Can dogs suffer from anxiety

Table of Contents

10 Medications for Dog Anxiety

Reviewed for accuracy on July 17, 2019, by Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM

Dogs can suffer from different types of anxiety, some of which can be truly debilitating. As pet parents, we want to help, but we’re faced with many confusing treatment and medication options.

Your veterinarian paired with an experienced dog trainer that focuses on positive reinforcement are your best resources. Once your veterinarian has given your dog a clean bill of health, they might prescribe a medication for dog anxiety as part of your pet’s treatment.

Using Dog Anxiety Medications Effectively

No matter which medication your veterinarian chooses, you will also need to put behavior-modification protocols in place in order to help your dog work through their anxiety.

Moderate to severe anxiety often responds best to a prescription anti-anxiety medication and behavior-modification training. These are not quick fixes, however.

Dogs usually need to be treated for about four weeks before the effectiveness of the medication becomes fully evident, and treatment needs to continue for at least two months after an adequate response is observed.

Some dogs can eventually be weaned off of anti-anxiety medications while others require lifelong treatment.

List of Anxiety Medications for Dogs

Here are the most commonly prescribed medications used to treat dog anxiety.

Jump to a specific medication:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)

  • Amitriptyline

  • Buspirone

  • Clomipramine (Clomicalm)

  • Dexmedetomidine (Sileo)

  • Diazepam (Valium)

  • Fluoxetine (Reconcile or Prozac)

  • Lorazepam (Ativan)

  • Paroxetine (Paxil)

  • Sertraline (Zoloft)

Alprazolam (Xanax)

Type of Anxiety: Moderate to severe situational anxiety

Alprazolam is often prescribed to help dogs who become anxious during thunderstorms, but it may also be used for other types of situational anxiety.

It is a member of the benzodiazepine class of sedatives, which work by depressing activity in certain parts of the central nervous system (the exact mechanism of action hasn’t been identified). It is typically used as an anti-anxiety medication, sedative, muscle relaxer or suppressor of seizure activity.

The drug is most effective when given at the earliest sign of anxiety or even beforehand, if possible.

Alprazolam is dispensed in the form of tablets that are given with or without food.

Amitriptyline

Type of Anxiety: Separation anxiety or more generalized anxious tendencies

Amitriptyline may be given to help dogs with separation anxiety or more generalized anxious tendencies.

It is a tricyclic antidepressant medication that works, in part, by increasing the levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, which affect mood. It should not be used with pets that have diabetes.

Amitriptyline is dispensed in the form of tablets that are given with or without food. Dogs should be gradually tapered off of amitriptyline if they have been on the medication for more than a week or two.

Buspirone

Type of Anxiety: Generalized anxiety

Buspirone is typically prescribed to help dogs who become anxious in social situations—for instance, in their interactions with other dogs.

Buspirone is a member of the azaperone class of anxiolytics. This medication requires continued use to be effective, so it is not helpful for dogs that suffer from situational anxieties like thunderstorm phobias.

It appears to work as a mild anti-anxiety medication because it, in part, activates serotonin receptors within the brain.

Buspirone is dispensed in the form of tablets that are given with or without food.

Clomipramine (Clomicalm)

Type of Anxiety: Separation anxiety and situational anxiety

Clomipramine is the first FDA-approved treatment for separation anxiety in dogs. It can also be prescribed for other types of anxiety.

It is a tricyclic antidepressant medication that works in the same way as amitriptyline. Several weeks of use are needed in order for a therapeutic effect to be seen—up to two months is needed to determine whether it is beneficial or helpful for a dog.

Clomipramine is dispensed in the form of tablets that are given with or without food.

Dexmedetomidine (Sileo)

Type of Anxiety: Situational anxiety (noise phobias and aversions)

Sileo has been approved by the FDA to help dogs with noise aversion.

It is an alpha-2 adrenoceptor agonist that works, in part, by depressing activity in certain parts of the brain, which results in reduced anxiety levels, among other effects.

The drug works best when given at the earliest sign that a dog is becoming anxious or before the triggering noise event, if possible.

Sileo is dispensed in a multidose tube as a transmucosal gel. The medication shouldn’t be swallowed—it is absorbed through the mucus membranes when applied between the cheek and gums.

You will need to wear waterproof disposable gloves when handling the syringe and administering the medication.

Diazepam (Valium)

Type of Anxiety: Situational anxiety

Diazepam has a variety of uses in dogs, but it is most effective as an anti-anxiety medication, muscle relaxant, appetite stimulant and seizure-control drug. For anxiety, diazepam is used to help with panic disorders like severe noise aversion or phobia.

Whenever possible, diazepam should be given to dogs in advance of an event that is known to cause anxiety. The drug can also be given at the earliest sign that a dog is becoming anxious.

It is a member of the benzodiazepine class of sedatives, which work by depressing activity in certain parts of the central nervous system (the exact mechanism of action hasn’t been identified).

To treat anxiety, diazepam is usually dispensed in the form of oral tablets or liquid (given with or without food) but may also be given by injection or via other routes.

Fluoxetine (Reconcile or Prozac)

Type of Anxiety: Separation anxiety

Reconcile is FDA-approved for the treatment of separation anxiety in dogs. It can also be prescribed for other types of anxiety and behavior issues (compulsive chewing, circling and self-mutilation, and even aggression).

Fluoxetine is a member of the selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class of medications, which work by increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.

In order for this medication to be effective, it should be used in conjunction with a behavior-modification program.

Fluoxetine is available in the form of tablets, capsules or liquid to be given orally, either with or without food.

Lorazepam (Ativan)

Type of Anxiety: Situational anxiety

Whenever possible, lorazepam should be given to dogs in advance of an event that is known to cause anxiety. The drug can also be given at the earliest sign that a dog is becoming anxious.

It is a member of the benzodiazepine class of sedatives, which work by depressing activity in certain parts of the central nervous system (the exact mechanism of action hasn’t been identified).

To treat anxiety, lorazepam is usually dispensed in the form of tablets or liquid (given with or without food) but may also be given by injection or via other routes.

Paroxetine (Paxil)

Type of Anxiety: Generalized anxiety and anxiety-related behaviors

Paroxetine can be prescribed for a variety of anxiety-related behaviors, including aggression, fear of noises, and self-mutilation (pulling fur out or licking skin compulsively).

It is a member of the SSRI class of medications, which work by increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.

The drug is available in the form of tablets or liquid to be given orally, either with or without food.

Sertraline (Zoloft)

Type of Anxiety: Generalized anxiety and anxiety-related behaviors

Sertraline can be prescribed for a variety of anxiety-related issues, like separation anxiety, thunderstorm phobia and fear-based aggression.

It is a member of the SSRI class of medications that work by increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.

The drug is available in the form of tablets or liquid to be given orally, either with or without food. It may be beneficial to taper dogs off of sertraline if they have been on the medication for two months or longer.

By Jennifer Coates, DVM

Featured Image: iStock.com/Photography by Adri

You know your dog better than anyone else. You know when she’s relaxed, when she’s bored, and when she’s happy …

… But can you also tell when she’s stressed out?

Dog anxiety is common. It can stop your dog from enjoying normal doggie activities … like going for a walk around the neighborhood. So it’s important to find a way to help her relax and have fun!

Do you know what to do to calm your dog when she’s anxious? I’m sharing below some great natural remedies you can try. They’ll help you avoid pharmaceutical meds that have some bad side effects.

But first, some background on dog anxiety in general.

Common Types Of Dog Anxiety

There are 2 types of dog anxiety, behavioral and situational.

Behavioral anxiety is when your dog has ongoing anxiety about something.

Separation anxiety is an example of behavioural anxiety. It’s the most common anxiety in dogs. Some experts estimate that about 14% of dogs suffer from it. These dogs are afraid of being at home alone or separated from you in any way.

There can be many causes of behavioral anxiety. Past trauma or abuse can cause your dog to react or act out.

Situational anxiety is when your dog is afraid of something specific, like storms or other loud noises, car rides, or going to the vet or groomer.

Note: Many dogs also suffer chronic fear or anxiety as a side effect of over-vaccination, especially with rabies. If you think this is your dog’s case, it’s best to consult a homeopathic vet to help treat her condition. Find one at theavh.org. Most will do phone consults.

Signs Of Dog Anxiety

Sometimes it’s easy to tell when your dog is anxious. Other times you may have to pay extra close attention.

These are some of the most common signs of dog anxiety:

  • Chewing or destructive behavior
  • Barking or crying
  • Restlessness, pacing
  • Excessive licking
  • Aggression
  • Loss of appetite, refusal to eat
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Excessive panting

What About Conventional Treatments?

If you go to a conventional vet, you’ll likely leave with a bottle of anti-anxiety medication. This includes meds like Valium, Xanax, ProZac, Paxil or Lorazepam. You’ve probably heard of these – many are human meds.

Most dogs have to take these drugs for several weeks before there’s a change. But that doesn’t mean the treatment stops after that.

Some dogs can eventually stop taking them, but others need life-long treatment.

And these drugs come with a long list of adverse side effects.

Some of them include:

  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Lethargy and/or drowsiness
  • Affected learning and memory
  • Increased urination
  • Upset stomach, diarrhea, vomiting
  • Increased aggression and anxiety
  • Damage to the liver
  • Seizures
  • Insomnia
  • Skin conditions

Some drugs can even result in withdrawal symptoms if used long-term and stopped abruptly.

Luckily there are lots of natural alternatives you can safely use to calm your dog and help her deal with her anxiety.

6 Natural Solutions For Dog Anxiety

#1 CBD Oil

The use of CBD oil is exploding, especially among dog owners, because of its many benefits. It helps with pain management, seizures, even cancer …

And it’s also showing great results when used to manage dog anxiety.

How does it work?

It’s all about the endocannabinoid system.

The body has cannabinoid receptors throughout the central nervous system. Your dog’s body releases endocannabinoid chemicals on its own. These connect with the receptors that stimulate her natural ability to create serotonin. Serotonin is a natural mood stabilizer.

Research shows that CBD increases this ability. It interacts with the nervous system to soothe and calm anxiety.

CBD is great for situational anxiety because it works fairly quickly. For example, if a storm is coming or you’re heading out in the car, give her CBD oil 30-60 minutes before. This will help calm her down and keep her relaxed.

To give it to your dog, follow the dosing instructions on the bottle. You can add it to your dog’s food or place it straight in her mouth.

#2 Herbs

There are several herbs that can help soothe your dog’s anxiousness.

  • Chamomile – this gentle herb is a powerful sedative – there’s a reason people drink it before bed. It can help your dog relax and soothe her stomach when she’s nervous.

Use it if your dog gets nervous in the car and gets car sick.

  • Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) – this is the most widely recognized herbal sedative. It’s safe and gentle and calms the nerves. It also promotes physical relaxation.

Use it for stressful events or if your dog gets hysterical or overexcitable.

  • St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) – a safe, effective alternative to anti-depressant drugs.

Use it for separation or fear-based anxiety (thunderstorms or fireworks).

All three of these herbs can be made into a tea, used as a tincture, or as a capsule.

If giving a tea, pour over food or into your dog’s water. If giving a tincture, add to water or food or put directly in her mouth.

