Anxiety is prevalent in humans, but it’s also a condition that affects millions of dogs. Whether it’s the result of a hard life, being confined in a shelter, or simply loving humans so much they never want to be left alone, anxiety can hit your furry friend hard. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help soothe your pup when he or she is feeling anxious.
While dog anxiety medications may be necessary in severe cases, most pet owners can ease mild to moderate dog anxiety with other treatment options. Learn how to calm an anxious dog right here with training tips, calming treats, and other ideas that can help soothe symptoms.
The Basics of Dog Anxiety
Anxiety in dogs is fairly common. In fact, a study examining 13,700 Finnish dogs found that 72.5% of dogs exhibited behavior associated with some form of anxiety. One reason dog anxiety may be so prevalent is that there are dozens of different factors that can make a dog nervous. Most anxiety in dogs can be traced back to separation or fear, although certain medical conditions may also cause anxiety.
Some dogs may develop anxiety when they're alone for long periods of time — known as separation anxiety — while others may become nervous when there are loud noises like thunderstorms and fireworks.
In other cases, new experiences — like walking up stairs, going on car rides, or visiting a new dog park — may induce anxiety. Some dogs develop anxiety around strangers or people who dress or act differently than their owners. Things like hats, beards, children, and canes are common triggers for nervous dogs.
Dogs who have anxiety may act out or display unwanted behaviors. These include chewing or destroying household items, lip licking, barking, drooling, and pacing. Dogs who are anxious may pant, whine, or exhibit aggressive behaviors. They may also pee or poop in the house, and may show signs of depression.
How To Calm an Anxious Dog: 8 Techniques
Pet parents have many options when it comes to treating anxiety in dogs. The following techniques can help reduce a dog’s stress and anxious behaviors over time. It won’t happen overnight, so be patient and try to offer your pooch as much support as possible. Here are eight things you can try when you’re figuring out how to calm an anxious dog.
1. Opt for Calming Treats
Just like we reach for a hot cup of chamomile tea when we’re stressed out, dogs may benefit from natural remedies that help soothe anxiety. Try calming snacks made with hemp oil, valerian root, and chamomile, which may help reduce stress. You can give these treats to your pup before heading out on a road trip if they suffer from motion anxiety or give the pupper a few when you leave the house for a few hours if they experience separation anxiety.
2. Desensitize Your Pup
One of the main things dog owners can do to reduce anxiety is to work on reducing the fear associated with certain triggers. This is done through a process of desensitization. It involves introducing items that trigger anxiety in small doses and conditioning the dog to understand that the item does not pose a threat.
To do this, start slowly and identify what is causing your dog’s anxiety. If your pooch is afraid of car rides, you can start by playing around the outside of your car. Give your pup lots of treats and affection when he or she plays and doesn't react negatively to the car. Next, you can put your pup in the car, but don’t go anywhere. Pet your dog and make sitting in the car seem like a fun, exciting experience. Once your dog tolerates that, you can take short drives to get him or her used to car rides.
If your puppy is afraid of a family member, try socializing with that person more often. Have the family member bring treats or toys so that your dog associates them with happy occasions.
Lead by example throughout the process. Use body language to show your furry friend that everything is ok. Your pup is a loyal friend, so he or she will follow your lead and react to the trigger with less anxiety.
3. Exercise Your Pup
Dogs with separation anxiety often act out in a panic when their humans leave the house. To prevent destruction, give your dog plenty of exercise. Not only will it help tire them out so they don't get as worked up, it also allows you to bond with your pup. If you’re leaving for a little while, take your dog out for a long adventure first. The exercise will release endorphins that boost mood and can help make your departure less dramatic.
4. Use Dog-Appeasing Pheromones
When dogs are puppies, their mothers release pheromones that provide comfort and security. Today, you can find sprays, diffusers, and collars for dogs that contain these pheromones. Using a pheromone collar or spray can help provide biological cues to your pup that everything is ok.
5. Use a Soothing Touch
You can comfort your pooch by petting and massaging them at the first sign of anxiety. Your touch may help to reduce stress or fear, easing anxiety symptoms fast.
This method is particularly useful for dogs who get anxiety from loud noises or new experiences. If a thunderstorm is approaching, cuddle up on the couch with your pup. Gently massage his muscles and scratch his favorite spots. Not only does it feel good for the pup, it also serves as a distraction from the anxiety trigger.
6. Utilize Doggie Attire
There’s nothing cuter than a dog in a sweater. Not only are sweaters adorable, they’re also effective at comforting dogs who suffer from anxiety caused by loud noises. A Thundershirt is a great choice for pet owners who want to free their furball of fear-based anxiety.
Put the Thundershirt on your dog before a thunderstorm hits. The tight shirt provides comfort by cocooning the pup in soft fabric, similar to the effect of swaddling a baby. You can also use calming shirts to help dogs who are anxious when traveling or when you’re away from the house.
7. Play Music
Studies show that certain types of music may help dogs relax. Classical music and harp music are particularly effective. The soothing cadence of these musical styles can help decrease stress. Plus, the music can help drown out loud noises from outside your home or apartment that may trigger an anxiety episode.
8. Work With a Professional
In some cases, your dog’s anxiety may be too much for you to handle on your own. Working with a veterinary behaviorist, a licensed veterinarian (DVM), or a dog trainer is a great way to get support and provide solutions for your furry friend.
These specialists can offer training techniques and other behavior modification tools to help reduce the symptoms of anxiety. They can also help you figure out if you can treat the condition at home or if you need a prescription-strength anxiety medication for your pup.
Reduce Anxiety and Support Your Pup
With these tips and techniques, your dog will be confident enough to take on that booming thunder, that man in a silly hat, and those intimidating umbrellas down at the beach. While anxiety medications like Xanax for dogs can have serious side effects, these natural alternatives come with few to no drawbacks.
Help your pup overcome fear by offering love and affection to help soothe anxiety. Work with a trainer to adjust behavior, use comforting dog attire, or play soothing music to reduce anxiety symptoms.