Does your dog sometimes get fearful or anxious? If so, you’re far from alone – in fact, according the PDSA’s PAW Report, just 20% of dog owners think their pet is ‘not afraid of anything’. That leaves a huge 80% who can find life stressful from time to time. So whether they find travelling troublesome or struggle to socialise with other dogs, let’s take a closer look at anxiety in dogs, and how you can help.
Doggie fears and phobias are as diverse as human ones. From the random, like hot air balloons, clouds and cats, to the more familiar – like fireworks and (ssssh) the V.E.T. – lots of dogs show signs of fear and anxiety from time to time. So how can you help them overcome their fears? We believe it starts with understanding what’s going on, so let’s take a closer look at the most common ‘triggers’ of anxiety in dogs in the UK:
So now you know anxiety in dogs is common – but how can you help your dog feel more confident and outgoing? Ideally, you should work on a long-term programme of canine behavioural therapy to help you and your dog get the most of life together, but here are some practical steps to help straight away.
10 practical tips to soothe anxiety in dogs
- Never, ever punish an anxious or fearful dog – it’s upsetting when your dog is destructive, barks excessively, lunges or has accidents, but always be kind. Punishment will make them more stressed, deepen their fears, and can even lead to more extreme reactions.
- Avoid whatever upsets them (if possible) – until you can get some expert help and start working on how they feel about it.
- Exercise it out – like in humans, exercise can be a great way to burn off stress. A good run before leaving your dog home alone can really help some dogs with mild separation anxiety. A full tummy can help, too
- Invest in a wrap – Thundershirts and Anxiety Wraps give your dog the feeling of a comforting hug, which helps to calm and reassure. They’re particularly good for fearful travellers and dogs who hate fireworks.
- Keep calm and carry on – be mindful of the emotional cues you give your dog. If you react to their nervous reactions by becoming tense and stressed, you can reinforce fears, so try and keep calm and upbeat, with loose body language and soft, happy tone of voice.
- Let them get close – physical contact can really help some stressed and anxious dogs, so let them snuggle up or sit closer to you if they seek comfort. Don’t forget that dogs read your emotional cues too, so don’t make too much fuss of them, and act as ‘normal’ as possible.
- Try calming music or pop Radio 4 on a low volume – this can be helpful for dogs with mild separation anxiety or noise phobias.
- Make a doggie den – if your dog is scared of something seasonal (fireworks, visitors around Xmas or Halloween), try making a safe, quiet den for them – a blanket over their crate, putting their bed in a big cardboard box covered with blankets, or creating a safe, cosy hidey hole behind the sofa or under a table with a double duvet over the top.
- Use food and distractions – a game with their favourite toy, or some tasty treats can switch your dog’s focus from whatever they’re scared of to you (and the rewards on offer!)
- Try a calming supplement – different supplements work in different ways, but the natural, scientifically-proven ingredients in YuCALM Dog help them cope with stress by making your dog feel calmer and happier. This is good news in the long term too, as they become more receptive to behaviour therapy techniques, which in time leads to a happier, more playful and confident dog.
How to reduce anxiety in dogs long-term
Dogs, like people, are all different – and so are their fears and anxiety triggers. This means there’s not really a single, simple solution to help fearful or anxious dogs feel better. However, we’d broadly recommend a 5-step approach to reducing anxiety in dogs. It starts with understanding what your dog is afraid of…
Spot what’s scary
However clever your dog might be, he or she can’t tell you when they’re feeling frightened. That’s why – as pet parents – we all need to take the time to learn a little bit of dog. By learning some doggie body language, you can discover what’s triggering your dog’s fearful moments.
By spotting the subtle or early signs of distress, you can get to work quickly to help your dog feel more confident. This is really important, as it can avoid more serious reactions – like aggression – and deeper, more ingrained fears that are more challenging to resolve.
You’ve identified your dog’s ‘triggers’ – now what should you do? Steer clear! If at all possible, modify your routine so your dog doesn’t come into contact with whatever they find scary. This will stop their reactions escalating while you identify the next steps to take with some expert support.
Talk to the experts
Some of the signs of an anxious dog can also be indicators that something’s not right physically. A quick trip to the vets will rule out anything medical – and can be a great place to start when it comes to tracking down a good behaviourist in your area.
When it comes to working with fearful or anxious dogs, we always recommend working with a fully certified behaviourist. Always check to see they’re on the register of ASAB Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourists (CCABs) – this guarantees that your expert really is an expert, and is up-to-date with the latest information and techniques.
Out-of-date advice can actually do a lot more harm than good to your dog’s behaviour and welfare. That's why it’s really important to be careful and do your homework when you’re seeking behavioural advice.
Make a plan – and stick to it
Working with your expert, the next step is making a behaviour therapy plan to tackle whatever it is that’s making your dog feel anxious. The strategy your expert will recommend will depend on your dog, their triggers and your situation. Typically, it might include:
- Desensitisation and counter-conditioning exercises and techniques.
- Medication to relieve anxiety – that might mean antidepressants for dogs.
- Having fun with play, reward-based training games and exercise – to help release feel-good hormones and calm anxiety.
- Changes to you and your dog’s routine.
- Natural calming supplements – like YuCALM Dog – to support behavioural therapy.
Be calm, kind, patient and consistent
Helping your dog feel happy and confident isn’t always easy, and their behaviour won’t change overnight. You’ll need to really commit to your expert’s behaviour modification programme, and put in the time and effort to help your dog feel more confident and in control.
Though calming supplements and medication can help manage their symptoms of stress and anxiety, the most important thing is to change how your dog feels about whatever he or she finds scary with a behaviour modification programme – and that takes kindness, time, patience and commitment. But put in the love and care, and your dog will thank you ten times over with a happier-ever-after together.
Does your dog get fearful or anxious? What upsets him or her? Have you helped your dog get over anxiety? Do you have any positive training tips that other pet parents might find useful? Please do leave a comment and share with our community.