Here are the general rules for dosing:

1-20lbs

  • Tea – 1/4 cup, 1-3 times per day
  • Capsules – 1/2 – 1 capsule, 1-3 times daily
  • Tincture – 1-4 drops, 2-3 times daily

20-50lbs

  • Tea – 1/4 – 1/2 cup, 1-3 times per day
  • Capsules – 1 or 2 capsules, 2-3 times daily
  • Tincture – 5-10 drops, 2-3 times daily

50-100lbs

  • Tea – 1/2 – 1 cup, 1-3 times per day
  • Capsules – 1 or 2 capsules, 3-4 times daily
  • Tincture – 10-20 drops, 2-3 times daily

Herbs aren’t just for anxiety. Find out more ways to heal your dog with herbs here.

#3 Homeopathic Remedies

Homeopathic remedies are effective because many are very specific. They’re also very safe.

Pinpoint what’s causing the fear and use one of these remedies for fast relief.

  • Aconite 30C – a good remedy to start with. It’s good for fear in general and can be given every fifteen minutes during a storm. Continue only until you see improvement. If you don’t see improvement, try another remedy.
  • Phosphorus 30C – good for all noise phobias. It can be given once or twice a day.
  • Pulsatilla nigicans 6C or 30C – a good remedy for separation anxiety.
  • Borax 6C – this remedy is specific for fears of thunderstorms and can be given twice a day.
  • Gelsemium 6C or 30C – this remedy is often used for separation anxiety. There may even be diarrhea or involuntary urination when under extreme stress with this dog.

To give these remedies, mix 3 of the little pellets in a glass of filtered water (try your best not to touch them with your hands). Mix them with a spoon and give your dog a few spoonfuls (or use a clean dropper to put some on her gums). If she’s really resistant to the spoon or dropper idea, you can also just put the pellets in her water bowl.

Start by giving three doses, 12 hours apart, then stop and wait for changes before dosing again.

#4 Bach Flower Essences

About 75 years ago, English physician Edward Bach made an exciting discovery. He found that the essence of certain flowers helps restore emotional balance.

And that makes them perfect for relieving stress and calming down an anxious dog. (It’s also good for your own stress too).

These remedies are gentle, non-toxic and can’t be overdosed.

You can use individual essences that fit your dog’s specific fears or you can use Rescue Remedy, a pre-made blend. It’s available at most health stores.

The Bach Flower Rescue Remedy contains five Bach Flower Remedies:

  • Star of Bethlehem
  • Rock Rose
  • Cherry Plum
  • Impatiens
  • Clematis

It can help in all kinds of stressful situations. Use it to relieve stress before going to the vet or the groomer. It’s also good for separation anxiety or for situations you know will cause fear.

The version that’s made for pets is preserved in glycerin, rather than brandy.

#5 Essential Oils

Essential oils like lavender and violet leaf are great for calming anxiety.

Grab your diffuser and try these blends from aromatherapist Joy Musacchio:

  1. Separation Anxiety: Neroli, Violet Leaf, Vetiver, Lavender, Rose hydrosol.
  2. Fear of Thunder and Fireworks: Frankincense, Rose Otto, Hops, and Cornflower hydrosol.
  3. General Anxiety: Frankincense, Violet Leaf, Linden Blossom, Roman Chamomile, Hemp.

For each recipe, combine 5 drops of each oil for a stock blend. When the recipe calls for a hydrosol, mix 5 drops of each oil into 2 oz of the hydrosol.

Note: When you diffuse essential oils, make sure your dog has a way to leave the room if the oils make her uncomfortable.

Caution: Don’t use essential oils directly on your dog’s skin or fur. Never allow your dog to ingest oils in any way. Don’t ever use undiluted essential oils on your dog.

Want to know more about using essential oils safely? Here are 5 steps.

#6 Hydrosols

Essential oils are very powerful for dogs so hydrosols can be a much gentler option. Hydrosols are left over from the essential oil making process. They’re far less concentrated than the essential oils and considered safer for dogs.

Hydrosol Calming Spray

This calming spray from canine herbalist Rita Hogan is great for general anxiety. The chamomile and lavender hydrosols in it will soothe and calm your dog.

Ingredients

  • ½ oz neroli (Citrus aurantium) hydrosol
  • ½ oz blue chamomile (Matricaria recutita) hydrosol
  • 5 drops lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil

Mix the ingredients together in a spray bottle. Shake before using and mist your dog. Refrigerate for up to six months.

Dog anxiety is common, and if your dog suffers, no matter the cause, it can impact her quality of life (and your own). Thanks to these natural solutions, you can help her get some relief.

7 Ways to Relieve Your Dog’s Anxiety

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A car ride. A clap of thunder. The dreaded vacuum cleaner. Any of these triggers might turn your pup into an anxious wreck. And it’s not easy to see your pal so distressed: When a dog panics, “every single muscle in their body contracts simultaneously, like they’re having a seizure while standing up,” says veterinarian Marty Becker, founder of Fear Free, a program that trains veterinary professionals to create a more calming experience for their patients.

Noise phobias can be especially challenging, says Becker, because the anxiety may snowball. Maybe it starts with fireworks on the Fourth of July, for example; then the dog becomes afraid of loud bangs on TV, honking horns, the microwave.

But there is hope for high-strung hounds: “There are simple, safe, and sure-fire solutions so pets don’t have to suffer,” Becker assures. Below are seven strategies to help nervous dogs relax. Because the anxiety response can be complex, it may take some time to figure out which therapy, or combination of therapies, offers your furry friend the most relief.

Consult a trainer

In some cases, you can “train the dog out of having the reaction in the first place,” says San Diego-based veterinarian Jessica Vogelsang. The traditional approach, she says, is desensitization, which entails gradually introducing your dog to scary noises while offering him rewards. Rewiring your pooch’s associations is a long-term solution. The catch? It’s a lot of work, and your best bet is to hire a trainer who specializes in the technique, says Vogelsang.

RELATED: Why Fireworks Scare Your Dog (and the New Drug That Might Help)

Play music

Vogelsang recommends a series of albums called Through a Dog’s Ear. ” is specifically composed to decrease a dog’s stress response,” she explains. If your pup is freaked out, put her in a dark room (ideally with no windows), and play one of these CDs. You can also do this in advance of a known trigger: Say you’re planning a road trip, or a party at your house. Try this music therapy in the day or two leading up to the stressful event. (Regular classical music may help as well.)

Get rid of static

You may notice that your dog gets anxious prior to a storm. That’s because he’s triggered by the buildup of static electricity in the air, explains Becker; and in response, he may hide in the closet, bathroom, or basement. One possible remedy: “Take an unscented dryer sheet and wipe down the trunk of your dog’s body,” suggests Becker. “About half won’t have a problem with the storm.”

Try a Thundershirt

The Thundershirt is a compression garment designed to reduce fear in dogs. “It’s like swaddling a baby for comfort,” says Becker, “like a comforting hug.” The company says that the vest (also available for cats) can help with a range of phobias, and works for about 80% of pets.

Use pheromones

When a mama dog nurses her puppies, she releases a calming pheromone that encourages them to lay down quietly. You can buy a synthetic version of that pheromone to help your dog relax at any age, says Becker, who suggests asking your vet for a recommendation. He likes a company called Adaptil, which sells both a collar and a diffuser.

RELATED: 13 Fun Ways to Work Out With Your Dog

Give your dog a chill pill

Becker often recommends a supplement called Zylkene, which packs a calming milk protein. Another option: chews that contain the green tea extract L-Theanine, available at many pet stories.

Talk to your vet about medication

If the strategies above don’t relieve your dog’s anxiety, it may be worth trying a prescription med like Xanex or the new non-sedating drug Sileo. According its manufacturer, Sileo works by blocking the fear chemical norephinephrine to dampen a dog’s anxiety response.

Understanding, Preventing, and Treating Dog Anxiety

Just like humans, dogs experience anxiety. While unpleasant, it is a normal and also healthy emotion. Dog anxiety can affect all breeds, but may affect each individual dog differently. Although it is something that all dogs experience from time-to-time, if disproportionate levels of anxiety are left unchecked, a dog can develop an anxiety disorder. If left untreated, dog anxiety can lead to behavioral and other issues.

How do you know if your dog has anxiety? What can you do to treat dog anxiety? We’re here to explain everything you need to know about dog anxiety — common causes, symptoms, and treatments. Additionally, we’ll discuss top tips for anxiety prevention. This way, if your dog ever does suffer from anxiety — you’ll have all the knowledge you need as an owner to help.

Dog Anxiety: Causes

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, dog anxiety can have a variety of causes. Some of the most common causes of dog anxiety are:

  • Fear
  • Separation
  • Aging

Fear-related anxiety can be caused by loud noises, strange people or animals, visual stimuli like hats or umbrellas, new or strange environments, specific situations — like the vet’s office or car rides — or surfaces like grass or wood floors. Although some dogs may only have brief reactions to these kind of stimuli, they may affect anxious dogs more consequentially.

Separation anxiety is estimated to affect around 14 percent of dogs. Dogs with separation anxiety are unable to find comfort when they are left alone or separated from their family members. This anxiety often manifests itself in undesirable behaviors, such as urinating and defecating in the house, destroying furniture and furnishings, and barking.

Age-related anxiety affects older dogs and can be associated with cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). In dogs with CDS, memory, learning, perception, and awareness start to decline, similar to the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in humans. This understandably leads to confusion and anxiety in senior dogs.

Dog Anxiety: Symptoms

So how can you tell if your dog has anxiety? There are several important symptoms to look out for:

  • Aggression
  • Urinating or defecating in the house
  • Drooling
  • Panting
  • Destructive behavior
  • Depression
  • Excessive barking
  • Pacing
  • Restlessness
  • Repetitive or compulsive behaviors

Some of these symptoms may be the result of occasional anxiety-causing events, but any of these can become recurrent and therefore, result in more serious issues. This being said, by far the most dangerous symptom of dog anxiety is aggression. This aggression can be targeted directly or indirectly, depending on the situation. Direct aggression occurs when a dog acts aggressively toward people or other animals. Indirect aggression can be equally dangerous, and often happens when a person comes between the dog and the source of the dog’s aggression, such as another dog. Even if a dog is prevented from harming others, aggressive behaviors such as growling or barking can lead to undesirable situations for humans and dogs, alike.

Urinating and defecating in the house is a common symptom of separation anxiety. Anxious dogs often work themselves up to the point that they pee or poop in the house, even if they are housebroken. This is frustrating for owners and can cause damage to property, not to mention the unpleasantness of the cleanup.

Destructive behavior is also common with separation anxiety. The damage is usually located around entry and exit points, like doorways and windows, but dogs in a state of heightened anxiety are also at risk of harming themselves. Attempts to break out of dog crates, windows, and even doors can result in painful injuries and expensive veterinary treatments.

Dog Anxiety: Treatment

The best way to treat anxiety is to talk with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can help you identify the type of anxiety your dog suffers from and the possible causes and triggers. Your veterinarian will also be able to help you determine if the anxiety is simply situational, or if it is becoming an overwhelming issue for your dog. Additionally, veterinarians can also rule out any other medical conditions that could be causing your dog’s symptoms.

Your veterinarian will help you come up with a treatment plan. Since excessive anxiety is often caused by a variety of factors, the best way to treat it is usually through a combination of training, preventive strategies, and in some cases, medications.

