Understanding and Addressing Dog Anxiety:

Expert Tips for Pet Owners

Dogs experience a wide range of emotions similar to humans, one of which is anxiety. Just like us, when dogs feel anxious, it can greatly impact their well-being. Coping with dog anxiety can be challenging as it can hinder their ability to learn, respond to commands, and even lead to problematic behaviors such as destructive tendencies or aggression towards strangers.

What is dog anxiety?

Canine anxiety refers to a state in which a dog experiences fear or worry about potential threats. While anxiety serves as a natural warning mechanism for detecting danger, excessive dog anxiety can pose issues.


Many wonder why suddenly their dog has become Anxious or has always been anxious?

Anxiety is among the various traits that dogs share with their owners. Just as in humans, experiencing anxiety is a natural occurrence for dogs. Nonetheless, with some reassurance, dogs should be capable of managing it effectively.

It's notable that numerous training challenges seen in adult dogs trace back to insufficient socialization during their puppyhood. Behaviors such as aggression towards other dogs, fear of skateboards, and aversion to unfamiliar humans or grooming could have been alleviated through adequate socialization. Dogs lacking proper socialization are prone to developing anxiety issues. Additionally, poor breeding practices can exacerbate anxiety in dogs within certain environmental contexts.

What are some triggers or causes of anxiety?

-Sensitivity to Loud Sounds: Dogs commonly experience noise anxiety or phobia triggered by various loud noises such as fireworks, thunderstorms, vacuum cleaners, or loud trucks.

-Fear of Separation: In dog behavior training, "separation anxiety" refers to a condition where a dog experiences a high level of distress or anxiety when separated from its owner or when left alone. Dogs with separation anxiety may exhibit various behaviors such as excessive vocalization, destructive chewing, pacing, urinating or defecating indoors, and attempts to escape. Separation anxiety can have a significant impact on both the dog's well-being and the owner's ability to leave the dog alone without causing distress. Dog with SA can injure themselves trying to escape.

-Discomfort in Social Settings: Social anxiety in dogs occurs when they feel uneasy around other dogs or people, often resulting in fear, submissiveness, or aggression. Usually we would observe anxiety around unfamiliar humans, dogs or any novel situations.

-Anxiety During Travel: Dogs may experience motion sickness and subsequent anxiety during car rides, particularly if previous experiences have involved vet visits or other stressful events. Example would be first car ride was to a vets office that resulted in a bad experience.

-Response to Environmental Changes: Dogs can be triggered by environmental changes like thunder and lightning, reacting to shifts in static electricity or air pressure. Anxiety can also be caused by trigger stacking. (See triggered link above)

Article on Thunderstorms, Change in barometric pressure and static electricity

-Underlying Medical Causes: Dog anxiety can stem from underlying medical issues such as pain or hormonal imbalances, with anxiety acting as a secondary symptom. Good rule of thumb is to always rule out medical first with your vet. Also see: How pets health affects their behavior

Recognizing early signs of anxiety is important

While it's never too late to assist your dog, addressing anxiety becomes more challenging the longer it persists. It's crucial to intervene promptly rather than allowing your dog to endure prolonged distress. Recognizing early signs of stress, such as heavy panting, lip licking or pulled back ears, through understanding dog body language is essential. Whether redirecting your dog's attention or altering the environment, swift action can alleviate discomfort and prevent escalation of emotions. Just like any undesired behaviors we observe, always good to address them quickly.

Here are some signs of anxiety

  • Aggression: Unprovoked aggression in dogs may indicate underlying anxiety, sometimes manifesting as heightened irritability in milder cases. See Different Types of Dog Aggression
  • Body Language Changes: Anxiety episodes in dogs often coincide with changes in body language, such as a tucked tail and ears pinned back, heavy panting, reflecting their emotional state. See more on body language
  • Compulsive/Repetitive Behavior: Some dogs exhibit compulsive behaviors such as pacing, circling, or repetitive paw licking when experiencing anxiety.
  • Destructive Behavior: Anxious dogs may engage in destructive behaviors like chewing, digging, or scratching as a response to anxiety. If your dog is destroying your home it's important to distinguish between anxiety or boredom.
  • Excessive Drooling: Anxiety often triggers excess saliva production in dogs, resulting in noticeable drooling.
  • Housebreaking Issues: Anxiety can lead to housebreaking problems, such as urinating or defecating indoors, even in dogs previously trained.
  • Panting: Panting is a sign of anxiety in dogs, potentially indicating a need to release excess energy and tension.
  • Pacing: Restlessness and pacing are typical signs of anxiety in dogs, reflecting discomfort and stress.
  • Trembling or Shaking: Dogs may tremble or shake when experiencing severe anxiety, particularly during events like fireworks or thunderstorms.
  • Vocalization: Excessive barking and other vocalizations like crying or whining are common signs of anxiety in dogs, as they attempt to assert their presence.
  • Refusing Food: Anxious dogs may enter a fight-or-flight mode, resulting in refusal to eat or drink, particularly in severe cases. A great measure while training too if your dog refuses high value treats/food your dog might be to stressed out. ( add distance/threshold).


Here are some tips to help your dogs that suffer with anxiety:

Assisting dogs in coping with anxiety varies based on individual differences in both the dog and the type of anxiety they experience.

For instance, while some dogs may benefit from pheromone diffusers and collars like Sentry, others may require anti-anxiety medication. Additionally, certain dogs may respond well to behavior modification techniques such as desensitization and counterconditioning, while others may find relief simply by wearing a tight fitted shirt.

