This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclaimer policy
In canines, as in humans, a neurotic state is defined as a mindset of extreme anxiety and insecurity. This occurs when dogs are hyperintense emotionally and can cause dogs to sometimes display aggressive or defensive behavior as a result of their neurosis.
Dogs become neurotic for a variety of reasons. Being emotional creatures, they often respond to traumatic, upsetting events by developing neuroses. As some breeds show a predilection for being neurotic, it is possible that being neurotic is a genetic trait. Anxiety-prone dogs also tend to give birth to neurotic puppies. Rescue dogs may become neurotic as a result of having an abusive owner. Not having proper socialization in early life can also lead to neuroses.
Hormonal imbalances may also lead to neuroticism in dogs. This can be the result of hyperthyroidism, where the dog’s thyroid gland overproduces the hormones that regulate its metabolism. Alternatively, the dog may have hypothyroidism, where the thyroid gland underproduces hormones. Both conditions can result in an aggressive, emotionally unstable dog. In such cases, a veterinarian must diagnose and treat the issue.
Neurotic dogs may exhibit separation anxiety, where they often behave destructively away from their owners. They may also have a fear of strangers, crowds, children, or other dogs and animals. Fireworks, loud noises, and thunder and lightning may trigger neurotic responses. Household objects such as vacuum cleaners, staircases, and couches may make the dog irrationally anxious. Often, their anxiety becomes fixated on specific people or groups of people, such as the mailman, veterinarian, or men in general. A neurotic dog may be triggered by a raised hand or arm, perhaps due to past experiences.
A neurotic dog will tuck its tail between the legs, flatten its ears, and usually try to exit the place where it is being stressed. Dogs may also resort to growling, trembling, whining, and incessant barking. It is not uncommon for an overly anxious dog to display aggression toward other people or animals. Other signs of neurosis include digestive problems, such as passing gas, diarrhea, and indigestion. Dogs may try to withdraw to a hiding place or show excessive clinginess. They may develop a loss of appetite and whine constantly.
Neurotic dog breeds
Some dog breeds are more prone to neurotic behavior. This is usually because they are powerful animals that many owners are unable to look after properly. These breeds are usually working dogs that have been bred to perform demanding tasks. In a domestic environment, they lack the mental and physical stimulation that they have been bred to deal with and often develop neurotic behavior as a result. In addition, certain breeds have been designed to be powerful guard dogs and must have an assertive, experienced owner who is capable of keeping it in line and controlling its aggressive tendencies. Novice owners or those who lack the temperament to deal with a dominant animal often end up with a neurotic, uncontrollable dog.
A great example of a dog that has gotten a bad rap through no fault of its own is the pit bull terrier. Bred as a fighting dog, a properly raised pit bull is capable of being an affectionate and loyal pet that’s good with children. However, while many people are attracted to the breed, few are able to give the dog the training and care it needs. Pit bulls are muscular, energetic dogs that need plenty of exercise. They also typically suffer from separation anxiety, becoming destructive and barking incessantly if left alone for long periods. Owners must also be able to train the dog to be docile and obedient.
Another breed that is extremely popular but not necessarily suited for many households is the German shepherd. The most popular police dog in the world, this breed is known for its intelligence and physical stamina. Consequently, these dogs must have plenty of mental stimulation in addition to lots of exercise. Many German shepherds become problem dogs because their owners are unable to provide for their needs.
Akitas are guard dogs from Japan that have become very popular in recent times. Used for hunting, tracking, and protection, these powerful dogs are unsuitable for novice owners. They are aggressive, dominant dogs that need a firm hand. Their temperament makes them unsuitable for households with children and other dogs. In addition, they tend to be hypersensitive and don’t like being left alone. In the right hands, they are capable of being loyal, affectionate pets, but they must have proper care and training.
Working dogs such as border collies are also unsuitable for many homes. They are known for their high intelligence and extraordinary energy, which enable them to be of valuable service as sheepdogs and in other roles. However, they have a high prey drive and need an outlet for their high energy levels. They often become very destructive when alone at home and need a task to keep them occupied. Consequently, many owners use them to compete in obedience trials. They must also have access to a large yard. Unfortunately, many border collies end up in shelters as they develop neurotic behavior, such as aggressiveness, destructive chewing, and howling.
Beagles are a ubiquitous breed that also can become neurotic if their needs are not met. While affectionate and playful, this is a hunting breed that has a strong prey drive and high energy levels. They also have a tendency to wander. Like beagles, bloodhounds are a hunting breed that is popular but has specialized requirements. Hunting dogs such as these breeds have an extremely high need to follow scents and are impervious to commands when running after prey. They need plenty of exercise and play to be kept occupied and are prone to destructiveness and howling when left alone.