Training and Counterconditioning

There are several training strategies owners can use to treat dog anxiety. One way is counterconditioning. The purpose of counterconditioning is to change your dog’s response to the stimuli responsible for anxiety, usually by replacing the anxious or aggressive behavior with a more desirable behavior, like sitting or focusing on the owner.

Another training strategy is desensitization. The owner slowly introduces the dog to the source of anxiety, preferably in small doses and at a decreased intensity. Repeated exposure and rewarding positive behavior can go a long way toward managing anxiety.

You might want to contact a professional dog trainer to help you choose the best approach for your dog, as training an anxious dog is not always easy.

Anxiety Medications for Dogs

If your dog develops a serious anxiety disorder, your veterinarian may recommend medications or natural therapies. SSRIs and antidepressants are occasionally prescribed for dogs with anxiety, including fluoxetine and clomipramine. For predictable anxiety-producing events like thunderstorms, fireworks, or car rides, your veterinarian might prescribe a medication such as benzodiazepine in conjunction with an antidepressant to help your dog cope with the stress.

Senior dogs with cognitive dysfunction syndrome may benefit from the drug selegiline, which can help reduce some of the symptoms of CDS. Selegiline is also used for treating chronic anxiety in Europe.

The Merck Veterinary Manual also states that natural therapies and products can help dogs with anxiety. Some products work best in conjunction with other medications, while others can be used alone, depending on your dog’s case. Natural products use pheromones and aromatherapy to reduce anxiety. Talk to your veterinarian about the natural products best suited for your dog.

Using CBD Oil for Dog Anxiety

Some dogs owners have reported success in using CBD oil to treat dog anxiety. CBD is a compound found in cannabis and hemp that dog owners, as well as humans, have found useful for treating a variety of different health conditions. Anecdotal reports from dog owners claim that CBD oil can be effective in treating dog anxiety.

It’s important to note, however, that although many humans use CBD oil for anxiety treatment purposes, there is currently no scientific data on how using CBD oil affects dogs. Additionally, CBD products are not yet regulated — meaning consistency and purity are not always validated. Therefore, if you’re considering using CBD oil as a treatment for dog anxiety, it’s best to consult with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can help you determine if CBD oil might be a good treatment for your dog’s anxiety, as well as discuss different products, possible side effects, and risks.

Learn about the CBD oil study being conducted by the AKC Canine Health Foundation.

Dog Anxiety: Prevention

It can be difficult to predict exactly what will make your dog anxious, and even more difficult to determine if your dog’s anxiety will develop into a more serious disorder. However, there are ways to help a dog or puppy avoid anxiety-related problems.

Body Language

One of the best things you can do is learn to read dog body language. Knowing when your dog is uncomfortable or scared can help you avoid negative experiences or use them as a positive training moment. Body language can also tell you when a dog is getting anxious, which is especially useful if your dog has a history of aggression-related anxiety.

Socialization

Proper socialization can prevent the development of anxiety. Introducing your dog to new people, dogs, animals, places, and experiences can help avoid an exaggerated response down the road, and also helps your dog become a well-adjusted canine citizen.

Obedience

Obedience training is an essential tool for preventing and managing dog anxiety. It lays the foundation of a healthy relationship and establishes trust. A well-trained dog is easier to socialize than a dog without training, and obedience classes are a great place for dogs to meet other dogs in a controlled environment.

Exercise and Nutrition

Regular exercise and stimulation are crucial for a dog’s development, physical, and mental well-being. A stimulated dog is less likely to pick up destructive behaviors, and good nutrition is equally important for your dog’s health. Making sure you take care of your dog’s physical and mental needs can help you prevent any behavior problems that don’t stem from anxiety, letting you know the areas where your dog needs the most help.

Situation Avoidance

If your dog has been diagnosed with anxiety issues, you can also try to avoid or prevent situations that trigger your dog’s anxiety. For example, if you know that your dog grows anxious around large groups of dogs, you should avoid dog parks. Avoidance does not mean that you need to put your life on hold, but it can reduce some of the stress on you and your dog.

If the source of the anxiety cannot be avoided, preventive measures like leashes, body harnesses, and, in some cases, basket muzzles, can prevent dangerous situations. Once you know your dog’s triggers, you can prepare for these situations ahead of time.

Dog Anxiety: The Bottom Line

Like humans, many dogs will experience anxiety at some point throughout their lives. Although not all dogs will have anxiety that leads to a diagnosable anxiety disorder, it’s important to know the causes, symptoms, and treatment options involved with dog anxiety. Understanding these important facets can help you, as an owner, know the best ways to help your dog in anxiety-inducing situations. If you think that your dog might have an issue with anxiety, it’s best to consult your veterinarian — your veterinarian can diagnose your dog, rule out any other health issues, and help you develop a treatment plan that best fits your dog and lifestyle.

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Treating anxiety is different than ‘managing’ the problem

This column illustrates the importance of addressing anxiety disorders as soon as they appear. Many people choose to “manage”, rather than truly treat these conditions in the early stages because it is easier for the clients to live with some aspect of the problem under the new management regime.

Unfortunately, this approach addresses the clients’ complaints, but notthe distress in the patient. Humane, modern care in veterinary behavioralmedicine requires that the pets needs are assayed and addressed in a waythat not only relieves the clients’ complaints, but redresses the patient’sdistress and suffering.

Signalment

Jimmy is a 12-year-old, male, castrated, black and white, mixed breeddog weighing 22 kg. If people have to guess, they say that Jimmy is a Labrador/Setter/Spanielmix.

Presenting complaint

Jimmy barks, howls, drools and occasionally eliminates when he is leftalone. The problem has become an emergency because the client’s next-doorneighbor works nights and needs to sleep during the day. Jimmy’s barkingkeeps her awake and she has complained to the landlord. Eviction is a likelyoption.

History

Jimmy was adopted from a humane shelter at approximately 24-30 monthsof age (shelter estimate). At the time he was brought to the shelter hewas intact. There was very little previous history available for the dog,except for the comment on his relinquishment record that he was “partiallyhousetrained”.

The client chose him from the dogs at the shelter because he was rightat the front of the runs/cages, leaning against the fencing, and he wasquiet. He appeared to be much calmer and sweeter than the other dogs. Whenthe client approached him and took him from the run he showed no signs offear or withdrawal, and went willingly with her. At adoption he was neutered.

From the time the client brought Jimmy home she felt that he had separationanxiety. In this case, she doesn’t base her assessment in the context of’looking back’ or ‘given what I know now’. Instead, she frankly admits thathe has never liked to be left alone, has been thrown out of two trainingclasses because of his ‘clinginess’, and has always had a sacrificial rugat the front door that he would shred in her absence.

The client has moved about a dozen times since getting Jimmy and is nowliving in an apartment. Jimmy has lived in apartments before, but most ofthe moves have been to houses.

This time Jimmy is not clawing at the door, digging in or chewing thecarpeting. However, he regularly urinates in the house when the client isgone, and occasionally defecates. In the past, he has also routinely eliminatedwhen left, but more rarely, and the housing situation made it easier toclean up after Jimmy.

When questioned about his vocalization history, the client admits toan almost complete knowledge deficit. No one ever complained about his barkingbefore, but they also lived in areas where his barking would not have beendisruptive.

The client now estimates that Jimmy destroys and urinates 40 percentor less of the time when left alone, but vocalizes 100 percent of the time.After this move, he also exhibits signs of distress when just denied accessto the client by door or gate. In these cases, he urinates or vocalizes40 percent or less of the time, but the client finds him “clingy”.He formerly followed her to different rooms, but now if she even moves,he is right by her side waiting for her next action.

During the appointment, he willingly came to me for treats, but evenafter three hours if I made any sudden moves, he jumped, increased his vigilanceand scanning. He also clung to the client during the physical exam. Whenhe had a choice of staying with me or following the client to the bathroom,he abandoned the treats and glued himself to the client.

Still skittish

When Jimmy was first adopted, he was “skittish” in certainsituations: unfamiliar sounds, new people, dogs who did not approach slowly.To a lesser extent this continues today. If the human or dog is calm andgives Jimmy time and space to approach them, he will do so. He always seemsto avoid children, although when faced with the client’s nephews, he ignoresthem unless they have a ball. Jimmy will play ball with most children.

Because the client’s former fiancé also had a dog, an intact maleBorder Collie named Zach, we have some idea of how Jimmy reacts in closecanine quarters. The client always felt that Jimmy ‘tolerated’ Zach, althoughthey would play. If Zach approached Jimmy while he was eating, Jimmy wouldbark or snarl. If Zach approached Jimmy when Jimmy had a favorite toy, Jimmywould bark, snarl or silently lift his lip. If Zach disturbed him, Jimmywould just move and ignore Zach. Although both dogs were relatively youngwhen they lived together (Zach, 4, and Jimmy, 8) the client felt that Jimmynever really enjoyed being with Zach, although he was great with her fiancé.The client commented that you could always do anything you wanted with Zachand take him anywhere, but that this was not true for Jimmy. Jimmy alwayswas alert for and barked at new people, dogs, circumstances and noises.

Oddly, Jimmy has always growled when startled while sleeping, so theclient has learned to avoid petting him while he is asleep. The first timeshe kissed Jimmy when he was asleep, he growled and startled, catching herlip with his teeth. If Jimmy is called first and awakened he is fine. Theclient specifically commented that Jimmy has always been very sensitiveto and ‘reactive’ in any new circumstance. Oddly enough, loud noises havenever overly bothered Jimmy. He will alert to them, but exhibits none ofthe non-specific signs of anxiety associated with being left alone.

Physical and laboratory evaluations

Although he’s an older dog Jimmy only had a small amount of lenticularclouding. Otherwise, his vision and hearing appeared good in a variety ofambient light and sound conditions. His joints had a full range of motion,and he resisted pressing on hips only slightly. His teeth and gums werein excellent condition. The client’s veterinarian reported that he had noticeda heart murmur during the last exam, and indeed Jimmy had a grade I-II holosystolicmurmur best auscultated over the mitral valve region. Jimmy had no pulsedeficits and no exercise intolerance, so simple routine monitoring, includingregular manual digital heart rate measures while on medication, was recommended.

Jimmy’s lab work was fully within the laboratory’s reference range. Additionally,I played some basic food games with Jimmy to see if I could trick him intonosing the hand that did not hold the food. I repeated this game both byslightly showing the food placement and completely hiding which hand containedthe food. Jimmy chose the correct hand each time. Additionally, he was ableto easily find his way out of a small maze created from furniture, and hewas willing to play and fetch a variety of toys.

Diagnosis

Jimmy was diagnosed with some mild attention-seeking behavior associatedwith a need for reassurance, profound and long-term separation anxiety,generalized anxiety disorder, and panic associated with separation anxiety.

It was important to rule out old age changes including any non-specificcognitive dysfunction, since many of the signs routinely attributed to separationanxiety could also be attributed to cognitive dysfunction and attendantsenility changes.

It was for this reason that I was so careful to evaluate Jimmy’s sensesand physical functioning, in addition to quizzing the client intensely aboutany relevant changes. Jimmy’s basic cognitive and problem solving (executivefunction) abilities appeared unimpaired. It is unlikely that cognitive dysfunctionplays any major role in Jimmy’s condition, although I did discuss agingchanges and how they could worsen the condition with the client.

