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How To Calm An Anxious Dog At Night

Does your beloved dog occasionally or regularly suffer from some of the tell-tale signs and symptoms of canine anxiety, especially at night?

Could you benefit from some tips on how to curtail that anxiety and calm your dog to ensure both you and he get a restful and rejuvenating night’s sleep?

If so, you have come to the right place.

Of all the problems that can plague our furry four-legged buddies, anxiety is one of the worst.

Canine anxiety, which can result from any number of factors and circumstances, can cause a whole host of uncomfortable symptoms for your dog and trigger his usually-confident behavior in such a way that it becomes erratic and problematic, resulting in conduct like barking, whimpering, hiding, chewing and even going potty in the house.

For owners, this anxiety—especially when it peaks after dark—can also cause a variety of issues, often translating to a lot of lost hours in sleep and the inevitable irritability that comes with it.

To help you stem some of the problems that anxiety can cause, in this article we will first briefly describe anxiety—its causes and general symptoms.

Next, we will tackle our title question, “How to Calm an Anxious Dog at Night,” in great detail, laying out a series of steps and tips that have proven successful in the fight against anxiety in dogs, along with the problems it can instigate.

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Canine Anxiety:  The Causes and Symptoms

Anxiety in dogs is a problem as old as time.

Just like their human counterparts, dogs can sometimes suffer the painful and even debilitating symptoms of anxiety; but unlike humans, who can immediately turn to things like talk therapy and other helpful methods to help soothe their symptoms, dogs sometimes “act out” instead, often behaving in an odd and sometimes destructive manner as a way to cope with their symptoms—ways their human owner probably does not appreciate or encourage.

So what exactly is canine anxiety?

What causes it? And how do you spot it in your pet?

These are the questions we will address briefly in this section.

Anxiety in Dogs Defined

Persistent anxiety in dogs is a type of mental disorder—a disorder that causes subtle or very overt feelings of unease and/or discomfort.

With anxiety, your pet will stubbornly feel as if something is wrong, sometimes despite our many best efforts to calm him.

Dogs develop these anxious, nervous and stressed out thoughts, feelings and behaviors as the result of different external triggers, and each dog can have its own trigger or triggers.

In other words, anxiety is NOT a one-size-fits-all disease.

Just like we humans, dogs can learn to be afraid of these triggers or outside stimuli.

This is not a disorder with which dogs are born, but some dogs can be more susceptible to anxiety than others depending on their genes.

Causes of Canine Anxiety

So what are these outside triggers or stimuli that may cause our dogs to become anxious?

Truthfully, this article is not long enough to list all of the potential causes, but suffice it to say there are many, many triggers that can produce the condition.

What’s more, these triggers can either be real or imagined, so sometimes getting to the exact root of your dog’s anxiety can be difficult.

Nevertheless, some triggers seem to be more common and problematic than others with certain dogs.

For example, the very real sound of thunder or fireworks is a major stress point for some dogs; and some pooches are so fearful of seeing their owner leave the house (separation anxiety) that their behavior can become very erratic and destructive in the immediate aftermath of that event.

The fears a dog develops can often stem from past negative experiences.

Formerly abused dogs, for instance, are often afraid of being petted by strangers or even being in the same room with people they do not know.

However, some triggers, like being afraid of shadows, is an imagined fear, one that seems very nonsensical to us.

New places, new environments, strange people and even new pets in the household can also be anxiety triggers for dogs, so it is very important that any “newness” or changes to a dog’s regular schedule are implemented gradually.

While some dogs will overcome their anxieties as they age, in others the condition can get progressively worse.

This is why it is so crucial that you and your family vet deal with any real anxieties in the here and now, as waiting can cause a lot of problems for both you and your loving pet.

Symptoms of Canine Anxiety

The symptoms of canine anxiety can be wide and varied.

They tend to depend on the trigger that is causing the stress or anxiety in the first place.

Dogs afraid of thunder, for example, may whimper and hide during a storm; while dogs with separation anxiety may chew up your sofa and everything around it while you are away.

There are, however, certain symptoms that seem to crop up more than others when the family dog is anxious or nervous.

