Anxiety in dogs shows itself in so many different ways that it’s easy for dog owners to pass off the symptoms as either a fault in their dogs character or simply a behaviour problem.
How many times have you heard dog owners complaining about their dog being aggressive when out on a walk, or damaging the house when they are left alone? Of course, you could just have a badly behaved dog, but it’s far more likely that anxiety lies behind both these situations.
When we miss the signs of anxiety in our dogs, we also miss the opportunity to sort out the problem and help our dogs relax and enjoy their life with us. Left unchecked, anxiety behaviour can escalate to the point where we no longer trust our dogs or know how to cope with the problem. Dog Rescues end up with a lot of anxious dogs!
Dog Fear Aggression
While aggression in dogs can be driven by dominance issues, it is more often driven by fear, so if your dog has a tendency to be aggressive towards people or other dogs, look out for other signs of anxiety and if you think that is the cause, take action to reduce their anxiety and the aggression problems will reduce too .
In the wild a dog has 3 methods of defence; flight, freeze or fight and they will use them in that order. They will not risk getting hurt unless it is essential to defend themselves, their pack or their territory. So if your dog is snarling or lunging at any passing dog or person, they are feeling very anxious about their safety.
Many dog owners report that their dog is more aggressive when on the lead than when off, which makes sense when you understand that putting a lead on your dog removes their first means of survival – flight.
Fear aggression is not something to be taken lightly, because what starts with barking and growling can end in a dog bite or dog fight if you don’t react in the right way.
Shy or Timid Dogs
At the other end of the spectrum, anxiety in dogs can show itself as excessively timid or shy behaviour, such as a dog cowering behind you, running away to hide or urinating when approached.
Some dog owners report that their dog is scared of just about everything and they struggle to even get them out of the house, while others dogs can be so scared of people that they tremble at the sound of a human voice.
It is perhaps hard to understand that aggression and the desire to run and hide are both driven by anxiety, but what it does point to is that the character of the dog is likely to determine the anxiety symptoms you see, and they way they deal with the anxiousness they are feeling.
Dog Behaviour Problems
Somewhere in the middle, between aggression and extreme fear there are a heap of other signs of anxiety that are often viewed as dog behaviour problems.
The classic one is barking and howling when left home alone. Another is excessive chewing of everything they can get their teeth into such as furniture, carpets, window frame and doors. Perhaps the least pleasant is your dog urinating or pooping in the house while you’re out.
Physical symptoms in your dog can also be driven by anxiety and can show themselves as pacing the floor, panting and salivating excessively or chewing on their tail or paws until raw.
What to Do About Anxiety in Dogs
If you think your dog is suffering from anxiety and is showing one or a number of the symptoms above, you can take practical steps to do something about it. Anxiety is not a character flaw in your dog, and the symptoms you see is not your dog being badly behaved, but merely a reaction to what they are feeling.
Yes, some dogs are more nervous by character and may always need a little more reassurance, but when you deal with the anxiety you will allow your dog to relax and they will become more confident.
The most effective approach is to show them that they can trust you to be the decision maker because when they trust you, they will look to you first to see how you react and if you are not anxious about a situation, they won’t be either. The best way to gain that trust is for you to learn how to show them that you are the pack leader.