The client had been told by a variety of people that she should “dominate”the dog and forbid him from sleeping on her bed because he growled whilehe was asleep. It is important to note that while this non-specific signcan be a correlate of impulse control (formerly poorly labeled as “dominance”)aggression, Jimmy did not meet the definitional criteria that he becameaggressive in situations involving control or access to control in situationsinvolving humans. The dog is very reactive, and has likely always had somesmall level of generalized anxiety disorder accompanied by a heightenedsense of vigilance.

When one considers that all social animals are more vulnerable when theyare sleeping, a response like the one exhibited by Jimmy makes a lot ofsense, especially given his behavioral pathology. Fortunately, althoughcommonly recommended, the client had avoided any aversive treatment of Jimmy.She correctly perceived that this would make him more anxious and less trusting.

Treatment and discussion

Many people recommended using a citronella or an electric shock collarto stop the barking. It’s a good thing that the client listened to thatqueasy feeling in her stomach.

Citronella collars only work for reactive barking in dogs that are notstartle, noise or scent sensitive. In these cases, the dog learns to avoidthe undesirable stimulus by either not barking or barking below the sensitivitylevel of the collar. Anxious dogs will bark, regardless, because their behavioris not about volitional barking, which they can control; it’s about anxietythat they cannot control.

Furthermore, if the dog is afraid of the scent, the noise, or is generallyanxious and terrified by the startle, the result will make the dog worse.

Shocking a dog like Jimmy would turn him into a basket case. Punishingan anxious and an abnormal behavior with such an aversive stimulus willonly make the anxiety worse, albeit different. In these dogs, such cruelinterventions make the dog more reactive, not less, because you have added- from the dog’s viewpoint – another unpredictable stimulus to his world.Even worse, this stimulus causes pain. I don’t believe any dog should betreated for a behavioral problem using shock.

Rx intervention

The referring veterinarian had already placed Jimmy on Clomicalm®(clomipramine) at a dosage of ~2 mg / kg q. 12 h. The client had noted somemild changes: Jimmy salivated less, and his frequency of defecating whenshe left him dropped to almost zero. Jimmy’s barking, though, remained almostunchanged, and the client was now to the point where she had to have Jimmywatched daily.

It’s important to note that Jimmy’s problematic behaviors had been ongoingfor almost a decade. Second, he has become worse in intensity and frequencyof his problem behaviors over time. Third, the pattern of his separationanxiety has changed over time: he went from mild destruction (fairly easyto get under control) to almost continuous vocalization (very hard to getunder control).

Defecation and destruction resolve more easily than urination, whichstill resolves more easily than vocalization and salivation. It is importantto realize that these non-specific signs may be governed by different underlyingpathologies in neurochemical tracts or interactions.

Translation: if clomipramine – a tricyclic anti-depressant (TCA) thatis fairly specific for inhibiting re-uptake of serotonin via 5-HT 1A subtypereceptor – doesn’t have an equal effect on all signs, not all signs arerouted in that specific neurochemical pathway.

The biggest part of Jimmy’s problem is that he now panics at the firstsign “his person” might leave. Upon deeper questioning, it becameclear that Jimmy assayed the probability that his person would leave thesecond they both opened their eyes, and then he behaved accordingly.

If the client was going to leave, he stuck to her like glue; if she wasto stay home, he was more relaxed and could eat his biscuits and breakfast.

One of the keys to treating this problem is going to be to treat thepanic. So, in addition to increasing the dose of clomipramine to 3 mg/kgpo q. 12 h, we started Jimmy on 1-2 mg (the high end + of 0.02-0.04 mg/kgpo q. 4-6 h prn) of alprazolam, a true anti-panic medication, as soon ashe opened his eyes on days he was alone. As a benzodiazepine, alprazolam,at very low levels, has a mild calming effect; at intermediate levels ithas an anti-anxiety effect, and at high levels it acts as a sedative.

Jimmy was initially given a range that exceeded the normal high dosebecause in the few cases where he had been given sedatives, he had a “hightolerance”. As with any panicolytic drug, a trial run should be donewhen the client is home and can monitor the dog.

Behavior modification essential

Behavior modification is an essential part of any behavioral intervention;however, with a dog as panicky as Jimmy, complex behavior modification involvingdesensitization and counter-conditioning, including desensitizing the dogto cues that signal departure, is not going to be immediately possible.First, Jimmy is going to have to learn to relax and be calm. This dog isso wired for sound that any change in any social or environmental circumstancerenders him clingy and unable to eat or play. Until he can be calm and sitquietly for any attention (Protocol for Deference) and begin to learn tosit or lie down and enjoy getting treats while the client moves around theroom (Protocol for Relaxation), any complex behavior modification will plungethis dog into the depths of panic.

This case perfectly illustrates the patient that cannot do without medication.The medications – if they work – will break through the panic and allowthe dog to replace a rule structure that is not working (e.g. panic) withone where he could learn a new set of behaviors (e.g. relaxation). The newerTCAs and selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) speed the rateat which behavior modification is acquired by working through the same neurochemicalpathways involved in learning.

With the newer, more specific drugs, the long-term anti-anxiety effectsand the learning effects are dependent on new protein synthesis involvedin remodeling receptors. This process takes at least three to five weeksto kick in, so minimum treatment time to evaluate any effect, or any changeof dose, is six to eight weeks. Unfortunately, this client is desperate,so her best plan is to continue to have the dog cared for during the day,while she teaches him as much basic behavior modification as possible. Onlywhen she can leave him alone in another room and have him sleep throughher departure, should she consider beginning to teach him that he can beleft alone.

Within 10 days the client called and reported that at 2 mg of alprazolamJimmy became much quieter but still attendant to the client; within threeor so hours he was a bit ataxic. These behavioral signs are good correlatesof levels of both parent compound and intermediate metabolite levels andindicate that Jimmy might do better on a lower dosage (1-1.5 mg).

The idea is to find a level at which the dog is calm, but not ataxic.If the dog sleeps calmly without ataxia when the client is home, he willlikely be able to be alert but not panicked when in provocative circumstances.It’s likely that the client will be able to find this dose.

Although we had practiced teaching the dog to sit or lie down and relaxfor a treat by rewarding slowing of respiratory and heart rates (which couldeasily be seen and monitored in this dog) and the gentle cocking his head,the client had questions.

Was it okay for Jimmy to lie down all the time? He seemed more comfortablethis way. Yes, in fact, he has to go through more behaviors to get up fromlying down than he does for sitting, so many dogs who lie down are lessreactive than those who sit.

It turns out that Jimmy began to show the whites of his eyes when theclient was completely behind him. This is a sign of uncertainty, so I recommendedthat she not circle all the way around Jimmy until he could stay calm (babysteps, baby steps).

The client was trying to scramble departure cues by picking up her keys, and sitting down, but Jimmy freaked out. Unless she can have the departurecue present and successfully do some of the Protocol for Relaxation, hecannot learn anything when he is panicked except to be more panicked.

When can we expect to know if we have to change drugs? She has barelyleft him alone since his appointment. If the increased dosage of clomipraminecombined with alprazolam is not helpful, we may decide to switch to alprazolamand either sertraline (Zoloft), a drug excellent for the treatment of generalizedanxiety disorder in humans, or fluoxetine (Prozac), a drug beneficial forexplosive events.

The question here is whether his panic is explosive. Sadly, we just donot know enough yet to predict which combination is ideal. If we are ableto control his generalized anxiety disorder and separation anxiety, butnot the panicky component, we may decide to add one of the anti-psychoticdrugs that have been useful in profound human panic.

Unless this client can teach Jimmy to truly relax in daily conditions,he will not get better.

I also recommended a local certified pet dog trainer (CPDT) who couldboth help the client get Jimmy more exercise, which may also decrease hisanxiety, and work with her so that she is certain that she is not inadvertentlyrewarding subtle but anxious behaviors.

CPDTs are now certified by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (www.apdt.com).Having these people on your team is a practice builder.

  • This post contains affiliate links. Read more here.
  • Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.

Dealing with dog anxiety? Barking, destructive tendencies, obsessive-compulsive chewing, going potty indoors—these behaviors can quickly make you crazy, and aren’t fun for your pup, either. Since it’s not practical to spend all of your time soothing your high-strung canine, we’ve rounded up some techniques, remedies, and secret weapons to help your anxious dog. From massage to training tips and even CBD treats, there’s something here for every dog.

Gear and Toys for Anxious Dogs

There’s a plethora of toys and gear specifically created with dog anxiety issues in mind. Overall, harness the power of distraction, and give them a comfy, dog-designated area while you’re gone. These selections may also help soothe a dog’s anxiety.

ThunderShirt

The ThunderShirt is a popular option for pet owners. The shirt uses gentle, constant pressure to calm dogs, similar to swaddling a baby (though the dog can move, of course). Find on Amazon.

Puzzle Toys

Perfect for keeping pups occupied while you’re out and during the process of leaving, which can be the most stressful part for dogs. The tricky treat ball

is a particular favorite. Find on Amazon

Long-lasting Chews

These chews will give your anxious dog something to focus on.ust be careful; bully sticks, bones, and other types of chew toys can sometimes fragment, so aren’t the best to give without supervision. Safer options include naturally-shed antler chews

or a KONG with frozen peanut butter. Find on Amazon

Dog Crate

With tons of variety and designs, you’re bound to find the perfect crate for your family. Training is a must, of course, before you implement the crate with your dog.

Pheromone Calming Products

Some pet parents swear by Adaptil and other pheromone-based treatments; others say results are mixed. These collars and diffusers release pheromones that produce calming effects and reduce feelings of stress and fear.

Comfy Bed

Nothing relaxes a dog like a comfortable place to rest their head. Extra points for supportive memory foam

that’s easy on the joints.

Training for Anxious Dogs

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Crate Training

Make sure the crate is a sanctuary and safe place for your pet by giving them the proper crate training. These expert tips will help.

Positive Reinforcement

Scolding an anxious dog can just make the problem worse, so use positive reinforcement techniques to encourage dogs to replicate desired behaviors and stay calm.

Socialization

Socializing your dog early on can help them be more relaxed in group settings, like an in-home daycare. It’s also a fun opportunity for them to play and use pent-up energy that can lead to anxiety.

Separation Anxiety Training

Separation anxiety is fairly common, and you can help. This handy series of articles is a great jumping-off place for understanding separation anxiety and how to help lessen its effects.

Home Remedies for Anxious Dogs

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White Noise

Use a fan, white noise machine, or radio to distract your dog from startling noises. Try playing classical music—it’s known to have a relaxing effect for dogs with noise anxiety.

Check Your Stress Level

Dogs are sensitive creatures and your anxiety can increase their anxiety. Try relaxation techniques to decompress and find your own inner calm. Anxiety is a complicated issue, of course, and often requires longer-term interventions to address the root causes. Life is stressful, after all! Even so, taking a few deep breaths before you greet your dog is one simple way to help them feel calmer, too.

Exercise, Exercise, Exercise!

A tired dog is a happy dog. Plus, exercise releases serotonin, a feel-good chemical that we humans also get when we work out. With Rover, you can schedule extra walks or playtime with a dog lover in your neighborhood.

