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Common Causes of Stress & Anxiety in Dogs

by Lauren Samet

With bonfire night on the horizon, dog owners across the country are finding themselves on red alert. 

Each year it seems that the firework season goes on for longer, requiring careful monitoring of pets and, when necessary, intervention. 

If you want to make this season as pleasant as possible for both you and your dog then here are some handy hints on identifying and treating stress…




Common Causes of Stress

For dogs, a range of situations that can cause stress include:

•    Visiting the Vets – Clinical smells, bright lights, slippery floors and other animals can be a daunting environment for nervous dogs.

•    Loud Unpredictable Noises – Fireworks, parties and children are all examples of stressful stimuli to some dogs.

•    Car Journeys – Some dogs associate car journeys with negative experiences such as trips to the vet. 

•    Separation Anxiety – Being left alone or separated from a specific member of the family.

•    Strangers and Unfamiliar Surroundings – Socialising puppies from an early age can help to familiarise them with different people and situations help to take the fear out of new people and places.

•    Being Kennelled – This can include temporarily boarding while you are on holiday or longer-term kennelling such as in a rescue centre.

•    PTSD – Perhaps surprisingly post-traumatic stress disorder has been identified in dogs. Events such as accidents and natural disasters can trigger unexpected behaviour in situations that were not previously an issue.

Signs of Stress in Dogs

Some of the common signs that your dog may be experiencing stress include:
•    Panting or excessive drooling
•    Destructive behaviours such as chewing or scratching
•    Barking, howling or whining
•    Aggressive behaviour including initial warning signs like lip curling
•    Submissive body language such as the tail tucked between legs, ears back or a lowered head 
•    Calming body language including lip and nose licking, lifted paws, head turning and avoiding eye contact
•    Pacing or an unwillingness to rest or sleep
•    Loss of appetite, sometimes coupled with an increased thirst
•    Shaking or hiding
•    Incontinence or an upset digestive system 
•    Excessive grooming or licking, sometimes focusing on a specific area like the feet
•    Continuous tail chasing or spinning, or pacing a certain route over and over
•     “Shutdown”, where the dog becomes unreactive to their surroundings and fails to respond to their owner (similar to the shutdown response in humans) 

Helping Your Dog Deal with Anxiety  

If you think your dog might be suffering from chronic stress or anxiety, there are several options for making your dog feel more comfortable.

Comfort Them

Dogs respond more positively to being comforted in stressful situations rather than being ignored or scolded. Think about your body language, your tone of voice and your actions. For example, use soothing tones when talking to your dog and try to settle them with strokes and cuddles.

Provide a ‘Safe Place’

A ‘safe space’ can allow your dog to hide away or find shelter if they need time away from a stressful situation. The ‘safe space’ should be theirs and they should be left alone when in it.


Positive reinforcement can help to break negative associations that cause stress. For example, if your dog suffers from separation anxiety then providing them with a chew or toy to refocus their attention can be beneficial, as can slowly building up the amount of time your dog is left alone.

Canine Behaviourist 

Sometimes untangling the reasons behind a dog’s anxiety or behavioural issues can require the help of an expert. Independent, professional advice can help to ensure that you’re improving the situation for your dog rather than making it worse. 

Dress Them in Yellow

The Yellow Dog Project (Yellow Dog UK) is a registered charity created to bring awareness to dogs that need space. This can be particularly beneficial for shy dogs, or those that are nervous of other canines.


Just like humans, some dogs experience anxiety that is so bad that it requires pharmaceutical intervention. While this should not be done as an alternative to treating the root cause of the problem, some owners find that anti-anxiety drugs can make behavioural training more effective.

Needless to say, pharmaceutical intervention should only ever be carried under the authority of a good veterinarian.


Nutraceuticals are defined as “a food or part of food that can provide benefit to health”. Certain nutrients are associated with the reduction of stress and the promotion of calming behaviour. On the most basic level, a complete balanced diet should provide the body and mind everything that is required to be healthy and perform optimally. 

Some notable dietary components such as tryptophan (an amino acid), B vitamins, magnesium and assorted herbs (e.g. chamomile and skullcap) are thought to provide additional support to the body in times of stress. 

The market has an array of products dog owners may wish to try, one example being Vitapaws Pet Calm Formula for Dogs.

Tips for Using a Calming Supplement (Nutraceutical) with Your Dog

Only Use Supplements Designed for Dogs

Differences in metabolism between species means that a supplement which is fine for one species could harm another. 

Follow the Feeding Guidelines

Carefully read the guidelines and feed only the recommended amount unless otherwise advised by your vet. Some supplements need feeding regularly over a period of weeks before they have a beneficial effect in the system. Equally be aware that feeding more than recommended does not necessarily make it more effective and in some instances could lead to toxicity. 

Think Ahead 

If you know a stressful time of the year is coming then do not wait until the weekend before to start feeding a calming supplement. As per the tip above, for the best chance at effectiveness, some products take a few weeks of daily feeding to build up effectiveness in the system.

Add It to Their Dinner 

Sprinkle capsules are an easy way to add a calming supplement to a dog’s dinner if they tend to leave tablets. 

Get Veterinary Advice 

If your dog is pregnant, lactating or is on any other medication or supplements, it’s always best to check with a vet to ensure it is safe to feed a calming supplement.

Keep It Somewhere Safe

Ensure that neither pets nor children can access the tub. In addition, always keep labels on the pot to ensure that other family members cannot mistake them for their own supplements!

Only Purchase from Reliable Retailers

This helps to ensure product quality and the best value for money.

Appleby, M., Olssen A. & Galindo, F. (2018) Animal Welfare, (3rd Ed.). Wallingford: CABI.
Beerda, B., Schilder, M.B., van Hooff, J.A. and de Vries, H.W., 1997. Manifestations of chronic and acute stress in dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 52(3-4), pp.307-319.
Miklósi, Á. (2014). Dog behaviour, evolution, and cognition. OUP Oxford.
O'Heare, J. (2016). Canine Separation Anxiety Workbook: Training Dogs to Tolerate Being Alone. Dogwise Publishing.
Schipper, L., Vinke, C., Schilder, M., & Spruijt, B. (2008). The effect of feeding enrichment toys on the behaviour of kennelled dogs (Canis familiaris). Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 114(1), 182-195.
Yellow Dog UK (2015) Yellow Dog UK: Some dogs need space [online]. Available at: (accessed 16.10.18).
Yuschak, M., & Thunderstorms, M. (2016). Alleviating anxiety: A roundtable discussion on behavior management with a focus on supplements A roundtable sponsored by Nutramax Laboratories Veterinary Sciences, Inc. image.



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