If your Australian shepherd is acting anxious and worried it’s understandably concerning for all owners. I’ve had to train many similar herding breeds out of this situation, so in this article, I’ll explain the likely causes, and what you can do to help your Aussie calm down and relax.
Your Australian Shepherd is likely anxious due to being left alone too often, being understimulated, anticipating daily events, not getting on with someone in the household, picking up on nervous energy, reacting to new smells or noises, or due to health issues.
Are Australian Shepherds An Anxious Breed?
Yes and no, Australian shepherds can easily develop anxiety but only when certain triggers are present. Most Australian shepherds that have a great daily routine and live in a calm environment do not show symptoms of anxiety.
Having said that, it only takes few things on a consistent basis to eventually put your Aussie on edge.
Like most herding breeds, Australian shepherds are very intelligent and sensitive to their owners and surroundings. We often see in dogs with high intelligence that it’s easier for them to become scared, anxious, and nervous when something isn’t right with their daily routine, lifestyle, or environment.
8 Reasons Why Your Australian Shepherd Is Anxious
Let’s run through the common reasons why your Australian shepherd is anxious. Keep in mind, it may be just one or a combination of the reasons below. To figure it out, you’ll need to fairly assess your Aussie’s daily routine and current lifestyle.
1. Environmental causes
As I mentioned before, Aussies are very sensitive to their surroundings and environment. And this extends beyond just your own home and yard…
Many things from building work noises, traffic, different animals in the neighborhood will all be instantly picked up by your Aussie, even when they are inside your home. For many, this can be unsettling and cause your Aussie to be on edge.
New neighbors are a good example of this. Having new neighbors even if it’s a few doors down can introduce new smells (especially if they have a pet too) and noises that your Aussie is not familiar with. Changes from outside of the norm can trigger a nervous response.
2. Being left alone too much
Australian shepherds do not like being left alone. They are a breed that LOVES having company, particularly from their owners.
The problem with our busy lives is that we often have to leave our dogs home alone. While to a certain extent it’s unavoidable and even “normal”, doing it too often for too long will ultimately have serious negative impacts on your Aussie’s behavior and mental state.
An Aussie that spends too much time alone will eventually become bored, which leads to frustration, anxiety, and in the worst cases, separation anxiety (which is an extreme form of anxiety often incurable).
Once your Aussie becomes anxious about being left alone, it will develop into more constant anxiety even when you are there. The happens because her anxiety will develop into worrying about when you are leaving. Even the sound of your keys or you grabbing your coat will cause her to panic.
3. Anxiety towards one person
It’s also possible that your Aussie’s anxiety is caused by a particular person in the household. And this is more common than you might think.
It’s true that dogs pick up on our energy. They know when we are friendly, hostile, approachable, aloof and this will have a big impact on how it makes them feel too.
A particular person in the household may act and behave differently from others, even subtle things like talking louder or more abruptly could be interrupted by your Aussie as something to be cautious or on edge about.
In other instances, someone in the household may be going through something themselves. If someone is depressed or has anxiety, your Aussie will know and even begin to mimic these emotions. This has been seen time and time again with dogs and their owners.
4. Anticipating daily events
A classic trigger of anxiety is the anticipation of daily events.
Your Aussie will quickly know when mealtime is, when you usually take her out for a walk, and when the kids or your partner arrives home from work. All of these events (and many more) are things your Aussie will be waiting for, and that anticipation can sometimes be too much for some dogs.
This is another surprisingly common trigger of anxiety.
5. Physically & mentally understimulated
As you already know, Australian shepherds are not couch potatoes by a long shot.
Aussies NEED a solid physical exercise routine every day, and plenty of mental stimulation to supplement it. And it’s not one or the other! Oftentimes mental stimulation gets left in the shadows while owners focus only on physical exercise.
Having their bodies and minds put to work allows them to calm down, relax and feel satisfied.
The age-old saying is simple but powerful: “A tired dog is a happy dog.” And the only way to tire out this breed is to provide adequate forms of both physical and mental exercise every single day.
Aussies need around 1-2 hours of physical exercise per day, and at least an hour of dedicated mental stimulation.
6. Trauma or bad past experiences
If you Aussie has suffered any bad past experiences, this can certainly impact their mental state for years to come.
This includes things like spending time in animal shelters, being abused or mistreated by previous owners, abandonment, and neglect in general.
This is particularly common for those Aussies that end up being rescued. Oftentimes we don’t quite know the full story into their past (which unfortunately includes abuse and abandonment at the least).
Although we can’t rewrite the past, there are still some things you can do to help your Aussie if you think this could be the case for them. All be covered below.
7. Lack of socialization
A lack of socialization (exposure to strangers and new dogs) is a common cause of anxiety in most breeds today.
From the postman knocking on your door, to people walking by, and encounters with other dogs while out on walks, these situations can be extremely frightening for dogs that were not sufficiently socialized when young.