Massage

Giving your dog a ten-minute massage every day can help relax your four-legged friend and is a great way to bond. There are many different techniques you can try. Just remember to be gentle and start slowly, and check in with your dog periodically to be sure they’re still enjoying it.

Medication for Anxious Dogs

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Anxiety Medication

Trazodone for dogs? Xanax for dogs? Some pets can greatly benefit from treatment with medication, but you must contact your vet for a consultation, and always get a legitimate prescription. After that, you can buy medications directly from your vet or online.

Alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), clomipramine (Clomicalm), and amitriptyline (Elavil) are common prescription medications used to treat anxiety in dogs. Trazodone is a common prescription, too, though it’s primarily indicated for use in humans and veterinary use is considered extra-label. Medications like these are usually only for occasional needs rather than daily use (such as the night of a fireworks’ display).

Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is an over-the-counter product well-tolerated by dogs and can have a mild sedative effect. Be sure to check with your vet for dosage recommendations.

Pro tip: Chewy now has free shipping on all pet meds via Chewy Pharmacy.

Chewy Pharmacy offers free shipping on pet meds.

Aromatherapy

Does doggie aromatherapy treatment sound a little ridiculous to you? Well, it’s been shown to have some serious benefits, and with dog-safe essential oils and proper use, could be helpful to your dog.

Herbal Supplements

Look for products that include calming ingredients like oats, skullcap, and echinacea. Valerian is also reported to be effective in treating excitability and dog anxiety and can generally be given orally to a pup. Again, talk to your vet for more info and recommendations.

CBD Treats or CBD Oil

Increasing numbers of pet parents swear by pet-safe cannabis-derived treats that have a calming effect without the compound THC. You can read more about marijuana for dogs here, and about one owner’s experience with CBD treats here. In addition to treats formulated with CBD, Canna-Pet is one popular brand. It’s also possible to buy CBD oil for your pets.

As always, consult with your vet before giving a new supplement or medication. Keep in mind that because of laws that vary state by state and lack of formal research, many veterinarians will not take a stance on CBD for pets. A holistic vet is more likely to have expertise in the area.

Personalized Pet Care

Every dog is a little bit different, which is why pet care that’s personalized just for your dog is such a fantastic idea, especially if your dog has an issue with anxiety. Many anxious dogs won’t respond as well to being dropped off at a kennel or dealing with a large-group daycare or dog-walking situation. Luckily you have options!

Rover.com has plenty of responsible, qualified, animal-loving dog walkers and pet sitters waiting to take your dog under their wing. And once you (and your pet) have built a relationship with a walker or sitter, you’ll have someone else your dog trusts who can provide drop-in visits, pet sitting, and more. After all, exercise and attention are an anxious dog’s best friend.

One of the hard things about our relationships with dogs is that when something is up, they can’t easily communicate that to us.

That’s why, with issues such as anxiety, we need to be aware of the signs so we can help our mates cope.

If you think your dog might be anxious, there are recognisable symptoms and treatments available to ease their (and your) worry.

We spoke to animal behaviourist Kate Mornement and vet Sandra Nguyen about identifying and dealing with dog anxiety.

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Types of anxiety in dogs

Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety, when your dog doesn’t like to be separated from you, is the most common form of anxiety.

“Dogs associate everything they value in their life — company, play, food, going for walks — with when people are around,” Dr Mornement says.

Dogs just want to be wherever we are.(Pexels: Spencer Gurley)

When they are left alone, it’s likely they have none of that good stuff.

And if they haven’t learnt to be cool with their own company, that’s when they can experience separation anxiety.

Dr Mornement says dogs need to learn to cope with being away from their humans, and the best time for that to happen is when they are young.

Fear of loud noises

Things like thunderstorms and fireworks can trigger anxiety in dogs.

For that reason, dogs often become anxious even if they sense a storm might be coming.

Changes in environment and resource guarding

Less common forms of anxiety can involve changes in environment, such as going to the vet, in the car or moving house, says Dr Nguyen.

“Even things like changes to work hours, the owners travelling — any sudden change to normal routine can prompt anxiety,” Dr Mornement says.

Resource guarding — displays of aggressive behaviour designed to scare other dogs or people off — can also be an issue if a dog is anxious about a valued item being taken away.

Signs of anxiety in dogs

Treats and walks are just some of the things dogs enjoy while their humans are around.(Unsplash: Tamara Bellis)

It’s important not to dismiss behaviours that we sometimes consider normal, warns Dr Nguyen.

For example, “not eating can be a sign that we would potentially put down to upset stomach, but it could be anxiety”, she says.

Common signs of anxiety in dogs include:

  • Barking or howling when owner isn’t home
  • Panting and pacing (even when it’s not hot)
  • Shivering
  • Running away and/or cowering in the corner of a house
  • Digging
  • Escaping the yard
  • Destroying furniture
  • Self-harm, including excessive licking or chewing
  • Not eating
  • Urinating more frequently
  • A general inability to settle.

A dog licking their lips can be a more subtle sign of anxiety.(Unsplash: Maddie)

More subtle anxiety signs that can be difficult to pick up on include:

  • Lip licking
  • Showing whites of the eyes
  • Lifting a paw
  • Looking away.

“Those subtle body language signs can signal more mild signs of anxiety,” Dr Mornement says.

The options for treating anxiety in dogs

The earlier you spot anxiety in your dog, the greater success you have in treating it.

“Just like any behaviour that’s repeated often over a long period of time, it becomes more hard-wired in the brain,” Dr Mornement says.

There are several things you can do.

Behavioural training

For separation anxiety, Dr Mornement recommends working to change your dog’s negative association with being alone to positive by giving the animal something it loves.

Dr Nguyen suggests food puzzle toys that keep the dog occupied for longer while you are out.

And you can gradually increase the time you leave the animal on its own, “but only if it’s coping at the previous level”, Dr Mornement says.

For noise it is a similar principle as changing the negative association to positive.

“Pairing the scary thing with something the animal likes,” Dr Mornement says.

If your dog is afraid of travelling in the car, Dr Nguyen suggests breaking the process down.

“Get them near the car, then reward them, the next day get them in the car, and reward them, then the next day drive them around and reward them,” she says, noting each dog will have individual needs when it comes to how quickly you can progress through each stage.

Medical treatment

In more extreme cases of anxiety, Dr Mornement says you can give the dog medication to “take the edge off”.

“I work with animals where they need medication because sometimes the anxiety is so high it inhibits the animal’s ability to learn.”

Dr Nguyen gives her dog anti-anxiety medication if she sees a thunderstorm warning.

“There are medications that are specifically anti-anxiety. I’m deliberately not using the term sedative, because some vets do use and that makes more noise-phobic.”

Dr Mornement agrees, saying sedatives may make the dog appear “relaxed”, but rather it’s just masking the problem.

“It’s not fixing the underlying reasons,” she says.

Speak to your vet about whether medication is suitable for your dog.

Cuddle them if they’re crying

Older methods around treating anxiety in dogs advised not patting or comforting the animal to avoid “reinforcing” the behaviour.

But there is new thinking that you should touch and comfort them, says Dr Nguyen.

You can also purchase thundershirts, which wrap around the dog tightly so it’s like “you’re hugging them really closely”, Dr Nguyen says.

Planning ahead, safe space and exercise

Planning for your dog’s anxiety is a big part of managing it, Dr Nguyen says.

If you can afford it, doggy day care is a good option for pets with separation anxiety, or taking your dog to a friend or family’s home when you need to leave.

“If we invite friends of mine out for dinner they get in a dog sitter,” she says, as an example.

Creating a safe space for your pet at home and regular exercise will also help keep them be calmer when you’re not around.

A furry friend?

If your dog’s separation anxiety is caused by losing a canine mate, getting another dog can help, Dr Mornement says.

“If the separation anxiety came about from the dog losing a companion, and the dog is used to having another dog around all the time … getting another dog can solve it.”

But if the anxiety is triggered by being apart from humans, getting another dog usually “does not make one bit of difference”, she warns.

What happens when anxiety in dogs goes untreated

It’s important to treat anxiety in your dog to avoid it reaching dangerous levels.

“A dog that started mildly anxious can get much worse in terms of scaling up to destroying furniture, self-harm and running away,” Dr Nguyen says.

“Some people think the dog is doing these behaviours deliberately and ‘just being naughty’, so they end up being surrendered or rehomed.”

Babe’s anxiety reached a breaking point. (Photos by Allison Gray)

One warm day in August, my husband and I recognized a deeper issue in our dog, Babe, than simple anxiety.

It happened during a particularly frightening episode: She had tried desperately to tear through the window screen of our third-floor apartment to escape our shrieking smoke alarm.

I’ll spare you the not-so-heroic details of my frantic reaction as I sped across the room to clumsily wrap my oven-mitted hands (for I was the culprit of the alarm in the first place) around a dog hysterical with fear.

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Suffice it to say that after years of steady progression, Babe’s anxiety and fear had reached a breaking point that almost led to her death, and we needed to take some preventive measures immediately.

From Nervousness to Severe Anxiety

Babe was a stray dog we had fostered temporarily until we could find a permanent and responsible home for her.

At least that was the plan. After we’d finished taking responsibility for every medical concern she presented us and having her spayed and microchipped, we found ourselves four months into “fostering” a dog who had grown surprisingly attached to us. And as much as we liked to deny it, we too had grown attached to our stray. We now had 3 dogs in what was supposed to be a one-dog household.

Babe’s anxiety began as a simple separation anxiety — something that is pretty common in dogs, especially stray or rescued dogs. She got along well with our other dogs, but didn’t prefer their company. She followed us from room to room and settled down only if we were present. She scratched at the door and howled if we stepped outside without her. She became destructive when separated from us, so we got her a crate to stay in while we were out.

She developed a fear of our fly swatter and trembled in a corner if we ever had to swat a fly.

As time passed, her anxiety worsened. When she was home alone one day during a storm, she destroyed her crate and shredded the bottom of our bedroom door trying to escape. We found her with a swollen and bloody muzzle.

On the Fourth of July, she was inconsolable during the fireworks and made herself sick, evidenced by diarrhea all over our floors (and even the walls). After that, we had our veterinarian prescribe sedatives for the festivities.

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Baseless fears began to alter her behavior so that at times she reacted so unpredictably to a situation that we felt we couldn’t take our eyes off her. On one occasion, Babe was in our backyard and suddenly noticed that our neighbor was tarring his roof. She was so terrified to see him on the roof that she forced herself under our chain-link fence and ran. My husband had to scale the fence and charge after her.

She developed a fear of our fly swatter (I assure you, she has never been struck while in our care) and trembled in a corner if we ever had to swat a fly.

For 2 years we had to leave the country and Babe wasn’t able to join us. She was separated from our 2 other dogs and stayed with our friends. They took perfect care of her, but still her fears and anxieties worsened. She destroyed another crate (her third) and annihilated their bedroom door. She shredded the screen on their storm door (as she had done once before) and began developing aggressive tendencies toward their 2 other dogs.

When we reclaimed Babe and moved to Brooklyn, we found that she was now afraid of beeping noises. The beeping across the street that signaled a stopping bus resulted in her trembling in our bathroom. The alarm of a truck backing up caused her to frantically climb into our laps, panting and shivering. The sound of rainfall was almost as terrifying as thunder and fireworks.

She was, in short, a ball of fried nerves. We felt equally powerless and frustrated.

