Helping Dogs Cope with Anxiety

Changing schedules, thunderstorms and other everyday triggers can cause dogs to develop crippling anxiety. Here, an expert at VCA Animal Hospital in Allen Park offers advice to soothe frazzled Fidos.

Dogs can develop anxiety the same as people and unfortunately, huge changes in their owner’s schedules, like vacations or the holidays, can be a trigger for them. Luckily, as with humans, there are some things that you should, and shouldn’t do, to help calm your dog during these stressful times.

Here, Dr. Delta Leeper, an associate veterinarian with VCA Animal Hospital in Allen Park, explains how and why canine anxiety happens and what you can do to treat it.

What triggers Toby’s anxiety?

It’s no secret that thunderstorms can drive even the calmest canines crazy, but environment and genetics can also play with your dog’s nerves.

“Basically, you’ve got three components for any behavioral abnormality,” Dr. Leeper explains. “One is genetics. German Shepherds, for example, have a high rate of separational anxiety.”

Early learning is another factor, according to Dr. Leeper. A dog that has been abused or in a difficult situation, like being abandoned, could develop a form of PTSD, which could cause the dog to react to the idea that it could happen again.

“The third is environment,” the doc adds. “There was this dog that lived in an area where thunderstorms were common and this dog had more anxiety about thunderstorms than other dogs because they happened more often.”

And then there are some unknown factors not yet understood by professionals.

Signs of Max’s misgivings

If you suspect that your pup is having some hard times, there are a few very obvious signs that can confirm this for you.

Destructive behavior, puddles of drool and whimpering all day are the big things to watch out for, but more subtle issues like clinginess when you’re leaving, frequent yawning, tail-tucking and lip-licking could be signs, too.

“Most owners are pretty intuitive and they can tell if something is wrong with their dogs,” Dr. Leeper says.

Zapping Zoe’s inhibitions

The first step in helping your dog when you’re away is to make her more comfortable. This means keeping her busy with a desirable treat or toy. You can also give her a crate, or other safe space to retreat to or turn on the radio.

For thunderstorms, try training her when she’s calm to focus on you, so you can utilize that tool to calm her in stressful situations.

“When the dog is not in an anxiety-provoking situation, teach the dog things that they can do when they are in an anxiety-provoking situation,” Dr. Leemer explains. “You can teach them to sit, look at me and shake. You can even teach a dog to take a deep breath.”

When they are in that situation you can go through those motions.

“You’re basically distracting the dog and letting them know that you think it’s ok,” she explains.

You should always avoid ignoring your dog before you leave, which can actually make anxiety worse. Also, stop yourself from soothing the dog when you’re around because that could make the dog feel like you think there’s something wrong.

And if Bean needs more help …

If the training and reward systems you’ve put in place really aren’t helping, it may be time to consider professional care.

“If the owner is worried about the dog’s mental health or if the owner thinks that the dog is in distress, it’s time to take the dog to the vet,” Dr. Leeper explains.

The vet can point you in the direction of the appropriate dog trainer that can help you with the dog’s issues or can even hook you up with a veterinary behaviorist, a sort of doggy psychologist, that can diagnose and steer you toward the proper treatment or medication.

“It’s never a bad idea to see a vet,” Dr. Leeper adds. “A lot of people say that they don’t want to drug their dog because they think it will make the dog feel strange or that it will be sedated and that won’t be the case.”

Looking for a new vet to treat your faithful pets? Head to VCA Animal Hospital near you for a FREE FIRST EXAM today. Go to to find a location near you and be sure to mention the free first exam offer when making your appointment.

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