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A Pet Owners Guide to Dog Anxiety: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Katelyn Son

By

Medically reviewed by

Natalie Ragland, DVM

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What is Dog Anxiety?

What is Dog Anxiety

Dog anxiety is when a dog is fearful or worried that something bad will happen. Anxiety is a natural emotion that helps alert to danger. However, if too pronounced, dog anxiety can be a problem.

As problematic dog behavior, anxiety is quite common. According to a 2020 study, 72.5% of dogs show some form of anxiety-like behavior. The most common type of dog anxiety in the study was noise phobias (present in 32% of the dogs).

What Causes Anxiety in Dogs?

Anxiety in dogs can be caused by various reasons – from loud noises to being left alone for a significant amount of time. Here are some of the most common causes of dog anxiety:

  • Loud Noises. Noise anxiety or phobia is a common issue in dogs. The trigger can be any loud noise – fireworks, thunder, vacuum cleaners, construction workers, etc. Dogs with PTSD often exhibit noise phobia.
  • Environmental Changes. Changes in the environment such as thunder and lightning are common anxiety triggers for dogs. In such cases, the dog reacts to changes in static electricity or air pressure.
  • Separation. In dogs, separation anxiety (SA) is fear of being alone (away from a family member or in a kennel). Dogs with separation anxiety are destructive, extremely vocal, and prone to house soiling. Certain dog breeds are more prone to SA.
  • Social Situations. Social anxiety is when a dog feels uncomfortable around other dogs or people. In such situations, the dog will respond by becoming scared, submissive, or even aggressive.
  • Travel. Motion sickness is possible in dogs too. During car rides, dogs feel nauseated and consequently anxious. The anxiety is even bigger if past car rides result in a vet visit or other stressful situation.
  • Medical Condition. Finally, dog anxiety can be caused by an underlying medical problem like hormonal imbalances (thyroid or adrenal gland issues) or painful conditions (arthritis or dental disease). In such cases, the anxiety is secondary.

Why has My Dog Suddenly Become Anxious?

Having anxiety is one of the many ways dogs are similar to their pet parents. Like in humans, dog anxiety is a normal feeling. However, the dog should be able to cope with it with a bit of reassurance.

For example, it is quite understandable that your pup may be anxious if meeting people for the first time or encountering a new situation. It is also normal if the dog’s anxiety is due to previous traumatic events or phobias.

However, if dog anxiety is not addressed correctly, or if there is an underlying trauma at play, anxiety could become a serious problem that takes time and energy to manage. Dog anxiety may increase as the dog get older and becomes more dependent on the owner.

What Dog Breeds Have the Most Anxiety?

What Dog Breeds Have the Most Anxiety

Collies, Shepherds, Spaniels, Hounds, and Retrievers are particularly prone to dog anxiety. Let’s take a closer look at each anxiety-susceptible dog breed.

  •  Border Collie. Often described as the adrenaline junkie of the canine world, the Border Collie thrives when active and surrounded by people. Therefore, members of the breed are likely to develop separation anxiety.
  • German Shepherd. German shepherds are essentially herding dogs and enjoy exercise, a lot of company, and spending time outdoors. If left alone or without physical or mental stimulation, they are likely to become anxious.
  • Cocker Spaniel. This hunting dog loves being engaged and active. Spending too much time indoors and without company is a known stress trigger for members of this breed. Spaniels also tend to become very clingy.
  • Basset Hound. Despite their droopy eyes and goofiness, Basset Hounds are very social dogs. If lacking socialization and attention, they often develop situational and separation anxiety. As a result, Basset Hounds can be destructive.
  • Labrador Retriever. This popular family dog hates being left when alone or confined. The Labrador Retriever thrives on human affection and physical activity. Therefore, it can get bored easily and become anxious.

What are the Signs of Anxiety in Dogs?