3 Things We Tried First

I like to think we took the appropriate steps in making whatever changes were needed. We spoke with other people with pets as well as veterinarians and vet technicians, and researched different treatments. Here are 3 that we tried:

1. ThunderShirt

The theory behind the ThunderShirt is pretty sound. The constant, subtle pressure of the garment has a calming effect similar to the effect that swaddling has on an infant.

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In stressful situations, that might be exactly what your dog needs to ease his or her anxiety. No wonder so many people recommended we invest in a ThunderShirt for Babe.

When she wore it, she seemed as happy as when we dressed her in one of her many colorful sweatshirts — that is to say, pretty cheery! But it did little to alleviate Babe’s anxiety. During a thunderstorm, the shirt was as ineffective as everything else we had tried.

2. Composure

Composure bite-size chews were introduced to me by our veterinarian. She recommended the supplement from personal experience and advised that it might be exactly what Babe needed to calm down.

The chews could be given as needed and as a preventive measure. The combination of certain proteins and acids in the supplements was designed to naturally calm nervous pets.

We gave Composure a try. I began including the chews in Babe’s breakfast and tried giving her additional ones during times of high stress. But once again we found this to be ineffective against her growing fears. She didn’t seem too interested in the flavor of the chews and outright refused them when she was extremely anxious.

3. Positive Reinforcement

Through the use of simulated thunder sounds, we tried to desensitize Babe’s growing fear of sounds. When construction noises carried to our apartment, we attempted to reward any calm behavior with high-value treats. When she reacted negatively to beeping sounds or alarms, we ignored the behavior until she calmed.

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None of it seemed to make any difference. She couldn’t be tempted with food when distraught and would force her way onto our laps whether or not we were trying to ignore her.

The Tipping Point

My husband and I had careers and lives to consider away from our dogs. We had priorities that didn’t include Babe and ignoring those priorities would mean the loss of our careers, our home and everything else we’d worked toward. We just couldn’t put our lives on hold to spend every moment consoling her.

A couple of months after our move to Brooklyn, Babe began waking up in the middle of the night — every night — in a panic. She would wake us by standing on our chests (did I mention she weighs roughly 50 pounds?) and panting in our faces. She’d walk across our pillows and scratch our faces. If we tried to hold her down, she’d begin trembling and struggling. We couldn’t put her in another room or close her in her crate because she would become destructive and howl.

After a few months we reached a breaking point. We couldn’t go on this way, and it was unfair for us to allow Babe to continue living a life of constant and damaging anxiety.

As one final effort, we made an appointment with Babe’s veterinarian and explained the situation, listing every step we had taken to control the development of her fears and our subsequent failures.

An Understanding

Babe was prescribed fluoxetine (Prozac) as a maintenance medication to ease her stress.

The medicine alone, we knew, wasn’t going to make all the difference. It might lend some help in leveling her out with daily anxiety, but the situations that led her to total panic would still need to be addressed by us and we needed to either accept that Babe would always have unusual anxiety issues or make a decision to rehome her. That wasn’t much of a choice.

There was no way we could find Babe another home, not just because we loved her and didn’t want to give up on her, but also because the problems we were dealing with were not going to be any easier for someone else.

The fluoxetine took a long time to become even slightly effective.

In the meantime, we did the following:

  • We rallied our patience and took turns snuggling with her at night until she fell asleep again.
  • When I worked at my computer, I let Babe sit behind me and occasionally curl up in my lap.
  • We made every effort to avoid leaving the house more than once so that she would have to be crated only once a day.
  • She was fed all meals in her crate so that she associated it with positive experiences.
  • She was given peanut butter-filled Kong toys to preoccupy her when we left.
  • To avoid the sort of destruction that would lose us our deposit or even our lease, we invested in an absurdly heavy-duty kennel that couldn’t be destroyed, even by our bulldozer of a dog.

After a couple of months, the effects of Babe’s anti-anxiety drugs began to show themselves. Less wide-eyed and nervous, Babe spent more time napping in our presence than demanding constant consolation. Finally she started wagging more often and seemed genuinely happy most of the time. She played and ran and begged for free pettings from people she’d meet on her walks. She bounced and play-bowed around new dogs.

Babe’s fear and anxiety were still very present. When triggered, she spiraled into an uncontrollable ball of terror just as she had before. But knowing that it was temporary seemed to make it more manageable.

Finding the Right Mix

So how exactly did we deal with extreme and sometimes unprovoked fear and anxiety in our dog?

Well, we managed some of it with expensive to reasonably priced supplies:

  • Heavy-duty crate
  • Kong toys
  • Medication
  • Vet visits

But those investments would have counted for very little if we were unable to look at Babe as worth our every emotional and physical effort.

In the end, the only change we made that was able to save our dog was to change ourselves. And after we’d done it, we realized it wasn’t such a difficult decision at all. In fact, it was downright easy once we understood that giving up on Babe had never really been an option.

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Helping an Anxious Dog

7. Find a shared interest. It’s okay to be disappointed that your dog doesn’t want to go to the dog park, agility trials or pavement cafés. Try focusing on what you guys can do together instead. Set up indoor obstacle courses, go on quiet wilderness hikes, take nose-work classes or just chill at home. Don’t try to force the dog you have to be the dog you wanted. In the end, you’re likely to make her problems worse, not to mention strain your relationship.

8. Know your limits. If you’re really out of your depth, or your dog represents a serious danger to you or your children, it’s okay to consider rehoming. Training and medications are expensive, and anxious dogs often require a lifetime commitment. In some cases, it’s safer for you and better for the dog to find a new home where she can get what she needs if you don’t have the resources or the situation to provide it. You’re not a bad person or a failure—you’re making the wisest, kindest choice in the circumstances.

With these options, life with an anxious dog doesn’t have to be lonely!

Extreme Fear and Anxiety in Dogs

Updated and reviewed for accuracy on August 6, 2019, by Dr. Wailani Sung, MS, PhD, DVM, DACVB

While fear is a normal, adaptive response, sometimes a dog’s fear response can reach more extreme levels that require intervention. Profound fear and anxiety can lead to unhealthy and potentially dangerous behaviors within dogs.

To help you better understand how to help, it’s necessary to understand the nuances and signs of anxiety, phobias and fear in dogs.

Does Your Dog Have Anxiety, Fear or a Phobia?

When navigating fear-based behavioral issues in dogs, your veterinarian will work with you to determine the severity and root cause of the behaviors.

Fear in Dogs

Fear is the instinctual feeling of apprehension caused by a situation, person or object that presents an external threat—whether it’s real or perceived.

The response of the autonomic nervous system prepares the body for the freeze, fight or flight syndrome. It is considered to be a normal behavior that is essential for adaptation and survival.

The context of the situation determines whether the fear response is normal or abnormal and inappropriate. Most abnormal reactions are learned and can be unlearned with gradual exposure (counter-conditioning).

Profound fear (also called idiopathic fear) has been noted in certain dog breeds, including the Siberian Husky, German Shorthaired Pointer, Greyhound, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Bernese Mountain Dog, Great Pyrenees, Border Collie and Standard Poodle, among others.

Phobias in Dogs

The persistent and excessive fear of a specific stimulus is called a phobia.

It has been suggested that once a phobic event has been experienced, any event associated with it—or even the memory of it—is sufficient enough to generate a response.

The most common phobias in dogs are associated with noises (such as thunderstorms or fireworks).

Anxiety in Dogs

Anxiety, meanwhile, is the anticipation of unknown or imagined future dangers. This results in bodily reactions (known as physiologic reactions) that are normally associated with fear.

The most common behaviors are elimination (i.e., urination and/or bowel movements), destruction and excessive vocalization (i.e., barking, crying). Pet owners may also observe excessive panting and/or pacing.

Separation anxiety is the most common specific anxiety in companion dogs. With separation anxiety, a dog that’s left alone for a period of time exhibits anxiety or excessive distress behaviors.

Clinical Signs of Dog Anxiety and Fear

The clinical signs will vary depending on the severity of the fear or anxiety that the dog is suffering from. Here are some of the most common clinical signs:

  • Mild fears: signs may include trembling, tail-tucking, hiding, reduced activity and passive escape behaviors

  • Panic: signs may include panting, pacing, active escape behavior and increased out-of-context, potentially injurious motor activity

  • Sympathetic autonomic nervous system activity, including diarrhea

  • Lesions secondary to licking and biting their own body

  • Tail-chasing and circling

Causes of Fear and Anxiety in Dogs

The onset of fear or anxiety issues in dogs can be prompted by a variety of things, from puppy socialization issues and age-related health conditions like dementia to traumatic experiences or genetics.

There is no catchall for the roots of these issues, but here are some of the most common causes of anxiety or fear in dogs:

  • Being forced into an unfamiliar and frightening experience

  • Being deprived of social and environmental exposure until 14 weeks of age

  • Phobias and panic: history of not being able to escape or get away from the stimulus causing the phobia and panic, such as being locked in crate

  • Separation anxiety: history of abandonment, having multiple owners over time, being rehomed or experiencing prior neglect are all common sources; the condition may be perpetuated if the dog has been repeatedly abandoned or rehomed because they have separation anxiety.

Any illness or painful physical condition increases anxiety and contributes to the development of fears, phobias and anxieties.

Aging changes associated with nervous system changes, as well as infectious disease (primarily viral infections in the central nervous system) and toxic conditions may lead to behavioral problems, including fears, phobias and anxieties.

Diagnosing Fear and Anxiety in Dogs

Your veterinarian will first want to rule out other conditions that might be causing the behavior, such as brain, thyroid or adrenal disease. Blood tests will rule out or confirm possible underlying medical conditions.

Treating Extreme Fear and Anxiety in Dogs

If your veterinarian diagnoses a simple fear, anxiety or phobia, they might prescribe anti-anxiety medication in addition to recommending management techniques and behavior modification exercises.

Your doctor will make recommendations based on your individual dog’s fear trigger, or they will refer you to a veterinary behaviorist who can help your pet.

Most forms of treatment will be done over the long-term, and could possibly span several years. It generally depends on the duration and intensity of the clinical signs of anxiety. Minimum treatment averages four to six months.

Keep in mind that prescription medications are not right for every pet and are typically implemented only as a last resort in severe instances.

If your dog has extreme panic and separation anxiety and needs to be protected until medications can become effective, which can take days to weeks, hospitalization may be the best choice.

Otherwise, you will care for your dog at home and will need to provide protection from self-inflicted physical injury until your dog calms down. You may need to arrange for day care or dog-sitting.

Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning

Desensitization and counter-conditioning are most effective if the fear, phobia or anxiety is treated early. The goal is to decrease the reaction to a specific stimulus (such as being left alone).

Desensitization is the repeated, controlled exposure to the stimulus that usually causes a fearful or anxious response. It is done at such a low intensity that the dog does not respond with fear or anxiety.

Counter-conditioning is training the dog to perform a positive behavior in place of fear or anxiety.

For example, you can teach your dog to sit and stay, and when your dog performs these tasks, you reward him. Then, when your dog is in a situation where he is usually fearful or anxious, you can redirect his attention by asking him to sit and stay.

The signs of an oncoming anxiety attack are subtle in dogs. You should learn to recognize your dog’s physical signs of fear, phobias and anxiety so that you can intervene before your dog panics.

