Calm Canines: Dog Anxiety Prevention

Key Points

  • Certain dog breeds, such as cocker spaniels, German shepherds, Australian shepherds, and Jack Russell terriers, have the genetic predisposition to develop anxiety.

  • Changes in routine or environment, lack of maternal care and early socialization opportunities, and traumatic puppyhood experiences are other factors that contribute to dog anxiety.

  • Be aware of the signs and symptoms of dog anxiety, such as panting, pacing, destructive behavior, and avoidance of new experiences.

  • Dog anxiety prevention may require combining medication and behavioral treatment.

Just like humans, some dogs suffer from anxiety. While some dogs may only experience it infrequently and in small doses, others may suffer from more persistent and severe anxiety that significantly impacts their quality of life. Small actions can help minimize trauma and even lead to dog anxiety prevention.

Whether general nervousness or trigger-specific, tackling this issue head-on is vital to ensure a happier and healthier life for your four-legged friends. This article provides tips and advice for dog anxiety prevention.

What Is Dog Anxiety?

Dog anxiety takes many forms, and pets react differently to their triggers. In general, dog anxiety is a behavioral issue stemming from fear, stress, and insecurity.

Check out the following common forms of dog anxiety.

Generalized Anxiety

Barbara Forster, et al. explains, "Dogs with generalized anxiety disorder exhibit constant or almost constant signs of anxiety and fear regardless of context."

Some breeds, such as cocker spaniels, German shepherds, Australian shepherds, Jack Russell terriers, and German shorthaired pointers, are more likely to suffer from this behavioral issue.

Border Collie on couch

Fear of New Experiences Anxiety

Does your pup freak out when you take them to new places? Fear of new experiences is another common trigger for anxiety, and some dogs are more sensitive to changes in their routine and surroundings. Going to the vet, meeting new people, or even riding in the car may trigger stress and anxiety for these pets.

Social Anxiety

Not every human is a "people" person, and the same goes for dogs. The usual cause of social anxiety is failing to introduce your dog to different social settings when they were a puppy.

This problem is even more prevalent in all dogs born since the 2020 social lockdown.

Noise-Related Anxiety

The most common form of noise-related anxiety is the extreme fear of fireworks and thunderstorms. In more severe cases, your pet may become anxious whenever they hear loud, unexpected, or unfamiliar sounds.

Some dogs have a genetic predisposition to noise anxiety, while others develop the problem due to traumatic past experiences.

Confinement Anxiety

Confinement anxiety occurs when your dog exhibits intense fear and discomfort in a small space, such as a crate or a kennel. Dogs suffering from confinement anxiety actively attempt to escape even if they injure themselves.

This problem often happens when owners use a crate as a punishment during puppyhood, and over time, the container becomes a source of fear. Any environment that resembles the crate may also trigger the same response.

Separation Anxiety

Dogs are social animals, and being alone for an extended time is a source of stress and anxiety. Young puppies and rescue dogs may think they're abandoned without a proper introduction to solitude.

The uncertainty becomes nervous energy and evolves into destructive behavior. Eventually, the fear becomes separation anxiety.

Canine-Compulsive Disorder Induced Anxiety

Canine-compulsive disorder (CCD) is an anxiety disorder in which the dog exhibits repetitive, obsessive behaviors. Dogs with CCD may excessively chew items, chase their tails, engage in pacing behavior, constant licking, or bark incessantly.

Although genetic factors play a role in this type of anxiety, some problems result from extreme boredom, lack of mental stimulation, and excess energy.

Medium and large working-class dogs are most susceptible to this type of anxiety when they don't have a job and become idle.

What Causes Dog Anxiety?

It's common for dogs to experience anxiety. Author and dog expert Harriet Meyers states that 72.5 percent of dogs experience some form of stress, with up to 32 percent affected by noise-related anxiety.

