Helping a Dog That Seems Anxious All the Time
Dogs typically become anxious only during particular experiences, such as thunderstorms (noise anxiety), when left alone (separation anxiety), during car rides (travel anxiety), or when approached by an unknown person or dog (social anxiety). However, there isn’t always an apparent reason for a dog’s anxiety. Just like people, dogs can experience Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), where they act anxious, fearful, and stressed for the majority of the time and no obvious reason.
What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Symptoms of all anxiety types include behaviors like excessive barking or howling, house soiling, destructive chewing or scratching, pacing, panting and salivating, and excessive shadowing of the owner. Many dogs who suffer from GAD will also suffer from a more specific type of anxiety, such as separation anxiety, noise anxiety, or travel anxiety. To accurately diagnose general anxiety disorder, a veterinary behaviorist will ask about your dog’s behavior over time during different contexts. They might also ask for a behavior log or any video of your dog’s behavior.
Symptoms that indicate a dog has a more generalized case of anxiety include:
- Overreaction to random non-threatening items, events, or other changes in the environment that do not warrant such a response
- Hypervigilance (always on the “look out” for any changes in the environment)
- High activity level or a constant need to move
- Trembling or shaking, often paired with other fearful body language signals (tucked tail, pinned back ears, or wide eyes)
- Chronic anxiety (lasting for at least 2 to 3 months) that is not context-specific
- Increased level of stress during other events (separation from the owner, loud noises, travel, etc.)
- Overall “unhappy” demeanor
What Causes Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Dogs?
A dog might develop generalized anxiety for a variety of reasons or a combination of different experiences. For some, this might be a lack of socialization during their critical imprint period as puppies. For others, it could be a specific traumatic event or repeated exposure to something scary. Ongoing studies are determining possible genetic components to the development of anxiety in dogs, and there is more evidence addressing the correlation between anxiety and painful medical conditions. For this reason, your veterinarian must be involved in ruling out and resolving any possible pain or illness to help alleviate your dog’s anxiety.
How to Help a Dog Who Is Anxious All the Time
If your dog acts anxious or scared all or most of the time, there are things you can do to help them feel more relaxed and build their confidence. No dog owner wants their dog to be constantly worried and living with an anxious dog can be stressful for everyone in the family.
The first thing you want to do is connect with a veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist to rule out medical conditions that could be contributing to their anxiety. If they determine that your dog is in pain, they will help you begin medical treatment that might also lessen their anxious behaviors.
Treatment Options for Anxiety
Once any needed veterinary treatment has begun, there are a few options that can help relieve anxiety for your dog.
Behavior Modification and Training
While dogs with generalized anxiety react to various things, seemingly at random, you can still begin what’s called counter conditioning and desensitization training. This process introduces a variety of new and potentially scary things to your dog in a controlled and positive way and slowly builds up their tolerance and reinforces coping skills. Read more here on how counter conditioning and desensitization works.
Focusing on training that builds up your dog’s confidence can help them feel less anxious. Enrolling in training classes to learn basic obedience is a great start. Anxious dogs will benefit significantly from dog sports that give them choices and positively engage their brain. Dog sport classes, such as nose work, are an excellent option for nervous or insecure dogs. These activities promote teamwork between the dog and their owner (which provides some security for an anxious dog) while rewarding independent thinking from the dog (which builds confidence).
Whatever type of training you do with your anxious dog, make sure it’s using positive reinforcement training. Any punishment or “negative reinforcement” (e.g., shock collars, prong collars, or hitting or yelling), can make a dog’s anxiety worse.
A certified dog trainer or behavior consultant is a useful resource when beginning a behavior modification plan. They can show you specific steps to take and help troubleshoot throughout the process. They’ll also have ideas on other treatment options you might want to consider.
Calmer Canine™ tPEMF Treatment
This non-prescription treatment relieves inflammation in the dog’s anxiety center of the brain (the amygdala). Targeted microcurrent therapy is an FDA-approved technology used in the human medical field to address pain, inflammation, anxiety, depression, and more. Calmer Canine™ is the first application of this therapy in the veterinary and behavior field and has shown positive results in helping anxious dogs. A dog needs twice-daily treatments that last 15 minutes each for 4 to 6 weeks. Learn more about Calmer Canine’s drug-free, long-lasting treatment.
Anxiety Wraps and Wearables
Some dogs respond to wearing an anti-anxiety shirt that fits snugly and uses compression to help calm the nervous system. However, these are only effective when worn, meaning a dog with generalized anxiety would need to wear their anxiety wrap at all times to see any benefit. Read more about anxiety wraps and wearables here.
Calming Supplements and CBD
There are quite a few different supplements on the market that claim they help dogs with anxiety, and CBD has become increasingly popular as well. Some of these may be beneficial for anxious dogs as long as you speak with your veterinarian about what supplement is best for your dog’s particular case. Your vet will be able to recommend reputable supplement brands, determine the correct dosage, and check to make sure there aren’t any interactions with any of your dog’s current medications. For more information about how to start using supplements for your anxious dog, click here. Read more about CBD and canine anxiety here.
Dog appeasing pheromones are a synthetic version of the naturally occurring chemical released by mother dogs when they nurse their litter. Pheromones can help dogs feel more secure and comfortable. The few studies that examined their effectiveness have shown mostly positive results, especially for dogs with noise anxiety. While available in multiple forms like diffusers and sprays, dogs with generalized anxiety would most benefit from trying the collar version. Otherwise, they would need to be within range of the plug-in diffuser or would require the pheromones frequently sprayed on their bedding or wherever they happen to be.
Prescription Medication for Canine Anxiety
In some cases, prescription medication can be helpful for dogs that have generalized anxiety disorder. Veterinarians and veterinary behaviorists often prescribe drugs such as Reconcile® (fluoxetine) or Clomicalm® (clomipramine) for more severe cases of anxiety. Medication can help the dog reach a more relaxed state where behavior modification and training will be more effective. However, prescription medications do come with possible side effects and potential long-term use. Your veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist can discuss with you the different options available and help you decide whether it’s the right choice for you and your dog.
Having a dog with generalized anxiety is difficult and stressful for the entire family. By connecting with your veterinarian and dog trainer, you can take the first step towards helping your pet feel more confident and less stressed. It’s also essential to address any anxiety you might be experiencing. Dogs are very much aware of your state of mind and might mirror that in their behavior. Read more about how your anxiety might affect your dog here.