A variety of situations can trigger anxiety in your dog. Learn how to spot the signs of anxiety in dogs and what you can do to help them overcome their stress.

dog anxiety

The more time we spend with our dogs, the more we feel like we have an intuitive knack of knowing how they’re feeling at any given time. They’re great at expressing when they’re happy, hungry, tired, or just want a good belly scratch, but unfortunately anxiety is a lot trickier to notice in dogs and you’d be forgiven for incorrectly interpreting these symptoms as your dog being naughty.

The more you know about what triggers anxiety in your dog, the better you can notice the signs and treat them.

Table of Contents

What causes anxiety in dogs?

Particular sounds, situations and environments can all lead to anxiety and stress in your dog. These situations include:

For some dogs, the cause is less obvious and possibly related to temperament, genetics and past negative experiences.

young brown puppy hiding under a chair

How do you know if your dog is feeling anxious or stressed?

Correctly interpreting your dog’s body language is very important. The below are the initial reactions your dog will show when they come across a fearful experience:

  • Lip licking
  • Yawning
  • Ears pinning back
  • Corners of the mouth pulling back to expose their teeth – may appear like they’re ‘smiling’
  • Hypervigilance – constantly scanning the environment
  • Tucked tail
  • Hair on their back going up
  • Cowering
  • Whites of eyes showing
  • Panting for no clear reason

It’s also important to understand the signs that your dog is experiencing anxiety to help them get back to their happy selves. Some of the main symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Trembling
  • Whining
  • Hiding behind your legs or furniture
  • Turning or looking away
  • Sneezing
  • Panting and drooling
  • Sudden urination or defecation
  • Destructive behaviour
  • Defensive aggression – growling, biting, barking
  • Restlessness and pacing – sometimes it looks like they are “excited”

Human kissing their dog (a terrier of some kind) on the head

How to help an anxious dog

Socialise them as a puppy

The critical socialisation period of a dog is when they are 4-16 weeks old. This is the period where a dog’s brain actively learns how to accept and interact with other members in the social group (dogs, people and other animals) and to the environment.

For a puppy to develop into a friendly, confident and happy adult, regular handling and being exposed to novel situations in a non-threatening manner during this period is very important.

Research has shown that puppies who are not exposed to other dogs and people during this critical period are more likely to develop fearful and aggressive behaviour, and behavioural problems later in their lives. Therefore, it’s very important to socialise your puppy before they’re 16 weeks old.

Avoid stressful situations and desensitise them

The best way to help your dog with anxiety is to identify the signs and triggers for their anxiety and to remove them from these situations. Reassure your dog and never punish them for their fearful reactions.

If you know a stressful event is likely to occur in the future, take the time to desensitise your dog to their triggers in calm, controlled environments. If done properly, your dog can learn that the things they find stressful aren’t that scary. Seek advice from veterinary behaviourists and certified behaviour trainers who use positive training methods and avoid your dog’s triggers until their anxiety has been managed.

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Provide a stable home environment that meets your dog’s needs

Unpredictable environments can contribute to your dog’s anxiety. Your dog wants to be able to relax at home without worrying about what will change, if they’re safe to let their guard down and sleep, or if they can find food and water. They thrive on a consistent routine.

To help your dog feel comfortable at home, make sure they:

  • Always have access to water
  • Are fed regularly
  • Have access to a safe, relaxing space they can retreat to (e.g. a crate or wardrobe “den” with a comfortable bed and toys they like)
  • Can come and go to their toilet area as needed
  • Have multiple places where they can choose to relax
  • Are taken on regular walks
  • Receive love and attention

Provide opportunities for mental stimulation

Mental exercise is just as important for your dog as physical exercise. Stimulating their minds through environmental enrichment helps prevent boredom and keep them entertained, reducing mild stress and improving their emotional wellbeing.

Some simple enrichment activities you can do include:

Use calming synthetic pheromones, treats, and supplements

One of the most useful ways to reassure or appease your anxious dog is to use a synthetic pheromone like Adaptil. Adaptil is a synthetic copy of the natural pheromone that a puppy’s mother releases during nursing. This pheromone is only detectable to dogs, so you won’t notice any difference, but your best friend will feel safe and secure and experience less fear and stress. Adaptil is available as a diffuser, which is great for use at home, and as a collar or spray.

Alternatively, there are calming supplements that you can add to your dog’s food or calming treats which can help reduce your dog’s anxiety within hours. Make sure to read the instructions on these products, as many are most effective if given before a stressful event begins.

Visit the vet for a health and behavioural assessment

If you suspect your canine companion may be suffering from anxiety, always seek the advice of your vet. Especially when the symptoms rapidly appear over a short period of time, as they could be related to medical problems or pain that causes an increase in irritability.

Your vet will be able to diagnose any potential health problems and create a tailored treatment plan to help your dog’s anxiety.


To help your dog overcome their anxiety, explore our range of dog stress and anxiety treatments online and instore for products that will help get your best friend back to their happy, tail-wagging best.