As pet parents, we want to do everything in our power to help our furry friend live their best life. We shower them with our love and affection, day in and day out. Ultimately, we’re invested in the well-being of our dog. That’s why it’s so difficult to see our beloved canines experience stress and anxiety. One breed that often falls prey to such negative feelings is the Shorkie — a mix between the Shih Tzu and the Yorkshire Terrier.
The Shorkie breed possesses a small frame, measuring in at just 6 to 14 inches tall and weighing 5 to 15 pounds. Their miniature size puts them at higher risk of developing feelings of stress and anxiety; other people, animals, and objects appear larger and thus more threatening. Don’t lose hope just yet because we’re here to help. In this article, we’re going to go through a few key ways to recognize if your Shorkie is experiencing anxiety and stress. Then, we’ll outline powerful strategies that you can use to help them overcome those emotions. Let’s get started!
Shorkie Breed 101
Before we dive into identifying and treating anxious dog symptoms, let’s take a moment to learn a little bit more about the Shorkie. Although this breed may have existed naturally over the years, Americans intentionally began mixing the Shih Tzu with the Yorkshire Terrier “in the 2000s.” According to , their goal was to create a lapdog that was “as intelligent as it was happy:” the ultimate companion dog. The breed ultimately grew most popular in Great Britain and Ireland.
In terms of personality, many Shorkie owners describe their dog’s temperament as a “big dog in a small package.” In other words, they are high-energy lapdogs. As much as they enjoy play sessions, they also relish cuddling with you and enjoying your company. Furthermore, Shorkies are considered fiercely loyal canines that want to remain by their pet owner most of the time. Another thing to note about them is that they are quite vocal; they will bark at almost any external stimuli, such as a knock on the door or the mailman, making them excellent watchdogs.
Now for the physical characteristics of the Shorkie. Their body is compact yet muscular, and they have small, triangular ears set high on the side of the head. The Shorkie’s main colors are blue, black, brown, fawn, red, and white, as well as any combination of those colors. They typically have straight, medium-to-long coats and are considered a good choice for those with allergies. However, keep in mind that this breed is relatively high maintenance; they require daily brushing as well as a trip to the groomers every six weeks.
Now that we have a foundational understanding of the Shorkie breed, let’s move on to the focal point of this article: helping your stressed dog! The first and most important step of treating mental health issues in canines is recognizing when they occur. Only then will we know when to put our strategies into action. That’s why we’re going to take some time to explore the key signs and symptoms of an anxious dog. Let’s dive right in!
Bad Behavior While You’re Gone
One primary indicator that your Shorkie is suffering from stress and anxiety is destructive behavior while you’re out of the house. If you return home from work to see chewed up furniture, destroyed bedding, rummaged-through trash, and socks everywhere, then you might have a serious anxiety disorder on your hands. Such behavior is a telltale symptom of separation anxiety, one of the more severe cases of canine mental health issues. WebMD’s pet center asserts that separation anxiety occurs in canines when “a dog [is] hyper-attached to their owner,” and when that owner leaves, experiences a marked increase in their stress level. The reason that dogs end up resorting to destructive behavior is because they are experiencing the canine “equivalent of a panic attack,” Patricia McConnell told the American Kennel Club. Their minds and bodies fill up with stressed and anxious energy, and they don’t know what to do with it. So, they resort to engaging in destructive behavior until you come home.
Another related symptom of such bad behavior is urinating and defecating around the house in your absence. Care Center Vets writes that “inappropriate elimination” is a key signal that your dog is suffering from separation anxiety. As we mentioned, separation anxiety occurs when your canine has formed a heavy dependence on your presence. When you leave, they feel as though a part of themselves is leaving, and they don’t know what to do with themselves. But why does this result in them soiling the house, even if they may be fully potty-trained? From a biological perspective, anxiety provokes your dog’s body into its fight-or-flight response. This produces an upsurge of adrenaline in your canine, which helps them escape that negative mindset. Dr. Turnera Croom told Bustle that a byproduct of this reaction is the “relaxing of the bladder and anal sphincter muscles, allowing waste to release.” It’s critical that you do not administer negative punishment to your dog after you see they’ve done this; that will only incite more fear in them and reinforce their anxiety.
