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When pet anxiety reigns: what do you with a fearful dog

Our Wahroonga vet nurses are passionate about helping fearful dogs overcome anxiety. We’ve talked about pet anxiety at our vet clinic before- and now we’re taking a deeper dive into fearful dogs. Some dogs will continue to be fearful all their life. It might come from their breed, their life before they met you, a scary experience they’ve never recovered from or plain phobia.

Just as we may not be able to explain why we’re scared of flying or kids may want the light on at night, your family pet may not always be able to demonstrate a rational link from their anxiety to an event or personality.

Seek the right kind of help with our Wahroonga vet nurses and vets by your side: Begin the journey to help better support a fearful dog

Where to begin?

Knowing you have an issue with a fearful dog is the foundation. After all, knowing what you are dealing with and what your options are solves any issue.

Begin your journey by consulting our Wahroonga vet nurses and/or booking a session with one of our vets. We’re here to help you. We can spot signs of fear in a pet as we’ve seen it a lot.

In fact, as veterinary medical practitioners, we’ve seen our fair share of dogs and other pets that are afraid of the vet and the idea of the vet clinic. That’s why we work to make sure your pet has a pleasing experience when they are with us.

It also means we have theoretical and practical knowledge to help you with fear-based behaviours as well.

Reaching out is your first step to determining if the situation is temporary, a part of your dog growing up, something that can be overcome or something that may need additional management.

Ways to deal with anxious dogs

Our Wahroonga vet nurses spend all day alleviating fear. And with a puppy school, dog grooming salon and of course animal healthcare services, we know a lot about anxious dogs. We’re working with dogs all day in some of their scariest times. When you find that your dog’s anxiety and fear is something you need support with, there are a range of treatments we can collaborate on with you such as:

Looking at training options 

Consider the ways you can lessen the shock with certain situations when you are out and about. For example, you might be able to minimise the anxiety through slower, more controlled exposure methods. Positive reinforcement is always another good one.

Investigating diversion techniques with positive responses

Our Wahroonga vet nurses use diversion and distraction a lot in our animal clinic. If we know we have a pet patient that is going to feel nervous, scared or worried, we do our utmost to get them to focus on positive things. It might be able treats or pet toys. It could also be soothing touch, soft voices, funny sounds of deliberate movements to distract the focus from fear.

Look at counter-conditioning

This can be effective if you have the time and energy to limit access and show ever increasing doses of whatever your dog fears on a regular basis. You can set up a plan to reframe the unwanted reaction.

For example, a dog with an ingrained bathing fear can turn a corner if you are willing to counter-condition the response. This can be started through sponge baths leading to bucket baths followed by steps in between to get them to commit to a dog wash. It involves lots of praise, treats, distraction techniques and anticipating your dog’s reactions through reading their response.

It also means never forcing your dog to participate and allowing them to have days where backslides can occur.

Investigating diet and nutrition

Good pet food helps support pet mental health. Foods that are good for your dog such as balanced diets, healthy treats and portion control can help. Moving your dog away from human food high in fat, salt and sugar can also help.

If in doubt about your dog’s diet, give our friendly Wahroonga vet nurses a call. They’ll be happy to help you out.

Exercise and mental enrichment

Dogs don’t only need regular physical exercise for their body, they need it for their mind too. Exercise can help reduce stress, release helpful endorphins and relax an anxious pooch. And yet, exercise isn’t the be all and end all for some dogs either.

Clever dogs are especially prone to anxiety if they are under-stimulated. They can be walked for hours yet still feel anxious because the mental challenge isn’t being met.

That’s where agility, pet puzzles, games and even doggy jobs can help.

Giving your dogs a sense of purpose and allowing them to expand their mind as much as their body can have a positive impact on anxiety levels.

Again, this is something our Wahroonga vet nurses can help you with.

When a fearful dog is a dog with diagnosed anxiety

There’s a difference between your standard dog fear and a dog with anxiety. A fearful dog might be down to disposition or experience. Or it may be momentary.

