Just like us, our dogs can suffer from anxiety. In fact, over 70% of dogs will have some sort of anxiety in their lifetime, according to research. Whether it’s triggered by travel, thunder, or you leaving, when your pup is stressed, you want to do everything in your power to calm your four-legged friend.
The good news is that most pup’s anxiety can be treated, or at least lessened.
We asked trainers and vets to share their best tips for tackling anxiety in dogs, with these methods ranging from training techniques to holistic approaches.
But first, let’s get into what dog anxiety is and how to recognize it.
What Is Anxiety in Dogs?
Anxiety in dogs is the anticipation of imagined or unknown potential dangers. This can trigger many bodily reactions that are typically related to fear, such as shaking, pacing, barking, and excessive drooling and panting.
The most common causes of anxiety in dogs are:
- Fear-related anxiety: This can be caused by strangers, loud noises, new environments, or specific scenarios, such as a trip to the vets or a car ride.
- Age-related anxiety: Senior dogs with cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) can experience a decline in their perception, memory, and awareness, which can lead to anxiety and confusion.
- Separation anxiety: Between 14-20% of dogs have separation anxiety, which is triggered when they are left alone or separated from their owners. Separation anxiety can cause a dog to constantly bark, destroy furniture, or go to the bathroom in the home.
Symptoms of dog anxiety may include:
- Trembling or shaking
- Barking, whining, or howling
- Tail tucked between legs
- Panting or drooling
- Obsessively pacing or other compulsive behaviors
- Scratching, chewing, or digging
- Going to the bathroom in inappropriate places (e.g. in your home)
Dr. Rachel Barrack, a licensed veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist at Animal Acupuncture, warns us to not ignore unusual behavior occurring in your dog. “Anxiety can be mentally and physically taxing on your dog and can result in injury to your pet, yourself, and even another dog or person,” she says. “If your dog is displaying these behaviors, speak with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical conditions.”
Check out the below tips from experts on how to calm your anxious dog.
1. Physical Contact and Touch
Probably one of the simplest ways to calm your dog is to pet him when he’s feeling anxious. Touching your dog in the right spots using a non-threatening approach can alleviate mild anxiety. The reason being is that petting your dog, considered a bonding moment, can release the hormone oxytocin, also known as the love hormone. Most dogs are comfortable being pet on the shoulder, chest, and base of the tail. Other areas — like the muzzle, top of head, and belly — may make some dogs feel uneasy. Keep in mind, if your dog is super stressed out, this could make it worse.
Exercise can work wonders for a stressed-out dog. If you notice any anxious behavior in your pet, such as pacing or shaking, grab his leash and take him for a stroll around the neighborhood, or play with him in your yard or park.
“Helping your dog redirect onto something else is a great way to take their mind off of what is bothering them. Some dogs can change their mood by playing fetch, others by doing training, and others by having positive social interactions,” says Shelby Semel, a canine behavior expert and trainer.
Dr. Babette Gladstein, a New York City-based veterinarian, adds, “Exercise promotes the release of endorphins and that helps to ease anxiety.”
A training technique that involves getting dogs gradually used to scenarios or stimuli that trigger anxiety is desensitization.
Semel recommends starting desensitization sessions off in very small increments and slowly building on exposure time.
“For example, if your dog is scared of other dogs, seeing one from 25 feet away might be your starting place. If at 25 feet they are still displaying signs of anxiety, you would want to start even further away,” she says. “Small increments are key with desensitization as if you push too far too fast, you will end up going backward in your training process.”
Semel recommends offering your dog high-value treats, such as chicken or cheese, during these training sessions to allow your pup to start associating the stressful stimuli with something rewarding.
4. A Quiet Break in Their Safe Space
A cozy canvas crate, quiet corner, or spare bedroom can all be wonderful safe spaces for anxious dogs.
“Giving your dog a break in his safe space can definitely help. However, if your pet has anxiety about being left alone or has not been acclimated to their safe zone, it may not do the trick,” explains Semel.
She recommends playing calming music near your dog’s safe space or spraying it with calming pheromones to subdue him. Also, adding your dog’s favorite toys, blankets, or beds in their safe space can help promote relaxation.