By exposing young puppies to strangers and dogs they quickly learn to build social skills and most importantly, to not be afraid. Without this, it’s only natural they become paranoid, fearful, and scared.
8. Health issues
In more unfortunate cases, your Aussies anxiety could be caused by underlying health issues.
Many health issues can affect our dogs in a magnitude of ways. As you can imagine, it’s not possible for us to run the tests necessary to diagnose health issues at home, which is why regular vet checkups remain to be very important.
If you notice any additional symptoms other than anxiety, like weight issues, diarrhea, vomiting, food refusal, lethargy, weakness, or anything else unusual, it’s best to contact your veterinarian for a health check.
How To Help An Anxious Australian Shepherd
Before addressing the causes of the anxiety, it’s crucial that we owners know how to properly respond when our dog is anxious. If we don’t respond properly, we could easily be making things worse.
⭐ Important principle:
When your Aussie is acting anxious, nervous, shaking, or worried, it’s natural for us to want to excessively comfort them. This usually involves a sudden expression of affection, comfort, and a soft-spoken voice. Although we do this with good intentions, it’s actually reinforcing to your Aussie that their worries were justified and that there was something wrong.
Over time, if we consistently respond like this, it will actually reinforce the anxious behavior that your Aussie has learned to display. And they will quickly display it more often, even in times when there’s no reason to be anxious…
So this is the first huge thing to understand. If we continue to respond in the wrong way, it won’t matter even if we address the root cause of the anxiety.
⭐ Okay, so how should you respond?
The better response is to first wait and see if she’s able to calm down herself. If after 10 minutes she hasn’t calmed down noticeably. Then it’s time to distract her away from her nerves. Grab her toy, throw her ball, or play whatever game she usually likes the most. After 10-15 minutes, let her calm down and reward her with plenty of praise if she seems more settled.
Addressing The Cause
Apart from responding properly, the best way to help your Australian shepherd is to address the cause of the anxiety.
Although some of the causes discussed above are out of our control, fortunately, there are some that are in our control.
1. Environmental issues
We can’t put a stop to those pesky building works, but we can try our best to make the home quieter and calmer. If there’s a lot of noise, try keeping those windows shut or moving your Aussie’s bed to a quieter part of the house.
If you’ve got new neighbors, it could be a good idea to invite them around so your Aussie can actually get to know the new smells that she can smell from next door. This is something I actually had to do (and it worked!)
It’s also been shown that certain types of calming music and scents can help to reduce a dog’s nerves. While classical music isn’t for everybody, a nice lavender or chamomile diffuser could work wonders. It’s worth a try if you think it’s the environment that’s disturbing your Aussie.
2. Addressing personal problems
If the nerves are being triggered by someone in the house, then it’s important to make a change.
The person in question may need to communicate with your Aussie in a friendlier but more indirect way. If your Aussie is scared of someone, it’s best not to try direct attention as this could be too much. But throwing her toy for her or being the one to put food in her bowl could be a great way to start.
The person could also start accompanying you whenever you take your Aussie out, this is another great way to start building a better relationship.
Other than that, it may be up to the person to address things in their own life, so as to avoid giving off negative energy to your Aussie. A delicate situation I know…
3. Reducing time spent alone
How long is your Aussie left home alone? If it’s more than 3 or 4 hours, then this could be the issue. I have a full article about this topic so it might be worth you checking that out after you’re done here.
If your household is empty for a portion of the day then it really is important to ensure your Aussie is tolerating the time well. It could actually be that this isn’t the problem… But you must investigate to see if it is.
Anxiety-driven by being left alone can develop into separation anxiety in the worst of cases, and dealing with separation anxiety is a whole different beast to tackle.
4. Increasing stimulation
It’s important to be honest about your Aussie’s daily routine. Does she receive everything she needs? adequate exercise? mental stimulation? training? attention and quality time with you?
If you think your Aussie could be lacking in any area, this could be the cause of her anxiety, so it should be addressed.
A good tip when it comes to exercise is to prioritize her first thing. Exercising her for an hour when she wakes up will instantly set her up for a calmer day ahead. Leaving her exercise to later in the day will mean she has to keep her energy pent up until later on. (an ideal routine would be 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening).
And it’s crucial not to neglect mental stimulation. << Check out that article for simple mental stimulation games to try with your Aussie.
If your Australian shepherd is anxious, nervous, or worried, then it’s crucial to find out the cause and address it. As well as addressing the cause, we must learn to respond appropriately to our dog’s anxiety so we don’t accidentally reinforce it.
Depending on the cause and severity of anxiety, it could take anywhere from a few weeks to several months to totally resolve anxiety issues.
As always, if you find yourself struggling and things look as if they are getting worse, consider calling in a dog behavioralist to help with your situation.
Thank you for reading. More Australian Shepherds articles >