Anxiety in dogs is usually a product of genetic and environmental factors, and some common causes include genetic predisposition, age deterioration, underlying medical conditions, lack of socialization, life traumas, and a lack of life purpose.

Genetic Predisposition

Some dogs are prone to anxiety due to their genetic makeup. For example, dogs with fearful genetic phenotypes on chromosomes seven and 20 are more likely to fear loud noises, strangers, and new experiences.

Dog looking out window

Chromosome seven mutation tends to cause intense fear of noises, whereas chromosome 20 affects the oxytocin receptor functioning, making these affected dogs more nervous.

Breeds such as German shepherds, Great Danes, and golden retrievers are particularly vulnerable to general anxiety because of the chromosome 20 mutation.

Age Deterioration

If your aging dog shows signs of anxiety, it may be due to a decline in their mental and physical well-being. Like Alzheimer's disease and dementia, dogs also experience decreased cognitive functioning.

Since these pets don't understand why they no longer remember where things are or what is happening to them, their confusion and frustration become bouts of anxiety as their mental sharpness decreases.

Medical Conditions

Some medical conditions trigger anxiety in dogs. For instance, thyroid imbalances are a big culprit for anxious behavior.

Dogs with hyperthyroidism often have increased stress levels and may exhibit symptoms such as shaking, packing, excessive drooling, and nonstop barking. They're also more agitated and antsy than usual.

Other underlying medical problems, such as chronic pain, gastrointestinal distress, or allergies, may make your furry friend anxious.

Lack of Socialization

This problem happens most frequently to small breeds and dogs living in shelters. Those pets who lack exposure to different experiences, humans, and animals are more likely to develop extreme fear, especially if they have never experienced positive interactions with the outside world.

New puppies must interact with people, other animals, and new surroundings to receive a positive impression of the world.

Traumatic Life Experience

Unfortunately, some dogs experience traumatic life events that lead to anxiety. Dogs with a history of abuse or neglect by previous owners usually exhibit anxious behaviors.

If you adopt a dog with a traumatic past, creating a calm and soothing environment is necessary to help them heal and adjust to their new home.

Lack of Life Purpose

You know when dogs make those cute little sprints around the house? That's usually their way of expressing joy, but it may also be a sign that they don't have a purpose and need to run off their excess energy.

Over time, these spazzy moments can evolve into full-blown anxiety attacks, complete with destructive and self-harming behavior.

How Your Dog Expresses Anxiety

Until humans can speak the canine language, dogs must express their emotions in other ways. Often, these messages come across as excessive barking, whining, or howling.

When your pup exhibits this behavior, examine your actions and surroundings. Did you do something unusual, or did something happen? Was it a thunderstorm, loud traffic, or perhaps strangers?

Common Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

Panting, trembling, and restlessness are common indicators that your dog is experiencing anxiety. Dogs may also display nervous body language, such as cowering, hiding, excessively licking or biting themselves, and chasing their tails.

Other physical signs include dilated pupils, withdrawing from social interactions, backing up when approached, repetitive behaviors, and loss of appetite.

Dog with anxious eyes

Recognizing Destructive Behavior

If your pet is exhibiting destructive behaviors like chewing furniture or clawing at the sofa, they may be trying to tell you about their emotional state. Dogs feeling anxious may act aggressively by growling or baring their teeth.

Treatment Options

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to treat dog anxiety. Although the best course of action for your pet depends on their individual needs, there are some standard treatment options.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is an effective treatment option because anxiety is often learned, and your pup can unlearn the undesirable behavior. The most common type of behavioral therapy involves desensitization training, which exposes the dog to gradual anxiety triggers.

For example, suppose a dog is afraid of loud noises. In that case, a behavioral therapist may start by recording a storm at a low volume and gradually increase the volume over time as the dog gets more comfortable with the sound.

Consultation or guidance from a professional dog trainer is often valuable, but pet parents may train their dogs themselves as long as they're patient and consistent. Behavioral therapy takes time and may require weeks or months before your dog responds positively to their triggers.

