What to Do When a Pet Gets Stressed

There are many things that can cause our dogs to feel stressed – whether that’s the vacuum cleaner, thunderstorms, other animals, or simply being alone. Luckily, by spotting the signs and offering our pets the right support, we can often help them overcome their fears.

PDSA Vet Nurse, Nina Downing, said: “Being anxious is a horrible feeling for anyone, including our pets. Determining the root of their fear is an important first step in enabling you to help them overcome any negative associations.”

Phobias in furry family members is usually seen as a behavioural issue.

However, it is still important to visit your vet so they can check for any physical problems that could be contributing to their anxiety, and if necessary, refer you to an accredited behaviourist.

How do I know if my dog is afraid?
There are several signs that may suggest your four-legged friend is feeling anxious.

Body language cues, such as flattening of the ears, a tucked tail, yawning and licking the lips, can be an early indicator that your dog is feeling stressed.

Most will then progress to either a fight or a flight response, so you may see anything from cowering and hiding away, to growling and barking.

Remember, our furry friends don’t usually have any control over what’s frightening them, so each unsettling experience can feel even more overwhelming than the last.

What can I do to help when they’re scared?
When your furry family member is scared or anxious, the most important thing you can do is remain calm.

Each pet will react differently to fear – some may come to you for comfort, while others may hide somewhere they feel safe.

It’s always best to take the lead from them and offer comfort should they need it.

The myth that offering comfort to scared pets reinforces the behaviour isn’t true, as you are actually dealing with an emotion and, just like humans, they simply want reassurance from someone they trust.

How can I help them be less afraid?
After the stressful situation has passed, it is time to start preparing for the next time it may be encountered.

The best way to do this is with desensitisation training.

This involves carefully introducing your four-legged friend to what they fear in a guarded, sympathetic and controlled way, such as playing a recording of the noise they’re scared of at a low volume or seeing another dog from a distance.

Take the re-introduction slowly and gently, step by step, rewarding them when they stay calm.

If they remain comfortable and relaxed, you can gradually increase the length and intensity of exposure, praising and rewarding, until it is no longer an issue.

If they show fear or become anxious, stop and remove what is upsetting them, to keep each interaction as positive as possible. You can always try again another time once they’re calm.

For more information on fears and desensitisation training, you can visit www.pdsa.org.uk/dogs-and-phobias