Dog Anxiety: What You Need to Know

Properly caring for your dog will make a huge difference in her life. But, even the best-behaved dogs sometimes encounter situations they don’t like, which can lead to stress, anxiety and fear. 

Dogs can suffer from social anxiety, just like people. In fact, it’s one of the most common types of anxiety disorders in dogs. If your dog seems to be avoiding social situations or is excessively fearful when around other people or animals, he may have social anxiety disorder.

What is Dog Anxiety and what are the symptoms

There are a variety of types of anxiety, but the most common in dogs is social anxiety disorder. Dogs with this disorder become extremely fearful and anxious when around other animals or people outside of their immediate family. In severe cases, they may even avoid going outside to eliminate because they don’t want to be around other animals or people.  This can create a vicious cycle as they associate their anxiety with going outside and eventually, they only eliminate inside the house.

While most dogs show at least some signs of stress around new people or pets, those with social anxiety disorder typically display extreme and persistent fear and anxiety that disrupts their normal behavior and quality of life. Symptoms may include:

  • Trembling, pacing and restlessness
  • Barking or whining excessively when approached by other animals or people
  • Lack of response to known commands
  • Frequently licking their lips or shaking their head
  • Becoming clingy with their owner

What causes Dog Anxiety and how can it be treated

While it’s not clear specifically what causes dog anxiety, certain genetics and environmental factors likely play a role. For example, if your dog is fearful around other animals or people because of previous abuse, neglect or trauma, it can lead to social anxiety disorder.

Another factor that can exacerbate the issue is an owner who inadvertently reinforces negative behavior by giving his dog treats when she’s in a stressful situation. This only reinforces the negative behavior and compels her to seek out those types of situations in order to get the response again.

Panic disorder, separation anxiety and compulsive behaviors such as licking or tail-chasing can also lead to symptoms of social anxiety disorder in dogs. If your pet suffers from any of these disorders, you’ll need to make some changes in her treatment plan.

In many cases, your veterinarian can prescribe medications to help ease your dog’s anxiety and make a real difference in her quality of life. If she has a compulsive disorder such as excessive licking or tail-chasing, behavior modification is the key to getting her quality of life back on track.

How to help your dog cope with Anxiety

If you think your dog may be suffering from social anxiety, the best thing you can do is talk with your veterinarian about his symptoms and how they affect his everyday life. If necessary, he may refer you to a veterinary behaviorist who has additional training in this area.

Generally speaking, treatment for dog anxiety is designed to eliminate your pet’s negative associations with specific people or places. For example, if she becomes anxious around other dogs when you’re walking down the street, you can use treats and toys to distract her attention away from them until you’ve passed by.

Over time, this process can help your dog learn to associate other animals and people with good things. It may take time, but most dogs show significant improvement with the right treatment plan.

Often, it takes the help of a professional who has experience in behavior modification to make these changes. But taking control of your dog’s social anxiety early will give her the best chance at leading a normal life again.

The importance of socialization for dogs

If you’re not diligent about taking your dog places where she can safely interact with other animals and people, it can lead to restless nights, destructive chewing or even fearfulness that leads to social anxiety disorder.

Socialization is key to helping your pet deal with these types of stressors in the future. Taking her around new dogs, different types of people or other animals on a regular basis can help her feel more comfortable in those situations.

If you’re not sure where to start, talk with your vet about local dog parks and animal shelters that offer monthly events for pet parents and their pets. Even if it only means going around the block a few times a week, these experiences will help your pet learn to cope with the world at large.

Tips for dealing with a dog who has anxiety

If you’re the owner of a dog who suffers from social anxiety disorder, there are some things that can help.

First and foremost, it’s important to know that your pet feels safe with you at all times. If she becomes anxious around other people or animals, try giving her treats when these interactions are happening so that she knows good stuff will come from them.

Then, gradually expose her to different people and animals at home. If she’s scared of your friends, don’t force the issue; instead, try taking her for a walk in a public place where there are plenty of other people and pets around. Gradually introduce new experiences in order to lessen the anxiety they cause.

It’s up to you to help your pet lead the best life she can with social anxiety disorder, and one good way of doing that is building on her positive associations with people and new experiences.

As you can imagine, this takes a lot of time and patience on your part to make sure she’s not too anxious before giving her the special treats or toys that will help her feel better. You may want to enlist the help of family members or friends who are comfortable with dogs so they can play this role when you’re not around.