Anxiety is common among dogs for a wide variety of reasons, sometimes situational and sometimes based on personality. Anxiety comes about through different fears or phobias, and is expressed through various behaviors including constant barking, excessive licking or grooming, destroying everything from clothes to walls and door frames, eliminating indoors even when housebroken, or even reacting snappish or aggressively toward people or other animals.
Many anxieties and phobias can be helped through training and conditioning. For instance, separation anxiety (the fear of being left alone) is extremely common among dogs and can often be dramatically improved or even eliminated by gradual conditioning to being alone with positive reinforcement. However, some dogs are simply anxious in their general disposition, or they need help calming down enough before training them to get through a stressful situation can even begin. For these dogs, there are a handful of natural solutions you can try. Dogs still need training, too; there's no magic cure to fix fearfulness and anxiety for good. But the natural solutions listed below may go a long way toward helping a dog cope as the real solutions — long-term training, desensitization and conditioning — take hold.
When considering treating your dog for anxiety, it's important to know the source of the anxiety. Is your dog anxious about being left alone? Being confined? Is the anxiety caused by loud noises, or travel, or sudden changes in environment or routine? Some dogs have phobias of certain objects, types of people or specific situations. The source greatly informs the treatment. For example, calming music might help a dog with separation anxiety, but won't do much to help a dog who has anxiety about walking in crowded places. There are pharmaceuticals available from veterinarians for extreme cases, but to minimize medicating your dog and experiencing any potential side-effects, try these options before going in for a prescription.
Just as exercise is a great stress reliever for humans, so it is for dogs. Exercise accomplishes a couple of things when helping a dog deal with anxiety. First, it stimulates the production of serotonin, that feel-good chemical that we humans also get when we work out or go for a hike. Second, it gets rid of pent-up energy and tension that can exacerbate anxiety. Burning off all that extra doggy energy every day through a long game of fetch, a hike, running alongside you while you bike or other favorite activities can go a long way toward reducing problems with issues like separation anxiety or nervous tension. As the saying goes, a good dog is a tired dog.
If your dog is nervous because of certain situations, such as fireworks or thunderstorms, or even is nervous about being in a crowd, then distraction can work wonders. Engaging your dog's brain in work will help him focus on you and things he knows, rather than on the unknown around him that's frightening him. While it isn't the time to begin new training, it's a great time to practice tricks your dog knows and can earn rewards for. Try rewarding your dog with treats for simple commands like sit, stand, lie down, shake, sit up, roll over and other tricks he enjoys. Another possibility, especially for dogs that are highly food motivated, is distracting your dog with puzzle toys like a treat ball or tug jug, or even a frozen Kong toy stuffed with peanut butter. This can also help him associate frightening things like loud noises or strangers coming over with highly valued rewards, so that the event goes from being scary to being at least tolerable.
The Thundershirt is a popular solution for dog anxiety. It is a tightly fitting garment that wraps around your dog. The idea is that the feeling of continuous pressure can help calm a dog's nerves for things like travel anxiety and, as the name implies, noise anxiety among other issues. However, there isn't much definitive science-based evidence to show that these actually work. Some dog owners swear by it; others have found it hasn't helped. The effectiveness of the Thundershirt may also depend on when and how it is used, and the particular personality and needs of the dog it is used on. So, something like this could be helpful if used alongside other natural solutions with each helping to enhance the benefits of the other.
Everyone loves a good massage, and the same can be said for our pets. Massage can help to calm an anxious dog by using long, slow strokes to soothe the nerves. A popular dog massage method is called TTouch, created by Linda Tellington-Jones. It is "a method based on circular movements of the fingers and hands all over the body. The intent of the TTouch is to activate the function of the cells and awaken cellular intelligence." The result is a relaxed dog. Plus, studies have shown that petting a dog or cat can help calm your nerves as well, so it's a win-win solution. It's easy to find guides for how to massage your dog to help calm her.
Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP)
Scents can also help calm a dog's anxiety, and DAP is a popular option. It's a synthetic chemical that's based on a hormone produced by lactating female dogs that help keep her puppies calm and increases their bond with her. While scientific studies have shown that DAP does work with puppies, it isn't as clear if it works with anxious adult dogs. Even so, there's the possibility that it can help, and it can be one of several tools used to help an anxious dog. It comes as a plug-in diffuser with vials that last about 30 days, and humans aren't able to smell it.
Humans aren't the only species that can be calmed by soothing music. Many owners leave a television or radio on when they leave the house to help a dog feel comforted. But there's also specialized music that you can play to help particularly anxious dogs. Through a Dog's Ear is a selection of music specifically aimed at calming nervous dogs. The website states, "The over-arching psychoacoustic theory informing Through a Dog’s Ear is summed up in just two words — simple sound. This term refers to the process of minimizing intricate auditory information found in most music. The music of Dog's Ear is intentionally selected, arranged and recorded to provide easeful auditory assimilation." The music can help for a range of situations like separation anxiety and travel anxiety. There are even compilations designed to help desensitize a dog with noise phobias.
Rescue Remedy and supplements
Though we're aiming for natural solutions you can do yourself or pick up at the pet store, you'll still want to consult your vet before trying supplements, even natural ones. That said, Rescue Remedy is a popular solution for those leaning toward herbal supplements to treat anxiety. Rescue Remedy is a mix of natural herb and flower extracts that can calm the nerves. It comes in everything from drops to sprays to gums for humans, and they do indeed have a pet-specific blend. You can add a couple drops to your dog's water dish, or add a drop to a treat. Another possible supplement is the Tranquility Blend formula from Animal Essentials.