Shih Tzu Anxiety Symptoms – how to spot them

Shih Tzu being the intelligent, loving and loyal companion dogs that they are can be prone to periods of fear and anxiety in certain situations. These can take several different forms and can be for a variety of reasons. Usually it’s nothing for you to get stressed over, most shih tzu anxiety problems can be overcome with a little training or, in more intense cases, more training over time, either at home or at specialist classes.

After observing the symptoms of possible anxiety in your shih tzu the first action you must take is to ascertain whether it is, in fact, anxiety or if it is another medical condition. For instance, if your dog suddenly starts peeing indoors it may not be anxiety, it is more likely to be a urinary infection or something similar; if he is now licking or chewing a paw regularly whereas he hadn’t done this previously, then, perhaps it may be an abscess rather than anxiety causing him to do this. To be sure that your shih tzu is suffering from anxiety and not something else it is best to be on the safe side and consult with your vet.

Shih Tzu Anxiety Symptoms

So, here are some of the more common symptoms that your shih tzu may be displaying if they are suffering from fear and anxiety. The more of these symptoms you can observe in your dog, the more likely he has anxiety disorders.

  • If your shih tzu does not need to go out for a toilet break or is not in any obvious pain and is constantly whining or whimpering, then there is probably something stressing him out. If the source of his distress is something he cannot escape from, say the sound of thunder or fireworks, he may either be pacing up and down or cowering and hiding under some furniture.
  • A frightened and distressed shih tzu may show his anxious state by posturing. In comfortable circumstances a relaxed and happy shih tzu will hold his tail up above his bottom. The frightened or distressed shih tzu will have his tail down between his legs and also his ears flattened pointing toward the back of his head.
  • It may be that he is feeling cold but if he isn’t and your shih tzu is shivering or trembling then this could also indicate that he is feeling frightened and distressed, especially if he is showing any of the other anxiety symptoms.
  • A dog’s fear can easily turn to aggression and for that reason all of these symptoms need to be addressed. Be especially aware though, if your shih tzu is displaying whale eye. This is when your dog’s eyes are bulging with the whites, or sclera, showing. In this state your shih tzu will be feeling so threatened that he is ready to fight his way out of a corner; he may also display whale eye if he has found some food, perhaps some that he shouldn’t have, and he thinks you are going to take it away from him. His eyes will be focused on the object of his fear and aggression and he may also be displaying other shih tzu anxiety symptoms such as neck hair raised, trembling and growling.
  • As a companion dog and instinctively a pack animal a shih tzu does not like to be left alone, not even for a minute. If not prepared and trained to cope with being alone your shih tzu will become anxious when you go off to work or school or whatever. This condition is known as “separation anxiety” or, less commonly, “owner absent misbehaviour”. Separation anxiety, affecting up to 14% of all dogs, is a whole topic on its own which I talk about here. However, as this is the Shih Tzu Anxiety Symptoms page it would be wrong of me not to list the symptoms here. Your shih tzu probably has separation anxiety if he follows you around from room to room just before you leave and is over affectionate upon your return. In addition, while you are gone he may bark incessantly, chew inappropriate items such as furniture, cushions or footwear up to the point of destruction, urinate  or defecate in inappropriate places inside the home and try to escape by scratching at doors and windows or digging in the backyard. He may suffer one or any number of these symptoms.
  • Other symptoms of anxiety worth noting are excessive self-grooming, slow motion lip-licking, panting, drooling and yawning. These symptoms on their own do not indicate anxiety but when seen with any of the others previously mentioned then they help to confirm the diagnosis.

What Makes a Shih Tzu Anxious?

Separation Anxiety

I’ve already touched on the main cause of anxiety which is the fear of being alone or separation anxiety that affects up to 14 in every 100 dogs. As I said I cover this here in my next post as I have so much information to pass on to you that it merits its own section. I will just say for now that this condition and other anxiety issues can be prevented or minimised if you can start training and conditioning your dog whilst still a puppy of two to three months. More of this in a minute.

Noise Anxiety

Noise, especially sudden, loud noises such as thunder, fireworks and bursting balloons can cause anxious reactions and panic in shih tzu.

Travel Anxiety

Some dogs hate to be put in the car and carted around from place to place. Whether its being moved from the comfort of their own space, the actual motion or being shut in the back section of the vehicle they don’t like, the travel anxious shih tzu will put up a struggle from the moment you pick up your vehicle keys.

