You know the feeling: Your hands start sweating and shaking, your heart is racing, and your breathing seems to get faster by the second. Yes, you're feeling nervous, and you do your best to calm yourself down. Just as humans can experience feelings of anxiousness, stress, and fear, so can your beloved pet. A March 2020 study found that nearly 70% of dogs demonstrate some level of anxiety-related behaviors.
But while the thought of public speaking or going on a job interview might trigger these symptoms for you, it's different for a nervous dog. To help you understand what's making your dog nervous and anxious, we'll highlight possible triggers and symptoms to look out for so you can detect if anything is wrong. We'll also review some of the available treatments to keep your pup feeling calm and confident.
Triggers That Could Make Your Dog Nervous
As a pet parent, you do the best you can to make sure your canine family member is as happy and healthy as possible. But just as we can run into a situation that makes us nervous, so can your dog. Here are some of the most common triggers for a nervous dog.
- Loud noises: Dogs are naturally much more sensitive to noise than humans, so loud noises from your vacuum cleaner, blender, or other household appliances can trigger nervousness. Also, fireworks on the 4th of July are notorious for causing dogs to become fearful.
- Thunderstorms: Environmental changes such as thunder, lightning, or pelting rain or hail can make a dog jittery.
- Separation anxiety: This type of nervous behavior is when a dog is overly anxious when separated from his or her parents.
- Traveling: Whether it's a car, plane, or train, your dog may be triggered by getting into a moving vehicle.
- Other animals: Like humans, pets have their own personalities. And just like how some people get nervous when meeting others, some dogs are naturally a bit more trepidatious when encountering other animals.
- Aging: Older dogs with declining cognitive abilities have an increased risk of developing dementia, which can cause feelings of confusion and anxiety.
Symptoms of a Nervous Dog
You know your precious pet better than anyone, so chances are you'll be the first to know if they're feeling fearful and not acting like they usually do. Pay attention to your dog's body language and keep a mental (or physical) note about whether these symptoms are just occasional occurrences or if they occur on a more regular basis:
- Excessive drooling
- Averting eyes
- Flattened ears
- Tail between the legs
- Bathroom accidents
- Increased barking or growling
- Self-mutilation such as leg-biting
- Constant licking or other repetitive tic-like behaviors
How To Treat Your Nervous Dog
If you suspect your dog has an ongoing issue with nervousness, make an appointment with your veterinarian. Your dog's vet can help determine the source of the problem and whether there are any underlying medical conditions.
The doctor can also set a course of action based on the cause of the nervousness and the severity of the symptoms. Fortunately, there are a number of anxiety treatments for dogs. Here are the primary methods for reducing a dog's anxiety.
For the most severe cases of nerves and anxiety, your vet will likely prescribe medication. Be sure that you only administer the doctor’s suggested dosage. As with human pharmaceuticals, these come with potential side effects. The most common types of meds for treating nervous dogs include:
- Anti-anxiety medications: Drugs such as clomipramine (found under the brand names Anafranil or Clomicalm) are typically used for issues such as separation anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- Sedatives: Medications including dexmedetomidine (available under the brand name Sileo) are given to dogs with noise-aversion issues associated with fear and anxiety.
- Cognitive dysfunction medication: Selegiline (known by the brand name Anipryl) is a drug commonly used for human patients with Parkinson’s disease, but it's also used to treat canine cognitive impairment. This is particularly relevant for older dogs who might be increasingly nervous as their mental capacity declines.
If your vet says meds aren't necessary or you simply want to avoid prescription drugs that contain synthetic chemicals and come with the risk of side effects, look for a natural supplement.
Only choose supplements that are made with high-quality whole foods and naturally beneficial ingredients. Stay away from any supplements that contain artificial colors, flavors, fillers, and wheat.
PetHonesty’s Calming Hemp Chews are a great option made with all-natural ingredients, including organic hemp powder, organic chamomile, valerian root, and ginger root. These tasty, chewy treats can calm and soothe your anxious dog in stressful situations such as thunderstorms, separation, traveling, and vet visits.
Also, be sure to incorporate a high-quality, nutrient-dense probiotic into your dog's well-balanced diet. After all, scientific studies show that a dog's gut microbiome is directly linked to overall health.
Another route you can take when it comes to treating your nervous dog is behavior modification, also known as behavioral therapy. This approach changes the way your dog responds to different situations through positive (or negative) reinforcement and requires a professional dog trainer or behaviorist.
Since the degree of education and experience will vary greatly among these professionals, be sure to research thoroughly and ask your vet or another trusted person for recommendations.
An example of behavior modification is desensitization and counterconditioning, which work hand-in-hand to help a dog learn not to react emotionally (e.g., fearfully) to a specific thing such as people, dogs, or objects.
Over time, your dog can learn new positive responses to what makes him or her nervous. Modifying your dog's behavior can be a long and arduous process, so patience and consistency are key.
There are plenty of products designed to help nervous dogs. Here are a few common products you may come across.
- Pheromone therapy: Pheromone-based products such as Adaptil's plug-in diffuser and Sentry's calming collar use odorless pheromones to help dogs feel more relaxed.
- Thundershirt: These jackets provide constant, gentle pressure to your doggy's torso to keep them calm during thunderstorms or noisy events. Some say they even quell separation anxiety.
- Calming Oils: Much like humans use essential oils to create a soothing effect, there are calming oils designed specifically for dogs. Be mindful that some oils can be irritating to a dog's nose, so make sure the product is canine-friendly and comes from a reputable company.
Help Your Dog Go From Nervous to Joyful
A tail between the legs, flattened ears, lowered head, and cowering movements are just some of the tell-tale signs that you have a nervous and fearful dog.
While these types of symptoms are perfectly normal on occasion, you want to make sure that your dog's symptoms and behavior aren't part of a larger, more chronic condition. If symptoms persist and don't seem to get better on their own, be sure to consult the vet to figure out your best course of action.
Behavioral therapy and medications can help in more severe cases. Keep in mind that feeding your pet a well-balanced diet along with regular exercise is the foundation for good health. (Same goes for humans, too!)
Natural supplements can also be an incredibly beneficial part of an overall healthy lifestyle. For more tips on keeping your precious pup happy and healthy, be sure to check out the PetHonesty blog featuring the latest information on everything from dog allergies to dog nutrition and more.