Destructive behavior, excess vocalization, and hiding are among the most common signs of anxiety in dogs. Here is a more in-depth list of the signs of dog anxiety:

  • Aggression. If your dog has become aggressive without a trigger, they could be anxious. In milder cases, dog aggression can manifest as increased irritability.  
  • Vocalization. Dogs bark to try and establish a presence. Excessive barking and similar forms of vocalization (crying, whining) are common in anxious dogs.
  • Compulsive/Repetitive Behavior. Some dogs also show compulsive behavior like pacing, walking in circles, or repetitive licking of the paws.
  • Depression. Anxious dogs may fall into depression and lose interest in everything. This is more common in older dogs and dogs with mobility issues.
  • Destructive Behavior. In contrast to depression, some dogs might become destructive. Chewing, digging, and scratching are common examples of destructive behavior in dogs.
  • Excessive Drooling. Drooling is a known symptom of anxiety. A severely anxious dog is likely to produce excess saliva and drool a lot.
  • Escapism Efforts. If your dog is unusually trying to escape, it might be because they are in a state of panic. Escapism efforts are a common sign of anxiety in your dog.
  • Panting. Panting is a sign of anxiety and in simple words, it could be because your dog needs to blow off steam and excess energy.
  • Pacing. Pacing is another sign of anxiety in dogs. Pacing or restlessness is tiring for the dog and annoying for the owner to watch.
  • Trembling or Shaking. Dogs with severe anxiety can even show symptoms of trembling or shaking. This is especially common during fireworks and thunderstorms.
  • Housebreaking Issues. Urinating or defecating inside the house in potty-trained dogs is a common sign of anxiety.
  • Refusing Food. Dogs are in a fight-or-flight state of mind when anxious. As a result, they might refuse food or in more severe cases, even water.
  • Body Language Changes. The dog’s body language (tail-tucked between the legs and ears held back) can result from an anxiety episode.

How do Vets Diagnose Dog Anxiety?

When a dog presents with signs of anxiety, the vet will perform a thorough physical exam. The goal of the exam is to rule out anxiety-causing medical conditions.

If the vet determines there is nothing physically wrong with the dog, they recommend seeing a veterinary behaviorist for a more specialized behavioral assessment.

The veterinary behaviorist will work with the dog to check if it has anxiety and the type of anxiety. Based on the information the behaviorist gathers, they will suggest an individually tailored treatment plan.

How can I Help My Dog With Anxiety?

high anxiety dog crate

There is no single best way of helping dogs cope with anxiety. Every dog and every anxiety type is different.

For example, some dogs respond to pheromone diffusers and collars (Adaptil), while others need anti-anxiety medication. There are also anxious dogs that need behavior modification like desensitization and counterconditioning and dogs that calm down simply by wearing a thundershirt.

Pet owners must work with their veterinarians and veterinary behaviorists to find the best management plan for their dogs’ anxieties.

Dog Anxiety Medication

When is a medication used for dog anxiety?

Anti anxiety meds for dogs are used in severe cases of anxiety. They can also be used as a temporary solution while the dog is going through training or behavior modification. Common anxiety medications for dogs are Benadryl®, Xanax®, Sileo®, Prozac®, and Valium®.

What are the benefits of using dog anxiety medication?

  • Improve the dog’s quality of life
  • Make the dog more interactive and relaxed
  • Lesser accidents around your home
  • No destructive behaviors and excessive barking

What are the risks of using dog anxiety medication?

  • Some anti-anxiety medications cause serious side effects
  • Not all dogs respond well to dog anxiety medications
  • Prolonged use of certain meds can cause dependency
  • Certain anti-anxiety drugs cannot be used with other medications

Anxiety Supplements for Dogs

When are supplements used for dog anxiety?

Unlike prescription medications, anxiety supplements for dogs are sold over-the-counter and can be used on a regular basis. However, supplements are not as potent as medication. Anti-anxiety supplements contain natural herbs and extracts like CBD, passionflower, chamomile, L-theanine, and L-tryptophan.  

What are the benefits of anxiety supplements for dogs?

  • Supports calmness and relaxation
  • Contain safe and natural ingredients
  • Available in easy-to-use forms (chews and treats)
  • Do not require a veterinary prescription

What are the risks of using anxiety supplements for dogs?

  • Finding the right dose may take time
  • Do not work for all dogs, and types of anxiety

Behavior Modification for Dogs

When is behavior modification used for dog anxiety?

Behavior modification is a relatively new tool dog trainers and behaviorists use to manage anxiety in dogs. It includes two basic techniques – desensitization and counterconditioning. Dog separation anxiety training is based on behavior modification. The process is gradual but pays off in the long run.

What are the benefits of behavior modification for dog anxiety?

  • Improves the bond with your dog
  • Offers mental stimulation to your dog
  • Proven effective for most dogs

What are the risks of using behavior modification for dog anxiety?

  • Often requires hiring a professional dog trainer
  • The training process is relatively long

Dog Anxiety Vest

When are anxiety vests used for dogs?

