Having a dog with anxious behavior can be tough to cope with, for both your dog and your entire family. You might feel at a loss when trying to find relief!
In our first series, Anxiety in Dogs, we’ll cover signs, symptoms, and types of anxiety as well as treatment options for a variety of anxious behaviors. Today’s post lays the foundation for future weeks, helping you identify signs and identifying common “types” (i.e., conditions under which anxious behavior occurs).
There are several behaviors correlated with anxious behavior. Observing your dog and his behavior can help determine if your dog has anxiety. Common signs may include, but are not limited to:
- heavy panting,
- whining or vocalizing,
- pilo erecting (i.e., fur standing on end),
- avoidance behaviors,
- and excessively seeking attention.
If your dog is regularly showing one or more of these behaviors correlated with anxiety, it is quite possible that he or she is experiencing anxiety.
Generally, the conditions that result in such anxious behavior occur in relatively common contexts – separation anxiety, storm phobia, extreme avoidance, and aggression. Although this may feel less personalized or special, it is actually great news! In such cases, treatment is relatively straight forward, replicable, and is based in science. Of course each dog is unique and any training program should be individualized and take individual differences into account.
1. Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety refers to distress in dogs when they are unable to physically access their owners and, more often, refers to distress when left alone. Behaviors observed range from mild to severe, with actions including excessive barking and whining when left alone, drooling and panting, accidents in the home, eating through doors, and pulling off window treatments. Dogs often engage in this behavior at approximately 18 months-3 years of age, but it can occur in much younger dogs as well.
2. Storm Phobia
Storm phobia refers to anxiety related to thunderstorms or a fear of thunder or any environmental events leading up to a thunderstorm. Behaviors include signs of frantic pacing and panting, shivering, and hiding in small areas. Dogs often seek out their owners excessively and are difficult to comfort. Typical onset occurs a bit later in life at approximately 5 years but can occur in much younger dogs. Dogs that engage in separation anxiety often later begin engaging in storm phobia as well.
3. Noise Phobia
Noise phobia refers to anxiety related to any loud sounds or events leading up to a predictable noise. Just like with storm phobia, the behaviors include signs of frantic pacing and panting, shivering, and hiding in small areas. Dogs suffering from noise phobia look to their owner for comfort. Typical onset occurs later in life at approximately 5 years but can occur in much younger dogs. This particular anxiety in dogs can be caused by an obvious event (e.g., fireworks, bee sting) and can quickly grow.
4. Extreme Avoidance Behavior
A more acute set of behaviors includes extreme avoidance. In such cases, dogs may avoid outdoors completely and attempt to hide under furniture indoors or may avoid stepping or walking on certain surfaces. He or she likely lacked appropriate early socialization. Extreme avoidance is often seen in dogs that have been homeless and living on the streets for much of their lives or adult dogs who have been used for breeding in a puppy mill environment. This behavior can be evident even in young puppies and often becomes significantly worse with age without a good intervention and an intensive training program.
Although it may seem like an uphill battle, there is certainly hope for your dog! With an effective treatment in place and lots of consistency, huge improvements can be made. Your dog can live a life filled with a lot less anxiety. To learn more about the effective treatments for dog anxiety, follow along with our series on anxiety in dogs. For more individualized help, contact us today or reach out to your local Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist.
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