Humans and dogs have been best friends for thousands of years, with research indicating that domestication occurred around 11,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age. Dogs were domesticated before any other known species and their bond with humans has become one of our most treasured gifts.
It won’t come as a surprise to anyone (certainly anyone who has ever had a dog as a pet) to learn that dogs can make us feel better. Recent research has found that when humans and dogs interact, both species receive a boost in their oxytocin levels. This helps to foster a calm dog and a happy owner.
As dog owners, we are charged with ensuring that our dogs are healthy and happy. Just like us, dogs can suffer from stress and anxiety. When your dog is suffering from anxiety, fear, or phobia, there are steps that you can take to remedy the situation.
In this blog post, we will highlight everything you need to know about stress and anxiety in dogs, including the causes and symptoms. We will also highlight practical steps you can take to calm a dog that is suffering or struggling. Let’s get started.
Understanding Anxiety in Dogs
As we have highlighted, dogs are prone to anxietymuch like humans. Research shows that more than 70% of dogs display anxiety-like behaviors. This study comprised of more than 13,000 pet dogs across 254 different breeds, highlighting how prevalent feelings of anxiety are in dogs.
Let’s break down some of these findings to highlight the areas where dogs display anxiety. For example, 32% of dogs displayed noise sensitivity (were frightened of at least one noise). Unsurprisingly, the most common fear among noise-sensitive dogs is sounds associated with fireworks.
A general fearfulness is found in 29% of dogs, according to the study. Within this group, fear of other dogs, fear of novel situations, and fear of strangers are common. Less common anxious behaviors include separation-related behaviors and aggression.
By understanding the root cause of your dog’s anxiety, you will have a better idea of what steps you can take to treat it. For example, as we will see below, owners can take steps to protect their dogs during times of the year when fireworks are common, such as on the 4th of July.
Understanding Phobias in Dogs
A phobia can be defined as a debilitating and overwhelming fear of a situation, place, object, animal, or feeling. Phobias are considered to be more pronounced than fears. In the United States, it is estimated that around 19 million people have at least one phobia that ranges from mild to severe.
Just as dogs suffer from anxiety in the same way as humans do, so do they suffer from phobias. We have already highlighted one of these for dogs: fireworks.
Dogs have very sensitive hearing, far more so than our own. During a fireworks show, dogs are faced with extremely loud and unfamiliar noises that they do not understand. They may also perceive these loud noises as signs of danger.
Other common phobias that dogs have include the fear of thunder, separation anxiety, fear of the veterinarian, fear of riding in the car, fear of going up and down stairs, fear of strangers, fear of children, and fear of specific objects (such as the vacuum cleaner and holiday decorations).
Understanding Fear in Dogs
There is a big difference between fear and phobia. Whereas phobia leads to a fear response even when a person or animal is not in danger, fear is a completely normal reaction to a threat. It is an instinctual feeling of apprehension caused by a real and tangible stimulus.
Idiopathic fear, also known as profound fear, has been noted in certain dog breeds. These include:
- Siberian husky
- Border collie
- Bernese mountain dog
- Chesapeake Bay retriever
- German shorthaired pointer
- Standard poodle
The context of a situation will determine whether or not the fear response is normal or abnormal. The majority of abnormal reactions to fear are learned and, therefore, can be unlearned, particularly through gradual exposure.
Signs of Dog Anxiety and Fear
Some of the most common clinical signs of anxiety and fear in dogs include:
- Reduced activity
- Passive escape behaviors
- Active escape behaviors
- Increase motor activity
- Tail-chasing and circling
- Sympathetic autonomic nervous system activity
Some of these signs are mild while others indicate more severe anxiety or panic in a dog. If your dog is displaying any of these signs, it is recommended that you speak to your veterinarian to first determine if they are related to any dog health concerns or conditions.
Causes of Dog Anxiety and Fear
As we have highlighted above, the onset of anxiety or fear can be prompted by many different things. As well as certain stimuli, these can also be related to a dog’s age, health condition, and socialization levels.
Some of the most common causes of anxiety and fear in dogs include:
- Being deprived of environmental and social exposure at a young age (until 14 weeks)
- Being forced into an experience that is unfamiliar and frightening
- History of panic (being unable to get away from stimuli that cause phobias)
- Separation anxiety
On the last point, there are a number of possible causes for this. These include having multiple owners over time, a history of abandonment, and experiencing neglect. Dogs who are repeatedly rehomed or abandoned are more likely to suffer from separation anxiety.
Furthermore, painful physical conditions or illnesses can also increase anxiety and contribute to fears and phobias developing.