Counter-conditioning training is another form of behavioral therapy, which involves pairing the trigger with something positive, such as treats, praises, or playtime. Obedience training is ideal for aiding anxious dogs that suffer from confinement and separation anxiety.

These training exercises create a structure and routine for dogs and provide an opportunity to establish a trusting bond between you and your pet.


Medication is especially beneficial in severe and genetic-related cases. Several different types of medication are available, including antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and sedatives.


When working with behavioral therapy, antidepressants offer a faster mood relief solution and an easier transition from viewing triggers as threatening to safe or even positive. The most commonly used medications for dog anxiety are:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants

  • Benzodiazepines

  • Serotonin antagonists and reuptake inhibitors

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors


Sedatives are the quickest way to calm anxious dogs during highly stressful situations, such as thunderstorms, firework displays, or during moves and long-distance travels. They're never long-term solutions since they cause side effects such as drowsiness and reduced motor coordination.

Homeopathic Treatments

Several homeopathic treatments are successful in treating dog anxiety. Chamomile extract reduces stress and promotes relaxation, while CBD for dogs oil lowers pain and anxiety symptoms. Some supplements also reduce anxiety and restlessness by slowing down nerve cell activity.

Although many homeopathic treatments are available on the market, their efficiency as an anxiety treatment is debatable. These companies often market their products as dietary supplements or pet food so that FDA regulations don't apply to them.

Before giving your dog homeopathic treatments, consult your veterinarian about the best course of action and dosage.

Massage and Physical Contacts

If your dog is anxious, comforting them through physical touch is always helpful. Giving your furry pal strokes on their head or the back of their neck helps lower their cortisol levels and release the feel-good hormone oxytocin.

Massages are great for bonding with your pup if you're gentle and respectful. Over time, they'll view your touch as an immediate stress reducer and trust you in stressful moments.

Change of Diet

Nutrition directly affects the nervous system. For example, dogs with tryptophan deficiency are more likely to develop psychological disorders and aggressive behavior. You may alleviate your dog's anxiety by changing their diet by incorporating supplements such as L-tryptophan, B vitamins, and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Dog with sad eyes

Raw fruits and vegetables may also have calming benefits as they contain many antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals supporting the nervous system.

If your dog suffers from anxiety due to elevated serotonin levels, you may want to lower the tryptophan in your dog's diet. Since tryptophan is a precursor amino acid required for serotonin production, reducing tryptophan intake reduces serotonin levels.

Turkey and chicken have the highest tryptophan sources, so you may want to cut back on these food sources or change to a kibble formula that doesn't contain these ingredients. However, before you make the switch, have your veterinarian check your canine friend's bloodwork.

Anxiety Prevention Techniques

Although it's never too late to start treating your pup's anxiety issues, anxiety prevention is always the key to a happier and healthier dog. If you notice any signs of anxiety in your furry friend early on, here are some prevention tips before the situation worsens.

Learn to Read Your Dog

Knowing your pet's body language is essential to understanding and preventing anxiety. If you sense that your puppy is anxious, start creating a plan to assist them in overcoming the triggers.

Don't force them to approach the source of their fear; instead, praise them for taking small steps toward progress.

Early Socialization

Ensuring your dog receives ample socialization from a young age so that they become more comfortable with new experiences. If you know that they're shy, it's even more important to expose them to different environment settings, humans, and animals in a positive way.

Positive Reinforcement

Using positive reinforcement as a training method is another excellent way to prevent anxiety. When your pup does something right, give them verbal praise, pats on the head, and even treats. All this positive feedback allows your dog to build self-confidence and feel more secure in their environment.

Daily Exercise

For some dogs, having too much energy makes them anxious. Running around and exploring the world allows them to burn off some pent-up energy and release their anxiety.

If you live in a city, try walking your dog or letting them play in the local dog park; if you have enough room at home, create an outdoor space for them to run and play. A tired dog is a happy dog.

