We usually think of dogs as happy-go-lucky animals, but just like people, man's best friend can experience anxiety, stress, and even depression. Like their human counterparts, a dog's anxiety symptoms can be triggered by a variety of stressors. "Anxiety occurs when a trigger is presented that causes the dog to anticipate something negative is going to happen or when a dog feels threatened," Marny Nofi, a senior manager on the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals's Anti-Cruelty Behavior Team, tells Bustle. "Anxiety can occur in dogs when they encounter something they haven’t experienced before. Some dogs can also suffer from separation anxiety, a fear of being left alone, or a fear of loud noises. Signs of anxiety can often be very subtle, and easily missed by people, even pet owners."
Moreover, Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, a staff doctor at NYC’s Animal Medical Center, explains that dogs don't always need a reason to be anxious: They can simply have an anxiety disorder. "I have patients who we think have a generalized anxiety disorder, based on their actions when they meet strangers, or their actions when they come [to the veterinary office]," she says.
If you suspect your pup is anxious — whether it's triggered by something specific or not — these are six signs of anxiety that experts says to look out for.
Your Dog Distracts Themself Randomly
Displacement behavior is your dog's way to release built up stress, and usually indicates your dog is experiencing anxiety in their current situation. Nofi explains that your dog may be engaging in displacement behaviors when they are "suddenly distracting themselves with another task, such as sniffing the ground." If your dog seems to be randomly distracting themselves, it could be because your pet is anxious.
Bridget Pieper, another senior manager on the ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Behavior Team, says that, "Anytime you see that your dog is becoming anxious, write it down and describe the circumstances: Was she outside, or inside? Was it quiet, or loud? Had she recently eaten, or not? Journaling will help you uncover the triggers for your dog’s anxiety."
By journaling, you'll be better able to identify what could be making your pup anxious, and then you'll be better able to get them the correct treatment.
They Itch If They're Not Itchy, Or Yawn If They're Not Tired
Both Dr. Hohenhaus and Nofi explain another sign your dog has anxiety is when they yawn when they're not tired, or even scratch themselves when they aren't itchy. These are other kinds of displacement behaviors. "Dive into some good dog body language resources," says Pieper. "The early signs of anxiety are subtle, and early detection allows you to make a change for your dog before a mild episode of anxiety spirals into more extreme anxiety."
Your Dog Runs From Loud Noises
Dr. Hohenhaus says, "Some dogs get anxious with loud noises, and the most common and obvious triggers are thunderstorms and fireworks." If your pup tries to hide, or seems to try and escape loud noises, they probably have anxiety due to a noise phobia.
"If you know a storm is coming and your dog starts to get anxious, you can use a ThunderShirt, which fits snugly on the dog. Some people feel safer under a heavy blanket. For dogs, it's the same kind of psychology — its like a weighted comforter," explains Dr. Hohenhaus. She also suggests that you can rub down your dog with a dryer sheet before thunderstorms to help with static build-up on their fur, use a white noise machine to calm your dog's anxiety, or consult with your vet about medication to help with noise-related anxiety.
Your Dog Bites
If your dog snaps at you or others, they probably have anxiety. "Biting is the pinnacle of anxious behavior. Dogs either bite out of pain, or they bite out of fear. If [a dog] is anxious all the time, they can become fear biters, and that's a big problem," says Dr. Hohenhaus. "These dogs probably really need a veterinary behaviorist: A veterinarian whose done training beyond just getting the veterinary degree — specific training in managing behavior disorders. Because they're a veterinarian, these specialists can also prescribe medications to alter the behavior."
Your Dog Has Panic Attacks
Don't overlook the obvious! If your dog has anxiety, it may look exactly like anxiety or panic attack symptoms do in humans — such as restlessness, shaking, and difficulty breathing. Nofi says if your dog "trembling, panting, vocalizing, cowering, or running away," these are clear-cut signs your pup is suffering from anxiety.
"Once you’ve identified your dog’s anxiety triggers, work to both manage your dog’s anxiety by reducing her exposure to triggers, and change her response to her triggers from anxious to happy by pairing low intensity anxiety triggers with food, or activities that your dog loves," says Pieper, adding that you may want to visit a dog behaviorist if your pet's anxiety is severe.
Once you recognize your dog has anxiety, finding what works for your pet, and treating them may take time. "Anxiety is complex, and getting to the bottom of it may take time. Some triggers for anxiety are easy to eliminate, while others are less under your control, and may never be able to be eliminated or avoided fully. Be patient with your dog — even though their anxious behavior can be frustrating, scolding your dog for being anxious will only serve to make your dog more anxious," says Pieper. In the end, being aware of your dog's behaviors and how they may be signs of anxiety will help you get your best friend the best help pawssible.