Gentle Paths To Producing a Calm Dog
As a dog owner, there are a number of steps that you can take to calm a dog that is suffering from stress, anxiety, and/or fear. Whereas some dogs’ fears are only triggered by certain events such as fireworks, other dogs may require care on a broader level.
It’s not just humans who love music! In fact, many species of animals have been shown to appreciate music’s melodies (for example, cows have been found to be appreciative of classical tunes, while upbeat music may stress them out). This is also the case with dogs.
There have been some studies on the topic of music and dogs, which have found that playing music to dogs can be beneficial. One such study found that classical music has a relaxing effect on dogs. When classical music is played around dogs, they typically spend more time being quiet and resting compared to when pop music or heavy metal music is played.
Solo piano music, in particular, has been shown to be very beneficial in reducing anxiety in dogs. Another study has found that reggae music and soft rock reduce stress in dogs (with displays of increased heart rate variability and more relaxed behaviors).
Get Some Exercise
Regular exercise comes with a host of physical and mental benefits for your dog. These include keeping your dog physically fit and healthy, and preventing behavioral problems. Exercising outdoors helps to alleviate extra energy and work out any nerves that a dog may be experienced from too much time spent in a confined indoor space.
Walking, jogging, playing frisbee or fetch, swimming, hiking, and agility training are all great ways for a dog to exercise and spent time outdoors.
In terms of frequency of exercise, there are a number of factors that determine the recommended amount. These include the breed, age, your dog’s exercise tolerance, and your own schedule. Generally, dogs in good shape can be walked for 20 to 30 minutes daily.
Give Your Dog CBD
CBD is a chemical found in marijuana, though it does not contain THC, the psychoactive ingredient that procedures a high. It is used by humans to treat a wide range of conditions, including anxiety and pain. In recent years, CBD has also become popular as a means of treating conditions affecting dogs and other pets.
While more research on this subject is required, there have been a number of encouraging studies in recent years. These studies have found that CBD is effective in reducing pain and anxiety, improving mobility, and reducing the frequency of seizures. CBD can be administered in dogs in many forms, including oils, treats, and creams.
Giving CBD to your dog in advance of an event that is likely to frighten them, such as a fireworks show or a period of stormy weather, can be beneficial in ensuring they are calmer and more relaxed. Click here to shop for dog CBD treats if you are interested in learning more about CBD for dogs.
Create a Sanctuary Space
In advance of events such as we have highlighted above, it can be beneficial to create a sanctuary space where your dog will feel safe. Events such as fireworks and thunder/lightning can cause a dog to become so anxious that no amount of calming or attention will provide them relief.
Instead, the best thing for a dog is to that they have a quiet space without any stimulation, where they have the opportunity to unwind and ride out of the source of their fear. Other times this safe space can be used include when strange visitors come to your home.
In this safe space, it’s beneficial to play relaxing music (such as classical or reggae music, as noted above) to drown out the noises that induce fear in your dog. If possible, moving your dog off-site, physically away from a place when loud noises are expected, is beneficial and recommended.
Consider Anti-Anxiety Medications
If your dog is struggling with severe anxiety, speak to your veterinarian about whether or not anti-anxiety medications would be beneficial. When properly administered, anti-anxiety medications help to reduce a dog’s anxiety and increase happiness while not affecting its personality in a negative way.
Common anti-anxiety medications for dogs include buspirone, alprazolam, lorazepam, sertraline, clomipramine, diazepam, and fluoxetine. For example, alprazolam (also known as Xanax) is often given to dogs who exhibit anxiety during thunderstorms.
Soothe Your Pet
Sometimes, the best thing that a pet owner can do is to simply be supportive. Never underestimate the power of simply being there for your dog. This is true both in times when your dog is displaying anxiety and in general, as dogs that are happier and more content are less likely to suffer from stress or fear.
Ways to improve your overall relationship with your dog include:
- Spend more time together
- Communicate clearly (focus more on visual signals rather than vocal clues)
- Ensure that you provide nutritious food
- Have your dog professionally trained
- Regularly play with your dog (this includes going on runs with your dog)
- Avoid losing your temper or yelling in the vicinity of your dog
- Pay attention to their likes and dislikes (remember, every dog has its own unique personality)
- Pet your dog
On that last point, petting a dog isn’t just good for their happiness, it’s also good for yours. Dog petting helps to enhance mood, keeps you active, reduces the risk of heart disease, lowers blood pressure levels, and fights depression and loneliness.
Steps You Can Take to Produce a Calm Dog
The above information will help to reduce feelings of fear, stress, anxiety, and phobia in your dog. Remember, the more love and happiness you show to your dog, the more you will get back to yourself. A happy dog is a happy owner!
Like this blog post on how to produce a calm dog? Be sure to check out our other informative articles on a wide range of interesting topics.