The dog anxiety vest is a specific type of vest designed to relieve stress and anxiety. The concept is that applying pressure to certain body parts promotes calmness and relaxation. There are many different brands offering different types of calming vests for dogs.

What are the benefits of dog anxiety vests?

  • Fast-acting and efficient solution
  • No side effects and risks
  • Readily available and affordable tool

Are dog anxiety vests safe?

Yes, dog anxiety vests are safe. However, some dogs have a hard time getting used to them. Plus, wearing a vest is not a solution for dogs with generalized anxiety.

Best Seller
Honest Paws Calm Vest for Dogs
10/10Our Score
  • It’s a drug-free anxiety solution similar to an anxiety shirt that’s easy to put on, take off, and adjust thanks to simple hook-and-loop closures on the chest and under the belly.
  • This vest is designed to apply gentle pressure to help calm your pup and alleviate anxiety.
  • This vest is machine washable for easy cleaning. 

Dog Anxiety Crate

When are anxiety crates used for dogs?

The dog crate is misunderstood pet product. However, if used responsibly, it can be a helpful tool for managing dog anxiety. The high anxiety dog crate is essentially a dog crate made of durable materials. Crates are good for calming dogs down as long as they perceive them as safe places.

What are the benefits of dog anxiety crates?

  • Highly-effective when used correctly
  • Helps your dog feel at home
  • Simple yet efficient and affordable solution

Are dog anxiety crates safe?

Yes, the high anxiety dog crate is safe. However, to work for anxiety management, the dog needs to be crate trained. Crate training requires time and patience.

Best Seller
Otaid Heavy Duty Indestructible Dog Crate
9.4/10Our Score
  • Upgraded 20-gauge steel and reinforced 0.5 inch diameter steel tubes. Much stronger than fine wire cages. This is a very sturdy large dog cage, even for strong, powerful and aggressive dogs.
  • Four 360 degrees rolling casters allow you to easily move the kennel around your home,Two of the wheels can be locked to keep it firmly in place.
  • Featuring a multi-layer, protective hammer-tone green coating that resists rust and corrosion so this dog cage is suitable for both indoor and outdoor use.

Calming Bed for Dog Anxiety

When are calming beds used for dog anxiety?

Calming dog beds are specifically designed to alleviate stress in anxious dogs. They are very comfortable and snuggle around the dog’s body, thus providing a sense of security. Calming dog beds are readily available on the market and work best when combined with other anti-anxiety methods.

What are the benefits of calming beds for dog anxiety?

  • Offer a side-effect-free solution
  • Keep the dog both safe and comfy
  • Affordable and easily available
  • Does not require training or effort to use

Are calming beds for dog anxiety safe?

Yes, the calming dog bed is completely safe for dogs. The only thing pet parents need to do is keep the dog bed clean through occasional washing.

Best Seller
Furhaven Plush Orthopedic Sofa
10/10Our Score
  • The bolstered L-shaped corner sofa design promotes ultimate comfort and security, providing high-loft orthopedic cushion support as well as a super cozy nestling and burrowing space for dogs and cats.
  • The main sleep surface is lined with cuddly soft, plush faux fur, while the supportive bolsters are wrapped in easy-care suede; both materials are gentle on noses and paws for enhanced snuggling and burrowing comfort.
  • The egg crate orthopedic foam base helps cushion pressure points and improve air circulation, while the fluff-filled bolster railings support the neck, back, hips, and joints; both help to ease discomfort and encourage restful sleep.

How can I Prevent Dog Anxiety?

How can I Prevent Dog Anxiety

As a dog owner, there are several things you can do to prevent dog anxiety. Here are some helpful tips on how to keep your dog stress-free:

  • Avoid Triggers. Obviously, the best thing you can do is avoid potential anxiety triggers. Sadly, this is not always possible. However, it helps if you can minimize the exposure.
  • Start Training. Dog training can go a long way in shaping your dog’s behavior. If training your dog is more than you can handle, you can hire a professional dog trainer.
  • Regular Exercise. Physical activity is vital for preventing dog anxiety. Plus, regular exercise will keep your dog in shape and prevent obesity-related health conditions.
  • Mental Stimulation. The dog’s mind also needs exercise to stay sharp and healthy. You can prevent anxiety by providing interactive and puzzle toys for your dog.
  • Socialization. Socialization can also help prevent anxiety. Enroll your puppy in a doggy daycare and make sure it meets new people and finds itself in different situations.