For some context, People.com estimates that around 50% of all canines experience separation anxiety — it’s highly common. Take into account that Shorkies are highly dependent on their owners by nature (given they are lapdogs), and it grows quite likely that your Shorkie could be a victim of separation anxiety too. Stick around for some solutions!
Your Shorkie’s Body Language
Another significant way you can identify when your Shorkie is going through feelings of stress and anxiety is by observing their body language. From a broad perspective, body language simply refers to the “nonverbal signals that we use to communicate.” It’s made up of a variety of components, such as facial expressions, gestures, posture, and more. By paying attention to certain aspects of an individuals body language, we can ascertain more about how they’re feeling. This logic applies directly to canines as well! Let’s go through the different aspects of body language that can indicate a stressed dog.
One major zone to watch on your Shorkie are their ears. , a dog’s ears are one of the best clues to their state of mind. Take a look at how your Shorkie’s ears are positioned. Are they naturally resting upon their head? Or are they pinned back to the sides of their skull? Dog Time states that a neutral, positive, or curious canine displays naturally resting ears. However, a fearful, anxious, or scared canine exhibits pinned back ears.
The next key area of your Shorkie’s body language that can signify stress and anxiety is their tail. Purina, a premium dog food brand, writes that your dog’s tail is an “invaluable communication tool” that provides an “indicator of how they’re feeling.” Let’s go through the various tail variables and consider what they mean: speed, height, and direction.
The American Kennel Club states that the faster the wag, the more aroused your dog is. Think about the slow, sweeping, full-body wag you see when your dog greets you — that is a relaxed dog. A faster, twitch-like wag indicates higher levels of arousal, and possibly in a negative way.
The position of your Shorkie’s tail relative to the ground also sheds meaningful light on their emotional state. The higher the tail, the more assertive the dog. So that means that if your dog’s tail is low to the ground or even tucked between their legs, it’s quite possible that they are feeling stress and fear. Conversely, dogs with their tails “held up like a flag” are feeling confident, but maybe even aggressive. Relaxed dogs keep their tails in a neutral position, but remember that the neutral position for every canine is different.
Finally, the direction of your dog’s tail wag can help you understand how they’re feeling. A recent study on tail-wagging concluded that dogs tend to wag more to the right when they feel positive, and wag more to the left when they feel negative. Pay attention to your Shorkie’s tail direction for some insight on their psychological state. There’s also the helicopter tail wag, where the dog’s tail spins in a circle. That is always a happy wag. You’ll typically see it when your dog is greeting someone they love.
The final body language zone to observe is your dog’s eyes. There are certain tendencies that dog’s exhibit when they are feeling anxious or stressed, so noticing them can help you know when to take action. First, check to see if the whites of your Shorkie’s eyes are visible. This is called whale eye, and Canine Coaching says it’s a clear sign that your dog is worried and stressed. Another critical characteristic of an anxious dog is a lack of eye contact. Is your Shorkie is avoiding direct eye contact with you? If so, the American Kennel Club states that this could mean that your dog is reacting to “your body language and thinks something [is] wrong.”
Strategies To Help Your Shorkie Overcome Anxiety
Now that we have educated ourselves on the telltale signs that our beloved Shorkie is feeling anxiety, it’s time to arm ourselves with practical and effective strategies that will help them battle those feelings! These will be comprehensive breakdowns of each technique: how it benefits your canine’s mental health, and the best way to put it into action.
There are two general types of strategies that you can leverage to help your stressed dog: chemical-based strategies and distraction-based strategies. Chemical-based techniques seek to rebalance your dog’s brain chemistry by stimulating the production of key neurotransmitters, like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. On the other hand, distraction-based strategies aim to engage your dog’s mind and body in an effort to redirect their negative energies into something positive and constructive.
Chemical Strategy #1: Petting Your Shorkie
The first chemically-based strategy that you can use to eliminate stress and anxiety in your Shorkie is giving them physical love and affection. As pet parents, it’s our job to find ways to build our connection with our canine, and petting them is one of the most effective ways to do that. Let’s examine the chemical basis of this strategy. Physical touch via petting causes a chemical release of oxytocin in your dog’s body; oxytocin is known as the love hormone, says Harvard University. New studies support the idea that oxytocin promotes relaxation and trust, which help your dog manage stressful situations more effectively.
