One definition of anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. The thing is, dogs do not worry about future events. Nor do they relive past events in their minds as we often do. Dogs live in the present moment, always. So, technically speaking, they do not experience anxiety, but they do experience stress. Stress is a response to a threat or situation. Anxiety, on the other hand, is the reaction to the stress.
Dogs’ natural intuitiveness leaves them vulnerable to the feelings and emotions of those around them. They will frequently match the energy of their humans. And sadly, anxiety in humans is at an all-time high. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (A.D.A.A.) states that anxiety disorders in humans are the most common mental illness in the U.S. affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. Therefore, the number one reason a dog will exhibit stress symptoms is the transference of stress energy from their owner.
There are other, less common, reasons that your dog will develop stress symptoms. These can be due to fear of specific situations such as loud noises (fireworks), other dogs, strangers, etc. For example, if a dog had a negative experience in the past due to an abusive man, that dog may exhibit fear when around men. This is because that dog associates pain with that type of person, not because the dog relives the actual abusive experience as us humans might do.
Dogs will often exhibit stress when they do not clearly understand their owner’s expectations. Dogs inherently want to please us. When we attempt to train in a way that uses negative reinforcement, is not clear, or causes frustration in us, then our dogs can develop stress. If our dogs exhibit a negative behavior around something we are attempting to train, then we must reassess our approach.
Dogs thrive in certainty and structure. If the dog’s routine changes constantly, this too may cause stress.
It is important to know that many of these symptoms are also signs of medical illness. Therefore, if your pet is suddenly showing any of these symptoms, please have him/her checked by your veterinarian to rule out an underlying medical condition.