Anxiety and nervousness are common in dogs, with almost all pups experiencing some form of canine anxiety during their life.
The range of anxiety conditions dogs experience is also wide, from short periods of mild nervousness to long-term debilitating anxiety conditions.
For owners looking to help their dogs overcome anxiety, here are seven ways to support your pet.
Look for anxiety triggers
Most forms of canine anxiety have some form of trigger in a dog’s environment. By carefully observing their dog’s behavior, owners should find patterns between certain actions and settings and how their dog reacts. This will allow them to identify anxiety triggers.
When dogs suffer from phobias or extreme fears, these triggers might be very obvious. For example, a dog with a fear of water will clearly display anxiety symptoms in situations involving water. Dogs afraid of children are unlikely to be anxious in situations where children are not present.
Triggers for other types of canine anxiety, however, may be far less easy to spot. If your dog feels unsafe in their home environment, for example, their anxiety may be triggered by seemingly innocuous things like strange sounds or people passing on the sidewalk.
Sometimes, identifying anxiety triggers requires looking into your dog’s history. This is especially true for rescue dogs and other pets with previous owners. Past traumas and abuse can continue to affect both animals and humans long after the events themselves.
Set up casual routines
Most dogs love consistency, especially when it comes to their home environment. A daily schedule helps dogs know what to expect, cutting down on uncertainty and chances for worry or panic.
One of the most popular ways to introduce more routine into a dog’s day-to-day is crate training. This technique involves introducing a safe, quiet, private space into your home that’s only for your dog (it may or may not be an actual crate).
For dogs prone to nervousness, having a safe space of their own gives them a sense of reassurance and consistency. It ensures they always know there’s somewhere they can go that won’t change.
Encouraging dogs to use crates should be a form of punishment. Instead, crating should add structure to your dog’s day. Perhaps they spend some time napping in their crate after a walk, for example.
However, when introducing crates or other forms of structure into your dog’s day, it’s important not to make the routine too rigid. Having a rigorous routine can actually result in the opposite effect for nervous dogs, enforcing expectations. Upset and confusion are then more likely to occur whenever those expectations are not met.
Try supplements to ease canine anxiety
Stress and anxiousness can be a sign of inflammation in the body, and many natural supplements are proven anti-inflammatories that can help bring down this underlying issue.
CBD oil is one of the most popular anti-inflammatory pet supplements currently used by owners, with many reporting positive effects on their dog’s condition. CBD affects receptors in the endocannabinoid system, a part of the body that controls pain, swelling, and stress responses.
Supplements won’t cure anxiety conditions in dogs, but they can help calm dogs down and make them less responsive to anxiety triggers. Through this, dogs may become more receptive to training techniques, allowing owners to help their pets become more resilient gradually.
Increase exercise and playtime
Nervous energy is a very real thing, and many anxious dogs will benefit from an uptick in their exercise schedule. Walks, runs, games, and even being let out into the backyard are all great opportunities for mental and physical stimulation.
Part of the benefit of exercise for dogs is that restlessness and boredom can share many symptoms with anxiety. If dogs don’t have their needs met, they can display behaviors such as barking, whining, pacing, aggression, and destruction — all things that are also classed as nervous behaviors.
A convenient way to increase the amount of exercise and structure in a dog’s routine is to enroll in training classes. For young dogs, especially, training classes allow pups to socialize and learn the tools needed to act calmly in various situations.
Create clear expectations
Much like the benefits of a casual routine, dogs tend to have a calmer disposition when learning a structure of rewards and consequences. Knowing what actions result in positive and negative results gives dogs a clear framework for behaving inside the home.
Boundaries, clear commands, routines, and a good balance of stimulation vs. downtime are great ways to enforce a rewards structure. Once those ground rules have been established, owners can add more complexity—for example, different leashes to signify different types of outing or additional, more detailed training commands.
On the other hand, the association between canine anxiety and a lack of expectations in the home environment is clear. If a home is full of sudden noises, unknown smells, and strange people, dogs are far more likely to develop a nervous condition.
Consider professional help
While the tips above can all have a role in helping dogs lower their nervousness, some cases of canine anxiety require professional help. This could be particularly true if dogs didn’t get a chance to learn basic behavioral commands and training at an early age.
Dog therapists and behaviorists are trained professionals who know how to deal sensitively with pups experiencing distress. They are often able to instill new routines and break bad habits when owners cannot.
Vets may also have a role to play in treating canine anxiety. Often, they will first prescribe antihistamines like Benadryl, which produce a mild sedative effect.
Check-in with your own anxiety
Many dogs are susceptible to the atmosphere in their home environment. They may also be highly attuned to their owner’s wellbeing.
Because of this, it’s also important for owners to think about their own well-being and whether they are experiencing and anxiety or nervousness in their own lives.