Dog Anxiety - Signs & How To Help

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Anxiety: humans experience it, and dogs do too. Anxiety is a normal and healthy emotion for dogs to experience from time to time. Dogs may feel anxious if they are startled by a loud noise, or if they are at the vet’s office, for example. There are many situations in which it is normal for a dog to feel anxious. However, some dogs experience high levels of anxiety that can be disruptive to both their life and yours. This may be due to past experiences, their natural temperament, fear, or age. In this article, we’ll delve into signs and symptoms of anxiety and how to manage it.

Signs your dog is anxious

Pay attention to your dog’s body language and look for these signs that your dog is anxious:

  • Excessive panting
  • Excessive barking
  • Destructive behavior
  • Pacing
  • Shaking
  • Drooling
  • Urinating or defecating indoors
  • Compulsive or repetitive behaviors
  • Aggressive” behaviors like lunging or snapping

Again, it is normal for a dog to be anxious, and thus to display these behaviors, in certain situations (with the exception of aggression). However, if you notice these behaviors seem to occur excessively, or you can’t tell what’s causing them, you might have an overly anxious dog on your hands.

How to manage dog anxiety in the short term

  • Thundershirts or other “anxiety wraps”: Thundershirts and similar anxiety wraps apply a constant, mild pressure to the dog’s torso, in a soothing way. (Think of it like swaddling a baby–it’s a similar idea.) Some dogs take very well to these wraps and find them effective, while others don’t. It’s difficult to know ahead of time whether it will be effective for your dog, but you can make a DIY anxiety wrap to see how your dog responds. 
  • Anti anxiety dog beds: There are a few types of dog beds that may help with anxiety: 1) Bolsters, which are raised edges that run along the side of a bed (ideal for curling against or leaning on);  2) burrow beds or “cave-style” beds, which is kind of like a sleeping bag and is ideal for dogs who feel safest under blankets; and 3) donut-shaped fuzzy beds that are simply soft, fluffy and (in theory) comforting. Do they work? It’s tough to say. One of these beds may be comforting to an anxious dog, especially if the dog gets anxious overnight and sleeps in a different room than you do. However, there is no definitive data on their effectiveness. There is little risk associated with them (they’re not going to make your dog’s anxiety worse), but they can get expensive. 
sad dog
  • Dog calming sprays: Pet calming sprays use calming pheromones to help soothe stressed out dogs or cats. You would simply need to spray (or use a diffuser) in the room that your dog is in. But do they work? The jury is still out. Most of the published research has been done on Feliway (cat pheromones) and D.A.P. (Dog Appeasing Pheromone). In several studies, both of these products seemed to help soothe stressed pets under some circumstances. However, most of these studies were funded by the products' maker, so take them with a grain of salt.
  • Calming treats for dogs: A variety of “calming treats” are widely available these days. These treats may contain anything from chamomile, to melatonin, to CBD. (CBD treats are becoming increasingly popular, and some dog parents report that they find them effective, but keep in mind that at this time, there are no FDA-approved CBD products for pets.) Calming treats are another product whose efficacy is not well-known. If they do work for your dog, you will likely still need to use them in combination with behavior modification training.
  • High anxiety dog crates: Some anxious dogs, particularly those with separation anxiety, may benefit from certain types of dog crates. K9 of Mine recommends choosing a crate that is not too big (some anxious dogs like a smaller crate for coziness), cave-like (rather than cage-like), 100% secure, and that contains nothing that can be chewed.

How to reduce dog anxiety in the long term

Exercise: Depending on your dog’s age, breed and health, try to get your dog between 30 minutes and 2 hours of exercise each day. Some dogs may need even more than that. Just like with humans, exercise reduces stress, and can help keep your dog calmer overall. It can also help reduce destructive behaviors like digging and chewing. 

Mental stimulation: Similarly, mental stimulation is great for all dogs, and especially for dogs with anxiety. There are lots of ways to provide your dog with mental stimulation, including games, learning new tricks, and special toys. Try to set aside some time every day specifically for mental stimulation.

happy dog in grass

Training: Ultimately, you’ll want to try to get to the root cause of your dog’s anxiety. The best course of action is to bring in a qualified trainer (the AKC has a helpful guide on how to find a dog trainer) who can help you get to the bottom of the anxiety, and help you get started with counterconditioning your dog. 

Medication: You should consider medication only once you’ve exhausted all the other options, and you’ve talked to your vet about it. Medication should also be used in combination with behavior modification training. For more in-depth information, including the different types of medication, check out our article When And How to Think About Medication for Anxious Dogs.

Having an anxious dog can feel overwhelming, but with the right tools and enough patience, you can help your dog feel comfortable and lead a full life.

Trainer Review of this Article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers.  

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Lindy Langum
Founder - K9 Fun Club
Staff Trainer - Summit Assistance Dogs
Certified in Canine Studies (CSS), NW School of Canine Studies