How to manage the signs of dog anxiety

7 February 2023 - 3 min read
Puppy Eyes That Melt Your Heart

Dog anxiety is a complex issue that many pets and their parents face at one time or another. Sometimes the signs will seem mild, but left unchecked it’s a problem that can quickly develop into more serious behaviour issues – like fear-based aggression or separation anxiety.

That’s why it’s important to recognise the signs of dog anxiety, and treat them early where you can. However, there are no quick fixes. Treating these issues takes time and consistency.

What are the signs of dog anxiety?

Firstly, it’s important to be able to recognise when your dog’s feeling anxious and some signs are more obvious than others. However, certified dog behaviourist and trainer Adem Fehmi advises keeping an eye out for these seven general symptoms.

  1. Panting. As this is a method dogs use to cool down this isn’t a sign you always need to worry about. But excessive panting where there’s no obvious cause could mean your pup’s feeling stressed.

  2. Wide eyes. You’ll be able to see their sclera (the whites of their eyes) and they may also have dilated pupils.

  3. Laid back ears or low body posture. When dogs are at ease, they’ll hold their ears in a neutral position and their body will be relaxed. But when they’re anxious? Depending on the breed their ears might be pinned back against their head, or they might be pricked up, and their body may assume a low posture.

  4. Drooling, yawning and lip licking. Many think these actions mean their dog is relaxed, but they’re actually common symptoms of anxiety.

  5. Shaking or pacing. An obvious sign that usually has a trigger – like fireworks.

  6. Abnormal vocalisation. This is any excessive barking, whining or whimpering. However, if your dog is usually very chatty, them being quiet could also be a sign of stress.

  7. Avoidance. This can be avoiding eye contact, running away or hiding.

What triggers dog anxiety?

Every dog is unique, so there’s no one answer to this question. Root causes of anxiety or reactive behaviour can include genetics, their environment, previous traumas or experiences, a dog's daily routine, and even how we humans interact with them.

There also could be many types of behavioural conditions at play. Your dog could be suffering from a phobia (like a fear of noise), separation anxiety, or one of the many types of aggression such as fear-based aggression, dog aggression or many more. 

To successfully understand and improve these behaviours, it’s essential that you try to uncover what type of anxiety condition it could be, and what the underlying triggers are for that particular dog.

Our in-house vet Dr Kirsten Rongrenn also recommends booking an appointment with your vet to rule out any underlying medical issues that could be causing your dog to display anxious behaviours.

She says: “Addressing these conditions appropriately will allow you to determine if the behaviour will persist even when your dog is physically healthy. If it does, you can continue to work on diagnosing and managing the issue. In some cases, prescription medication for anxiety or behavioural conditions may be warranted.”

How can I help my dog with anxiety?

Because your dog’s anxiety is personal, any training will need to be too. But although there’s no one simple formula to follow, Adem Fehmi has these six general tips for addressing the early warning signs.

  1. Make sure to reward your pet for confident, calm behaviour where you can. 

  2. Try not to overwhelm them in situations where they’re becoming stressed.

  3. Keep at a distance to any triggers if possible so that your dog can cope.

  4. Try not to overstimulate your dog. This could be giving them space or decreasing the amount of noise or touch going on around them. 

  5. If you can identify the root cause, keep them to controlled environments where they’re less likely to be triggered.

  6. Stay positive and be patient. Many dogs can come through this with time.

The most effective training will always address both the triggers of your dog’s anxiety and the underlying causes. This could range from gradual desensitisation for a mild phobia, to in-depth behaviour modification training and medication.

Seeking professional help for dog anxiety

Because dog anxiety can be so complex, it may not always be possible to fix the situation alone. If your pet’s anxiety is impacting their quality of life, their safety, or the safety of other pets and people around them, it could be time to seek professional advice.

If you’ve already determined with your vet that your dog isn’t experiencing any underlying physical conditions, then seeking the advice of a certified dog trainer or behaviour specialist like Adem is a great next step.

“The value of having an expert assess your pet’s daily life and routine is immeasurable”, says Adem. “This allows a trainer or behaviourist to work with your pet in their own territory and help determine what the underlying triggers of anxiety are.”

A bespoke training plan, plus consistency, patience and love will slowly but surely get your dog back to feeling healthy, happy and stress-free.

But what about the cost? Well, it might be covered by your pet insurance policy. At ManyPets we include cover for behavioural conditions as long as your pet’s been referred by a vet for treatment. Find out more here.

Scarlett White
Senior Copywriter

Scarlett is an experienced copywriter who’s worked within a variety of industries, including health, beauty and interiors. Before joining ManyPets as Senior Copywriter in 2022 to focus on pet health, she held in-house copywriting roles at MADE.COM and Liz Earle Beauty Co. She has a penchant for puns, a love of dogs and a degree in English Literature.