Anxiety is a state of worrying about future events and events, items and things that may or not may exist. Anxiety is a medical condition and can be just as much about situational triggers as it is bio-chemical and genetics. A dog with anxiety needs extra support to manage their situation.

First, anxiety in dogs needs proper diagnosis. Your vet will need to rule out other possible causes. These may include head injuries, thyroid conditions, conditions that influence the brain, the onset of dog dementia, exposure to harmful chemicals or plants that might be creating altered mental states through poisoning or exposure.

If it looks like anxiety is the cause, it may be a process of working with our vets in tandem with an animal behaviourist to see what can and cannot realistically be done.

Some of the options available to you might be:

Using a crate or similar

Pet proofing and restricting access to certain areas of the house isn’t only about stopping your belongings from being destroyed. Managing things better at home when you are out to avoid destruction or toileting accidents can sometimes be the only way.

Crating is another level of this. Yet this isn’t the only reason to choose crating your dog.

Crates feel like safe places to dogs, large and small. With the right mix of treats, play and association, crating your dog can be a part of their routine. Often, comfortable dogs will choose to go to their crate to chill out, spend time alone or if they’d like to nap in a safe, comfy environment.

Teaching your dog to love life around their crate gives them a sense of personal space as well as control over their environment. Starting from a pup can be a great way to keep the benefits of dog crating going long term. You can however train any dog to crate with the right incentive and patience.


  • Introduce the crate slowly with lots of fun, games and treats
  • Make crating fun by adding frozen Kongs with kibble, apple, carrot and peanut butter
  • Allow soft, warm and doggy smelling bedding to supply comfort
  • Include favourite dog toys that are indestructible
  • Leave the radio on suitably soothing music such as jazz or trip hop to build a positive crating association
  • Crate puppies for no more than 2 hours at a time
  • Limit the use of crate to a maximum 5-hour stint wherever possible
  • Leave the crate available and open so your dog knows it’s their space to choose to use when not in use

Specialist pet behavioural therapy

Pet behaviour therapy is more than a dog trainer. We’re talking about working with a specialist psychologist or veterinarian who has chosen to deep-dive into pet behaviour therapy.

A behaviour therapist can have great success with all kinds of subjects. These include when your pet is grieving too much and too long after the death or removal of a family pet. If they have fear of other dogs that translates into aggression. If they have issues with children or certain types of adults through a pre-history of violence and more.

Some behaviours in dogs can be wearing on us. Some fear reactions and anxiety actions can be worrisome through biting, destruction and self-harm.

If you are seeing strong behaviours in your pet, it may require a dedicated specialist approach. We can help you with the fundamentals of helping your dog with anxiety in this manner. Plus, we also have a referral network in Wahroonga and surrounds to ensure you and your pet get the support you need.

Medication and the anxious dog 

Like humans, sometimes all the best therapies in the world won’t help. Sometimes, medication is part of the treatment options for diagnosed dog anxiety conditions.

Our world still has a funny relationship with anti-anxiety medications and mental health drugs. And it shouldn’t. It’s part of a return to wellness for the over-anxious dog that can be incredibly beneficial.

Using medication with a dog that has anxiety can be useful in the short, medium and long term. How this plays out will be determined by how your dog responds to it. For example, some people may only need the medication if their pet is flying interstate or overseas to move. Others may have a dog that will require some form of medication all their life to ensure they are happy and well.

It’s a process like any other of learning how your dog responds.

Your dog can lead a wonderfully full and experience-orientated life on regular medication or semi-regular medication.

This is always something you should discuss at length with your veterinarian. Like all facets of animal health, the team from Wahroonga’s Fox Valley Animal Hospital is here to help you make the right decision for your dog.

Want more options on treating anxiety in your dog? Book in now for a consultation with our Wahroonga vet nurses and vet team on (02) 9489 4805.



About the Author
Owner and Vet Alex Brittan, Vet Katie Syms and the team of Fox Valley Animal Hospital pride themselves on quality service. Fox Valley Animal Hospital is the one you choose for your family pet when the care your animal receives really matters.