Canine Anxiety Symptoms

Canine anxiety can manifest in many ways and may get worse over time if not treated. If your dog is showing signs of anxiety, determine the cause and work on a behavior modification plan to reduce the symptoms.

Anxiety Symptoms

Canine anxiety symptoms aren't easy to define because they vary widely from dog to dog, and many of them are very subtle. The most obvious symptom is excessive barking. If your dog barks at every noise and has difficulty calming after he is startled, he's definitely anxious.

Some dogs may show this behavior only in certain circumstances, such as only when the gardener is in the yard or during thunderstorms. Though it is more specific, this is still anxious behavior. Hiding or seeking solitude are also symptoms of anxiety, as is hiding behind the owner, jumping on laps or otherwise seeking comfort from the owner.

Other symptoms, such as panting, yawning, shaking and licking, are more subtle. All of these behaviors are normal in certain circumstances but, when displayed in different contexts, can also be nervous behaviors. For example, dogs pant when they exercise, but if they haven't recently exercised, panting is usually caused by anxiety.

Excessive energy can also be a great disguise for anxiety. Though sometimes dogs jump or run through the house because they want attention, it can also be caused by anxiety. A good gauge is looking at the circumstances of the behavior. If you just got home from work, this is attention-seeking behavior. However, if your dog does it every time you vaccuum, that's anxiety.

Diagnosing Anxiety

When diagnosing anxiety, it's important to determine your dog's normal behavior when he's calm. If your dog is always anxious, this may be difficult to do. However, you can find a baseline. When you're relaxing in the bedroom with your dog lying beside you, observe how he's acting. Compare that to the times when he is anxious. This helps you recognize his symptoms.

If the anxiety has developed suddenly, consult a veterinarian to eliminate medical causes before beginning a behavioral modification program.

If the anxiety isn't sudden, it's probably behavioral. Once you've observed your dog's anxious signals, time how long it takes for him to return to normal after an exciting incident. For example, if your dog pants heavily when he's frightened, observe how long it takes for his breathing to return to normal.

Reducing Anxiety

To reduce your dog's anxiety, find a place where he is at his most calm, usually a quiet area in the back of your house. Make this his "safe room." When he's anxious, lead him to that room and let him stay there until he's calm. This is not a punishment, so don't treat it as such.

Reduce your dog's anxiety by exposing him to his fears in low levels and rewarding him for remaining calm. For example, if your dog is afraid of noises, play a CD at a volume so low that his ears prick but he doesn't show fear signals. Reward him continuously for a short time and end the session.

If he starts to show fear signals, lead him to his room to calm down and move more slowly during the next session. Gradually increase the volume until his fear signals are milder each time.

Living an anxious life is stressful, but you can easily reduce the symptoms by recognizing his signals, identifying his fears and reducing anxiety.