5. Calming Supplements
Studies have shown that calming supplements may be an effective tool for easing anxiety, fear, and stress. Most calming supplements contain one or more of the following active ingredients:
- Valerian root
- CBD or hemp
Talk to your vet before starting your dog on any supplement program, and always follow the instructions on the back of the label. We highly recommend our Bye Bye Pup Worries wellness supplements that include natural ingredients that relieve nervousness and stress.
Formulated by a vet and backed by science, our Bye Bye Pup Worries use powerful natural ingredients like l-theanine, lemon balm, and green tea to helps relieve nervousness, anxiety, and stress, so you can have a relaxed and happy pooch. Made in the USA.
6. Music Therapy
Never underestimate the power of a good song. Indeed, researchers found that playing classical music encouraged shelter dogs to bark less and rest more. Other types of music that help dogs relax include soft rock and reggae.
7. Calming Coats or T-Shirts
There are several brands of garments and wraps designed to calm stressed dogs. These clothes work by applying gentle pressure to the dog’s torso, causing a calming effect similar to a weighted blanket or embracing a person in distress.
While few studies have been done confirming the efficiency of calming clothing, tons of anecdotal evidence suggests that they actually do work
“Calming jackets with hoods are effective because they limit the amount of visual input since the eye is somewhat shielded,” says Dr. Gladstein. She adds there are other ways to use the eyes to help relax your dog. “The optic nerve in the eye is the largest nerve in your body and when you want to calm your pet down, keep the input to the eyes to a minimum by dimming the lights and turning the television off.”
To get your pet comfortable in his calming coat, vest, or wrap, put it on him for short lengths of time when he is calm and happy, such as at dinnertime. Don’t leave the coat on your dog for extended periods, as continuous wear might decrease its effectiveness during times of heightened anxiety.
Don’t you just love a relaxing massage to ease stress and sore muscles? So will your dog! Hands-on contact during a massage can reduce anxiety during fireworks and thunderstorms. Massages can also soothe stiff muscles and tension caused by stress.
Animal massage therapist Gene Rukavina of Dancing Dog Massage explained to us in a previous article that massages can improve blood circulation, relax your pet’s body, and release endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemical that can ease anxiety.
9. Interactive Toys and Games
A cooped-up dog, especially one who suffers from separation anxiety, with no engagement can easily become stressed and entertain himself by chewing, digging, or barking.
“The biggest concern for most of our pets is boredom. They are not able to have the outlet to be able to do the normal things they would do in the wild,” Dr. Andrea Y. Tu, veterinarian and the medical director of Behavior Vets of NYC, told us previously. “If you think about dogs in the wild, the majority of their time is spent looking for food, hunting for food, eating it.
Tu says that dog puzzles give pups an outlet for mental and physical energy. Puzzles or toys that make your dog work to find treats can encourage independent playtime, provide mental stimulation, and distract your pet from his anxious emotions.
10. Alternative Therapies
Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, herbs, and Feng Shui, may pacify anxious dogs.
“Acupuncture can produce a noticeable calming effect in anxious pets. Chinese herbs are often used in conjunction with acupuncture to optimize and lengthen its effect,” says Dr. Barrack. “I have seen firsthand how life-changing Chinese medicine can be for anxious dogs and their owners.”
Boosting good vibes in your home through Feng Shui might also benefit your stressed pet. “Feng Shui is all about energy, or chi. In essence, you can think of feng shui as acupuncture for your home,” Patricia Lohan, a Feng Shui expert, told us in an earlier post. “It is a way of keeping the energy flowing in and around your home.”
For instance, Lohan recommends reducing the clutter or placing your dog’s bed away from any doors that may open and disturb them to provide a more relaxing environment.
11. Consistency Is Key
Dogs are definitely creatures of habit and thrive on routine. Feeding and walking your dog at the same time every day can keep him calm. If you need to work long hours, hire a dog walker to take your pup for a stroll around the block during his usual walking hours.
When to Seek Professional Help
If your dog suffers from prolonged, excessive anxiety, it may be in his best interest to seek the help of a professional.
“If a dog’s stress or anxiety is affecting either their quality of life or your own quality of life, it is time to seek help. A certified trainer or behaviorist will help assess the situation properly and guide the next steps. It’s even better if you can figure it out before it starts negatively impacting their life because it’s easier to fix,” said Semel.
Related: Understanding and Addressing Dog Anxiety