Canine Phobias and Anxieties

Pets Susceptible To Emotional Turmoil

Yellow Labrador retriever

Your dog might not wake in the middle of the night worrying if he paid the credit card bill on time or if the kids will make curfew. But just like people, some dogs have fears and nervousness that can be as trivial as the strange, noisy vacuum or the severe anticipation of a storm. Some pups, on the other hand, suffer from good old fashioned separation anxiety.

Fear Factors

According to the Canine Behavioral Genetics Project underway at the University of California, San Francisco, humans and dogs may not share the same fears but they do share biological similarities in their clinical manifestations and treatment. Dogs, for example, can suffer from obsessive compulsive disorders.

Irrational fears can begin at any age but most are characteristic in young dogs. Loud noises such as fireworks and thunderstorms are the most common phobias in dogs. Here are some associated behaviors:

  • Panic
  • Immobility
  • Attempts to escape
  • Destruction
  • Hiding

Pet Therapy

Black Lab

Since some behaviors are learned via a traumatic experience and others believed to be genetic, veterinarians might recommend anti-anxiety medication for your pet.

Behavior modification — including relaxation and desensitization — might also be an option. Dogs who are scared of thunderstorms, for example, may be repeatedly exposed to increasing levels of loud noises. In this type of therapy, dogs are given treats and played with throughout the mounting noise exercise as long as they remain calm.


Separation anxiety can be devastating for both the dog and owner. Commonly, dogs exhibit panic responses within the first 20 minutes of separation.

Home Alone

Or maybe it isn’t thunderstorms that throw your pup into a spiraling tail spin but the prospect of his owner leaving. Separation anxiety can be devastating for both the dog and owner. Commonly, dogs exhibit panic responses within the first 20 minutes of separation. Here are likely behaviors, followed by some solutions, from The Humane Society:

  • Howling, barking, crying
  • Digging, chewing and trying to escape to reunite with owner
  • Urinating, defecation

Try and Try Again

You might notice other signs. Like when you arrive home, your dog is frantic with excitement. Then, your little friend follows you constantly. You notice he simply isn’t happy frolicking around outside without you. So what to do?

Mild cases might be remedied by leaving your pup with an article of your clothing. Next, ignore your dog for several minutes when you arrive home, then calmly pet him. Practice “sit-stay” while leaving the room. If the case calls for more serious antidotes then you might have to adopt a systematic approach for keeping your pet calm. Try this:

Chocolate Lab
  • Go about your normal departure. Instead of leaving, sit down.
  • Repeat departure activities then go to the door. Open, close it and sit back down.
  • Now, leave and close the door. Turn around and come back in.
  • Repeat steps until your dog shows no distress.
  • Leave for short durations, starting with a few seconds and slowly increasing intervals to 5 minutes then 10, 15 and so on.
  • Continue to practice and, if the problem continues to persist, consider consulting your veterinarian about drug therapy.

Owner No-Nos

While a phobic, anxiety-filled pup can lead to frustration, there are some behaviors owners shouldn’t engage in.

  • Punishment will only increase anxiety.
  • Crating might also increase panic. And he might injure himself trying to escape.
  • Another pet won’t cure the anxiety because it’s you the dog misses.

Remember, be patient while working through these issues with your dog. Your veterinarian and a certified obedience trainer can further assist you should you have additional questions or concerns.


If you liked this story, you may also like reading about feline depression and pet noise phobia.