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Anxiety in Dogs

by | Jul 30, 2017 | A Time for Paws

Liza Tate on Davidson’s Main Street with her five-year-old toy poodle “Tino,” short for “Valentino.”

It seems as if I have been seeing many more anxious dogs over the last few years than I did earlier in my veterinary career. Why are so many dogs anxious? And what can we do to help them or even prevent this from occurring? Let’s start by realizing that anxiety is driven by many different causes, including such things as the breed of a dog, phobias (i.e. loud sounds), and lack of proper training or socialization.

One of the most important factors in having a self-assured pet is picking the right dog for your particular situation in life. If you have a family with several young children versus an older couple with no children, you will probably come to different conclusions about what breed you want to select. In many cases, people have chosen to make a pet out of a breed that is counter to their lifestyle. If we want a couch potato dog that will love our children, we don’t want to pick a high energy, working breed. Such a breed would be much better suited for the couple on the go who are out hiking every weekend. There are many websites devoted to helping people pick the right breed for their lifestyle and helping them with temperament testing when looking at a litter of puppies. For example, timid puppies are often more likely to be anxious when they get older, unless the new owners are mindful of the problem and help them become well socialized.

Sound phobias are a concern for many dogs, with thunderstorms and fireworks being two of the most common. Many dogs do not understand these loud noises and become anxious. Thunderstorms may be miles away, and though you cannot hear them or feel the barometric pressure change, your pet does.  These loud noise issues may not come to light until the pet is middle aged or older. These pets are often helped by providing “white noise” during loud events and some will need further measures, such as a “thunder shirt” or anti-anxiety medications to help them through.

Socialization and proper training when a dog is young is also important. There is a window between 8 to 16 weeks that is crucial for proper bonding to people. Socialization with people outside of your home during this period will help your dog be more self-confident and less fearful. Puppy training classes are a terrific way to start the socialization process, as well as give you better control over your pet’s actions. A well-trained pet is much less likely to have anxiety issues.

As you can see, a lot of what we can do is based on early intervention. So, what do we do when we have an older dog with anxiety? The answers are varied and depend on your circumstance. An in-depth conversation with your veterinarian is a good place to start, especially if you are considering adopting an older dog. Some pets will require medication, but often with the help of behavior management, we can turn these pets into happy members of your “pack” (family).

Dick Hay

Dr. Dick Hay is a veterinarian at TotalBond Veterinary Hospital at Davidson and has lived in Davidson since 1989 with his wife Pam, a retired Davidson College biology professor. They raised two wonderful children in Davidson, Sarah and Ben. Dr. Hay is a Davidson College graduate from the Class of 1977 and received his MS and DVM degrees from the University of Georgia. He is active in the community, having served on several nonprofits boards, including many years with the Davidson Housing Coalition. 

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