Just like a person, a dog can be faced with a situation that makes them anxious. But when a dog has anxiety that is disproportionate to the situation in front of them, and when that fear goes unaddressed and untreated, dogs can develop an anxiety disorder. Some of the most common situations that trigger your anxious dog are:
- New Situations: New situations like being introduced to strange environments, meeting new animals or people, loud noises like thunderstorms, stressful experiences like vet visits, or sensory overload can all be risk factors for anxiety.
- Separation: Separation anxiety is estimated to affect approximately 14% of dogs who receive veterinary care in the U.S. A change in their guardian, a change of household, or loss of a household member can cause separation anxiety in dogs.
- Aging: Cognitive decline (CDS) or dementia can sometimes lead to anxiety in older dogs as they become anxious about their surroundings due to lack of familiarity.
Anxious Dog Behaviors
Dog anxiety is often mistaken for simple disobedience since the symptoms are similar; however, it’s important never to scold or punish your dog for distress responses caused by anxiety. Attempting to discipline a dog suffering from anxiety will only make the situation worse, and more likely to become a recurring problem.
Signs your dog might be anxious include:
- Excessive barking, howling, or whining
- Compulsive behaviors like excessive digging, licking, scratching, or chewing
- Urinating or defecating indoors by housebroken dogs
- Destructive behavior
A dog hyperventilating is not necessarily an anxious dog – hyperventilating in dogs can be caused by overheating, overexcitement, metabolic acidosis, anemia, or more. Hyperventilating in dogs is more likely to stem from anxiety when coupled with one or more of the other symptoms listed above.
Before asking what can I give my dog for anxiety, it’s a good idea to take your dog to the vet to rule out other medical issues. However, since a trip to the vet can be a trigger for anxiety, make sure your vet will be extra patient when you arrive. Resources like Dogs In Need of Space offer listings of especially anxiety-conscious vets to help you find a good fit.
How to Calm an Anxious Dog
If your dog’s anxious behaviors simply aren’t going away, and a trip to the vet has ruled out other concerns, then there are many things you can do to reduce your dog’s anxiety and make life easier. The starting point for how to calm a dog down is to discover if your dog’s anxiety is situational or behavioral.
If your dog’s anxiety is situational, then you can first try to address the situation behind it. For instance, for a dog with separation anxiety, you can explore taking your dog to work. Of course, changing the situation is not always an option. It may be out of your control (like a thunderstorm), or your dog may be having behavioral anxiety, which is disorderly high anxiety that comes from a tangled web of stimuli.
Some of the many options for how to treat behavioral or uncontrollable situational dog anxiety are:
Positive Reinforcement Dog Trainer
A positive reinforcement dog trainer will use dog calming techniques to counter conditions or desensitize your dog to situations that make them anxious. These de-escalations can then be implemented at home. A trainer should never use dominance or aversion techniques on an anxious dog, which will only make your dog more likely to act out. Finally, it’s very important to consult a professional if your dog’s anxiety manifests as aggression.
Scents play an important role in soothing anxiety in humans, and they can be even more powerful with dogs whose sense of smell can be up to 1,000,000 times better than ours. Frankincense, when used in a diffuser or as a hydrosol, is a popular homeopathic way to ease anxiety in dogs. Just remember how powerful your dog’s nose is, and make sure they have a way to leave the room if the scent is too powerful or unpleasant for them. If you don’t feel like mixing up your own oil blend, Bach’s Flower Remedies have provided tried-and-true homeopathic tinctures for 90 years.
Dog music – anti-anxiety music for dogs – is one of the most effective kinds of therapy for an anxious dog. Studies show that playing music at shelters measurably reduces stress in dogs, leading to less barking, calmer breathing, and lower cortisol production. Reggae and soft rock are among the most calming genres for dogs, but classical music will also work. Variety is important, as well as playing music, not just during stressful situations. Music apps like Spotify have playlists available geared towards helping your pet find peace.
What is the best calming medicine for dogs? The answer might be CBD oil. CBD oil, derived from cannabis but different from the plant’s psychoactive THC, has gained traction in the past few years as an all-natural cure-all for both humans and animals. Veterinary CBD is a popular natural way to calm anxiety in dogs without the side effects of pharmaceutical anti-anxiety medication.
What can I give my dog to calm him down so that it won’t be too big a change in our routine? Zesty Paws Calming Bites and other dog treats with added supplements are an easy answer. Most calming supplements will contain variations of L-theanine, chamomile, and valerian root.
Calm dogs are happy dogs, so taking steps to make your dog less anxious can only improve your relationship with your dog. Since anxious dogs act out in disobedient ways, treating your dog’s anxiety will improve their quality of life and yours as well. How to calm down a dog can look like many things, from contacting a professional dog trainer to playing music, offering herbal remedies, or adding supplements to their diet. Anything that helps your dog find relief in healthy ways can help treat their anxiety and help you enjoy your time with your dog.