dog in a pet bed.

For humans, stress is a natural reaction; it’s the body’s natural defense. Dogs experience stress for the same reason, but an overabundance of stress leads to a decline in wellness for both humans and pets alike. 

Unfortunately, stress is hard for anyone (pet or person) to avoid. Many dogs experience anxiety during long car rides, trips to the vet, fireworks, environmental stressors such as thunderstorms, and more. 

More recently, pets have had to cope with owners returning to work after a long period of family togetherness during the pandemic. Amanda Howland, co-founder and chief commercial officer of ellePet, explains that being together with family is a “natural state for a dog pack and feels right to a dog.” She highlights that two years is a more significant amount of time in a dog’s life than in a human’s, so this recent change in dynamic has been especially stressful for them. 

“Separation anxiety is the number one issue for post-pandemic pups,” says Andrew James, vice president of sales and partnership for Mount Ara. “Dogs used to their owners being home are suddenly finding themselves left all alone for the day, and that can cause separation anxiety. Let’s face it, doggy-daycare can get expensive, so most owners opt for dog-walkers, or nothing at all.” 

Dr. Elizabeth DeLomba, DVM MBA, the Veterinary Services Consultant at VetriScience Laboratories, cites a Suzy survey of 5,000 U.S. pet owners, which found that 68 percent have concerns about their dog or cat having new or additional anxiety when they return to work. The survey also found that 52 percent said their pet has shown signs of separation anxiety or nervousness when left alone, and 39 percent said they don’t have a plan to help their dog or cat adapt to a routine change of being home alone. 

According to DeLomba, “surveys of veterinarians have shown that nearly a third of all U.S. dogs—23 million—have anxiety or fear issues.”  

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“And, while cities and states were in lockdown, pet adoptions slowed by only 30 percent with more than 150,000 dogs and cats adopted from U.S. shelters since mid-March, according to the 24Pet ShelterWatch Report,” she adds. “That means thousands of new pets are being left home alone for the first time.” 

Additionally, young pets haven’t had the same opportunities to socialize since the pandemic first began.

“Pandemic dogs are not as well socialized as they should be after two years of lockdowns and social distancing, much like their human counterparts,” says Pete Stirling, CEO of Skout’s Honor. “This can create anxiety and lead to anything from marking issues to destructive chewing or aggression as the dog and companion venture out in the world and begin to interact with other people, animals and spaces.” 

 

The Consequences of Unchecked Stress

Our pets can fall into problematic habits if stress or anxiety is not addressed—anything from a general disregard for commands to destructive or aggressive behavior becomes particularly concerning, says Stirling.

“Behavioral problems are a big indicator of unchecked stress,” says Howland. “This can manifest in many different ways but being destructive in the home, barking incessantly when left alone, urinating or defecating in the home or depression are just some of the ways unaddressed stress can manifest.  

“Dogs are not doing these things out of resentment or ‘getting back at you’ or any type of revenge motivated behavior, that is just us anthropomorphizing our pets,” she explains. “They don’t do that, revenge or getting back at you is not dog behavior. Hopefully knowing this will help people to recognize stress in their pets and address it.”  

Now, any dog at any life stage can experience stress. Stirling notes that for young puppies, the biggest challenges tend to be potty training and teaching them basic commands. On the other hand, senior dogs may need assistance finding new ways to deal with their anxiety as “they start to feel less physically capable.” 

Unfortunately, pet parents, especially ones that have never had a dog before, may not feel equipped to handle a dog’s needs if behavioral problems are so evident. 

“I would encourage [pet parents] to speak with their veterinarian when they first become concerned [about their pet’s behavior],” advises DeLomba. “Early intervention can be the key to long-term success.”

“When pet owners begin to recognize and modify separation anxiety behaviors, it is important to identify triggers which provoke the dog’s anxious behavior and then desensitize them to those triggers,” she adds. 

According to the ASPCA’s National Rehoming Survey, behavioral problems are one of the main reasons why owners decide to return dogs to shelters. 

“One of the biggest consequences is the deterioration of the human-animal bond,” says DeLomba. “A pet parent may become intolerant of the recurrent destruction of their possessions as well as limitations to their excursions and vacations to accommodate the anxious pet. Dogs who vocalize may impair relationships within the household and also with neighbors.

There is also expense to replace items, security deposits and even legal expenses if the damage is great enough.” 

On top of causing damage to your belongings, to other people, or to your human-animal bond, chronic stress and anxiety can be detrimental to a pet’s health. “Chronic anxiousness may also impact a pet’s lifespan,” says DeLomba.

“Early on, it is crucial to let your dog get as much socialization and interaction with the real world as possible,” says James. “Anxiety can start for dogs at any age, but the number one issue comes down to a lack of exposure to noise and stress early on.”

Stirling advises customers to also take their time reintroducing pets into social situations, and to closely monitor for signs of aggression. 

 

Offering Solutions

To help customers address their dog’s stress and anxiety, pet retailers should provide the resources customers need to help keep pets happy and healthy—including calming supplements and CBD products to alleviate stress and anxiety. According to DeLomba, behavioral support supplements have become more popular in the last five years, as more customers seek out more “natural” approaches to their pet’s stress management. 

“CBD + CBDA is one of the most effective means of promoting calm, reducing stress and helping your dog to handle a stressful situation,” adds Howland. 

While James believes that CBD is the most popular calming product on the market right now, he advises pet parents to keep in mind that “CBD isn’t always the answer to the problem. While it’s great for anxiety and stress, it has little effect on hyperactivity or over-stimulation.” 

To help owners cope with this situation, he recommends that owners look for products with ingredients like melatonin, chamomile, L-theanine and valerian root. 

If a pet starts chewing on items around the house, Stirling says these behaviors can be “easily stopped by using common training techniques and a good anti-chew spray.” 

Retailers have the benefit of seeing all different kinds of dogs with different personalities—some dogs may be shy, timid, and anxious by nature, others may be wired and have energy to spare. This is the main reason why it’s critical for sales associates to learn about a customer’s pet before making recommendations. 

“Carrying products like puzzle toys or toys that promote exercise like Frisbees and balls, both help encourage mental and physical stimulation which help mitigate stress,” says Howland. “Offering playgroups and training classes within a store can be a great addition to products and help with socialization, activity and training.”  

In addition, retailers can go above and beyond by offering classes specifically aimed at socializing dogs, by providing a list of trusted and well-respected trainers, or by offering dog walking services for customers that have to leave pets during the day, but want someone to check in on them. Howland says that having the names of reputable trainers on hand is a good resource for customers. 

With dogs of any age, a good trainer can be invaluable,” she says. “A trainer can help teach pet parents how to create a positive experience when teaching a new behavior, which is the key to a successful outcome.” PB