Even though it seems like they shouldn’t have a care in the world, it’s still possible for your dog to have anxiety. Sure, their schedule consists of nothing more than sleeping, eating, and playing, so you’d think they’d be living the stress-free life. But even under the best circumstances, a dog can still struggle.
And, as it goes with anxiety, there are many possible reasons why this could be the case. “There is a genetic component to anxiety,” Dr. Gary Richter, a veterinary health expert at Rover, tells Bustle. “Just like some people are more anxious than others, so it is with dogs. In the case of dogs, the genetic tendency frequently is somewhat breed related, as well.”
Your dog’s past could also play a role, as well as their environment. “Dogs that have had trauma in their lives may be more prone to have problems with anxiety,” Dr. Richter says. “[And] high levels of noise or commotion in a dog’s environment may lead to greater anxiety.”
Some dogs also experience separation anxiety, which can cause them to feel panicked when you leave them alone. “Typically, separation anxiety refers to a dog that has formed a hyper-attachment to a single individual,” Dr. Richter says. “If that person isnât present, the dog goes into panic mode.” And they can act out (think barking, peeing, eating your shoes, etc.) as a result.
When dogs are anxious, they tend to display these “bad” behaviors as a way of coping with their feelings. But if you know what to look for, you can take steps to help them feel better. Here are some signs your dog has anxiety, according to experts, as well as what to do about it.
It’s fine if your dog barks at something they see outside, or if they react when they hear a suspicious noise. But if yours is barking for no reason, and can’t be soothed, it very well may be a sign of anxiety.
“Even dogs who arenât big talkers might be noisier than usual,” Dr. Richter says. “They may also be jumpier and more sensitive to noises and quick movements.”
To help them out, try distracting them with noise. As Dr. Richter says, “You can help ease a dogâs anxiety by leaving the radio on a low volume.” Making your home more relaxing for them can make a difference, too.
When a dog is anxious, they tend to leave trails of pee as they walk. “Urine dribbling or defection happens [during the] fight-or-flight response,” Dr. Turnera Croom, a holistic veterinarian, tells Bustle. “The animalâs body (just like humans) produces a sympathetic nervous system response, which increases adrenaline, and allows them to get out of there. A by-product of this is relaxing of the bladder and anal sphincter muscles, allowing waste to release.”
While it may seem like they’re being bad or forgetting all about their house training, try not overreact. As Dr. Croom says, “This means do not say ‘bad dog’ or yell when [they urinate] due to fear. This will just reinforce that [they have] something to fear, and [they] will feed off of your anxiety.”
“Chewing on objects, door frames, or window sills; digging at doors or doorways; or destroying household objects when left alone,” are all signs of anxiety, Dr. Richter says. This is your dog’s way of getting nervous energy out of her system.
But there are definitely better ways they can go about it. As Dr. Richter says, “Help alleviate their urge to gnaw by leaving them with a chew toy, bone, frozen Kong, or anything else they can hold and lick. Of course, make sure whatever you are leaving them is safe.”
If your dog paces around the house, they may just be bored. But it can also be a sign of anxiety. “Weâve all caught ourselves pacing when anxious, and dogs do it, too,” Dr. Richter, says. “Some pacing dogs move around in circular patterns, while others walk back and forth in straight lines.”
Tired dogs are less likely to feel anxious, so if your dog is pacing, give them more exercise. As Dr. Richter says, “You can help the dog burn off that nervous energy by taking them on a long walk or jog.”
If you ever catch your dog exhaling sharply, or expelling a bit of air along with a small bark, take note. As Dr. Croom says. this behavior is known as “chuffing” and it’s a form of stress relief.
“We humans tend to think of all tail wagging or thumping as a sign of happiness â but no,” Dr. Croom says. “Tail thumping and a submissive grin together are a classic sign of anxiety and unhappiness in the canine world.”
Compared to the happy tail wag dogs have when you come home from work, for example, tail thumping can be slower and a bit more “sheepish.” When that’s the case, it may help to bond with your dog to help them feel more at ease, while also making your house more comfortable.
“Work on creating a relaxing environment, and introducing play activities,” Dr. Croom says. “This could include playing tug of war, hide and seek, or simply enjoying a quiet [night]. Relaxation is different for each dog, so when you find [their] Zen place, identify it, and try to extend it as long as possible.”
Escaping behaviors are not only a sign of anxiety, but are also dangerous for your dog. (You obviously don’t want them bolting for the door, or running down the street.) So do what you can to ease their anxiety, while also keeping them safe.
“Always, always place a second barrier around doorways, like a baby gate,” Dr. Richter says. “Never leave a dog alone in a fenced yard. Even if a dog in your care doesnât suffer from separation anxiety, they may get a whiff of a delicious squirrel and give it a chase.”
While it may seem like they’re just being cute and sleepy, if your dog is yawning constantly, it may be due to stress. “Yawning is a very subtle and non-specific sign of anxiety that is often missed,” Dr. Joanna Woodnutt, MRCVS, a small animal veterinarian, tells Bustle.
You might also notice that they get a bit slobbery, or begin licking their lips. “Lip licking is another sign we misread,” Dr. Woodnutt says. “For a dog itâs a sign of nervousness, and may be accompanied by a turning of the head.”
Some symptoms are easier to spot, as is often the case with shaking and trembling, which is a sign of moderate to severe anxiety, animal behaviorist Jessica Gore, CPDT-KA, tells Bustle.
Your dog may also appear visibly worried or concerned. “If your pup looks freaked out, that’s because they are,” Gore says. “Wide eyes, furrowed brow, [and] expressive ears are other signs of anxiety.”
If this sounds familiar, it may help to make a few changes for your dog. “A combination of behavioral therapy, medications, and supportive modalities can improve symptoms of anxiety in animals,” Gore says. “Change in lifestyle and life enrichment through environmental elements and mental challenges, like puzzle toys, will also reduce anxiety and create mental wellness.”
“Dogs who are anxious will attempt to avoid situations, things, and people that scare them,” dog trainer Kristi Benson, CTC, tells Bustle. “This may look like leaving the room, pulling away on leash, hiding behind their ownerâs legs, and so on.”
For naturally fearful dogs, meeting with a trainer can make a big difference. “Usually, these dogs are helped by using a few techniques,” Benson says. “The dog is kept safe from the things which scare them, to start. Once theyâre feeling safe, the scary things are re-introduced at a level which the dog can handle, and usually food treats are used to change the dogâs associations.”
“Pacing, drooling, constant yawning, lip licking, scratching, and general body tension can all be signs of anxiety,” Kayla Fratt, an associate certified dog behavior consultant at Journey Dog Training, tells Bustle. “These are collectively known as ‘calming signals.’ Theyâre also normal behaviors, but are potential signs of anxiety when theyâre out of context.” If your dog is yawning or scratching when you’re out in public, for example, it may mean they’re feeling uncomfortable.
It’s important to pay attention to these signals from your dog, and keep an eye out for signs of anxiety. Sometimes, making a few small changes to their routine â such as taking them for more walks â can do the trick. But for more severe cases of anxiety, you might need to call on a dog trainer or vet for help. There are dozens of ways to help an anxious dog feel better, so don’t hesitate to reach out.