Unlocking Calm Confidence: Helping Your Dog Overcome Anxiety and Fears

Posted by Jackie Ly on

dog looking anxious in a couch

Just like humans, dogs experience fear and anxiety too. Whether it’s from external factors such as loud noises or internal triggers such as past trauma, it hurts you too see them suffer. You’d do anything to ease their negative feelings and help them overcome it.

Keep in mind that anxiety is not a one-time sickness–it requires patience and understanding. As a loving and responsible fur parent, you should know the reasons, symptoms, and the right care and training that will help your dog gain calm and confidence amidst their fears.

In here, we listed helpful advice that will help you help your dog manage, and eventually, overcome their anxiety and fears. 

Table of Contents

Why is my dog anxious?

There are many unknown underlying reasons why dogs feel anxious, but here are some common scenarios/triggers:

  • Change of environment - It could take some time for your dog to become used to their new surroundings if you just relocated, or made any renovations to your property. Or if they’re a rescue dog you just adopted, they have to adjust big time.
  • Strangers or new people - If you have a new partner, a newborn child, or someone unfamiliar in the house, such as a delivery guy who knocks on the door on a frequent basis, this might be unsettling for dogs who have anxieties beyond being territorial.
  • New dogs or pets - If your dog has been the only dog in your life for a time, having unfamiliar dogs or new pets in the house may appear intimidating until they get to know them better.
  • Loud noise - Many dogs hate loud noises, but if the noise is frequent or caused by neighbours, bad weather, or construction, your dog might suffer sensory overload.
  • Crowd - Likewise, throwing a party at home or sending your dog to a venue with a lot of people and stimulation may be too much for them to manage.
  • Change in diet - Some dogs are anxious because their food makes them fidgety and uncomfortable. The gut and brain are intrinsically connected, so if your dog isn't digesting their meals properly or has an underlying allergy, that could be causing them pain and discomfort.
  • Being left alone - Dogs develop strong attachments with their owners, and if they are left alone without them for an extended period of time, they may develop separation anxiety.

Some breeds are just prone to anxiety

Anxiety affects all dog breeds, although certain breeds, such as Lagotto Romagnolo, Wheaten Terriers, and Spanish water dogs are more prone to it. Anxiety can be caused by a variety of circumstances, including genetics and breed predisposition. Other dog breeds that are more prone to this condition include:

  • German Shepherd
  • Australian Shepherd
  • Border Collie
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Bichon Frise
  • Toy Poodle
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • German Shorthaired Pointer

It's essential to understand whether your dog has a tendency to anxiety. However, just because your dog is one of the above-mentioned breeds does not mean that it is going to suffer from anxiety. It also does not imply that because your dog is not one of the breeds mentioned above, it will not experience anxiety. 

A study discovered that up to 72.5% of dogs experience anxiety in response to some stimulation. So while it is wise to consider whether your dog is prone to anxious responses, it is equally important that you keep an eye out for anxious behaviour regardless of the breed of your dog.

Triggered by past trauma or experiences

The most anxious dogs usually have traumatic past experiences. Canines who have been traumatised in the past do not feel as consistently safe as canines raised in a secure, loving environment. 

This makes it difficult to identify their stressors, as they may tend to anticipate it instead of actually experiencing it. Or the behaviour is simply ingrained in them for the moment, like cowering or hiding. 

Signs that my dog has anxiety or past trauma

When dogs are nervous, they often give clear signs, but other times it can be difficult to recognise. It's important to look for common indications of stress in your dog, which could include:

  • Freezing
  • Avoiding stuff
  • Flattening their ears and tucking their tails between their thighs
  • Hiding away
  • Cowering
  • Being off their food
  • Distracted
  • Yawning and licking their lips
  • Digging
  • Barking/growling

If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms, it's likely that something is wrong.

How to calm a dog with anxiety 

Show lots of love and patience

The first and foremost rule is to give your dog lots of love, patience, and attention, even before they show signs of anxiety. Being taken care of by a loving family will make any dog feel loved and secure, lessening their tendency to feel fear and distress. 

This is extremely important especially when adopting dogs–you never know what they’ve been through from their past household/s or at the shelter, so your top priority is to make them feel safe with you. 

This doesn’t mean that your dog will never be anxious or afraid just because they’re properly loved and taken care of, but this ensures that their home, and you as their owner, doesn’t add to their stress when anxiety attacks. 

The mere fact that they can feel safe to be anxious with you can lessen their anxiety. The opposite, when you react badly to their anxiety, will only exacerbate it. 

Ensure support and assurance from everyone in the house 

In the first place, make sure everyone in the family agrees and loves to have a dog. Then, you will have no problem asking for their cooperation to show love and patience to your furry family member. 