Mental Stimulation

In addition to physical exercise, mental stimulation is essential for dogs to stay calm and relaxed. Give them puzzles or food-dispensing toys that make them work for their treats.

Give your dog tasks and responsibilities like fetching a toy or bringing you their leash when it's time to go for a walk. Having a purpose makes your dog less likely to suffer from anxiety.

Avoid Situations and Triggers

Avoiding all situations and triggers that may induce your dog's anxiety is impossible. Instead, learn strategic ways to put yourself between new experiences and your pup, giving them space to adjust safely and clearly.

For example, if your pup fears other dogs, try introducing them from a distance and moving closer if they become more comfortable with the other dog.

Create a Calm Space for Your Dog

Creating an area where your dog feels safe reduces stress levels. Ensure the space is away from busy walkways and noisy streets. Provide blankets, toys, a piece of clothing or object with your scent, and maybe even a favorite treat to make your pup feel more at ease.

This technique is instrumental in preventing puppies from developing anxiety against fireworks and thunderstorms.

Dog lying down

Music Therapy

Journal of Veterinary Behavior study reveals that classical music effectively alleviates stress and anxiety in kenneled dogs. The results indicate that classical music helps dogs sleep better and exhibit less nervous behavior while they stay overnight at the kennels. Additionally, classical music relaxes dogs by reducing their heart rate.

If you're unfamiliar with classical music, Chopin, Debussy, and Beethoven are always good places to start. Chopin's Prelude in E minor, Debussy's Clair de Lune, and Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata are some of the most soothing pieces that guarantee to coax your pup into a peaceful state.

During the daytime, Tchaikovsky's Sleepy Beauty Waltz and Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf are more playful but soothing enough to stabilize your dog mentally.

For dogs that become anxious during car rides, you have many options to help your pup stay calm. Many streaming services offer special car ride playlists for dogs, and Amazon Music, Spotify, and YouTube Music all have dedicated playlists specially tailored to keep dogs happy.

Paired with calming essential oil aromatherapy, these playlists are the perfect remedy for car-anxious pooches.

Provide Proper Distractions

Sometimes visual distractions help soothe an anxious dog. If your dog loves to watch television or looks out the window, you may want to play some YouTube videos dedicated to dogs. These videos often include an ever-changing scenery in first-person view to mimic that dog walk experience.

On the other hand, if your dog calms down whenever they hear your voice or sees you, try installing an interactive pet camera so you can keep an eye on them from anywhere. This way, your pup knows that you're always there for them.

Create a Routine

Dogs thrive on routine and consistency. Establishing regular times for your dog's meals and walks reduces your dog's anxiety levels. Instead of constantly wondering about what's going to happen next, they begin to associate certain times and activities with positive experiences.

Even when you're away from home, maintain the same routine as much as possible and provide the same designated bed for your pup to relax.

Calming Shirts, Donut Beds, and Ear Muffs

Dogs who experience anxiety from traveling, separation, noise, or strangers may find comfort in using calming shirts or coats. These clothing pieces exert mild, continuous pressure on the dog's torso to provide security and comfort.

Donut-shaped dog beds are another helpful alternative because your pup can sink into the material and feel like they're constantly receiving a big snuggly hug.

Calming ear muffs also work wonders to block out unexpected loud noises like thunderstorms or fireworks, reducing the fear trigger. For dogs highly sensitive to unforeseen noises, wearing a set of calming ear muffs may be the answer to keeping your dog happy and less jumpy.

Two dogs in trouble

Be a Positive Light

Anxious dogs require extra care and attention from their owners. Spotting the signs of anxiety in your pet is crucial to a happy and healthy lifestyle. Use proper anxiety prevention techniques to help them adjust and adapt to various stressors.

Some dogs are more likely to develop anxiety due to their genetic predisposition. However, with patience and the right approach, your four-legged friend has a better chance of becoming a calmer canine that enjoys life and all of its adventures by your side.

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