Might be time to have man’s best friend checked out….

Just like humans, dogs get anxious too. And, just like humans, sometimes it’s not just passing stress. So, while theirs is not say, work-, tax-, or ahem, mother-in-law-related, it can be just as severe, and linger too. A stressful car ride or surprising alarm can cause passing anxiety—much like the big work deadline—but it’s common for dogs to have more extensive anxiety, and that’s when you might want to seek professional help for your pup.

Aaron McDonald, a Birmingham, Alabama-based canine behaviorist, says he sees a significant amount of dogs with anxiety related issues. In fact, some of the most common dog "problem" behaviors stem from anxiety, which in turn stems from insecurity. (Huh…starting to sound a little relatable?)

McDonald points out that for dogs, it all comes down to feeling safe and secure. “At the core of dog behavior is: do I feel safe, or unsafe?” he says. “Misbehavior in dogs in general is based in insecurity. Which leads to feelings of anxiousness. And once a dog feels it, it manifests as certain behaviors.”

Those certain behaviors are probably quite familiar to owners of anxious dogs; here, McDonald lays out some of the classic signs to look for.

Excessive Barking

Unfortunately you probably know the drill: barking at people, places, things, and what seem to be invisible friends.

Excessive Excitement

This may include jumping, or acting like he or she doesn’t know what to do with themselves when someone arrives.  McDonald says uncontrollable excitability is part of a big myth about dog behavior: “It’s seen as that the dog needs to get energy out, but there’s no such thing as getting energy out of a dog. It’s a myth. It’d be like getting energy out of a child with attention deficit—it’s a mental thing.” he says.

Panting

And drooling—it’s one thing if it’s warm outside, or you’ve just been on a jog. It’s another if there’s no other obvious reason the dog would be panting.

Aggression

Toward people or dogs.

Social Withdrawal

This may come in the form of hiding away or avoiding social contact.

Running Away

McDonald says, just like children, dogs will act out and attempt to run away from home, even plotting their plan to do so.

Destructiveness

Anything from walls to toys. McDonald compares this to nail-biting in humans. “It’s one thing for a dog to chew on a toy or fixate on it,” McDonald says, “But destroying it shows a little more anxiety.”

McDonald also points out these behaviors exist on a spectrum. “All behaviors exist on a spectrum from healthy which is mild, and occasional, to unhealthy which is fanatical, almost like a fixation where they’re not able to stop themselves,” he says.
Every one of the behaviors above is normal in very low levels, according to McDonald.

Much like people, it’s normal for dogs to feel a variety of emotions—sometimes happy, sometimes sad. In fact, they should—“to live in any particular emotional state all the time is abnormal,” McDonald points out.

But when anxiety starts to compound, dogs can start to live in a constant fight-or-flight state. McDonald says this is especially common during mid-adolescence, or 6-9 months. At that point, the dog, McDonald says, is basically a 17-year-old human. We don’t have to pull out the photos, but let’s all agree teenage years can be hard on anyone.

The good news is, McDonald says these behaviors and their root problems are highly reversible in most cases. “Dogs are masters of adaptation; they’re malleable and they change. And they respond to their environment well.” Which means it’s often the parent’s behavior McDonald works on, more than the dog’s. “If we change parents' behavior it can really change things.”