Pet Science

Does My Dog Have Anxiety? Expert-Backed Tips to Help Your Anxious Pup

Inverse answers all your questions about doggie anxiety.

Anxious dog staring at the wall

If you’ve ever come home to find your pup tearing apart your couch cushions or found them barking at seemingly imaginary threats on your daily walks, your pup might be experiencing a problem humans know all too well: anxiety.

Scientists are still struggling to figure out the neurological basis for anxiety in humans, let alone our furry friends. But research published earlier this month in the journal PLOS ONE could help us better understand distress in our pups. But just like anxiety in humans, there are solutions that can help our pup pals avoid anxiety symptoms.

Inverse unpacks the science behind the new research and interviews canine experts to help you get a handle on your pet’s anxiety.

How are anxious dogs’ brains different?

In the PLOS ONE study, scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the brain networks of 25 healthy and 13 anxious dogs.

Among the anxious dogs, researchers found “higher connectivity” in parts of the brain that researchers call the “anxiety circuit” such as between the amygdala and the hippocampus as well as between the frontal lobe and the thalamus. The correlations between these higher brain connections and anxiety symptoms were “significant” according to the study.

Dogs displaying anxious symptoms — such as fear towards strangers or excitability — were especially likely to have unusual network connections related to the amygdala, a part of the brain associated with processing fearful stimuli.

Altered connections in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that deals with learning and memory, were also associated with symptoms related to anxiety, like touch sensitivity, attention-seeking behavior, and difficulty with training.

Finally, “abnormal” activity in the frontal lobe, a region associated with higher-level executive functions and emotional regulation, correlated with anxious behaviors like chasing and aggression.

Researchers believe their findings can illuminate the abnormal neural networks underlying anxious dogs’ brains — a significant finding given how frequently anxiety can interfere with our canine friends’ daily lives.

“The prevalence of anxiety disorders in the dog is high and the most encountered behavioral disorder in daily practice,” the researchers write in the PLOS ONE paper.

What are the signs of anxiety in a dog?

Destructive behavior isn’t cute — it could be a sign of anxiety in your pup.


For those of us who aren’t neuroscientists, these findings may be intriguing but not especially practical in helping us understand how anxiety functions in our pets’ lives. So, Inverse spoke with pet experts to help you identify some of the telltale signs of anxiety in your pup.

Carling Matejka, veterinary spokesperson for pet food company Solid Gold, and Lorraine Rhoads, Environmental Biologist for pet daycare company Dogtopia, break down some of the most common anxiety symptoms in dogs.

  • Panting
  • Whining
  • Excessive barking
  • Destructiveness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Avoidance behavior
  • Pacing
  • Trembling
  • Restlessness

Pay close attention to how your pooch behaves when you’re leaving and departing the home. If they’re excessively barking when you leave the house or if you encounter a “stinky spot” on the carpet or a shredded pillow when you return home, it’s possible your dog may be experiencing anxiety, Rhoades says.

Leigh Siegfried is the founder of Opportunity Barks, which provides research-based, tailored dog training. Siegfried tells Inverse you should also closely observe if your dog is holding tension in their body — a classic sign of anxiety. In general, a dog that displays a seemingly outsized reaction — like bolting suddenly or shaking — to “no discernible trigger” that humans can easily identify could also be displaying anxiety.

Siegfried says dogs may also tuck their tail, hold their body close to the ground or hide behind a house or car if they encounter anxious triggers on walks — like hearing gunshots in the distance.

How can I know if my dog has an anxiety disorder?

Most dogs are able to recover from temporary anxiety-inducing situations — such as hearing fireworks or seeing owners leaving the home — but dogs with long-term anxiety are not able to recover and get stuck in a “feedback loop” according to Siegfried.

“A dog that typically isn't able to recover is [when] we would tend to go, like, ‘Oh, that dog is like, super anxious,” Siegfried explains.

Matejka agrees, saying pet owners should consider three factors of their dogs’ behavior when trying to determine if their pup could have an anxiety disorder:

  1. Frequency
  2. Duration
  3. Intensity

A dog experiencing situational anxiety will likely only express fearful symptoms linked to specific triggers, such as thunder during a rainstorm.

“However, your dog may be experiencing a long-term anxiety disorder if they display chronic anxiety symptoms that persist even in the absence of specific triggers,” Matejka says.

If anxiety is interfering with your dog’s ability to “live a high-quality life on a day-to-day basis,” then Siegfried says your pet may have chronic anxiety.

But when in doubt, don’t try to self-diagnose your pet. Instead, Rhoads says to seek professional guidance from a licensed veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist. “Nearly all dogs have an increase in stress hormones the moment they are left alone. The severity of their anxiety symptoms will determine the level of intervention and treatment,” she says.

Why does my dog have anxiety?

“Common triggers for anxiety in dogs include loud noises, such as thunderstorms or fireworks, separation from their owner or other familiar people, changes in routine or living environment, and unfamiliar situations or people,” Matejka says.

While dogs’ reactions to seemingly normal behavior might seem extreme to humans, they’re actually perfectly reasonable to our canines’ minds. Rhoads says we can’t really tell our pets when we’re going to be gone for five minutes versus the entire day, so patterns that signal when we’re leaving the home — jangling your car keys or reaching to grab your purse — may naturally alarm some pets.

“Dogs are social creatures who do not want to be left alone,” Rhoads says.

But normally mild symptoms can escalate into more significant behavioral concerns due to changing circumstances, such as moving to a new home, bringing home a baby, or owners’ work hours dramatically shifting.

Genetics and early life experiences can also contribute to anxiety in dogs. Siegfried says that early life trauma — such as a lack of maternal care or separation from the pup’s littermates — may trigger anxiety in dogs.

What should I do if I suspect my dog has anxiety?

Speak to a veterinarian for long-term treatment options if you think your dog may have an anxiety disorder.


If your dog has anxiety, Siegfried recommends increasing “biological enrichment” in your pet’s life to help offset their stress. This might entail playing with your dog or exercising them more and ensuring they spend time outdoors in nature.

Rhoads says you should also provide your dog opportunities for socialization such as daycare if needed.

“This will teach your pup how to make connections with other people and dogs while you are away,” Rhoads says.

Simple changes to your home can also go a long way in improving your pooch’s anxiety. Here are a few key steps Matejka recommends:

  • Provide a comfortable and secure environment
  • Establish a consistent routine
  • Use calming aids like pheromone sprays or supplements
  • Practice positive reinforcement training techniques

Experts also say you may need to work on your own emotional regulation because your emotional distress could be impacting your pet.

“How good are you at regulating yourself?” Siegfried asks.

It’s tempting to try and simply avoid stressful triggers for your dog, but that may not always be the best approach. Expect to be working with your pet on a daily basis to help manage their anxiety.

“Dogs are social creatures who do not want to be left alone,”

“The most important thing to realize is that you will need to be patient and work on your pup’s anxiety over time,” Rhoads adds.

If your dog is expending significant energy protecting itself or its home from perceived threats, it might be time for you to step up and establish better communication with your pup — such as knowing how to properly lead them on a leash when stressful triggers appear.

“When dogs get anxious or panicked, you want to be able to stop their movements, slow them down, socially reassure them, and then move on,” Siegfried adds.

Dogs with severe anxiety may require the assistance of a professional dog trainer to help your pup with desensitization training. And of course, be sure to consult your veterinarian, who may suggest further treatment.

“If you suspect your dog has anxiety, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical conditions and discuss potential treatment options,” Matejka says.

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