Living and Management of Fear and Anxiety in Dogs

If your dog is on medications, your veterinarian will want to conduct occasional blood testing to make sure your dog’s body can process and eliminate the medications appropriately.

If behavior modification does not work over the long-term, your veterinarian may want to modify the approach. If left untreated, these disorders are likely to progress.

You will need to help your dog with behavior modification exercises and teach your dog to relax in a variety of environmental settings. Encourage calmness when your dog appears distressed. Distract him and redirect his attention, following the plan your vet has set for you.

Fearful or anxious dogs may need to live in a protected environment with as few social stressors as possible. They do not do well in dog shows, dog parks or large crowds.

And remember that not all dogs are calmer when crated; some dogs panic when caged and will injure themselves if forced to be confined. Absolutely avoid punishment for behavior related to fear, phobia or anxiety.

Contact your veterinarian for a referral to get professional help with your dog’s behavior modification.

Featured Image: iStock.com/fotyma

Separation Anxiety

One of the most common complaints of pet parents is that their dogs are disruptive or destructive when left alone. Their dogs might urinate, defecate, bark, howl, chew, dig or try to escape. Although these problems often indicate that a dog needs to be taught polite house manners, they can also be symptoms of distress. When a dog’s problems are accompanied by other distress behaviors, such as drooling and showing anxiety when his pet parents prepare to leave the house, they aren’t evidence that the dog isn’t house trained or doesn’t know which toys are his to chew. Instead, they are indications that the dog has separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is triggered when dogs become upset because of separation from their guardians, the people they’re attached to. Escape attempts by dogs with separation anxiety are often extreme and can result in self-injury and household destruction, especially around exit points like windows and doors.

Some dogs suffering from separation anxiety become agitated when their guardians prepare to leave. Others seem anxious or depressed prior to their guardians’ departure or when their guardians aren’t present. Some try to prevent their guardians from leaving. Usually, right after a guardian leaves a dog with separation anxiety, the dog will begin barking and displaying other distress behaviors within a short time after being left alone—often within minutes. When the guardian returns home, the dog acts as though it’s been years since he’s seen his mom or dad!

When treating a dog with separation anxiety, the goal is to resolve the dog’s underlying anxiety by teaching him to enjoy, or at least tolerate, being left alone. This is accomplished by setting things up so that the dog experiences the situation that provokes his anxiety, namely being alone, without experiencing fear or anxiety.

Common Symptoms of Separation Anxiety

The following is a list of symptoms that may indicate separation anxiety:

Urinating and Defecating
Some dogs urinate or defecate when left alone or separated from their guardians. If a dog urinates or defecates in the presence of his guardian, his house soiling probably isn’t caused by separation anxiety.

Barking and Howling
A dog who has separation anxiety might bark or howl when left alone or when separated from his guardian. This kind of barking or howling is persistent and doesn’t seem to be triggered by anything except being left alone.

Chewing, Digging and Destruction
Some dogs with separation anxiety chew on objects, door frames or window sills, dig at doors and doorways, or destroy household objects when left alone or separated from their guardians. These behaviors can result in self-injury, such as broken teeth, cut and scraped paws and damaged nails. If a dog’s chewing, digging and destruction are caused by separation anxiety, they don’t usually occur in his guardian’s presence.

Escaping
A dog with separation anxiety might try to escape from an area where he’s confined when he’s left alone or separated from his guardian. The dog might attempt to dig and chew through doors or windows, which could result in self-injury, such as broken teeth, cut and scraped front paws and damaged nails. If the dog’s escape behavior is caused by separation anxiety, it doesn’t occur when his guardian is present.

Pacing
Some dogs walk or trot along a specific path in a fixed pattern when left alone or separated from their guardians. Some pacing dogs move around in circular patterns, while others walk back and forth in straight lines. If a dog’s pacing behavior is caused by separation anxiety, it usually doesn’t occur when his guardian is present.

Coprophagia
When left alone or separated from their guardians, some dogs defecate and then consume all or some of their excrement. If a dog eats excrement because of separation anxiety, he probably doesn’t perform that behavior in the presence of his guardian.

Why Do Some Dogs Develop Separation Anxiety?

There is no conclusive evidence showing exactly why dogs develop separation anxiety. However, because far more dogs who have been adopted from shelters have this behavior problem than those kept by a single family since puppyhood, it is believed that loss of an important person or group of people in a dog’s life can lead to separation anxiety. Other less dramatic changes can also trigger the disorder. The following is a list of situations that have been associated with development of separation anxiety.

Change of Guardian or Family
Being abandoned, surrendered to a shelter or given to a new guardian or family can trigger the development of separation anxiety.

Change in Schedule
An abrupt change in schedule in terms of when or how long a dog is left alone can trigger the development of separation anxiety. For example, if a dog’s guardian works from home and spends all day with his dog but then gets a new job that requires him to leave his dog alone for six or more hours at a time, the dog might develop separation anxiety because of that change.

Change in Residence
Moving to a new residence can trigger the development of separation anxiety.

Change in Household Membership
The sudden absence of a resident family member, either due to death or moving away, can trigger the development of separation anxiety.

Medical Problems to Rule Out First

Incontinence Caused by Medical Problems
Some dogs’ house soiling is caused by incontinence, a medical condition in which a dog “leaks” or voids his bladder. Dogs with incontinence problems often seem unaware that they’ve soiled. Sometimes they void urine while asleep. A number of medical issues—including a urinary tract infection, a weak sphincter caused by old age, hormone-related problems after spay surgery, bladder stones, diabetes, kidney disease, Cushing’s disease, neurological problems and abnormalities of the genitalia—can cause urinary incontinence in dogs. Before attempting behavior modification for separation anxiety, please see your dog’s veterinarian to rule out medical issues.

Medications
There are a number of medications that can cause frequent urination and house soiling. If your dog takes any medications, please contact his veterinarian to find out whether or not they might contribute to his house-soiling problems.

Other Behavior Problems to Rule Out

Sometimes it’s difficult to determine whether a dog has separation anxiety or not. Some common behavior problems can cause similar symptoms. Before concluding that your dog has separation anxiety, it’s important to rule out the following behavior problems:

Submissive or Excitement Urination
Some dogs may urinate during greetings, play, physical contact or when being reprimanded or punished. Such dogs tend to display submissive postures during interactions, such as holding the tail low, flattening the ears back against the head, crouching or rolling over and exposing the belly.

Incomplete House Training
A dog who occasionally urinates in the house might not be completely house trained. His house training might have been inconsistent or it might have involved punishment that made him afraid to eliminate while his owner is watching or nearby.

Urine Marking
Some dogs urinate in the house because they’re scent marking. A dog scent marks by urinating small amounts on vertical surfaces. Most male dogs and some female dogs who scent mark raise a leg to urinate.

Juvenile Destruction
Many young dogs engage in destructive chewing or digging while their guardians are home as well as when they’re away. Please see our articles, Destructive Chewing, for more information about these problems.

Boredom
Dogs need mental stimulation, and some dogs can be disruptive when left alone because they’re bored and looking for something to do. These dogs usually don’t appear anxious.

Excessive Barking or Howling
Some dogs bark or howl in response to various triggers in their environments, like unfamiliar sights and sounds. They usually vocalize when their guardians are home as well as when they’re away. For more information about this kind of problem, please see our articles, Barking and Howling.

What to Do If Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety

Treatment for Mild Separation Anxiety
If your dog has a mild case of separation anxiety, counterconditioning might reduce or resolve the problem. Counterconditioning is a treatment process that changes an animal’s fearful, anxious or aggressive reaction to a pleasant, relaxed one instead. It’s done by associating the sight or presence of a feared or disliked person, animal, place, object or situation with something really good, something the dog loves. Over time, the dog learns that whatever he fears actually predicts good things for him. For dogs with separation anxiety, counterconditioning focuses on developing an association between being alone and good things, like delicious food. To develop this kind of association, every time you leave the house, you can offer your dog a puzzle toy stuffed with food that will take him at least 20 to 30 minutes to finish. For example, try giving your dog a KONG® stuffed with something really tasty, like low-fat cream cheese, spray cheese or low-fat peanut butter, frozen banana and cottage cheese, or canned dog food and kibble. A KONG can even be frozen so that getting all the food out takes even more of your dog’s time. Be sure to remove these special toys as soon as you return home so that your dog only has access to them and the high-value foods inside when he’s by himself. You can feed your dog all of his daily meals in special toys. For example, you can give your dog a KONG or two stuffed with his breakfast and some tasty treats every morning before going to work. Keep in mind, though, that this approach will only work for mild cases of separation anxiety because highly anxious dogs usually won’t eat when their guardians aren’t home.

Treatment for Moderate to Severe Separation Anxiety
Moderate or severe cases of separation anxiety require a more complex desensitization and counterconditioning program. In these cases, it’s crucial to gradually accustom a dog to being alone by starting with many short separations that do not produce anxiety and then gradually increasing the duration of the separations over many weeks of daily sessions.

The following steps briefly describe a desensitization and counterconditioning program. Please keep in mind that this is a short, general explanation.

Desensitization and counterconditioning are complex and can be tricky to carry out. Fear must be avoided or the procedure will backfire and the dog will get more frightened. Because treatment must progress and change according to the pet’s reactions, and because these reactions can be difficult to read and interpret, desensitization and counterconditioning require the guidance of a trained and experienced professional. For help designing and carrying out a desensitization and counterconditioning plan, consult a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB). If you can’t find a behaviorist, you can seek help from a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT), but be sure that the trainer is qualified to help you. Determine whether she or he has education and experience in treating fear with desensitization and counterconditioning, since this kind of expertise isn’t required for CPDT certification. Please see our article, Finding Professional Behavior Help, to locate one of these experts in your area.

Step One: Predeparture Cues
As mentioned above, some dogs begin to feel anxious while their guardians get ready to leave. For example, a dog might start to pace, pant and whine when he notices his guardian applying makeup, putting on shoes and a coat, and then picking up a bag or car keys. (If your dog doesn’t show signs of anxiety when you’re preparing to leave him alone, you can just skip to step two below.) Guardians of dogs who become upset during predeparture rituals are unable to leave—even for just few seconds—without triggering their dogs’ extreme anxiety. Your dog may see telltale cues that you’re leaving (like your putting on your coat or picking up your keys) and get so anxious about being left alone that he can’t control himself and forgets that you’ll come back.

One treatment approach to this “predeparture anxiety” is to teach your dog that when you pick up your keys or put on your coat, it doesn’t always mean that you’re leaving. You can do this by exposing your dog to these cues in various orders several times a day—without leaving. For example, put on your boots and coat, and then just watch TV instead of leaving. Or pick up your keys, and then sit down at the kitchen table for awhile. This will reduce your dog’s anxiety because these cues won’t always lead to your departure, and so your dog won’t get so anxious when he sees them. Please be aware, though, that your dog has many years of learning the significance of your departure cues, so in order to learn that the cues no longer predict your long absences, your dog must experience the fake cues many, many times a day for many weeks. After your dog doesn’t become anxious when he sees you getting ready to leave, you can move on to the next step below.