Jack Russell terriers are another breed that is difficult for inexperienced owners to handle. While they are great dogs, they are a bundle of energy and are extremely highly strung. Even though they are quite small, they have an ear-piercing bark and strong jaws that are capable of causing considerable damage. They are also quite difficult to train. They must have an outlet for all their energy, otherwise they are capable of becoming very neurotic.
The Siberian husky is also a notably neurotic dog breed. They are very popular on account of their good looks, unique personality, and high intelligence. Unfortunately, they become very destructive when bored and must have something to occupy them. They are also prone to howling and have an extremely loud bark. They can be anxious around people. Owners must ensure that they get adequate exercise and proper training to deal with separation anxiety in order to avoid having a neurotic dog on their hands.
Diagnosing a neurotic dog
Being anxious, stressed, and fearful is something all dogs experience, as it can be an acceptable reaction to an unexpected or traumatic event. All dogs become frightened or surprised from time to time. In neurotic dogs, however, this anxiety is present to an abnormal extent. A seemingly innocuous event, such as a sudden noise or the sight of a person who works in a particular occupation, can trigger an extreme reaction in a dog. If the reaction is not in keeping with the stimulation, your dog may well be neurotic.
If these persistent fears are not addressed, they can develop into phobias and your dog will display extreme behavior when confronted with the trigger or when it thinks it is about to encounter the trigger. These triggers can be seemingly innocuous objects, such as people wearing spectacles or jackets. If a dog has received a painful sting, it may develop a phobia for insects. Painful medical procedures may cause the dog to be fearful of the veterinarian. People wearing a certain kind of uniform may trigger the dog if it associates the uniform with some kind of traumatic event.
These phobias should be promptly treated, otherwise the phobia can progress to a state of generalized anxiety. In such cases, the dog is permanently on edge and appears to be always fearful of something going wrong. If your dog is constantly displaying signs of anxiety, there is a good chance it has general anxiety.
Home remedies for a neurotic dog
If you believe that your dog is suffering from unreasonable fear, you can try some home remedies before taking it to a veterinarian or animal behaviorist. This is particularly efficacious when the fear has been discovered in the early stages and the dog is not prone to extremes in behavior, such as uncontrolled aggression. Fortunately, there is a range of therapies you can use to resolve your dog’s neuroses. If the anxiety is relatively mild, there is a good chance you could deal with it by using a few simple techniques and some behavior modification.
One of the first things you must do is try to identify what is causing your dog to become anxious. Once you discover the trigger, try to remove it from the dog’s presence. Often, however, it is impossible to do that. Try to distract the dog by offering it a treat. If your dog has been given obedience training, you may be able to divert its attention by giving it a command, such as asking to sit.
It is vital that you give your dog plenty of exercise. Many dogs, especially working breeds, become neurotic because they don’t receive sufficient exercise. Besides providing an outlet for their physical energy, exercise produces feel-good endorphins that will help the dog feel better. After a long walk or run, your dog will feel relaxed and tired, ready for some restful sleep. You can play ball with your pet, giving him some much-needed stimulation while also bonding more closely with him.
If your dog seems anxious and fearful, comfort it by petting it. Remember that dogs thrive on attention and they often crave the affection of their owners. A great way to deal with an anxious dog is by petting and cuddling it. If it is a smaller dog, you can pick it up and let it lie on your lap. While you are petting your dog, you could also give it a massage. As many dog owners know, dogs love massages, and they are a great way to help your dog relax and get over its anxiety.
A stressed-out dog will tense its muscles, and a soothing massage can take away that tension. It’s a good idea to start with the neck and move down its back. Over time, you’ll be able to identify the most effective areas to massage where the muscles are particularly tense. You will also be able to discover where your dog likes to be massaged. Not only will massaging your dog help it to relax but it’s also a great way to bond with your pet.
Create a safe space for your dog that it can retreat to when it’s feeling stressed out and anxious. This should be a quiet, secluded space without bright lights where the dog can feel safe and relaxed. There are even high-tech crates that have been specifically built to soothe anxious animals. These crates have noise and vibration cancellation along with reduced lights. They even have a motion-activated sensor that turns on a fan whenever your dog enters, providing a gentle breeze and helping to further block noise. The crate can also be pre-programmed to play music.
In fact, music therapy is considered extremely beneficial for anxiety in both humans and animals. Dogs often respond positively to soothing music, which has the added benefit of blocking noises that may be the cause of their anxiety. Music therapy is often used by veterinarians as a means to calm neurotic dogs. If your dog becomes neurotic in the car, playing music is one way you can calm it down. Research indicates that classical music is best for this purpose and can even function as a natural sedative, providing white noise to lull the dog to sleep. There are even recordings specifically intended to provide therapy to dogs.
