Has the tail-wagging stopped? The barking and vocalizing increased? Or is your dog regressing in their training and independence? There’s a whole bunch of reasons why your pet might suddenly display signs of anxiety or nervousness—some of which can be subtle and hard to diagnose. This post is designed to help you pinpoint those areas of your dog’s daily life which might be contributing to their anxiety.

First up, what does anxiety in dogs actually look like?

Watch out for the following behaviors and responses. The more of these your dog displays, the more likely it is that they’re suffering from some type of anxiety:

  • Fidgeting
  • Avoiding eye contact or outright hiding
  • Panting and pacing
  • Constant whining or whimpering
  • Unresponsiveness or reluctance to obey commands
  • Excessive or constant yawning, stretching, licking, etc.

Remember, no one of the above behaviors alone constitutes an anxiety diagnosis. Determining the mental health of your dog is all about careful, sensitive observation, and really knowing your pet’s individual personality. Owners know best!

There’s been a change in your dog’s routine

(that you may not have noticed)

  • Loud noises in your house or neighborhood may trigger an underlying noise phobia or noise-based anxiety in your pet. Listen out for construction, movers, landscapers, school children on summer vacation, or any other significant audible changes in your surroundings.
  • Noise phobia is common in dogs, with some evidence suggesting that up to one-fifth of UK pups have at least a mild noise aversion. Tackling noise phobias is a gradual process of exposing your pet to unusual sounds over weeks or months. There are several online products or specialist CDs created for exactly this purpose.
  • Tip: If your dog suddenly becomes more sensitive to loud noises, it may be a sign of Illness-induced anxiety (see below).

Your dog’s exercise routine has decreased

(even a little bit)

  • Most breeds, and especially larger dogs, thrive on their daily exercise. A 2015 study found that the largest environmental factor associated with noise sensitivity and separation anxiety in dogs was the amount of daily exercise a dog regularly received. This goes to show something that most owners already realize: regular walks and lots of play are a key foundation of a dog’s mental health & aiding in anxiety.

  • Likewise, changing up the kinds of walks and activities you enjoy with your dog can have positive or negative effects. Dogs that have become habituated to a daily (or even twice-daily) route may become uncertain if you decide to suddenly switch things up. The same goes for the introduction of new settings—such as dog parks, beaches, or group walks with dogs/children.

Your pup is sick

(Illness-induced anxiety)

  • While it’s likely that you and your dog share a deep and communicative bond, dogs can often exhibit behaviors that are difficult to trace back to their original cause. One example of this phenomenon is pain or illness. Owners of dogs who are suddenly acting erratically, passively—or even more aggressively—should think carefully about a trip to the vet, as it may be that your pup is experiencing discomfort in some form or other.
  • A great example of these subtle correlations between behaviors and causes is sudden noise sensitivity. Dogs with noise sensitivity should be routinely assessed for pain by vets, as dogs may experience pain when jumping up to check on new sounds in the house. From the dog’s perspective, that pain and the noise may then become associated, in a Pavlovian response.

You (the owner) have recently developed anxiety

  • People often wonder how aware their pets are of large events in their life. Does my dog know when I get bad news? Can they feel it when we’re worried? While your dog might not be able to comprehend the specifics of events like the coronavirus pandemic, an anxious or nervous atmosphere in your home is something that your dog may well pick up on. An extensive look at this topic by National Geographic discovered all sorts of correlations between owner and pet mentality, meaning that, if you’re chronically stressed, your dog could be too.

  • Owners who suffer from a more established or long-standing nervous disorder can often worry that their anxiety affects their dog, and the evidence does suggest a correlation. A study from the Behavioral Biology department at the University of Vienna found that anxiety can absolutely flow down (as well as up!) the leash.

Rescue/Shelter issues

  • If you are not the original owner of your dog, it can take a lengthy period of time to fully understand your pet’s individual quirks and needs. When it comes to a more distinct form of anxiety—such as phobias—it could be several weeks or months before you encounter a situation in which the anxiety is triggered (for example, a walk by fast-flowing water).
  • The majority of rescue-related behavioral problems, however, should be more immediately evident. Here, quickly stopping bad habits and instigating good ones is key.

I think I know what’s causing my dog’s anxiety—but I can be sure.
What can I do?

If you have an inkling about the reasons behind your pet’s sudden anxiety, but can clearly identify the root cause, it’s time to get analytical! Create an excel spreadsheet or use and pen and paper to make a note, each time your dog displays nervous symptoms. Alongside, add the time of day, location, and any possible factors you can think of.

Another solution to try is CBD oil. See our best CBD oils for anxious dogs if you’re looking to give it a try.

Over time, this may help pinpoint trends and behavior patterns. Good luck! And as always, reach out to your vet for specific advice and wisdom.