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Dogs are known for their lovable nature and affectionate personality. Not many people are aware that dogs can have social anxiety, which can come out in the form of fear or aggression when they encounter other dogs or humans. This can happen when you go to the dog park, out on a walk in a crowded place, or even when your friends visit your home.
Social anxiety occurs in dogs that are not properly socialized. While it’s easier to socialize your dog when they’re a puppy, there are a number of steps you can take to help your dog feel more confident and calm in social situations.
Social Anxiety in Dogs: What Is It?
When an anxious dog is in an unfamiliar place or has a new visitor at home, they’re often curious and excited. You’ll typically see their tail wagging and hear them bark in excitement. They’ll sniff the stranger — dog, human, or pretty much any living thing — and try and get to know them. When a dog has social anxiety, a new guest at home or a new location can unfortunately lead to a panic.
A dog with social anxiety has a fear of people, animals, and unknown places, including the sights and sounds within that new environment. They will feel at ease while with their family members but can get anxious around strangers. Their level of anxiety can range from mild to extreme, leading them to act out or misbehave when they’re around something or somewhere unfamiliar to them.
How to Identify Social Anxiety in Dogs?
It’s a known fact, every dog is different. Therefore, each dog may react differently to their social anxiety disorder. Some may become very shy and timid. Others may become tense and nervous. And, in some cases, a few dogs out there can even become aggressive. Even though every dog deals with social anxiety their own way, there are some telltale anxiety symptoms to look out for if you suspect that you have a dog with anxiety:
- Aggressive behavior (barking, growling, lunging or nipping at other people or animals)
- Fearful behavior (hiding behind their owner, shaking, whining, yelping)
- Extreme nervousness (panting, drooling, sudden urination, timid behavior)
What Causes Social Anxiety in Dogs?
When it comes to social anxiety, dogs can develop this disorder and behavior due to a number of reasons. One of the biggest reasons is the lack of training and socialization as a puppy.
If your puppy wasn’t exposed to new experiences, people, and dogs when they were younger, they can easily become overwhelmed by these things as an adult. Even a simple car ride to the park could overstimulate a dog with an anxiety disorder if they were not previously given the proper tools to adapt to new situations.
Adult dogs experience social anxiety when they have gone through tough situations earlier in their life. It’s quite common for dogs from puppy mills to have social anxiety, as well as dogs from abusive or neglectful situations. Puppy mills, also sometimes referred to as “backyard breeders,” don’t properly socialize or interact with the dogs they breed. Instead, they are kept in over-packed cages and dirty kennels then sold to dog stores.
If you have adopted a former stray, you may have noticed they have social anxiety. Stray dogs often get anxious because they have a distrust of people and other animals. When they’re trying to survive on the streets, they often have to act aggressively or maintain their distance from others to stay safe or find food.
But even dogs with loving homes can develop social anxiety. Families that live out in rural areas or don’t leave their property often can have socially anxious dogs that aren’t used to larger crowds, other dogs, or busy streets. They often only feel comfortable when they’re in their own territory since it’s all they know.
How Do You Prevent Social Anxiety in Dogs?
To avoid social anxiety disorder in your dog, you want to be sure that you are able to socialize your dog as early as possible. This can be done by training your puppy to behave and understand different social situations.
Start by simply taking your puppy out to different places (if they’ve already had their shots and immunizations). Try a variety of locations, including parks and hiking spots, dog parks and pet stores, city sidewalks, and to your friends’ and family’s homes.
Since puppies are young and still learning, they will start to become accustomed to the different sights, sounds, and occurrences in the world. They will then become curious about the different people, dogs, and places you introduce them to — instead of fearful and stressed out.
If you’ve adopted an adult dog who already missed out on this crucial puppy socialization training, there are still some things you can do to help them socialize and rid them of their fears and stress.
How to Treat Social Anxiety in Dogs
To help ease your dog into social situations, start small. This can be a long, stressful process for both of you that takes weeks to sometimes months. Just take it one situation at a time, be patient, and stay positive.
A great way to begin is letting your dog interact with one person at a time. Let the nervous dog initiate the first contact so they don’t feel overwhelmed. Always reward their good behavior, including moments where your dog is calm, curious, or friendly. And when they become fearful, don’t punish them and — even more difficult — don’t comfort them. This will only reinforce this behavior and they may never overcome it.
As your dog becomes less anxious, try taking them to places with a bit more action and with larger crowds. This could be a dog park or a busier street. While this may stress them out, it’s important to ensure they have this exposure and experience. End the outing in a more quiet area your dog likes, like a peaceful hike or less visited park. This will help keep their anxiety levels down while letting them enjoy these outings without growing fearful of them. An older dog may never get fully used to being in public. However, at the very least they’ll know there will be a part they enjoy at the end.
Socializing With Other Dogs
If your dog has anxiety around other dogs, you may need to keep them away for a while. This is especially true if you don’t have control in that situation. Avoid dog parks and cross streets during walks if you notice another dog coming towards you.
When your dog seems ready to socialize, make sure it’s done very carefully and gradually. Choose a calm dog who won’t appear threatening or become aggressive with your dog. If your dog exhibits calm behavior you’ll want to reinforce that with rewards. Gradually decrease the distance between the two dogs until your dog starts showing signs of nervousness, stress, or aggression. At that point, back away again. You may even need to remove your dog from the situation entirely.
While your dog may never fully like being around other dogs at this stage, you can at least help them feel safe and secure when around them.
Can You Treat Dog Anxiety with Cannabidiol (CBD)?
While socialization training is extremely important, you can also help calm your dog and ready them for the experiences with natural remedies like CBD for dogs.
CBD interacts with your dog’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). A dog’s ECS constantly ensures that their body remains healthy and balanced despite some external factors, including tense social situations. While more research must be done to find out all of the potential benefits of CBD, many owners have noted that their dog is much calmer and more relaxed. Studies have backed this up, claiming that CBD has soothing effects.
If you want to go a step further you can try some CBD dog treats with added calming ingredients like chamomile and L-theanine. Our CBD Dog Treats may provide relief for tense and nervous dogs. You can also try full-spectrum CBD oil and CBD capsules to help your dog relax in highly stimulating situations. If you are unsure how much your dog should be using before your outings and training, check our CBD dosing chart for pets.
Always start with lower doses at the beginning. Be sure you’re administering the CBD about 30 to 60 minutes before you expose your dog to a new place, animal, or human. If you do not see a result, you can try gradually increasing the doses.
If you suspect your dog has social anxieties, it’s important to work with them to help them get over their fears and stress factors. Dog anxiety can lead to aggression towards other animals and people. Or it can lead to your dog being too afraid to even take a car ride away from their familiar territory. If they’re a puppy, make sure you start exposing them to other dogs and locations as soon as possible! This can help you avoid potential dog anxiety in the future. If they’re older, slowly introduce them to new people and places. Be sure you’re using natural remedies if needed.
You want your dog to feel confident, curious, and happy! Especially when they’re meeting new people or experiencing new things with you!