Dog Mental Health Tips to Keep Doggy Depression and Anxiety Away
Would you know if your dog was depressed? While dogs experience different emotions than we do, dogs can struggle with mental health just like us. Some triggers of doggy depression are obvious, like losing an important human or experiencing a major life change, like moving. Others are more subtle, but they can still lead to a downhearted dog.
Dogs only have around 10-15 years to share with us. Make the most of every moment by looking out for common warning signs and following these tips to help your dog live their best life.
Learn How to Recognize a Dog in Distress
The first step to addressing dog mental health is to know how to tell if something's amiss. Signs that your pet may be feeling down include:
- Becoming withdrawn
- Becoming less active
- Changes in sleeping and eating habits
- Disinterest in activities they usually enjoy
These issues can also be a sign of medical problems, however. If changes in behavior or mood last more than a couple of days, schedule a vet visit to rule out physical health issues.
Consider Your Dog's Genetic Programming
Every dog breed was designed to perform certain tasks. While some breeds, like the Maltese and Pekingese, were bred to be companion animals, many were bred to hunt, retrieve game or herd. Consider huskies. In addition to companionship, they were bred to pull sleds for miles.
If an active working breed is kept in an apartment and rarely given exercise, they're likely to start showing signs of stress. This could come in the form of depression, but it's more likely for your pet to develop destructive habits out of boredom and lack of mental stimulation. Make sure the needs of your dog's breed are being met — their mental health will automatically rise.
Make Exercise a Priority
No matter your dog's breed or size, exercise is important to keep them feeling healthy and happy. The benefits of physical activity are similar for both dogs and people. Going for a run, playing fetch or participating in agility training can alleviate stress and anxiety. Additionally, exercise burns off energy, preventing unwanted behavior that's likely to inspire a scolding. Since dogs love to make their owners happy, if you're happy, they will be too.
Staying active can also help your dog maintain a healthy weight, and feeling physically healthy will boost their emotional wellness too.
Consider Crate Training
Crate training helps dogs of all ages have a sense of security. The enclosed space of an appropriately sized crate becomes a protective sanctuary for dogs that they can return to in times of stress, like when the household is too chaotic or during a frightening evening of fireworks.
Crate training doubles as a way to potty train puppies. Once dogs are comfortable staying calmly in their crate with the door closed, it can be used as a secure location to keep them out of trouble while you're away for an hour or two.
Read Your Dog's Cues
Sometimes, messages get lost in translation between people and their pets. Dog body language differs from human body language, and it's easy to misinterpret common dog behavior unless you're a highly experienced dog owner.
Compulsive licking, giving "puppy dog eyes," pacing, panting, or raising their paws can be signs of anxiety. If you notice any of these behaviors consistently, check with your vet to rule out allergies or injuries, and go from there.
Avoid Scenarios That Trigger Your Dog's Anxiety
Some dogs are people dogs. Some dogs are dog dogs. Some are wary of anyone unfamiliar, human or canine. While there's definitely a place for socialization, if your dog is highly anxious and reactive in certain situations, it's best to avoid triggers initially.
For example, if your dog reacts to other dogs on walks, try walking them in a more remote area or early in the morning to avoid negative encounters. Then, work on socialization in a more controlled environment, like with one other familiar dog in a neutral space.
Not all dogs love being around big crowds or surrounded by other canines at a dog park, so follow their lead. If they're not into it, forcing them into situations they're uncomfortable with will only elevate their stress levels more.
Make Sure They're Getting Enough Attention
First-time dog owners are often surprised by just how much attention and time dogs really need. While most cats don't mind if you're away from the house or don't play with them daily, dogs 100 percent do. Some breeds are clingier than others, but all dogs thrive on plenty of quality time with their humans.
They're pack animals, so the more they're treated as a part of the family, the happier they'll be. On the flip side, if they're always being left at home while the family heads off to work and weekend beach days, they'll be more likely to develop a case of separation anxiety.
Consider Getting Them a Friend
Like we said, dogs are pack animals. Especially for those of us who work away from the home, getting a second dog is a great move. A second dog, especially one similar in age, provides companionship and comfort. If you have the space, time and financial resources to bring home another dog, give it some serious thought.
If Separation Anxiety Is an Issue, Consider Doggy Daycare or a Dog Walker
Dogs can develop separation anxiety for a number of reasons. Some dogs have it because they experienced a traumatic event while they were home alone, like a scary storm or a break in. Sometimes, the trigger is nothing more than boredom or a need to get outside and play.
In any case, dogs with separation anxiety can benefit from calling in the help of a dog walker. A long walk in the middle of the day will do wonders for your dog's mental health and visiting a quality doggy daycare center some days of the week can help as well.
Try Investing in an Anxiety Wrap
If your dog experiences chronic anxiety, an anxiety jacket might help. Originally invented by Thundershirt, anxiety jackets for dogs use the same principle as weighted blankets do. By applying gentle, constant pressure, they help to calm anxiety and fear from environmental triggers.
Bonus: They're lightweight and easy to bring with you on vacation. If your dog likes it, try using it on their next car ride or plane trip.
Provide Enrichment to Keep Them Mentally Stimulated
A bored dog is a neurotic dog. If you were stuck in the house for 12 hours a day with nothing to do, wouldn't you be a little nuts too? Aside from minimizing time alone, simple steps can be taken to keep your dog busy and mentally engaged while you're away.
Puzzle feeders turn breakfast into a brain workout, forcing dogs to work out how to get pieces of kibble out of different compartments. Other toys can be filled with frozen wet food or peanut butter to keep them entertained for hours.
Make Massages a Part of Their Grooming Routine
As pack animals, dogs feel the happiest and most secure when they spend quality time with their people. Exercise is wonderful, but spending time snuggled up on the couch is a great way to bond and make your pet feel safe. Couch potato time can double as a time to gently brush them, trim their nails, clean their eyes, ears and teeth, and give them a relaxing massage.
Use Positive Reinforcement Techniques
Training techniques have evolved over the years as trainers and animal behaviorists have expanded their knowledge. Negative behavioral training was once commonplace. Think harsh reprimands, spraying them with water, using shock collars, or even hitting them with newspapers. Now, we know this is only likely to instill fear.
Instead, use clicker training, small treats, and praise as a reward for positive behavior. All the positivity will result in a more confident, happy pet that trusts your leadership.
Lead by Example
Dogs are experts at reading the emotions of their humans. Think of how they bring you a toy or rest their head on your lap when you're feeling sad. They can tell when you're worried, anxious, or angry, too.
Since dogs look to their owners to interpret the world around them, if you're always tense and worried, they'll show signs of stress as well. If you think about it, if your parent acted like the world was a very scary place, wouldn't you be scared too? If you want a happier dog, don't forget to address your own mental health too.
As a Last Resort, Discuss Medication With Your Vet
If your dog already gets plenty of exercise, attention, sleep, and quality time with you, and you've ruled out any medical issues, but they're still feeling down, talk to your vet about anxiety medication.
Prescription meds can make a world of difference for dogs with chronic anxiety or depression, and it's usually affordable. If your vet thinks it's a good option, give it a try. With a little help, your dog will have the pep back in their step in no time.