How to Calm an Anxious Dog
Puppy-dog eyes, those beautiful, big, brown pools of happiness that soothes our soul after a tough day, even stroking a dog has been shown to reduce stress levels in humans and relieve anxiety. But, what about our pups? They suffer with stress and anxiety too, sometimes we can easily see why, such as a vet visit but other times it can be difficult to identify why our precious pup is whining and unsettled or showing other signs of anxiety. Some causes may be a remembered bad experience or lack of socialization as a puppy, or even certain breed predispositions to anxious personalities. Other pets may suddenly show signs of anxiety if their daily routine is disrupted or inconsistent, lack of either physical exercise or mental stimulation, and even aging can bring signs of anxiety to the fore.
The first step to identifying the problem is knowing what does stress in an anxious dog look like to us. The more obvious signs include panicking and attempting to escape, excessive barking, becoming aggressive or destructive or even urinating or defecating indoors or in their bed but there are also some much more subtle signs. These include panting though not hot or tired, whining and pacing or appearing restless; if your pup frequently licks their lips in some situations that is often a sign of stress and your dog may try to avoid certain stimuli or areas that they consider scary while showing these signs. Trembling is another common sign of anxiety as is a refusal to eat or drink while some dogs may stare at what is causing their stress.
Unfortunately, there's no hard and fast fix for helping pets when they are having an anxiety episode and you may require a specialist in dog behavior and training or even medication to help your pup. Having said that, here we will go through some tips and options that you can try to help calm your dog during one of these episodes and to perhaps even reduce their severity or even frequency.
1) Distraction from the source of the anxiety
When you see your pup showing any signs of nervousness, you can try distracting them with some games or practicing old tricks will keep their mind engaged and the focus away from the stressful stimulus. If possible, exercise is fantastic! Exercise releases the endorphin, serotonin also known as the 'happy hormone' while also using up that extra nervous energy which can make things worse, and fresh air is a great stress reliever in humans and pups alike.
If your dog becomes destructive when anxious, you can encourage your pup to divert that towards a chew toy or a treat puzzle. This will engage your pup's brain, allow them to release some of their negative energy while not ripping every shred of stuffing out of your favorite pillows. Treat puzzles are great too because you can add in treats such as these Calming CBD Treats from KarmaPets (link). Infused with hemp, while also containing chamomile extract, these treats are formulated to help balance your dog's brain chemistry when stressed without causing drowsiness.
Have you ever noticed your pup letting you know its dinnertime, that's not because their hungry but because dogs have an internal clock that thrives on routine? Some anxious pets may find any deviation from or even not having a regular routine very stressful; that's because having a regular schedule gives a sense of security, even to ourselves. This means that playtime, feeding, walking, and bed-time should generally have a predictable routine which will help your dog to understand what's coming next in their day without them panicking because they don't know what they will be doing next.
You don't have to regiment yours and your dogs lives, but having a consistent time period for daily activities will help your pet settle into the routine and cope better when the schedule deviates a little.
3) Build confidence
Dogs are social animals and thrive in packs, part of this dynamic is the fact that they will feed off each other's energy and also because they can actually read each others body language fluently. Organize playdates for your anxious pup with a more confident or chilled-out dog which will help to soothe your pet and build their confidence in their ability to just be a dog.
Another great way to build your pup's confidence is spending time in nature, taking hikes in secluded trails can be majorly beneficial for both us and our pups. If safe, let your pet roam and sniff, chase and explore where they wish while on these trips. Including long, nature hikes in your regular routine is great for your pups cardiovascular and mental health, not to mention ours too.
Many of you will have heard of wearable anti-anxiety clothing for dogs. There's a large range available from different companies with most having some degree of compression of your pup's body. Mimicking the swaddling techniques of human infants or possibly the encompassing feeling puppies may feel in the womb, these shirts help pets to feel safe and comforted.
5) Music therapy
Similar to music therapy to help soothe small babies, pups appreciate similar benefits. You could just play some calming classical music, or find what genre works for your pet through whatever streaming service you typically use. Some streaming services even have specifically designed music playlists for pups.
6) Natural remedies and Probiotics
There are so many options available that fit under this heading but beware, not all are created equal; and just because something is natural doesn't automatically make it safe for your pup. One 2006 study by the Canine Behavior Centre in Queens University, Northern Ireland found that the scent of lavender helps to relax excited dogs when traveling. Cannabidiol (CBD) is a hot topic right now, but the evidence is mostly anecdotal and there are legal concerns depending on where you live, but early research is promising.
There is a growing body of evidence on the benefits of probiotics in human patients' brain chemistry and the same may be true for our canine side-kicks. Veterinary-based evidence surrounding probiotics is limited but your veterinarian may suggest including some in your pet's diet if your pup suffers from anxiety and a sensitive tummy.
You could also include treats that contain chamomile, hemp or CBD which may help to settle your anxious pup. These (link) calming treats from KarmaPets are popular and come with a 100% money-back guarantee. Containing chamomile, hemp, and passionflower these delicious peanut-butter flavored treats claim to calm up to 99% of dog-related anxieties. This non-drowsy formulation helps to balance your pup's brain chemistry and if you're not completely satisfied, the company donates all refunded treats to a local rescue center so this is a win-win for everyone.
7) Desensitization and counter-conditioning
Desensitization attempts to minimize negative emotional responses to certain stimuli. For example, if your pup has a fear of people with an umbrella then a behaviorist may advise exposure to this situation from a distance where your pup doesn't over-react and then slowly decrease the distance until your pup accepts it without reacting. Giving your pup their favorite treats during these periods will help counter-condition your pup to the situation. Always make sure you stop the training exercises before your pup becomes anxious, or you may exacerbate your pup's condition. Discuss your plans with your veterinarian or a canine behaviorist if your dog has severe anxieties.
8) Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP)
This hormone naturally produced by lactating bitches to soothe their puppies has been synthetically manufactured to help calm older dogs. Studies have had mixed results on the benefits of DAP in dogs with anxieties but many pup-parents have had positive results so it may be worth trying out for your dog. Another great thing is we can't smell it, so there won't be any nasty odors in your house.
None of these will work for all dogs and you should discuss their use with your veterinarian to find out what might work for your pup. For most of my anxious patients, a multi-modal approach using a few different techniques achieve the best results.
Be persistent and don't give up!