Anxiety is a normal emotion. No one likes feeling anxious, but the emotion itself serves an important purpose. Anxiety alerts a person to the possibility that something could be seriously wrong, which then compels them to figure it out and fix the underlying issue that is causing the anxiety.
Feeling anxious only becomes unhealthy when the source causing the anxiety is never discovered, which prolongs the anxious feeling. When anxiety becomes chronic in this way, it can destroy a person’s quality of life.
Just like people, dogs can experience anxiety. There are many situations in a dog’s life that can stir up feelings of anxiety, such as a trip to the vet, a traumatizing conflict with a larger breed dog at the dog park, or anticipating danger in general.
Moments of anxiety are nothing to worry about, but if you notice that your puppy is becoming chronically anxious, there’s probably an underlying cause that needs to be addressed.
In this article, we’ll go over the two most common reasons that dogs develop anxiety and provide tips to help you relieve your puppy’s anxiety so that he grows into a calm, confident dog.
Those types of anxiety are:
- Separation Anxiety
- Fear-Related Anxiety
The 2 types of anxiety listed above tend to develop due to negative experiences during puppyhood, especially during the first few months in their new home.
Most often, separation anxiety forms when a puppy is separated from his mother too soon and isolated. Responsible, ethical breeders never separate puppies from their mothers before the puppies are fully weaned. After weaning, even though the puppies are transferred from their mothers to the pet store, they remain with other puppies, who are a source of comfort.
Separation anxiety can also develop as a result of a puppy leaving his littermates and going home with you. During this period of adjustment, some separation anxiety is to be expected. For example, your puppy may not like separating from you at night to sleep in his crate alone. There are several growing pains like this that will not cause chronic separation anxiety.
However, your puppy could develop prolonged separation anxiety if there’s a major lifestyle change, such as you beginning a full-time office job after working from home for a while. This kind of separation anxiety can drive your puppy to become destructive and do other behaviors that he knows are wrong, like going to the bathroom inside the home.
If you believe your puppy is experiencing separation anxiety and the problem seems mild, try the following ideas to help your puppy understand that alone time can be fun.
- Take your puppy for a walk or do some other high-energy activity an hour or so before you leave
- Give your puppy a special treat, such as a Kong game, when you leave
- Make your puppy’s area, room, or pen very cozy
- Keep your “coming and going” low-key without making a big deal about leaving
- Give your puppy over-the-counter natural calming supplements
On the other hand, if the problem seems out of control, we strongly advise you take your puppy to see the vet.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this blog, negative experiences can shape a puppy’s perception of the world, and one fear-inducing experience could cause your puppy to become fearful when he’s triggered to expect the same negative experience. For example, if your puppy is attacked by another dog at the dog park, he could develop fears about dog parks in general and get anxious whenever he goes.
Puppies are very sensitive to stimuli and can become afraid when they hear loud noises or meet strange people or unknown animals. Visual stimuli such as hats and umbrellas have been known to trigger sudden fear in dogs. Even unusual tactile sensations like grass and wood floors can cause fear in some dogs.
In addition, stressful situations can also cause fear-related anxiety, such as trips to the vet. In fact, if your puppy has a very negative experience after a car ride, then he could associate the car ride with the negative experience that took place after it, and become fearful about getting into cars. Car trips in general could trigger fear-related anxiety.
So, what can you do to alleviate fear-related anxiety in your puppy? That’s a tricky question since it doesn’t get to the root of the fear. But we’ll answer it anyway. If your puppy or dog becomes triggered and goes into a spell of fear-related anxiety, it’s best to physically comfort him with pats and remove him from the stimuli that’s causing the distress.
Long-term, however, you actually don’t want to remove him every time. In fact, counter-intuitive as it may seem, the best thing to do is continue to expose him to the stimuli in a controlled, safe manner. This method is called “desensitization and counter-conditioning.” By organizing moments for your dog to be exposed to his “triggers” briefly, you can effectively desensitize him to those triggers.
When you’re in the process of desensitizing your puppy, you’ll want to remove the stimuli so that your dog doesn’t go into panic mode. Each time you expose your dog to a trigger, it can be for a longer and longer duration of time. The stimuli itself should be kept at a low intensity, too, so that the desensitization process remains within your full control.
Counter-conditioning, which should be used in tandem with desensitization, involves training your dog to replace a fearful response with a positive behavior. For example, let’s assume your puppy understands the “sit” command and he’s learned that sitting on command is rewarding. When your puppy is faced with a fearful situation that in the past has triggered fear-related anxiety, you can command him to “sit.” This will redirect his attention away from the stimuli that causes anxiety and place his attention on the reward of listening to you.
Symptoms of Anxiety in Puppies & Dogs
- Urinating and defecating in the house
- Drooling (or excessive drooling in drooling breeds)
- Destructive behavior
- Excessive barking
- Repetitive of compulsive behaviors
The real tell-tale sign of anxiety will be if your puppy or dog exhibits any of the above symptoms chronically. One incident of excessive barking, for example, probably doesn’t indicate anxiety. But if your puppy barks excessively every day and can’t calm down when you tell him to, then a trip to the vet may be in order.
Before we conclude this article, we want to highlight that if chronic anxiety develops at all, it has the greatest chances of developing during puppyhood. The experiences that a puppy has when he’s very young shapes his perception of the world.
That’s why it’s so important to guard and nurture your puppy. Research the development of puppies so that you’re sure not to introduce your puppy to environments that he’s too young for. Don’t leave your puppy unattended in places he could be vulnerable to negative interactions. And if there’s a major change in your lifestyle or daily routine, be mindful to cater to your puppy so that you can provide a smooth transition.
Perhaps most importantly, keep up with your puppy’s check ups and tell your vet if your puppy has any significant behavioral changes. Your vet is experienced with recognizing warning signs of anxiety in dogs and may be able to catch and treat anxious behavior before it becomes chronic.
The Petland Kansas City blog is chock-full of tips and tricks to help you raise a happy, healthy puppy. And if you’re ready for a new puppy, we invite you to learn about our available puppies or stop by our Overland Park location to meet your furry soulmate.