If there’s one thing we all associate with dogs, it’s their enthusiasm. Their happy greetings, their wagging tails, their uncomplicated joy and pure excitement for even the smallest things. It’s hard not to crack a smile at their antics. But when it comes to other emotions, dogs are more anxious than one might think. There are several possible reasons for for an anxious dog.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a large, encompassing term with a variety of definitions and types. Simply put, though, it’s about worrying. Less simply put, “worrying” trivializes it quite a bit, as anxiety is so much more than just being nervous or concerned about a particular thing. We all deal with anxiety, humans as well as animals. This is part of our natural fight-or-flight response. But when you start to worry about smaller things, to the point where it causes near-constant tension ― that’s when it becomes a problem. And it may come along so gradually and subtly, that we don’t even notice it’s a problem until it’s already ingrained into our lives and way of thinking.
Dogs, being the carefree, happy-go-lucky creatures that they are, aren’t usually associated with this kind of feeling. But just like they can experience joy, fear, sadness, anger, anxiety is also something that they know. An anxious dog may be restless, barking, digging, chewing, chasing their tail, or hiding. The list goes on. To put it simply, anxiety in dogs often presents itself as something between fear and boredom. It can be hard to spot an anxious dog if you don’t pay attention. Even then, it usually only becomes more obvious when it has persisted over a longer period of time.
The empathy of it all
A reason many don’t expect for a dog’s anxiety is, well, us. Dogs are highly empathetic creatures ― this has been proven over and over again, both through scientific studies and personal anecdotes. On a bad day, our dogs may stay close and try to make us feel better. This is often done through cuddles and kisses and offered toys. Dogs, more so than any other species, are acutely attuned to humans and their emotions. Simply put, they want to be near us. They can understand many of our mannerisms and expressions, and it’s important to them that we’re happy.
Empathy, however, can be a double-edged sword. Just like a dog will share our joy, they will sometimes share our sadness or anxiety, which can lead to an anxious dog. If a dog is surrounded by these emotions, they may adopt them, themselves. If your dog is anxious, this could be a possible explanation as to why. What has their home been like, recently? How is their day-to-day life? Are you anxious or tense? If your dog has started behaving in this kind of way, try to examine these things and see if they may be connected.
Another very common reason for an anxious dog is separation anxiety. As mentioned, dogs want to be near us. They consider their human their family, and want to keep them happy and safe, and be with them at all times. So when their human leaves, it’s understandable that they go through a bit of a crisis. Separation training is a vital part of raising a dog, as your dog shouldn’t suffer just because you have to go to work every day. Training them out of this behavior ― barking and chewing, among other things ― can be a long, arduous process. It requires a lot of patience. How do you convince your beloved pup that you are not, in fact, abandoning them forever every time you walk out the front door? Thankfully, there are plenty of resources out there to help out with this kind of training.
When it comes to long periods of staying home, you’d think any dog would be super excited about seeing their humans all the time. And they are. But it’s important to remember that your dog might very quickly get used to this new way of life. In other words, you’ll have to start separation training all over again once it’s over, to help out your anxious dog. Veterinarians and canine behavior experts all agree that being stuck indoors with their family for weeks at a time likely won’t be a dog’s biggest issue. It’s when everything goes back to normal that they may develop anxiety, which is important to remember and be prepared for.
Things to keep in mind about an anxious dog
While separation anxiety is common, not all dogs are super excited about being around people all the time. Especially if there are children in the family, and everyone is at home at the same time, all the time. An anxious dog may be overwhelmed and need to withdraw. If you notice uncharacteristic anxiety in your dog during times like these, try to give them some space, if possible.
Anxiety can be a tricky thing, both in humans and dogs, but there are ways to help. There are several reasons your dog may be anxious, but when it comes to periods of uncertainty, anxiety, and isolation, the reason may be obvious. If your dog has been behaving in anxious ways, usually destructive and withdrawn, take a look at what kind of signals you have been sending. Are you anxious and stressed? Is your home filled with these emotions? If so, there are ways to alleviate it for both you and your dog.