Dogs sense people’s emotions, and they might know that only selected people in the family love and care for them. What happens when those people are not around? They might feel nervous or stressed being around the family members that care less.

Make sure everyone in the family knows how important it is to show love and patience to your dog, and see to it that they practise it whether or not you’re around, and whether the dog is being good or having an episode. 

Stay calm

When your dog suddenly shows signs of anxiety, whether you’re outside or indoors, do your best to stay calm. Every dog copes differently–they may come to you for comfort, or prefer to hide somewhere safe. Whichever they choose, keep your calm.

Staying calm makes them feel that they can trust you, not adding any more stress to theirs. Being calm will also help you determine clearly what you can do next. 

Identify the stressor and redirect their attention 

If your dog shows anxiety signs, try to identify the source and, if possible, establish a distance between your dog and the stressor and redirect their attention with play, snuggles, or a little training. 

Physical contact

Nothing soothes an anxious dog like their owner's touch. If you see any signs of fear and anxiety, pick them up, cuddle on the couch, or give them a long petting session.

Take them out for a walk

Take them on a walk or engage in fun activities, such as playing with a ball outside. The instant change in environment and activity should help them relax.

Try simple commands

If your dog refuses to settle down, distract them with simple training tasks/commands. Reward them with a treat afterwards.

Provide a safe space

If the stressor is hard to identify, you can take them to their safe space. Whether it’s their bed and crate, their play area, a covered den, a quiet and cool room, your bed, or a corner in your house where they feel safe, make sure they can access it and they know they’re allowed. 

Your dog should have a place to go when they are overstimulated where they can be alone. Ensure that this space is always clean, airy, and smells nice, with no harsh lights or distractions. 

Give them a massage

Massages not only relaxes humans, it also works wonders on dogs! Anxiety often causes muscle tension, and massage therapy is an effective way to soothe tension. 

Begin at the neck and work downward with long strokes. Try to maintain one hand on the dog while the other is massaging. Over time, you may be able to pinpoint the source of your dog's stress and focus entirely on that area.

Play music

In one study, psychologist Dr. Deborah Wells reported that dogs were more relaxed after listening to classical music. Their breathing slowed, and they became less inclined to pace or stand. Classical, reggae, and soft rock music seem to relax dogs the best. 

In addition to genre and rhythm, variation is important. Dogs have a tendency to tune out the music they are constantly exposed to. The soothing impact fades as music becomes ambient noise.

Furthermore, music has a number of therapeutic uses. It can help your dogs stay calm when they are transitioning to a new home, going to the vet, recovering from surgery, or nearing the end of their lives. In a world full of noise from cars and electrical devices, music provides a nice respite for you and your dog.

Apply mild pressure

When your dog is stressed, it may respond well to pressure, such as from a weighted blanket or dog anxiety wrap, or calming coats/t-shirts. 

Calming coats and t-shirts provide gentle, consistent pressure to your dog's torso, similar to a swaddling cloth on a baby's body. It is advised for dogs who experience anxiety due to travel, separation, noise, or strangers.


De-sensitisation is the gradual and controlled exposure of your dog to something to establish positive connections. It’s another term for socialisation, which you do with all dogs at all ages. Desensitising and socialising are designed to help your dog become comfortable with everything they would experience in their life with you, and especially the things they're afraid of.

If your dog is terrified of something or has a phobia, your veterinarian or behaviourist may suggest desensitisation and counter-conditioning to the source of their anxiety. This means that you would let your dog see or feel the thing that scares them at a low, safe level that doesn't provoke a negative response.

This is often done to dogs with separation anxiety. For example, you may start by leaving them alone for a short period that will not cause anxiety, then proceed to longer periods.

The most crucial aspect of desensitisation is to keep your dog relaxed and happy throughout the procedure. If they display signs of stress or discomfort, you may be moving too quickly, which might exacerbate their fear. 

If your dog is sensitive to loud noises, or fears a specific noise like thunderstorms, desensitising involves playing with them while you play the sound from a speaker at a low volume, gradually increasing until your dog has learned to ignore the sound. Although real storms have other elements like static electricity that affects dogs, it’s the thunderclaps that are the common source of anxiety. 

The length of time it takes for a dog to become desensitised varies, that's why preparation and patience are important.

Understanding and properly managing anxiety in your canine companions is essential to their overall health and happiness. Identifying the underlying triggers, implementing the right measures, and creating a safe and comfortable environment all help to reduce their stress. 

Always remember that each dog is unique, and patience plays an important role in the process. As a responsible pet owner, make your dogs' mental health a priority, and make sure that they live fulfilled and happy lives.

Share this post

← Older Post Newer Post →




Unfortunately, Your Cart is Empty

Please Add Something in your Cart