and why can they be?

May 21, 2023

Duncan Houston

*How to Identify Anxiety in Dogs*

Dogs express anxiety in various ways, and each dog may display different signs. The most common symptoms of anxiety in dogs include:

1. Excessive barking or howling.

2. Aggression.

3. Destructive behaviors like chewing furniture or shoes.

4. Panting, shaking, or drooling more than usual.

5. Pacing or restlessness.

6. Trying to escape (digging, running away).

7. Compulsive or repetitive behaviors.

8. Accidents in the house despite being house trained.

9. Changes in appetite.

10. Excessive licking or chewing at their own body.

*Causes of Anxiety in Dogs*

Anxiety in dogs can have a variety of causes:

1. Separation: Dogs are social animals and may become anxious when separated from their owners.

2. Past trauma: Dogs that have been abused, neglected, or experienced a traumatic event can suffer from anxiety.

3. Medical issues: Certain medical conditions can cause anxiety symptoms in dogs.

4. Fear: Loud noises (thunderstorms, fireworks), new environments, or unfamiliar people or animals can induce anxiety.

5. Age-related issues: As dogs age, their cognitive function can decline, leading to confusion and anxiety.

*Ways to Reduce Anxiety*

There are several strategies to reduce anxiety in dogs:

1. Training: Training is a key component in managing anxiety. Techniques can include desensitization (gradual exposure to the anxiety-provoking stimulus) and counter-conditioning (changing the dog's response to the anxiety-provoking stimulus).

2. Exercise: Regular physical exercise can help manage anxiety.

3. Mental Stimulation: Puzzle toys, obedience training, or agility training can keep a dog's mind engaged and reduce anxiety.

4. Predictable Routine: Maintaining a consistent schedule for meals, walks, and playtime can provide comfort and reduce anxiety.

5. Calming Products: Products like anxiety wraps, pheromone diffusers, or calming dog beds can help soothe an anxious dog.

*Training Techniques*

1. Counter-Conditioning: This technique involves changing your dog's emotional response to the anxiety-causing situation. For instance, if your dog is anxious about strangers, you might have a stranger give them a treat, thereby creating a positive association.

2. Desensitization: Gradually expose your dog to the source of their anxiety in small, manageable doses. If your dog has separation anxiety, you might start by leaving for short periods of time and gradually increase your time away.

3. Positive Reinforcement: Reward your dog for calm behavior. This can involve treats, praise, or physical affection.

4. Clicker Training: A clicker can be a powerful tool for training a dog. You can click at the exact moment your dog behaves correctly, then reward them, helping them understand what they did right.

*Medications for Dog Anxiety*

Medication should always be considered as a last resort or in combination with behavioral interventions, and should only be used under the direct supervision of a veterinarian. Some of the medications used to treat anxiety in dogs include:

1. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like fluoxetine (Prozac).

2. Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax).

3. Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) like clomipramine (Clomicalm).

4. Certain types of anti-anxiety medication like buspirone.

5. Natural supplements such as L-Theanine, Melatonin, or a variety of calming chews that contain various herbs and natural ingredients. These can be used, but their effectiveness varies between individual dogs.

Remember to consult with a professional, like a veterinarian or a professional dog trainer, before starting any new regimen or medication. Behavioral changes can sometimes indicate underlying health problems that may need to be addressed.

*Working with a Professional*

In some cases, you may need the help of a professional to manage your dog's anxiety. This could include a professional dog trainer or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. These professionals can provide a comprehensive treatment plan and can guide you through the process of implementing it. Professionals can help with:

1. Developing a customized training plan for your dog.

2. Teaching you effective techniques to manage your dog's anxiety.

3. Monitoring your dog's progress and adjusting the plan as needed.

4. Prescribing medication if necessary.

*Preventing Anxiety*

While not all anxiety can be prevented, there are steps you can take to help reduce the likelihood of anxiety developing. This can include:

1. Early socialization: Introduce your puppy to a variety of people, places, and situations to help them become comfortable with new experiences.

2. Adequate exercise: Regular exercise can help reduce nervous energy and keep your dog calm.

3. Mental stimulation: Provide toys and activities to keep your dog's mind busy.

4. Regular routine: Keep a consistent schedule to help your dog know what to expect.

5. Positive experiences: Ensure your dog has plenty of positive experiences with different people and environments.

Remember, anxiety in dogs is a serious condition. If you suspect your dog is suffering from anxiety, it's important to get professional help. With patience, empathy, and the right support, your dog can overcome their anxiety and live a happier, healthier life.