Confinement Anxiety

This condition causes stress and fear in dogs that are confined to spaces not much bigger than they are. It doesn’t affect all dogs, in fact some thrive on having their main living space within the confines of a crate. For others, though, claustrophobic surroundings will send them into an anxious and stressful state.

Phobias

Just as some of us humans can develop irrational fears over things such as spiders, balloons and clowns, so can our shih tzu develop such fears only it is more likely to be for such random things, for example, as infant children, people wearing hats or the washing machine.

Why Do Some Shih Tzu Have These Anxieties?

A Shih Tzu Puppy Looking Anxious

Most of the time it is because of what happens to a dog when he is a puppy. Typically he gets taken away from his mother and litter siblings at a very early age, weeks rather than months, kept in a box until sold then taken to strange surroundings that are to be his new home, then left alone all day while his new owners go to work or school.

This lack of social interaction denies the puppy access to the skills it needs to learn to get through life in a human world. Particularly between the ages of two months to eight months when the natural instinct of the puppy is to be wary of new faces and places he needs to be put on a program of socialization where he is introduced to different people and different situations. This needs to be done in a calm and non-aggressive way, perhaps taking him for walks along totally new routes where there a plenty of people and other dog walkers.

Anxiety complexes can also at times be attributed to genetics and temperament. Although the shih tzu is generally a happy-go-lucky, friendly breed that will always offer you companionship and show you love and affection if you treat them right, they do have an independent and sometimes stubborn side to their character which can lead to them developing a phobia to, for example, young children and other dogs that they may see as a threat to their place in the pack.

For this reason, a shih tzu should be socialized with new children on a gradual basis and ALWAYS under supervision. Even the slightest sign of aggression from the shih tzu should be punished with a period of isolation in another room. Even now, when I know that Bruno and Charlie have accepted my grandchildren as part of the pack, I will not leave them alone with them. If I have to leave the room I will always isolate them with the use of a baby gate. (Bruno and Charlie that is, not the grandchildren!)

Rescue shih tzu, which will usually be past the puppy stage, may, and probably will have developed anxiety simply because of the trauma they have suffered by being abandoned or abused by their previous owner. It can take a long time before they fully trust you but if you persist with a socialization program they will eventually become more calm and relaxed. The same applies if you have an older shih tzu with an anxiety problem.

Sometimes anxiety can be brought on by a medical condition or illness and in older shih tzu by an age related degeneration of the brain. In these cases, since you will have to consult a vet anyway, you can only act on the advice given to you by the vet. For example, when Bruno was a puppy he had to be rushed to the emergency vet as he had lapsed into a coma. He was subsequently diagnosed to be suffering from Addison’s Disease, a hormone deficiency of the kidneys that can also affect humans. He has been on medication twice a day ever since to reduce the risk of further, life-threatening seizures.

Treatment of Shih Tzu Anxiety Symptoms

Treatment will depend upon the type, cause and severity of the anxiety your shih tzu is suffering from. Usually the rule is to punish bad behaviour by either ignoring your dog or isolating him in another room on his own for a few minutes and rewarding good behaviour with treats and toys. This will gradually condition him to behave appropriately.

In the case of separation anxiety, the worst thing you can do is to make a fuss over your shih tzu whenever you leave home or when you return. Though it may go against your instincts, you must ignore him at these times to convince him that your coming and going is no big deal. Your dog thinks you are leader of the pack, so if you stay calm he will eventually understand there is nothing to make a fuss about and stay calm too.  I delve deeper into this in this post.

With other disorders and phobias either try and avoid the situations that initiate the anxiety attacks or start a program of aversion therapy where you expose your pet to a little at a time of what makes him apprehensive. If opting for the latter, it must be done persistently and often, gradually increasing the exposure until he remains calm and comfortable with the cause all of the time.

With more severe cases of anxiety and bad or aggressive behaviour it’s best to keep a log of your dog’s actions and presenting this to your vet. Give him as much information as you can.

If you know his breeding history and the characteristics of his parents that will help. If he is a rescue dog, give as much information about his past as you can find out.

After examining your dog to make sure the correct diagnosis is anxiety and not an underlying medical condition then he may prescribe a routine of remedial treatment and exercises. In really extreme cases he may also prescribe some medicine (particularly for travel anxiety) to help things along initially or even refer you to a dog behavioural specialist.


I hope this post is useful in resolving your shih tzu’s anxiety problems. Please do act if your shih tzu does have anxiety problems as one day he may react to his fears aggressively if he feels he is trapped into a corner. If you have any thoughts or questions on this subject please make a comment or use our “contact us” form.

Don’t forget to read here for a deeper look into separation anxiety.

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