Some of these symptoms may appear very low-key—so subtle that you may not even pick up on them—while others are much more explicit and out in the open.

Here are some symptoms that fit into each of these categories:

Low-key Anxiety Symptoms

The low-key or subtle symptoms of anxiety in dogs are those that you might not notice at first (or ever).

However, they may be a sign of major fear and discomfort in your dog as the result of a specific anxiety trigger.

  • Hiding.  Unless we are looking for them, we may not notice our dogs are hiding or seeking solitude.
  • Excessive licking.  Excessive licking can be a kind of nervous tic when our dogs are anxious or afraid.
  • Seeking comfort.  If your loner dog is suddenly seeking comfort and reassurance from you, he may be suffering from anxiety.
  • Panting or shaking.  Panting and shaking can be normal in some situations.  Look for those occasions where it is not normal and when the behaviors become excessive.

Explicit Anxiety Symptoms

Not all anxiety symptoms in dogs will be low-key and subtle.

Some will be very overt and explicit.

If you see any of these signs, it may be time to develop a treatment plan with your veterinarian.

  • Chewing.  Chewing is almost always a sign of nervousness.  This happens often in dogs suffering from separation anxiety.
  • Peeing.  House-trained dogs know better than to pee inside.  But anxious and fearful dogs sometimes cannot help themselves.
  • Barking.  We all know about the anxious outside dog at night, barking excessively at everything and nothing.
  • Aggression.  In rare cases, the very real sense of fear in a dog can translate to minor aggressive behavior.
  • Escape attempts.  A dog suffering badly from separation anxiety will stop at nothing to look for his owner, including trying to escape the house by any means necessary.

How to Calm an Anxious Dog at Night

Now that you have a sense of what canine anxiety actually is and the problems it can cause (for you and your dog), let’s look at some ways you can calm an anxious dog at night—a time when stress and anxiety can severely overwhelm your pet.

There are some things that will definitely work as you try to calm your dog—and a lot of things that will definitely NOT work.

For example, screaming “be quiet” at a severely anxious dog who is barking excessively is not the right course of action.

Remember, barking is just a symptom of what is actually ailing your dog, so you need to treat the underlying cause as best you can.

Screaming “be quiet” at your troubled pet is like telling a cancer patient to “stop hurting.”

It just won’t work!

Also, do not bribe your dog to stop unwanted behaviors.

If you do this, he we will begin to think those behaviors will be rewarded.

Treats and praise should be reserved for positive reinforcement, not negative behavior abatement.

Although treating canine anxiety is a long process that can often involve medication and behavioral modification therapy (behavior redirection), there are some things you can do to ease your dog’s mind at night.

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They include:

  • Create a nighttime safe space for your dog.  Creating a super-plush and at least semi-guarded space for your dog to sleep will help calm some of those after-dark fears.  If possible, make sure your dog’s bed is close to you.  He sees you as the alpha of your little pack and will feel safer when you are nearby.
  • Before-bed potty break.  The before-bed potty trip is one of the best things you can do for your anxious dog.  Many dogs will begin to feel anxious when they have to go at night, and the thought of breaking the house rules can be overwhelming.  Thus, a 5-10 minute trip outside every night before bed will do wonders for your pooch’s confidence.
  • After-Dark Exercise.  If your dog is super geared up and energetic at night, the symptoms of anxiety can be fierce.  One way to expend that energy and tire out your dog is by taking a walk or playing games with him before bedtime.
  • Routine, routine, routine.  Dogs do best on a routine.  In fact, even modest changes to that routine can be enough to trigger a doggie panic attack, complete with destructive symptoms as you sleep.  Make a routine and stick to it. The result will be a calmer nighttime pet.
  • Background sounds.  Background sounds near your dog’s bed, either music, calming rain sounds or white noise, can prevent your dog from focusing on certain outdoor noises that may create anxiety for him.

As a dog owner, you want nothing more than to keep your pooch happy and healthy.

Anxiety can be a major barrier to these ideals, so if any of the aforementioned signs and symptoms persist or increase in frequency, it is vital that you have him checked out by the vet.

There are today many strategies for solving the puzzle of canine anxiety—strategies that will lead to a happier and healthier dog and household.

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National Canine Research Association of America