Step Two: Graduated Departures/Absences
If your dog is less anxious before you leave, you can probably skip the predeparture treatment above and start with very short departures. The main rule is to plan your absences to be shorter than the time it takes for your dog to become upset. To get started, train your dog to perform out-of-sight stays by an inside door in the home, such as the bathroom. You can teach your dog to sit or down and stay while you go to the other side of the bathroom door. (You can also contact a Certified Professional Dog Trainer for assistance. Please see our article, Finding Professional Behavior Help, to locate a CPDT in your area.) Gradually increase the length of time you wait on the other side of the door, out of your dog’s sight. You can also work on getting your dog used to predeparture cues as you practice the stay. For example, ask your dog to stay. Then put on your coat, pick up your purse and go into the bathroom while your dog continues to stay.

  • Progress to doing out-of-sight stay exercises at a bedroom door, and then later at an exit door. If you always leave through the front door, do the exercises at the back door first. By the time you start working with your dog at exit doors, he shouldn’t behave anxiously because he has a history of playing the “stay game.”
  • At this point, you can start to incorporate very short absences into your training. Start with absences that last only last one to two seconds, and then slowly increase the time you’re out of your dog’s sight. When you’ve trained up to separations of five to ten seconds long, build in counterconditioning by giving your dog a stuffed food toy just before you step out the door. The food-stuffed toy also works as a safety cue that tells the dog that this is a “safe” separation.
  • During your sessions, be sure to wait a few minutes between absences. After each short separation, it’s important to make sure that your dog is completely relaxed before you leave again. If you leave again right away, while your dog is still excited about your return from the previous separation, he’ll already feel aroused when he experiences the next absence. This arousal might make him less able to tolerate the next separation, which could make the problem worse rather than better.
  • Remember to behave in a very calm and quiet manner when going out and coming in. This will lower the contrast between times when you’re there and times when you’re gone.
  • You must judge when your dog is able to tolerate an increase in the length of separation. Each dog reacts differently, so there are no standard timelines. Deciding when to increase the time that your dog is alone can be very difficult, and many pet parents make errors. They want treatment to progress quickly, so they expose their dogs to durations that are too long, which provokes anxiety and worsens the problem. To prevent this kind of mistake, watch for signs of stress in your dog. These signs might include dilated pupils, panting, yawning, salivating, trembling, pacing and exuberant greeting. If you detect stress, you should back up and shorten the length of your departures to a point where your dog can relax again. Then start again at that level and progress more slowly.
  • You will need to spend a significant amount of time building up to 40-minute absences because most of your dog’s anxious responses will occur within the first 40 minutes that he’s alone. This means that over weeks of conditioning, you’ll increase the duration of your departures by only a few seconds each session, or every couple of sessions, depending on your dog’s tolerance at each level. Once your dog can tolerate 40 minutes of separation from you, you can increase absences by larger chunks of time (5-minute increments at first, then later 15-minute increments). Once your dog can be alone for 90 minutes without getting upset or anxious, he can probably handle four to eight hours. (Just to be safe, try leaving him alone for four hours at first, and then work up to eight full hours over a few days.)
  • This treatment process can be accomplished within a few weeks if you can conduct several daily sessions on the weekends and twice-daily sessions during the work week, usually before leaving for work and in the evenings.

A Necessary Component of Separation Anxiety Treatment
During desensitization to any type of fear, it is essential to ensure that your dog never experiences the full-blown version of whatever provokes his anxiety or fear. He must experience only a low-intensity version that doesn’t frighten him. Otherwise, he won’t learn to feel calm and comfortable in situations that upset him. This means that during treatment for separation anxiety, your dog cannot be left alone except during your desensitization sessions. Fortunately there are plenty of alternative arrangements:

  • If possible, take your dog to work with you.
  • Arrange for a family member, friend or dog sitter to come to your home and stay with your dog when you’re not there. (Most dogs suffering from separation anxiety are fine as long as someone is with them. That someone doesn’t necessarily need to be you.)
  • Take your dog to a sitter’s house or to a doggy daycare.
  • Many dogs suffering from separation anxiety are okay when left in a car. You can try leaving your dog in a car—but only if the weather is moderate. Be warned: dogs can suffer from heatstroke and die if left in cars in warm weather (70 degrees Fahrenheit and up)—even for just a few minutes. DO NOT leave your dog in a car unless you’re sure that the interior of your car won’t heat up.

In addition to your graduated absences exercises, all greetings (hellos and goodbyes) should be conducted in a very calm manner. When saying goodbye, just give your dog a pat on the head, say goodbye and leave. Similarly, when arriving home, say hello to your dog and then don’t pay any more attention to him until he’s calm and relaxed. The amount of time it takes for your dog to relax once you’ve returned home will depend on his level of anxiety and individual temperament. To decrease your dog’s excitement level when you come home, it might help to distract him by asking him to perform some simple behaviors that he’s already learned, such as sit, down or shake.

To Crate or Not to Crate?
Crate training can be helpful for some dogs if they learn that the crate is their safe place to go when left alone. However, for other dogs, the crate can cause added stress and anxiety. In order to determine whether or not you should try using a crate, monitor your dog’s behavior during crate training and when he’s left in the crate while you’re home. If he shows signs of distress (heavy panting, excessive salivation, frantic escape attempts, persistent howling or barking), crate confinement isn’t the best option for him. Instead of using a crate, you can try confining your dog to one room behind a baby gate.

Provide Plenty of “Jobs” for Your Dog to Do
Providing lots of physical and mental stimulation is a vital part of treating many behavior problems, especially those involving anxiety. Exercising your dog’s mind and body can greatly enrich his life, decrease stress and provide appropriate outlets for normal dog behaviors. Additionally, a physically and mentally tired dog doesn’t have much excess energy to expend when he’s left alone. To keep your dog busy and happy, try the following suggestions:

  • Give your dog at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity (for example, running and swimming) every day. Try to exercise your dog right before you have to leave him by himself. This might help him relax and rest while you’re gone.
  • Play fun, interactive games with your dog, such as fetch and tug-of-war.
  • Take your dog on daily walks and outings. Take different routes and visit new places as often as possible so that he can experience novel smells and sights.
  • If your dog likes other dogs, let him play off-leash with his canine buddies.
  • Frequently provide food puzzle toys. You can feed your dog his meals in these toys or stuff them with a little peanut butter, cheese or yogurt. Also give your dog a variety of attractive edible and inedible chew things. Puzzle toys and chew items encourage chewing and licking, which have been shown to have a calming effect on dogs. Be sure to provide them whenever you leave your dog alone.
  • Make your dog “hunt” his meals by hiding small piles of his kibble around your house or yard when you leave. Most dogs love this game!
  • Enroll in a reward-based training class to increase your dog’s mental activity and enhance the bond between you and your dog. Contact a Certified Professional Dog Trainer for group or private classes that can give you and your dog lots of great skills to learn and games to play together. After you and your dog have learned a few new skills, you can mentally tire your dog out by practicing them right before you leave your dog home alone. Please see our article, Finding Professional Behavior Help, to locate a CPDT in your area.
  • Get involved in dog sports, such as agility, freestyle (dancing with your dog) or flyball.

Medications Might Help
Always consult with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist before giving your dog any type of medication for a behavior problem.

The use of medications can be very helpful, especially for severe cases of separation anxiety. Some dogs are so distraught by any separation from their pet parents that treatment can’t be implemented without the help of medication. Anti-anxiety medication can help a dog tolerate some level of isolation without experiencing anxiety. It can also make treatment progress more quickly.

On rare occasions, a dog with mild separation anxiety might benefit from drug therapy alone, without accompanying behavior modification. The dog becomes accustomed to being left alone with the help of the drug and retains this new conditioning after he’s gradually weaned off the medication. However, most dogs need a combination of medication and behavior modification.

If you’d like to explore this option, speak with your veterinarian, a veterinary behaviorist or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist who can work closely with your vet. Please see our article, Finding Professional Behavior Help, to locate one of these professionals in your area.

What NOT to Do
Do not scold or punish your dog. Anxious behaviors are not the result of disobedience or spite. They are distress responses! Your dog displays anxious behaviors when left alone because he’s upset and trying to cope with a great deal of stress. If you punish him, he may become even more upset and the problem could get much worse.

7 natural remedies for anxious dogs

Anxiety is common among dogs for a wide variety of reasons, sometimes situational and sometimes based on personality. Anxiety comes about through different fears or phobias, and is expressed through various behaviors including constant barking, excessive licking or grooming, destroying everything from clothes to walls and door frames, eliminating indoors even when housebroken, or even reacting snappish or aggressively toward people or other animals.

Many anxieties and phobias can be helped through training and conditioning. For instance, separation anxiety (the fear of being left alone) is extremely common among dogs and can often be dramatically improved or even eliminated by gradual conditioning to being alone with positive reinforcement. However, some dogs are simply anxious in their general disposition, or they need help calming down enough before training them to get through a stressful situation can even begin. For these dogs, there are a handful of natural solutions you can try. Dogs still need training, too; there’s no magic cure to fix fearfulness and anxiety for good. But the natural solutions listed below may go a long way toward helping a dog cope as the real solutions — long-term training, desensitization and conditioning — take hold.

6 Tips To Help Dog Separation Anxiety

By Cesar Millan

You come home from a long day at work to a spinning, jumping whirlwind of energy. Your dog follows you into your living room, where you find that he has chewed on your favorite pair of shoes. Your neighbor comes by to tell you that, once again, your dog has been driving the neighborhood crazy by howling and barking while you were away. Is this scenario familiar? Your dog may be suffering from dog separation anxiety.

In nature, dogs are almost never away from their pack. It is our job to help make this unnatural situation less stressful!

Here are five tips to help ease separation anxiety:

1. Before you leave the house, take your dog for a walk.

Start your day by taking your dog for a brisk walk. To make the walk even more rigorous, use a dog backpack with extra weight in it. Then reward your dog’s calm-submissive energy with food and water. Some dogs may need to rest before eating, but all dogs can benefit from hydration. The idea is to leave your dog in quiet, resting mode while you are away.

2. No touch, no talk, no eye contact.

Don’t make a big deal when you leave for the day or when you return. This way, you are communicating to your dog that the time apart is no big deal. It’s just business as usual! Depending on the severity of the dog anxiety, you may need to practice the rule for five minutes or up to an hour before you leave and when you get back.

3. Say goodbye to your dog long before you leave.

Having trouble practicing “no touch, no talk, no eye contact”? Take a moment to share affection and tell your dog that you will miss him way before you actually leave. Keep in mind that this display is for you, not your dog! Your dog won’t have his feelings hurt if you didn’t say goodbye.

4. Stay calm and assertive!

When you are ready to go to work, leave those guilty, nervous, and concerned feelings behind. Instead, let your dog know that everything is going to be okay by projecting the confident energy of a pack leader. A calm and assertive leader can ease separation anxiety in dogs.

5. Start out small by leaving your dog alone for just five minutes.

Leave your dog alone for five minutes, then extend the time to twenty minutes, then an hour. Continue to increase the time you spend away until you can leave for a full eight hours without any more dog problems!

6. Leave your dog with a good audiobook.

Studies have now shown that audiobooks can have a calming effect on dogs and help to lessen their separation anxiety. The sound of a human voice can help reduce their stress while youre’ not at home.

Do you have a success story about getting your dog through separation anxiety? Share the wisdom. Tell us how you did it in the comments.

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