Nervous Dog? Here’s What Could Be Giving Your Dog Anxiety

It can be frustrating to see the stark difference between your expectations and your reality.

For many people, purchasing a dog comes with several of these expectations. You may be ready and happy to support a dog that loves you and other members of your family. You may be hoping for a dog that jumps for joy when you arrive and loves to greet new guests.

Unfortunately for some, this isn’t going to be the case with all dogs. Some dogs seem to fear others rather than fulfill their stereotypes and expectations.

Having a nervous dog can be a frustrating experience. You’ll have to chase them down whenever the doorbell rings, or hold them as they shake at the first sound of thunder. You may have heard of a little fear of the unknown in pets, but in these cases, it can seem like they fear just about everything.

Having a nervous dog is nothing new, but solving that problem and acclimating your pet to a normal, healthy lifestyle is another thing entirely. That’s why we’re going to be highlight what could be giving your dog anxiety, as well as breaking down the different techniques you can utilize to ensure their long-term health and happiness.

What Makes Dogs Anxious?

anxious dog

There are different types of anxiety in dogs—much like how you can experience different types of anxiety yourself. Dogs are individualized, complex creatures, and we’ll need to break down the different types of anxiety, so you best know how to approach the problem.

The most common occurrence that can make dogs anxious is separation from the owners. More so than most animals, dogs are innately wired to be a part of a pack. As the homeowner, you can often be seen as an equal or even a superior. Without your presence, the pack is incomplete—and everything will seem in disarray.

Next is a more nebulous form of anxiety, which is going to differ greatly between each dog—and that’s the fear of the unknown. This sounds like a very human quality, but as it turns out, your furry friend may be suffering from the same dread that you may be.

Loud noises like thunder and the sounds of a city might be a minor inconvenience to you, but to your pet, these sounds are unexplainable and often can be misconstrued as a sign of a threat. Since there’s no easy way to explain that there’s nothing to fear, dogs will instinctually kick into their fight or flight instincts, which can lead to some very nasty experiences.

Much like in humans, these visceral reactions can often be traced back to a traumatic experience. This is especially true for dogs that come from so-called “puppy mills” and dogs from pounds and rescue centers. These dogs have often been through hell and back—and have the mental scars to prove it.

We now know through research that dogs can “lock-in” many of these fears and phobias during their first few years of life. These fears can stick with a dog for a lifetime, so approaching anxieties and confronting them before it sticks into long-term memory can be crucial. We’ll get more into how to prevent anxieties a little bit later on.

Uncovering Stressors

dog in a cage

Before we can get into the issue of approaching and confronting our dogs’ anxieties, we’ll need to first understand what these stressors are and when our dogs feel anxious and uncomfortable.

There are, of course, the classical signs of stress, nerves, or fear. Whimpering and tucking their tail between their legs is a common sign of distress or nerves. These signs are most often seen in locations that a dog may perceive as bad or distressing, like a veterinarians office.

There are also other signs, like increased agitation or a short temper. Dogs known for their polite and kind demeanor may be quick to lash out and even bite others. This can all to often be seen as aggression, but it may come from a self-defense mechanism enacted when a dog feels as if he or she is in danger.

The key to uncovering stressors in your nervous dog is not to locate classical signs of distress, but rather signs that you may not have uncovered previously. In other words, ask yourself “is this a normal behavior for my pet?”

Next, make a note of when your pet is agitated and connect the common threads between each instance. It may come from large, loud objects like a vacuum cleaner, or maybe a doorbell or the sound of thunder. Regardless, identifying these stressors will make it far easier to try to correct the problem and create the best possible environment for your pet.

Confronting Anxieties

The girl kiss the dog

Now that we know how and why our dogs become stressed, we can better confront the problem at hand.

Of course, for problems like separation anxiety, this isn’t going to be easy. Many workplaces don’t exactly allow for remote working, and bring a pet to work is also not going to be much of an option.

However, minimizing the stresses of separation anxiety are not impossible. To best approach the problem, try to make leaving home as fun as possible. This can often mean finding your pet’s favorite foods and leaving them out only after you leave, or rewarding your pet with a treat for good behavior.

Over time, this classical conditioning should take the edge off of some of the worst symptoms of separation anxiety. Remember the pavlovian dog story from

These tactics can also be used on other anxieties, like dealing with the fear of thunder. When you hear thunder and see your dog go into a nervous fit, don’t immediately come to its aid—instead, portray a sense of comfort and show your dog that there’s nothing to be scared of.

Then, when the storm has passed, try to reward your dog with lots of love and affection for weathering the storm. You may not be able to eliminate the fear completely, but by showing (as the leader of the pack) that there’s no reason to fear, then you should be able to see the reduction of symptoms over time.

When it comes to correcting any behavior in dogs, the steps are almost always the same:

  • Reward positive behavior immediately
  • Discipline for negative behavior immediately
  • Make the action you are correcting clear to the dog
  • Redirect bad behavior into good behavior when possible

Be sure to keep these tenants in mind when trying to make your corrections, and always be direct about the behavior you are correcting. While it may be necessary to discipline your dogs, approaching anxieties is almost always better served by rewarding positive behavior.

Knowing When to Call for Help

dog behind the walls

Unfortunately, even with the best of intentions, you may not be able to completely absolve your dog of anxieties. In fact, in some cases, you may not even be able to make a difference in the behavior.

This is why you need to know when it might be time to seek outside help. There are many obedience schools around the country that you can utilize to try to correct this behavior. Many of them can use a gentle touch to try to recreate the anxiety-inducing situations and show your dog the best ways to respond.

Calling for outside help isn’t admitting defeat—but rather, accepting the fact that you need more than your efforts to make sure your dog is healthy and happy.

The American Kennel Club highly recommends you seek out an obedience trainer to work with your dogs either in-house or on location to ensure they’re healthy and happy.

There are no wrong answers here—in fact, the only bad way to approach your dog’s anxieties is to ignore than in the first place. Just like with humans, if anxieties and stress are carried around for too long, it’s not entirely out of the question that physical health would atrophy as well.

Final Thoughts

We hope we’ve given you a clear sense of how to best uncover and fight your dog’s anxieties. Just like with regular grooming and vet visits, taking the time to help your dog relax and be as happy as it can be will work wonders for their long-term health.

So whether your dog is barking at the mailman or hiding under the table at the first sound of thunder, try to put aside some time to let them know that everything’s going to be alright. Hopefully, someday soon, you can turn that nervous dog of yours into the happy, healthy dog you know it can be.

We hope we’ve given you a clear sense of how to best uncover and fight your dog’s anxieties. Just like with regular grooming and vet visits, taking the time to help your dog relax and be as happy as it can be will work wonders for their long-term health.

 

So whether your dog is barking at the mailman or hiding under the table at the first sound of thunder, try to put aside some time to let them know that everything’s going to be alright. Hopefully, someday soon, you can turn that nervous dog of yours into the happy, healthy dog you know it can be.

 

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