There are two main ways you can go about petting Shorkie. First, there’s the sitting down pet. This involves your canine sitting in front of or adjacent to your body. It gives you free reign to access their head and back, two of the most comforting locations to pet any dog.
The second approach to petting your canine is the laying down pet. Here, you should have your Shorkie lie down on their bed or on a blanket. We recommend a Calming Cuddle Bed! It is made with 100% pet-safe material and offers premium joint support. It's breathable, offers cooling technology that regulates body heat, absorbs weight and transfers pressure away from key areas, and provides extra support for your dog's hips and ligaments. With this bed, petting your Shorkie will be all the more calming as they are given the chance to completely relax their body. Once your dog has lied down, position yourself beside them and let them get on their side. This is how you’ll access their belly, a spot that every dog loves to have petted.
Chemical Technique #2: Music Therapy
The next chemical technique that can help combat your Shorkie’s stress and anxiety is music therapy! While it may seem inconsequential, music therapy actually offers scientific benefits to help rebalance your canine’s brain chemistry.
The main chemicals that aid against stress and anxiety are serotonin and dopamine. One study concluded that “auditory stimulation by exposure to melodic music increases dopamine and serotonin activities” in animals. Those are the exact chemicals responsible for promoting mood and reducing anxiety in your canine. By exposing your Shorkie to specific frequencies of melody, you strategically stimulate their production of dopamine and serotonin, ultimately mitigating your dog’s anxiety.
The next chemical that music therapy aims to control is cortisol. The Casserts that cortisol is responsible for regulating your body’s stress response. In other words, more cortisol means more stress. Murdoch University found that exposing your canine to certain kinds of music can actually reduce their bodily production of cortisol. So alongside increasing production of chemicals that fight anxiety (serotonin and dopamine), we’re also decreasing the production of chemicals that cause stress and anxiety (cortisol) in your Shorkie.
So what type of music should you play for your Shorkie? A study performed by Dr. Kogan of the Colorado State College of Veterinary Medicine determined that classical music has a profound calming effect on canines. Another study carried out by Deborah Wells supported these findings, deeming that classical music was the most effective in relaxing dogs. So the next time you’re leaving for work, throw on a long playlist of the best classical music you can find!
Distraction Technique #1: Dog Puzzles
The first distraction-based strategy we have for battling anxiety is to leave your Shorkie with an interactive dog puzzle! These are essentially toys that are made up of various mechanical parts: sliding panels, buttons, and other mechanisms your dog can engage. When the canine interacts with the right mechanism, a treat is dispensed! This technique works to battle separation anxiety directly by giving your Shorkie a constructive outlet to expend his anxious and stressed energy. Instead of sitting idle and most likely resorting to destructive behavior, he’ll have a tasty toy to keep him occupied!
Find a suitable dog puzzle that for your Shorkie that matches their size, intelligence and capabilities. Then, load it up with their favorite treats! We recommend using the Calming Zen Chews. Each bag is rich with pet-safe ingredients and calming agents such as Chamomile, L-Theanine, and L-Tryptophan for maximum therapeutic effect.
Distraction Technique #2: Make a New Toy
When your Shorkie with separation anxiety is left home alone, the loneliness and idleness leads them to take part in destructive behavior. You can directly solve this by giving them something to do during that time, like leaving them toys to play with! Toys offer your Shorkie mental stimulation to occupy them in your absence, thereby distracting them from their feelings of anxiety and stress. However, not just any old toy will do! Studies show that dogs tend to like new toys. In fact, when presented with an old toy and a new toy, dogs picked the new toy 76% of the time. That means we need to make a new toy!
All you need to make a simple, DIY toy at home is a plastic water bottle and an old t-shirt. Wrap the plastic bottle inside the old t-shirt and knot it closed. This will ensure your canine can’t take the bottle out or choke on the cap. Dogs love crunchy things, and this toy gives them a perfect crunchy toy to keep them engaged.
Treating Shorkie anxiety and stress comes down to two steps: identification and treatment. First, as pet parents, we need to learn to identify when our furry friends are feeling stressed and anxious. Once we’re able to do that, it comes time for treatment. Both chemical and distraction-based strategies are equally effective, however the degree to which your Shorkie responds to each will be different. We need to put such strategies to use with patience and consistency to gauge our dog’s response and see what works.