It's essential for pet owners to collaborate closely with their veterinarians, veterinary behaviorists or behavior consultants to develop a tailored management plan that effectively addresses their dogs' specific anxieties.

bailey tanner teaching settle for anxiety
When to use anxiety medication for dogs?

A veterinarian may advise the use of anxiety medication for dogs in cases where the dog's anxiety severely affects their well-being or poses risks to themselves or others. Combining medication with behavior modification and training is typically suggested for optimal outcomes. See above (some triggers of anxiety) for some common situations where anxiety medication might be considered.

Are anxiety supplements any good?

Anxiety supplements for dogs can be helpful in certain cases, particularly for mild to moderate anxiety or as part of a comprehensive treatment plan alongside behavior modification techniques. These supplements often contain natural ingredients such as herbs, vitamins, and amino acids that are believed to have calming effects on dogs.

However, it's important to note that the effectiveness of anxiety supplements can vary greatly depending on the individual dog and the specific formulation of the supplement. While some dogs may show improvement with these supplements, others may not experience significant benefits.

Before starting any anxiety supplement regimen for your dog, it's essential to consult with a veterinarian. They can provide guidance on whether supplements are appropriate for your dog's specific needs and can recommend the most suitable products

Building confidence in your dog always helps with fear and anxiety

Building confidence in a dog involves positive reinforcement training, gradual exposure to new experiences, and providing opportunities for success. Engaging in interactive play, creating a safe environment, and socializing with other dogs and people also contribute to their confidence. Being a calm and benevolent leader, avoiding punishment-based training, and maintaining consistency and patience are essential. Through these strategies, dogs can develop resilience and feel empowered to navigate the world with confidence.

What is Desensitization and Counterconditioniong?

Both of these techniques are used every day during interactions with our pets, usually without us realizing.  When we ask visitors to give our dog a treat when coming in, we are counter-conditioning our dog to like visitors.  By leaving the harness on a dog that hates collars, we are desensitizing them to the feeling of pressure around their neck.  Essentially, it is a way to work with a dog to change how they feel about a stimulus by appealing to normal behavioral patterns.

As Susan Freidman once said, “Desensitization only gets you to neutral.” (E., 2016).  When desensitizing, we take an object that causes a strong emotional reaction from a dog and we slowly introduce it until the emotional reaction no longer happens.  With counter-conditioning, we pair a good stimulus with a stimulus the dog doesn’t like in order to create a positive emotional reaction to something that once scared the dog.

The major difference between the two is, when desensitizing, the goal is not necessarily to create positive association with a stimulus, but to stop a reaction to the stimulus from happening.  With counterconditioning, the goal is to create a positive emotional association.  Both can create a change in reactions in a short period of time, but have the best results when introduced slowly.

For more details click here

Teach alone time and create a safe calm place for your dog

Start with short periods of time away and gradually increase it. This helps your dog get used to being alone without becoming anxious. Use treats and positive reinforcement when your dog remains calm during these short absences. A safe place can be a crate, play pen or anywhere quiet in your home.

Here are some articles for more info on alone time:

How do I teach my dog not to continuously bark and destroy my home when I leave him at home alone?

Crate Training

When not to feel guilty about management training


Teach your dog to settle and relax on a towel or rug

Puppies and adult dogs often exhibit high levels of excitement when encountering new environments or meeting unfamiliar people or animals. This exuberance can hinder their ability to maintain calm and well-mannered behavior, leading to unwanted actions such as excessive barking, jumping, pulling, and disobedience.

Fortunately, with the use of a towel or rug, it's feasible to train your dog to relax and settle down in any setting. Whether you're at a café, visiting a friend's house, or out in public, the towel/mat serves as a designated spot where your dog can confidently lay down, unwind, and even doze off.

Through consistent training, your furry companion learns to associate the towel/mat with a relaxed, down position, resembling their cozy posture on the sofa at home.

As they become proficient in settling on their designated spot, they not only grasp the concept of staying calm and composed in various environments but also begin to seek out and appreciate this behavior, even in bustling locations like shopping areas, boardwalks, parks, restaurants, or amidst other dogs. Also see: Setting your dog up for success with self control

teaching dog to settle
How does punishment relate to anxiety?

Punishment in dog training is a hot topic and is always debated on the pros and cons. For this article we will just say, if used wrong it can definitely cause more anxiety and fear. Therefore be careful if you intend on using punishment in your training. Here is an article on the possible fallout


Lets summarize on how to help or prevent anxiety in our dogs:
  • Avoid Triggers-Hard to do when on walks but try to use visual barriers like tree's and cars.
  • Recognize Early Signs of Anxiety (see above)
  • Check with Vet on meds or Supplements
  • Start Training
  • Socialize

Also add in some mental stimulation which many owners forget

Mental stimulation for dogs offers numerous benefits for their overall well-being and behavior. Firstly, it helps prevent boredom and alleviates stress, reducing the likelihood of destructive behaviors such as chewing or excessive barking. Additionally, mental stimulation exercises engage a dog's cognitive abilities, keeping their mind sharp and active. This can enhance learning and problem-solving skills, leading to improved obedience and responsiveness to commands (building confidence). Furthermore, mental stimulation activities provide an outlet for natural instincts and energy, promoting physical and emotional health. Overall, mental stimulation is a vital aspect of a dog's enrichment and contributes to a happier, more fulfilled life.

dog enrichment

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