Do you have a rescue dog who struggles with anxiety? My dog, Ginger, suffers from anxiety and so do many of the Rescue Dogs 101 community members dogs’. So even if it feels like you are alone, you’re not. 

Many rescue dogs have experienced trauma and neglect before being adopted, which can lead to an anxious and fearful dog. But the good news is that you can help your dog overcome their anxiety and at the same time build a strong bond with them. 

In this step-by-step guide, I will walk you through the symptoms of anxiety and methods to help calm an anxious dog. These are proven strategies that I have used with my dogs and foster dogs. 

By establishing a routine and using positive reinforcement training techniques you will be able to introduce your dog to new experiences and relieve their anxiety. We will also cover some natural remedies that could help with a dog’s anxiety levels. And finally, you will know when it’s time to seek professional help for your anxious dog.

grey dog with ears back and eyes showing signs of anxiety.

Say goodbye to anxiety and hello to a happy, confident rescue dog. 

Symptoms of anxiety in dogs

Anxiety in rescue dogs can manifest in many ways, depending on the dog and situation. Some common signs of anxiety include:

  • behavioral issues, such as barking
  • defecating in the house
  • destructive behavior, such as chewing or digging
  • excessive panting
  • fear aggression
  • hiding or withdrawing from situations
  • loss of appetite
  • pacing or restlessness
  • seeking constant reassurance
  • separation anxiety
  • shaking or trembling
  • whining

Remember your dog is unique and may exhibit none, one, or even all of these signs of anxiety. Watch your dog’s body language and behavior to identify their signs of anxiety. By observing and understanding your dog’s cues, you can better address their anxiety and provide appropriate training sessions.

📖 READ: How to read your dog’s body language.

small dog hiding under the couch showing signs of anxiety.

What causes anxiety in rescue dogs?

More often than not, we don’t know our dog’s back story, or what their past lives were like. And honestly, I don’t think it matters as much as it is to move on to the next phase, and that’s to help create positive associations with the things that make them anxious so that your dog can live a life without fear and anxiety. 

But as humans, we tend to like to know WHY, so let’s discuss some of the underlying causes of your dog’s anxiety

  1. Lack of socialization: Dogs that haven’t been properly socialized during their early development stages may struggle with anxiety when exposed to new environments, people, or animals.
  2. Past trauma: Dogs that have experienced abuse, neglect, or abandonment by a previous owner may develop anxiety as a result of their past experiences.
  3. Change and instability: Rescue dogs are often faced with significant changes, such as being moved to a new home or being surrounded by unfamiliar people and environments. These changes can trigger anxious behavior in your dog.
brown dog laying down showing signs of anxiety.

How to help your rescue dog overcome anxiety

Helping your rescue dog overcome anxiety requires patience, understanding, and a step-by-step approach. By implementing the following strategies, you can create a loving and stress-free environment that will help your dog thrive and feel safe.

I firmly believe that hanging on to your dog’s past story can stall your dog’s progress. If you keep feeling sorry for your dog and are constantly worrying about them, they pick up on that energy. Your anxiety over their behavior can make them even more anxious. So your first step is to let go of your dog’s history and focus on today. 

1. Establishing a routine and providing structure

Rescue dogs thrive in a structured environment. Establishing a consistent daily routine can help your dog feel secure and reduce anxiety. Set a schedule for meal times, walks, and training sessions. 

Need help creating a schedule? Get our Daily Schedule Chart here.

Additionally, creating a safe and comfortable space for your dog, such as a crate or a designated area in your home, can provide a sense of security. A separate room away from all the hustle and bustle of the home can be helpful, especially during the adjustment period after adoption. 

2. Positive reinforcement training techniques for anxiety

Positive reinforcement training techniques are highly effective in helping rescue dogs overcome anxiety. Reward-based training methods encourage desired behaviors and create a positive association for your dog. Use treats, praise, and affection to reward your dog when they exhibit calm and relaxed behavior. This will help them associate positive experiences with situations that previously triggered anxiety.

So for example, your dog is afraid of going out the front door. You will start training at a distance from the door so that your dog shows no signs of stress. Then move closer and closer to the door, very slowly. Always keep training sessions short and fun.

3. Introducing your rescue dog to new experiences and socialization

Gradual exposure to new experiences and socialization is crucial for helping rescue dogs overcome anxiety. Start by introducing your dog to new environments, people, and animals in a controlled and positive manner. 

Get my printable Socialization Checklist here.

Use treats and praise to reward calm behavior, and gradually increase the level of exposure over time. This will help your dog build confidence and reduce anxiety in unfamiliar situations.

​The biggest mistake most people make is to continue exposure to the things that trigger the anxiety. If at all possible remove any of these anxiety triggers until you can work on them with the positive reinforcement training techniques mentioned above. 

📖 READ: Your reactive dog (socialize, training, chart)

light brown dog with tail tucked and pulling away from a person's hand.

Natural remedies for dog anxiety

In addition to behavioral strategies, there are natural remedies that can help alleviate anxiety in rescue dogs. Some popular options include:

  • Aromatherapy
  • Calming Supplements
  • CBD Oil
  • Exercise
  • Essential oils, such as lavender or chamomile
  • Grooming
  • Massage or T-Touch
  • Mediation
  • Music, dog calming music, white noise, or classical music
  • Pheromone sprays
  • Rescue Remedy

If you want a full list of natural products that I recommend, click here to see my Amazon shopping list.

Always consult your veterinarian before using any natural remedies to ensure they are safe and appropriate for your dog.

grey dog with eyes furrowed showing signs of anxiety.

Seeking professional help for your rescue dog’s anxiety

If your rescue dog’s anxiety persists or becomes severe, it’s important to seek professional help. 

A certified professional dog trainer or animal behaviorist can provide a personalized behavior modification plan and support tailored to your dog’s specific needs.

I also recommend getting a comprehensive health checkup from your veterinarian. Occasionally the underlying cause of your dog’s stress could be medical issues or pain. With that said, you need to be your dog’s advocate. Your vet may not be able to observe any health concerns, even after blood tests, x-rays, or ultrasounds. Our dogs are very good at hiding pain, so it’s important to observe your dog at home daily.

Your vet may want to prescribe an anti-anxiety medication if your dog’s anxiety is extreme and is becoming detrimental to your dog’s overall health and well-being. I just caution to use this as a last resort, after you’ve tried all of the tips here and by your dog trainer. 

Conclusion: Helping your rescue dog live a happy and anxiety-free life

With patience, understanding, and the right strategies, you can help your rescue dog overcome anxiety and live a happy, anxiety-free life. By creating a safe and secure environment, implementing positive reinforcement training techniques, and gradually exposing your dog to new experiences, you can help them build confidence and reduce anxiety.

Remember to be patient with your dog, as overcoming anxiety takes time. Celebrate every small milestone and provide consistent support. With your love and care, your rescue dog can overcome their anxiety and thrive in their new forever home. 

We all learn from each other. Please share your experiences in the comments below with what has worked with your dog, it could help someone else and their dog struggling with a similiar situation.

What’s next?

About the Author

Debi McKee

Debi McKee is the expert behind Rescue Dogs 101 where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She is a mom of 3 human kids and 4 dogs and volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society. Click here for more about Debi and her passion for helping you and your dog.

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  1. My dog is a 3 year old rescue who has never been socialized around people. I need her to accept people so I can have a dog sitter when I have to go away. How do I socialize her?

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