Anxiety is a very common problem affecting our dogs. It is the root cause of so many problem behaviours such as aggression, fears, phobias and manic behaviours. Before exploring the physical symptoms of anxiety, let’s first get a better understanding of what anxiety actually is. Anxiety is essentially a fear of the future. Anxious dogs will try and restore a sense of calm by trying to control and predict changes in their environment. This need to control is the driving force behind reactivity with other dogs, territorial barking and obsessive behaviours. The other expression of anxiety in behavioural terms is simply being too fearful to engage with their environment or the situation they are in.
As an Animal Kinesiologist, this is something that I treat on a regular basis. Treating the body and mind as a whole is the only way to get significant and lasting results. You may think of anxiety as a problem associated mainly with the mind, but the body will always show physical symptoms of this too. In fact, some physical issues actually alter thought patterns, changing them to anxious circling thoughts that in turn begin affecting behaviour.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) takes the approach of treating mind, body and spirit together, therefore this is where we discover the links to how emotional imbalance affects the physical body. The emotion of anxiety physically affects the lungs, and this is commonly seen in anxious people who tend to take short, shallow breaths, often having to remind themselves to breathe properly. As a ‘feeling’ anxiety is often felt in the chest as an uncomfortable tightness or weight which is again the lungs giving a physical response to this emotion.
The lung meridian in TCM is like the energy circuit that supplies the lungs, constantly striving to restore physical and emotional balance. The lung meridian also affects shoulder muscles due to it’s location. If fear emotions are running high in the physical body then a common symptom of anxiety is tight shoulders.
Physical signs of anxiety include:
Tight Shoulder Muscles
A symptom of anxiety is congestion in the Lung meridian which affects blood flow and nerve function to the shoulder muscles. You will not only feel the tension, but you will notice your dog takes shorter steps forward as it doesn’t have a long forward reach by extending the shoulders. This will cause the back legs to bunny hop or bounce along behind in an uncoordinated way as the dog tries to find a comfortable gait.
Pain In The Back
As anxiety is a form of fear, in TCM this affects the bladder meridian and the organ itself. Have you ever been so scared that you have wet yourself? That is because the emotion has literally overpowered the bladder organ. Below are some of the common bladder acupressure points that can affected (Bl).
If you palpate down either side of the spine you will notice reactions in the muscles, which often look like spasms. Anxiety and fear affect the bladder meridian acupressure points, which in turn affects the muscles lying directly beneath the meridian. These muscles become constricted and tense often resulting in painful spots.
Here is a video showing a dog I worked with recently. The first video shows me palpating the dogs spinal muscles and bladder meridian before treatment began. The second video is the effects after 60 mins which included muscle release work and animal kinesiology to clear the emotion of fear and anxiety.
In this particular case, the dog was extremely anxious when travelling in the car. She was an anxious dog by nature, but her emotions really became out of control when travelling anywhere. She did display other anxious behaviours, and although not extreme, the physical symptoms of her anxiety were the most noticeable. As well as pain and tension in her back, her shoulders and neck were also very tense.
Treating both the emotional and physical issues together is so important. If you clear the physical tension in the muscles but don't address the anxiety, then the anxiety will just keep triggering tense muscle patterns. Similarly, if you treat the anxiety, but do not clear the muscle tension, then that tension will begin to affect the emotions in a negative way again. I am sure if you have had a sore back before you can appreciate how this affects your mood. The same correlation exists in dogs.