Dog Anxiety: Symptoms
Dog anxiety comes in many forms, some obvious and some less so. In fact, some breeds including German shepherds are naturally anxious at the best of times. It’s a good trait for a guard dog. Dog anxiety affects different dogs and breeds differently. Many dog problems and dog issues stem from anxiety. This can lead to other problem behaviours including:
- aggression (often labeled fear aggression)
- weeing indoors
- running away
- self harm
- separation anxiety
It’s OK for dogs to be anxious some of the time. It’s a normal emotion, pretty much like with humans. However, if the dog is over-anxious and nothing is done, then the problems can spiral out of control with multiple symptoms.
It is normally fairly easy to spot an anxious dog, for me the most common is a reluctance to approach or cowering. Also, with puppies, you can read it in their body language and if you ignore their anxiety and approach them, they will likely wee. Panting and continuous licking are also signs as is following you absolutely everywhere you go. Generally, it is a good idea to get aquainted with dog body language and then you will find you have a much better understanding of how they are feeling.
Dog Anxiety: Causes
Fear anxiety is often caused by loud noises such as loud bangs (thunder, fireworks etc.). Separation anxiety is where a dog becomes anxious when its owner is away. With fear anxiety, dogs can sometimes go into an almost trance like state and charge around aimlessly. I have created separate pages to discuss fear based anxiety and separation anxiety.
General anxiety will usually be a combination of the breed and personality of the dog combined with the behaviour of the owner. For example, terriers tend to shrug stuff off whereas German shepherds can become anxious about pretty much anything. In my experience, much dog anxiety is caused by inconsistency from humans. This is a problem because humans are, by nature, inconsistent. We can work out cause and effect and so determine what is upsetting us. Dogs do not have the concept of cause and effect (outside of getting rewards that is). Dogs live in the moment. If your dog is looking anxious for no apparent reason, the chances are it’s your demeanour or body language that is causing it.
For example, you might get frustrated at a TV programme. The dog will pick up your frustration and may become anxious. If these kind of episodes happen a lot, then the dog’s anxiety could build. Also, often people try to tell their dogs what to do by speaking to them. Dogs don’t understand human speak whatever you might think. They will then probably get it wrong and then detect your frustration. It’s not always easy.
What to do about Dog Anxiety
The first thing to do is to work out the root cause. If this is not readily apparent, consult experts such as vets or dog behaviourists. It’s worth reading up on dog behaviour and dog anxiety symptoms. Sometimes the cause is obvious, sometimes it is not. For example, if you are not the pack leader in your pack and your dog has stepped in but is not suited to pack leadership, this responsibility might make the dog anxious. If you tend to give treats randomly, then the dog can spend the day worrying about where and when it’s next treat is coming from.
Only when you have worked out the cause can you do something about it. It is often a good idea to take advice when working out a treatment plan. If you get it wrong, then the chances are you could make things worse.
This is why I always encourage dog owners to learn as much as possible about dog’s minds and behaviour. The more you know, the easier it is to get it right.
Examples of Dog Anxiety
I have taken on a few rescue dogs of various breeds over the years plus I have helped a number of people with their dogs. One approach I use is to keep a dog journal, i.e. write a dog journal from the dog’s perspective that can then be read by the owner. This gives the dog a chance to explain what is going on in a way that the owner might be receptive to.
I have taken this concept and combined it with my experiences with dogs to write a book. The book features the stories of four dogs, how they were rehabilitated over time and includes all of the symptoms mentioned above. It is written from the dogs’ perspective, as if they wrote the book themselves. In this way, I have tried to create an accessible insight into dogs’ minds.