The use of calming coats and t-shirts is believed to help neurotic dogs. These clothes exert mild pressure on the dog’s torso, like swaddling cloth on a baby, giving the dog a reassuring, secure feeling. There are different sizes and types to choose from, so select one that can give your dog a tight, comfortable fit. You can put the coat on the dog whenever you feel it might face a potential trigger event. If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, for example, you can put on the coat whenever you leave it alone.
Supplements may help your dog to manage its anxiety. These may contain ingredients such as melatonin, chamomile. thiamin, L-tryptophan, and L-Theanine. Supplements are believed to be beneficial for general and travel anxiety. Often, they include ginger to help with sensitive stomachs.
Other alternative therapies might be beneficial for anxious dogs. While there is limited evidence of their benefits, they are harmless and can be combined with other therapies to increase their effectiveness. As such, you can consider giving them a try to see if they work with your pet.
These include homeopathic remedies that use flowers and plants as stress relievers. They usually come in bottles, and you should add two to four drops of the liquid to the dog’s drinking water. Alternatively, you can get a spray to use on its beddings and toys.
Aromatherapy is another option that you may want to try. There are special diffusers that release a scent containing pheromones. These scents can be smelled by dogs but are odorless to humans and other animals. The pheromones are similar to the scent a nursing mother gives off to her pups. Other aromatherapy options combine essential oils such as chamomile, lavender, and geranium to soothe the stressed-out animal There is even a collar specially designed for puppies up to the age of six months – particularly useful for dealing with the separation anxiety that is common at this stage.
There are even products that combine music with aromatherapy. These products are more effective as they soothe both the senses of hearing and smell. As dogs have extremely sensitive smell and hearing, these units are a powerful form of therapy. They are a great option for dogs suffering from separation anxiety and are also useful for dogs that have a phobia of noises.
Behavior modification training
Many dogs will return to their normal behavior after being treated with the above remedies, but if your dog is still acting up or behaving abnormally, you should consult a veterinarian who will be able to prescribe some medicine to calm your dog down. You should also consider working with an animal behaviorist to deal with your dog’s anxieties, particularly if it is being aggressive or destructive. Together with the medicine that is prescribed by your vet, there are several behavior modification therapies that you can try at home to rid the dog of its anxiety.
Behavior modification therapy involves systematic desensitization, in which the dog is gradually exposed to the trigger in increasing amounts of time. Using calming techniques, you should teach the dog to let go of its fear and unlearn its anxious behavior, allowing it to revert to a normal impulse to the stimuli.
Behavior modification takes time, so you must be prepared to be patient and observant. Often, the anxiety is triggered by a part of the dog’s daily routine. Changing your daily routine can play a big part in desensitizing the dog.
This is especially useful if your dog has separation anxiety. The dog recognizes when you are planning to leave the house based on what you are doing and its anxiety starts building up. You can stop this from happening by repeating some of the things you do during the course of the day, such as reaching for your car keys or putting on your coat. When your dog stops recognizing these things as signs that you are about to leave the house, its anxiety will reduce to a great extent.
Don’t make a fuss of the dog before you leave, as it can contribute to its anxiety. Make leaving as uneventful as possible. You can also reward the dog when it’s being calm and quiet by offering it a treat or warm praise. By reinforcing good behavior, you can reduce the dog’s destructive habits when you are gone. Try going away from short periods and, once your dog is comfortable being by itself, work up to more extended times.
The same steps can be used in other situations. For example, if the dog is aggressive to other dogs, try distracting him with commands and play. Whenever it is not aggressive, reward the behavior with treats. Start by letting the dog see other canines from a distance before gradually bringing it closer. You can use a muzzle to ensure that the dog doesn’t injure another pet. Using gradual exposure along with the other remedies mentioned in this article may help you to solve the issue.
Of course, it is possible that you are unable to solve the problem by yourself. If you have difficulty identifying the cause of the dog’s anxiety or are unable to see results on your own, you should consult an animal behaviorist who will be better able to deal with your dog’s issues.
Medication for neurotic dogs
In serious cases, your veterinarian will have to prescribe medication for your dog. This medication should be given in concert with behavior modification therapy for best results. It may be more effective to employ the services of a professional dog trainer for this purpose. The medication will consist of anti-anxiety medicine, which will take about four weeks to become effective. There are no quick fixes, however, and the medicine should be given for at least two months. After this, the treatment can be gradually tapered off, although some dogs will require lifelong treatment.
