Understanding Dog Stress Signals: Recognizing and Addressing Anxiety in Your Pet

Understanding Dog Stress Signals: Recognizing and Addressing Anxiety in Your Pet

Key Points

  • Excessive licking, grooming, or panting are all dog stress signals.

  • Essential fatty acids help manage anxiety.

  • Providing adequate exercise keeps your dog in a relaxed state.

You may think that anxiety is only a mental game, but every aspect of your dog's being affects their stress level. Help soothe your anxious pet emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Triggers are not always obvious, but once you start recognizing dog anxiety, you begin to see the triggers. Don't make dog anxiety management complicated. The solutions for relieving your dog's anxiety are pretty simple.

Recognizing Stress Signals

If you adopt a dog, you may not recognize dog stress signals, and their actions may seem normal. After all, you don't know your pup very well yet.

Pacing, excessive licking, grooming, or panting are all dog stress signals. Each of these behaviors is normal when exhibited occasionally, but when they're combined or excessive, it may spell anxiety. For instance, all dogs pant, so how do you know when it's excessive?

Beagle grooming

According to the Northeast Veterinary Referral Hospital, count your dog's breaths for a minute while resting or sleeping. Anything less than 30 breaths per minute is normal, but anything over 35 breaths is cause for concern.

A dog likely has a separate respiratory issue if their panting is excessive while sleeping. They're probably anxious if they pant a lot while awake, lick excessively, or their nose drips. Whining and barking are other easily identifiable signs of stress.

Destructive behavior may be a sign of anxiety, but if that's the only symptom, it's more likely a result of boredom. If you find your couch cushions torn apart when you arrive home from work but your dog is calm and happy, they need something to keep them occupied while you're away.

Identifying Triggers

When you see signs of stress, the anxiety triggers likely precede these behaviors. Sometimes the triggers are obvious, like thunderstorms, fireworks displays, or other loud noises. Other times, identifying their anxiety triggers may take more detective work.

Trying to figure out what happened after the fact may be difficult. When you see your dog displaying anxiety, carefully observe their environment. Consider if any sudden changes occurred to bring on these behaviors.

French Bulldog panting

Creating a Calm Environment

It's impossible to control your dog's entire world, but there are some steps you can take to lessen their anxiety. Create a relatively quiet and calm dog environment for them to feel safe when anxious.

You may be unable to stop the parade from going down your street, but you can make the noise less intrusive. Give your dog a calming bed in an area farthest from the noisy street. Play the radio or TV at a low volume to provide white noise that muffles loud noises. Some dogs do well with crate training because the den-like atmosphere is a retreat from stressful situations.

Keep your dog's sleeping environment out of high-traffic areas to prevent distractions and stress. Provide toys or other comfort items to make them feel more at ease.

Using Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is the best training method for a dog with anxiety. Negative reinforcement may cause an anxious dog to develop distrust in their owner. You want your dog to feel safe with you and respect you.

If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, you may see them displaying anxious behaviors when you get ready to leave. They might also get overly excited when you return. Avoid giving them attention when you enter the door until they calm down. Then, reward their calm demeanor with a treat, pets, scratches, or words of affirmation.

Dog being fed a treat

Use positive reinforcement in any situation to reward calm behavior. Gradually expose your dog to the anxiety triggers while using calming methods. If their anxiety worsens, remove them from the situation and try again with a different way or calming aid.

Seeking Professional Help

A veterinarian is a great resource, and you shouldn't hesitate to seek their advice when you're unsure about the health or safety of your dog. Some signs of anxiety may also indicate other health issues, so it's never a bad idea to get professional dog help.

You might not be able to help a dog with a severe case of anxiety using natural remedies, and these cases usually require prescription medication. Your vet may recommend a professional dog behaviorist or trainer if the signs are behavior-related rather than medical.

Providing Adequate Exercise

Sometimes the solution to behavioral or anxiety-related issues is as simple as adequate dog exercise. Regular exercise helps work off excess energy, and it's good for their health.

Adequate dog exercise keeps them relaxed, so take your dog on a walk before you leave them alone or before bedtime; they'll get worn out and sleep soundly. Providing a comfortable bed and sleeping area makes it even more inviting.

If time constraints or the weather keeps you indoors, ramp up your dog's playtime inside. Interactive toys not only provide exercise but mental stimulation. A dog with anxiety needs to occupy their mind to prevent them from focusing on stressful triggers.

Bernese Mountain dog running

Ensuring Proper Nutrition

When discussing dog anxiety, you might not think nutrition plays a role. Proper dog nutrition impacts not only a dog's physical health but their mental and emotional stability.

Licensed Veterinary Technician Specialist Jessey Scheip writes about diets and dietary supplements for anxiety in dogs. She explains the benefits of essential fatty acids: "Beyond the role of fat during development."

Scheip continues, "Essential fatty acids (EFAs) also help manage anxiety. EFAs are fats that cannot be produced by the body; they must be consumed. ... EFAs have a variety of roles within the body, including mood, behavior, and inflammation."

Supplements contain these essential ingredients, but many dog foods also have them. Turkey contains L-tryptophan, which synthesizes serotonin and helps with mood stabilization and sleep cycles. A dog with anxiety might do well eating dog food with turkey as the main ingredient.

Please read the label of the food you give your dog to ensure they receive all the proper dog nutrition they need.

Using Calming Aids

If nutrition and behavioral interventions don't work sufficiently, try other calming dog aids. Particular scents make dogs relaxed and calm, including inserts, diffusers, sprays, and collars. Each proves helpful in different situations.

Calming collars help while on the go and are ideal for vet or groomer visits. Apply sprays to your dog's toys, bed, crate, or sometimes directly on your pet. Diffusers emit scents in your home, which is ideal when your dog is alone. Calming inserts go in your dog's bed, blanket, or carrier pockets.

Some products contain natural ingredients like lavender, lemon grass, eucalyptus, or hemp seed oil. Others emit synthetic pheromones that mimic a nursing mother dog. You may also make your own calming scents with natural essential oils.

Dog in field of lavender

Calming treats contain calming ingredients like chamomile, L-tryptophan, and L-theanine. They take a little while to have an effect, so plan ahead when using these calming dog aids.

Calming wraps work well for some dogs during thunderstorms or other stressful events. They give your dog a secure feeling while still allowing mobility. Calming beds and blankets comfort your dog physically as well. They help dogs who become anxious at night but also work as a retreat when they're alone.

Don't Miss the Signals

Your dog tells you when they're anxious through their behavior. You must learn how to pick up on the signs they show and then help them deal with the triggers.

Once you begin recognizing dog anxiety and understanding their triggers, you're in a better place to help them. Create a calm dog environment with exercise, positive reinforcement, and a calming bed. Some dogs may need more or fewer calming aids, depending on their stress level.

Dog licking lips

If your dog's anxiety becomes extreme or beyond your ability to solve it, seek professional dog help. Asking for help isn't bad because it shows you care about your pup, and that's what matters most. Dog anxiety management is all about caring for your canine companion.

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