Behaviorist reveals surprising reason why your dog is anxious and five ways you can help them heal

Dog looking longingly out the window
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you have a dog that frequently shows signs of being fearful, anxious, nervous or stressed, it can feel incredibly challenging to know what to do. These are not issues that are easy to deal with, so if you're struggling right now, know that you're not alone.

However, one thing that can be really helpful is understanding where all of these different emotional states stem from — and that's your dog's nervous system. While some trainers will suggest you use the best dog treats to reward positive behaviors and help your pup feel less anxious, expert behaviorist Renee Rhoades says we must address nervous system dysregulation (NSD) first, before anything else.

Anxiety in dogs is very common these days because there are so many chronic stresses in our pup's environment. These can overwhelm a dog's ability to emotionally regulate and according to Rhoades, this can lead to either an overactive form of dysregulation (an increase in a particular behavior, such as barking) or an underachieve dysregulation (which causes a decrease in a particular behavior, this may look like a dog simply giving up).

To discover the six key signs of NSD in dogs (and five simple things you can do to help your pup heal) read on as Rhoades shares her cutting-edge wisdom in a recent Instagram post...

When it comes to the symptoms of NSD, Rhoades says there are six things you want to be on the lookout for:

  1. Your dog has trouble relaxing
  2. They're having gastrointestinal issues
  3. Sleep has become a problem (it tends to be poor and inconsistent)
  4. You notice your pup has skin conditions or irritation to the skin
  5. They're sensitive to stimuli
  6. They have elevated emotional responses

"NSD can be tricky to recognize because it can be labeled as other things, such as aggression, high-drive, breed characteristics, immaturity, excitability, stubbornness, demanding, barky, etc" she explains. 

However, if you're able to identify the signs above as being related to NSD, you can take slow steps forward with your pup to help them heal.

If you believe your dog may be struggling with NSD, here are five things Rhoades says you can do right now that will make a huge positive difference in the life of your canine companion:

  1. Identify your dog's stressors and try to reduce the daily amount
  2. Create a space where your dog can get rest, uninterrupted 
  3. Incorporate Trifecta of Calm activities (sniffing, licking and chewing) a few times daily
  4. Investigate any physical pain concerns with your vet
  5. Hire a qualified behaviorist to put together an individualized plan for your dog's recovery

It's important to know that your dog can absolutely heal from NSD.

"Just as stress can alter the brain, it also has the ability to be restructured. To heal -with the right type of therapeutic intervention that is. Stress, fear, and anxiety are not life sentences for dogs. We can improve your dog's quality of life, sometimes getting to places you previously thought were unlikely," says Rhoades.

For help with this complex issue, we highly recommend working with a qualified behaviorist or trainer who understands NSD.

But before you reach out to someone, be sure to check out our guide to how to spot dog trainer red flags to ensure you're working with a professional who knows their stuff. 

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Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.