Like people, our dogs can experience anxiety that makes day-to-day life difficult or unpleasant. This can cause restlessness, inability to settle, shaking, trembling, clingy behaviour, and more. It’s important to note that clinginess caused by anxiety is not the same as ‘velcro dogs’ who want to be with their owner but do not necessarily experience stress in their absence.
For clingy, anxious dogs, several additional factors can come into play. Some dog breeds are inherently clingy, especially lap dogs, who for generations have been raised to provide their owners constant companionship. Working breed dogs trained to be highly dependent on close interaction with their humans can also become clingy.
Clinginess can also be a behaviour that we unintentionally cause or teach our dogs. We interact with our dogs; giving them treats when they follow us or petting them when they are beside us teaches them to ‘cling’ to us. Additionally, dogs may become clingy when their humans display signs of stress or anxiety as a way to comfort them.
Signs of General Anxiety in Dogs
- Timid behaviours such as shifting weight or cowering down
- Inability to relax or settle
- Acting “jumpy”, shaking or trembling
- Running away, hiding, or pacing
- Restlessness or clingy behaviour
- Compulsive or repetitive behaviours
- Irritability or aggression
- Changes in appetite
- Wide “whale” eyes or pinned back ears
- Excessive barking, whining or howling when the owner is away
- Destructive or “bad” behaviours in the house
- Self-harm in the form of excessive licking, biting, or chewing
Dogs with anxiety may display any combination of these signs or others not listed. Unusual behaviour will indicate that your dog is feeling anxious or uncomfortable. Upon seeing these signs, you should discuss your dog’s symptoms and treatment options with their veterinarian.
Treating your Dog’s Anxiety
As with our struggles, the anxiety our dogs experience can be treated in various ways; factors such as the intensity of your dog’s anxiety, age, and health can help you and your pet’s veterinarian choose the right treatment plan for your dog.
To provide their dog with healthier, natural options for anxiety management, many pet owners prefer to try herbs and plant supplements. Although there is limited scientific evidence to prove the effectiveness of natural remedies for dogs’ anxiety, pet owners and veterinarians have found them effective. Some of the most popular options include hemp seed oil, hemp oil (CBD oil), Valerian root, Passionflower, Ashwagandha, Chamomile, and Melatonin.
Hemp Seed Oil
The hemp seed oil could help reduce anxiety and promote sleep and relaxation through the action of antioxidants, fatty acids, and phytosterols. Additionally, hemp seed oil's essential fatty acids and polyphenols can help improve memory and slow down age-related brain function decline.
Hemp seed oil also has several nutritional benefits: rich in all essential amino acids and minerals; it is an excellent dietary supplement.
For more information about the health benefits of hemp seed oil, read Hemp Seed Oil Benefits.
In traditional herbal medicine, passionflower promotes relaxation and sleep and is thought to help calm the nerves. Some pet owners find it helpful to manage their dog’s anxiety symptoms and hyperactivity.
Native to India and South Asia, the Ashwagandha herb has been used in Ayurveda for hundreds of years as an adaptogen to help people with anxiety and stress. Ashwagandha has also made its way into the natural pet care space as we see this wonderful herb included in many calming treats and supplements for dogs.
This root is often used as a mild sedative for people and can help calm anxious dogs. According to a study published in Applied Animal Behavior Science, dogs who smelled valerian root extracts expressed fewer vocalisations and less activity in a kennel setting. Valerian root is not a good match for all dogs, especially those on medication.
A naturally-occurring hormone created in the pineal gland of both humans and animals, melatonin promotes calm, relaxation, and sleep. Melatonin in the form of calming treats is often given to dogs before high-stress events to help them remain calm and sleep soundly through the event.
Some anxiety can be trained out of dogs through counter-conditioning or desensitisation to triggers. For dogs who have mild separation anxiety, counter-conditioning may work by giving your dog a high-value treat or puzzle toy to enjoy and occupy their alone time. This will help change this anxious, unhappy time into a happy time where they can focus on their treat or toy.
Dogs who have more intense anxiety typically respond best to desensitisation. Begin by preparing to leave the house, but then stay home, which will eventually reduce your dog's anxiety when they see you getting ready to go. Once they are comfortable with you getting ready, leave the house for only a few minutes, and if they are comfortable, slowly extend the length of time you are gone over many outings.
Some dogs have such extreme anxiety that training and natural remedies are not enough to help them. In such cases, your veterinarian may recommend an antidepressant or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI).
Medications like these work best for types of anxiety that have predictable triggers. Holidays with fireworks, thunderstorms, car rides or large numbers of people coming over are triggers that may be improved by medication.
Tips for Clingy Dogs
Because clinginess is often an indicator of separation anxiety, you should be careful that your actions don’t worsen the situation. If your dog is overall healthy, their issues are primarily behavioural; as such, your behaviour will be important in training your dog.
- Don’t make a big deal of your coming and going by hugging, kissing, or talking to your dog excessively.
- If your dog stays in a crate while you are gone, make a habit of leaving them in their crate for several minutes after returning, only letting them out once they are calm.
- Give your dog a special treat, such as a puzzle toy or a treat you can stuff with peanut butter when you leave and pick it up when you return home.
- Give your dog a natural, calming supplement such as hemp seed oil
- Place a blanket, shirt, or another article of your clothing into your dog’s crate or bed to comfort them.
- Practice making your dog more comfortable with your leaving and your absence by getting ‘ready’ to leave but staying home, then leaving the house but only for a few minutes, and then for longer until finally, you can be gone for a reasonable amount of time without your dog becoming overly anxious.