How To Help Dogs Cope With Stress and Anxiety

*Collaborative post.

Just like us humans, our beloved dogs can become stressed and anxious from time to time. Although it is unpleasant for dogs and owners alike, anxiety is a normal emotion and does not mean that you’re a bad dog owner. A variety of factors can trigger your dogs anxiety, and these factors usually fall into one of these three categories: fear, separation and aging. 

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What causes anxiety in dogs? 

Fear related anxiety. 

Fear related anxiety is, as the name suggests, anxiety that is a result of your dog’s fear. This can include loud noises such as fireworks, new people, visual stimulation such as hats, face coverings and umbrellas, being placed in a specific situation such as car rides and vet visits, and also new textures and surfaces such as gravel or grass. 

Some of the anxiety that comes from these scenarios may only be brief and vanish once your dog is used to it. For example, your dog may be anxious to walk on wooden flooring at first, but will soon get used to it. Other fear based anxieties may take further work from both owner and dog alike to overcome.

Separation anxiety in dogs. 

Separation anxiety affects a lot of dogs and is something that many dog owners may now be experiencing as a result of COVID-19’s lockdown restrictions. Separation anxiety prevents dogs from being able to settle and feel safe when they are left alone. Separation anxiety can manifest itself as destructive behaviour such as destroying furniture, constant crying, barking and howling, fear induced urination and extreme physical symptoms such as shaking. 

Anxiety in aging dogs. 

Just like us humans, as dogs age, their cognitive functions can start to decline. This in turn can result in memory problems and lead aging dogs to become anxious and confused. 

Treating anxiety in dogs. 

The good news is that with love, time and a hefty amount of patience, it’s possible to help your dog overcome the stress and anxiety they may be feeling.

The first thing to do once you notice your dog’s anxiety is to try and find the root of the problem. Are they anxious only when they’re left alone? Do other dogs send them into a frenzy? Are sudden loud noises causing your dog to behave erratically? 

Once you’ve figured out what’s causing stress and anxiety in your dog, you can start to find effective ways to help. 

Sometimes the trick to helping your dog’s anxiety is as simple as finding some new, exciting toys and chews {affiliate} to keep him/her occupied while you’re not there. 

Other times, additional training may be required, such as when fear of other dogs is causing stress and anxiety. In some cases, professional dog trainers can be a god send, offering expert advice and support. In severe cases of anxiety, veterinarians can prescribe anxiety medication to help your dog settle. 

Where to find information that can help with your dog’s anxiety. 

Leading pet website, Lords & Labradors, have created a campaign specifically geared towards helping dogs cope with stress and anxiety. As well as selling products geared towards keeping your dogs happy, healthy and safe, they’re also keen to help owners understand their pets anxieties. They have lots of truly useful and, most importantly, practical information on how to help anxious dogs to overcome their stresses and how to help owners identify the causes. 

Separation anxiety in dogs: my experience. 

I have first hand experience in dealing with separation anxiety in dogs. Our beautiful whippet girl was adopted at roughly 9 months old. She had been bought into the vets with a broken leg and identified as a stray. Honestly, when we laid eyes on her, she was the most precious little puppy in the world. It was clear from the start that she would do anything to make her humans happy and responded heavily to praise rather than food related treats. 

Unfortunately, she had severe separation anxiety. An effective and proven way of helping separation anxiety in dogs is to give your dog plenty of exercise before leaving them. Unfortunately for us, due to her broken leg that wasn’t an option. 

This lead us to spend hours surfing the internet, talking to professional dog trainers and discussing our issues with family members who work with animals daily. Our little girl is a whippet and was therefore born to run, sadly, she just couldn’t, so it was no wonder she was so worked up when left alone. 

We worked a lot on treating her anxiety, her are just a few of the methods we used:

  • Leaving her in her crate/in the living room for a minute and then re-entering and sitting down. We gradually increased the time we were outside of the room with her. If she howled and whined while we weren’t in the room, we would re-enter and completely ignore her to show her that this behaviour does not get her attention. 
  • We purchased a calming Adaptil plug in adaptor {affiliate} and placed in near her crate in the room that she was always left in when we were out. The adaptors work by producing calming pheromones that dogs associate with the safety of their mothers.
  • Before leaving, we’d put some gorgeous calming paw balm {affiliate} on her paws and on her bed. Specialist dog paw balms are taste safe and can be applied to the dogs bedding as well, for additional comforting smells and relaxation.
  • Exercising to the best of her ability before leaving her. She had a broken leg, so we did a lot of mental training with her, including teaching her commands such as sit, spin, wait/stay and working on her recall. Ideally a nice long walk before leaving your dog is the best way to exercise them and get their stored up energy out. 
  • Giving her high value treats, such as ham or cheese, that she only gets when she’s in her crate just as we leave. We also gave her exciting treats in Kongs {affiliate} to keep her occupied whilst we were out. 

She’s not completely over her separation anxiety, but she is much happier than she used to be. 

Not all of these things worked for us, but we kept persevering and working hard on her training. 

There definitely isn’t a quick fix for separation anxiety, but with each passing week she gets better and better. She can now be left in her crate for short periods of time and, once we return home, we wait for her to be settled in her crate before letting her out. We learned that the most important part of training a dog with separation anxiety is to really focus on rewarding the calm, positive behaviour and to ignore the undesirable behaviour. 

My advice for dealing with stress and anxiety in dogs?

My advice to anyone who is dealing with stress and anxiety in their dog is to research, research, research! There is so much readily available advice available for free out there, like the amazing advice and infographic Lords & Labradors has provided. 

Just like with us humans, there is no one way to fix it all – different methods will work for different dogs – so be patient, stay calm and remember that even an increase of 30 seconds of calm behavior is progress! Eventually, with dog and owner working together, you’ll both get to a place where you’re happy and calm. 

12 comments

  • I believe that our 5 year old Lab has developed anxiety. It’s frustrating because he didn’t always have this problem and we don’t understand why the behavior continues and worsens.

  • This is a great post – lots of people don’t even think about animals having anxiety like us! Very helpful to know there are ways we can help.

  • This is a great post and really informative too so thanks for sharing. My mum had a dog that suffered with seperation anxiety when we were little and in the end she found feeding him just before we went out as well as leaving on the radio quietly really helped him.

  • Buddy has separation anxiety and it is something we are working on right now – unfortunately due to lockdown he was so used to everyone being around all the time, he has found it hard to get used to them being at work and school! Will definitely be trying some of your suggestions.

  • Such a beautiful post for pet owners who have dogs who are going through stress and anxiety. I am sure it must be a difficult time for both so this post is so helpful to help pets relax.

  • I love this post. Especially now more than ever it is so important to keep a check on your dogs health and how to help if there are issues xxx

  • Our dog is ok with being left alone for a little while but she gets so excited when we get back I know she had worried. We were recommend to get the adaptil plug in by our vets this morning as they think she is very “highly strung” luckily I work from home so we only leave her for 20mins of the school run and she copes so well with that now.

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