Many owners are reluctant to give their dogs behavioral medication as they fear their pet’s personality may change. This happens very rarely, but occasionally a pet may show a change in character. In such cases, the dosage can be reduced or a different drug given to reverse the changes. Another common fear is that the dog will be sleepy all the time. This is unlikely to happen, unless sedation is the aim, for example, to help the dog through a thunderstorm. If the medication does cause sleepiness, it can be mitigated by starting with a lower dosage and gradually increasing it to the desired strength.
Behavior modification medication works in different ways to help the dog cope with its neuroses. Some drugs work by inhibiting the activities of the central nervous system. This can be helpful, as a dog that is in a severely anxious state will be physiologically highly aroused, moving quickly into a state of extreme aggression or panic. By inhibiting this overload of the nervous system, these drugs help the dog to manage its anxiety. SSRI medicine works by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. This is a feel-good hormone that helps the dog to manage its phobia and compulsions. Sedation may be occasionally helpful in allowing a dog to handle fears such as separation anxiety, thunderstorms, or trips by car.
The following are some of the medications that are commonly prescribed in these situations.
Fluoxetine is commonly prescribed as Prozac and is effective for both dogs and humans. As a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), its function is to increase serotonin levels in the brain. It is FDA-approved to treat dogs for separation anxiety. It is also an effective treatment for aggression and compulsive disorders, such as circling, chewing, and self-mutilation.
Fluoxetine is most effective when the medication is combined with behavior modification training. It is administered orally and is available in liquid, tablet, and capsule form.
Alprazolam, commonly known as Xanax, belongs to the benzodiazepine class of sedatives that work by inhibiting certain actions of the central nervous system. It is used as a sedative, muscle relaxant, and anti-anxiety drug. It also suppresses seizure activity and is usually given in tablet form.
Alprazolam is usually given to dogs that have a phobia of thunderstorms, but it can be used for other situations. It is most effective when it is administered before the onset of an anxiety attack or as soon as an attack begins.
Commonly known as Valium, diazepam is part of the benzodiazepine group of sedatives and, for canine treatment, is most commonly used as an anti-anxiety medication. It is effective in dealing with panic attacks and phobias, such as a fear of noises. Ideally, the drug should be given as soon as the dog shows signs of having a panic attack or in anticipation of the dog facing a triggering event such as a thunderstorm.
Diazepam can be administered in a variety of forms, including as liquid and tablets. It can also be injected.
Amitriptyline is a tricyclic antidepressant that, among other things, increases the level of serotonin and norepinephrine in the dog. These neurotransmitters influence mood. Amitriptyline is given to canines suffering from general anxiety or separation anxiety. However, it is not suitable for dogs with diabetes, and treatment should be gradually curtailed after the drug has been used for more than two weeks.
Also known as Ativan, lorazepam is a benzodiazepine sedative that treats anxiety by depressing the activity of regions of the central nervous system. It is used to treat situational anxiety and should be given when you anticipate that the dog is going to face a triggering event or as soon as you notice the dog becoming anxious.
Lorazepam can be given in a variety of forms, including tablet, liquid, and injection.
Buspirone is part of the azaperone class of anxiolytics that is given to dogs that show anxiety when interacting with people or other animals. Like many anti-anxiety medications, it works by acting on the serotonin receptors in the brain. As the drug must be given over a period of time in order to be effective, it is not suitable for dogs that suffer from situational neuroses, such as an aversion to fireworks.
Clomipramine is a tricyclic antidepressant medication that increases the level of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. It was the first drug to receive FDA approval for separation anxiety in canines and is also useful for treating other forms of anxiety. It should be used for some time, as it may take several weeks for therapeutic results to be seen. Even if results are not immediately evident, the drug should be given for at least two months to see if it is effective.
Dexmedetomidine is an alpha-2 adrenoceptor agonist that reduces anxiety levels by curtailing the activity of certain sections of the brain. It has been approved by the FDA for dogs suffering from noise phobia. It should be administered as soon as you notice the dog getting anxious or when you anticipate that a triggering event is about to occur.
This medication is tricky to administer, as it is a transmucosal gel that shouldn’t be swallowed but applied between the cheek and gums so that it can be absorbed into the mucous membrane. Don’t forget to wear waterproof gloves when handling the medicine.
Paroxetine is an SSRI that increases serotonin in the brain. It can be used to treat anxiety-related problems, including general anxiety. It may be prescribed to deal with issues such as aggression, noise aversion, and compulsive self-mutilation. It is administered orally in the form of tablets or liquid and can be given with or without food.
Sertraline belongs to the SSRI class of medication and is prescribed for a range of anxiety-related behaviors, including separation anxiety, noise phobia, and neurotic aggression. It can also be used to treat generalized anxiety.
Sertraline is administered orally in tablet or liquid form and is typically tapered off after being given for over two months.