Is my Anxiety Making my Dog Anxious?

Continuing with last week's Topic of separation anxiety, I got a lot of questions from people asking how their own anxiety affected their dog.

As a certified dog trainer who specializes on puppies, I wanted to dive into this very important topic. 

All of us know that we are affected by the energy of each other and everything around us. Did you know that our dogs can detect and react to our well being with better accuracy and speed than we can? They are more adept at:

  • listening to the tones and frequencies in our voices
  • observing our body language 
  • smelling subtle chemical changes in our bodies 

It is easy to overlook how attuned our dogs are to how we feel. The scents and signals we give off when we are anxious affect those around us and our dogs are often the first to signal or react.

Has your dog ever started pacing, whining or perhaps lashed out at another when you were anxious or stressed? So often our behavior will accelerate our dogs response especially if your dog is already fearful or quick to react with certain triggers.

Our dogs are looking to us for cues on how to behave. When we are calm and confident, our dogs are inclined to feel safe in their surroundings. When we are anxious, we can unconsciously or reflexively tighten the leash, scan the environment for triggers and behave in ways that communicate to our dogs that they should feel concerned, anxious, or stressed.

Our behavior at home may also cause our dogs to feel more anxious. We all need the time and space to cry, yell, and express our emotions to relieve stress. These are all normal and acceptable behaviors but it’s important to understand how this affects our dogs and how we can make adjustments to support everyone involved.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Set up environments and spaces that are Zen Dens
  • Develop classical conditioning skills for anxious behaviors
  • Learn how our behavior affects our dogs and how we can change it


Make sure our home or specific spaces we frequent are safe havens for everyone. If we need to vent we can grab a pillow to yell into in our closed bedroom, we can go for a run, shut ourselves in the car, or destress while cleaning the bathroom all away from our dogs.
When we are in a situation or feeling a way that has stressed our dogs out in the past, we can grab a long lasting chew or a frozen enrichment option and put them in their conditioned long term containment area that we chatted about in the last blog. These Zen Dens are safe spaces where they have learned how to relax. Adding familiar sounds and more can help them settle.
Taking the time to set everyone up for success will decrease the anxiety for all involved. Our dogs are sponges and it can be helpful to avoid situations where they may absorb our anxiety.


Classical conditioning is when an action, thing or sense is repetitively paired with something positive (or negative). We can use this technique to help our Pups feel better during these times.

When walking their dogs, I frequently see handlers react to distractions before their Pups do. They have seen their Pups jump on or bark at different people and dogs in the past so they have reactively tugged back on the leash away from the oncoming distraction. Instead of preventing them from responding in ways they deem inappropriate, this has actually resulted in a greater reaction from their Pups.

Instead of reacting with a leash tug when seeing something on our walks that our dog has previously jumped or barked at, we can grab a treat and tell them what a good puppy they are as soon as they see it. We shouldn’t panic or ask them to look away. Think about how we would feel if a spider was crawling towards me, and someone told us not to look at it.  With repetition, your dog will start to look at you when they see interesting things on their walks.  

We can also grab some of our Pup’s favorite treats and replicate how we may act in stressful reactions. Head out to the back yard and add a slight amount of tension to our Pup’s leash and then toss some treats. Over time our Pup can begin to respond differently during these situations. 

Even if our dog hasn’t shown reactive behavior in the past, we can start treating them when they see distractions now. I get a lot of calls from pet parents, whose Pup just turned 8 or 9 months, saying their once calm dog is now barking at people and dogs they pass on their walks. When Pups go through adolescence they can get more sure of themselves and start reacting when they haven’t in the past. Putting the pattern in, no matter how old our Pups are now, can resolve a lot of future problems.


One of my favorite things about being a dog trainer is how much I’ve been able to improve my own behavior. I’ve been able to apply the tools I use in dog training to improve my behavior. Behavior is behavior regardless of species and using these principals leads to positive results for all learners.

I’ve learned to take off my work hat and act silly as much as possible. Not only for our dogs sake, but I am always less in good spirits after silly play time.

I’ve learned to fake it till I make it. When I’m on a hike and a dog I know Pekoe might be afraid of approaches, I’ve learned to ‘pretend’ that everything is good. That calm confident way of walking in the world can be learned. I envision my brother who is so chill no matter what, shoulders down and back, breathing is calm and long, stride is casual and confident. 

You may be beginning to see a theme with the weekly blog posts. Not only am I encouraging you to teach your dogs what TO do instead of what NOT TO do. But I am also asking you to push yourself to do different behaviors instead of just telling yourself don’t do certain things. Instead of tugging on the leash and tensing up when seeing distractions, start reaching towards your treat bag. Instead of acting like you aren’t sad or stressed, practice making these behaviors less scary for your Pup when you aren’t. 

If your dogs' anxiety does not lessen as you practice these new ideas, they might not be getting enough exercise, stimulation, or attention. If you have more questions or concerns, you can always reach out to me or contact a certified trainer in your area.

Happy Tails,
Christine Young
CPDT Certified Dog Trainer
The Puppy Care Company

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