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Most dogs suffer from some form of anxiety from time to time, just as we humans do. It’s a normal emotional response. However, some dogs suffer from stress much more than others. The good news is that you have many ways to help your pup through turbulent experiences. And it’s best to help manage their anxiety before it worsens or becomes a chronic disorder down the road.
Dogs can become anxious for many reasons, but here are some of the most common causes.
The fear of loud noises, like thunder and fireworks, is an extremely common cause of anxiety in many dogs. Some dogs also have anxiety-causing fear of strange people, other animals, and even strange objects they don’t recognize.
Dogs are pack animals and crave company from their family members. They don’t like left being alone. Some dogs handle this better than others. For dogs who cannot comfort themselves well, separation anxiety can result in urinating or defecating in the house, destructive behaviors, and barking.
Riding in a car, going to the vet, traveling, or moving to a new house can cause anxiety in some dogs. Some dogs just don’t like new and strange situations that take them out of their comfort zone.
Common signs of anxiety in dogs include:
- Excessive barking
- Urinating or defecating in the house
- Destructive behavior (e.g., destroying furniture)
- Self-harm, including excessive licking or chewing
- Running away or cowering in a corner
- Lip licking
- Looking away
Some of these signs can be occasional and a result of an anxiety-causing situation. But anxiety can become an ongoing issue for some dogs, resulting in more serious problems and a need for continuous treatment.
Early intervention is an important part of treating and managing your dog’s anxiety because it can get worse over time.
Suppose you suspect your dog has situational anxiety or more generalized anxiety. In this case, it’s a good idea to consult with your veterinarian to identify causes and develop the most appropriate treatment plan. Depending on the severity of your dog’s anxiety, your vet could recommend the following.
Many experts suggest using counterconditioning, a training technique that replaces your dog’s negative associations with situations or stimuli with something positive that he loves.
For example, giving your dog a puzzle toy before you leave can divert your dog’s attention from your absence to playing with a toy full of treats that can occupy him for 15-20 minutes or longer. A frozen peanut butter-filled Kong is also a good choice.
Desensitization is another helpful training strategy for dogs with anxiety. You slowly introduce your dog to the source of stress and reward him for positive behavior. For example, if your dog is anxious about car rides, you can get him near the car on day one and reward him with a treat. Then, the next day you get him in the car and reward him for just sitting in the car. On day three, you take a short drive and reward him.
Keep in mind, each dog is different — some will move through the desensitization stages faster than others. Just be patient and progress at your dog’s pace. Gradual, careful, repeated exposure and rewarding good behavior can be a great way to manage your dog’s anxiety.
If your dog’s anxiety is moderate to severe, you might want to contact a professional dog trainer to help you find the best training approach for your dog. If your dog has milder symptoms, you might consider Brain Training For Dogs, an online course that teaches basic commands and mental games to help keep their mind active, reducing boredom.
For predictable anxiety-causing situations like fireworks, thunderstorms, or car rides, your veterinarian might prescribe an anti-anxiety medication, such as benzodiazepine, to help your dog cope. Some vets may also recommend gabapentin, tramadol, or trazodone to treat mild to moderate anxiety.
Some vets may recommend Benadryl (diphenhydramine) for mild to moderate situational and temporary anxiety in dogs. But check with your vet first. While it’s generally considered safe for dogs, Benadryl is a sedative. It causes drowsiness, but it can also cause hyperactivity in some dogs, so you’ll need to get your vet’s recommendation for its use and safe dosage.
If you’re wary of giving your dog pharmaceuticals, several all-natural supplements and remedies may help relieve his anxiety. But always consult your veterinarian before giving your dog any supplement.
CBD Oil And Treats
You may want to consider CBD oil or treats to help manage your dog’s anxiety. CBD is found in cannabis and hemp, and some dog owners find it effective in treating various health conditions, including anxiety. Learn more about the benefits of CBD for dogs.
There are many different all-natural dog chews and treats on the market. One that we like is the highly-rated PremiumCare Calming Treats for Dogs, which may help ease your dog’s anxiety. PremiumCare duck-flavored treats contain organic passionflower, chamomile, valerian root, l-tryptophan, and organic ginger root for a calming effect.
Melatonin is another over-the-counter option to consider for an anxious pup. This is another product to ask your vet about while you are discussing your dog’s stressors and possible treatments. We conducted a deep dive to find out whether melatonin is safe or not for dogs and you can read more of the details here.
Lavender essential oil can be useful in treating dog anxiety. It’s safe and gentle for dogs (but harmful for cats!). You can rub a diluted drop into your dog’s ears, fur, and skin to help calm and soothe him.
You may also want to consider some of these products to ease your dog’s anxiety.
A dog anxiety collar may help. The CPFK Calming Collar for Dogs is activated by body heat to emit an odorless pheromone that’s believed to calm stressed pets. The collar starts working within one hour and continues to release the pheromone for up to 60 days. For best results, the manufacturer says your dog should wear it continuously and replace it every eight weeks.
Many dog owners find that a ThunderShirt or a similar anxiety vest is a great non-medicinal approach to helping their dogs through stressful events like thunderstorms and fireworks. The concept is that dogs feel more safe and secure when they’re wearing a garment that swaddles and compresses around them.
Honest Paws Calm Vest
Another option is The Calm Vest from Honest Paws. Like the ThunderShirt, it’s a medication-free solution that can help soothe dogs by distributing pressure over their back and sides.
Our Personal Experience
We tried The Calm Vest on our puppy Georgie in exchange for an honest review. Georgie immediately seemed more at ease and comfortable when wearing the vest. He curled up in a ball, and the vest seemed to make him relax. The cotton fabric is super soft, seems durable, and is machine washable. The vest overlaps in the belly area with Velcro strips so you can make it snug.– Sadie C., Canine Journal
Some puppies and dogs have anxiety issues when you’re just starting crate training. Still, many owners swear by the SmartPetLove Snuggle Puppy Behavioral Aid Toy to ease separation anxiety. This plush anxiety toy has a pulsing heartbeat and a heat pack to mimic the comfort of their mother or littermates.
Additional Ways To Keep Your Dog Relaxed
In addition to the tips above, Doggy Dan, The Online Dog Trainer, also recommends these ways to reduce anxiety.
- Take regular walks
- Create a safe space in your home, possibly with an anti-anxiety bed
- Schedule play dates with other dogs
- Try Doggy Day’s Calming Code Method
- Participate in daily training exercises
- Enroll in doggy daycare
- Consider massage therapy
This brief video from Chewy has some excellent tips on how you can help your dog overcome his separation anxiety.
While some dogs are just naturally anxious by nature, there are ways to help your dog avoid stress or at least lessen its intensity. Proper socialization with new people, dogs, and other animals, and new experiences early on can help prevent anxiety from developing in the first place. Obedience training is also a great way to set your dog up for mental and behavioral success.Tagged With: Anxiety, CBD, Mental Health