Anxiety in dogs is common and it occurs for many different reasons, some of which we don’t understand. While some pets are afraid of nothing, like this cool skateboarding cat, others shake like a leaf for seemingly no reason. There are, however, many ways to get a handle on it.
If your dog is a rescue pet, their anxiety might be caused by a past trauma, mistreatment or cruelty. You may find that someone wearing a certain type of clothing or a type of hat sets them off, or some are even triggered when they see a person of a certain gender. They can’t talk to us, so we really don’t know why. All we can do is our best to help calm them when a situation of anxiety arises, creating a space of comfort for them and showing them lots of love and care.
In some instances, an otherwise confident dog may freak out at the loud thunder cracks and lightning flashes that come with a sudden storm, or fireworks during a festive season. Or, they could just experience separation anxiety, hating to be away from you, which is the case with my little Maltese, Mookie. She knows when I am going out without her and clings to my neck like Velcro. In fact, she does this whenever she is feeling a little uneasy, say, if we are at the vet, or about to go to the groomer.
Signs Of Anxiety In Dogs
Anxiety can play out in many different ways, some of which may be considered naughty behaviour. However they are being far from naughty – it is more likely that the dog is lonely, anxious or scared.
Some of these behaviours include barking or howling when you’re not home (don’t worry – your neighbours will tell you!), panting and pacing, even if it’s very cool weather, and shivering and shaking, which is what my Mookie does when she is anxious. Your pooch might also urinate more or find it difficult to settle down, or they may become a little chewing machine.
Dealing with Anxiety in Dogs
There are myriad ways to help calm your best friend. They range from things such as extra exercise, calming mists, and elixirs, thunder jackets, music therapy and crate training.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “a tired dog is a good dog” and never has the phrase rung more true than with a dog suffering anxiety. Aside from the feel-good endorphins that exercise brings with it, a good long walk will give your pup the chance to sniff plenty of great smells, which stimulates their brain and helps calm their overactive minds.
According to media veterinarian and presenter Dr Katrina Warren, it’s important to focus on a a routine that is manageable long term. If you work from home, this will be easier, however for people who will be out during the day, they should structure their walks around what will be manageable when they are at the office.
Socialising vs. Not Socialising
Dr Katrina stresses the importance of socialising your pooch, but also giving them time to be alone, so they are used to being by themselves for longer periods of time.
“Dogs are social creatures and need to learn coping skills to be comfortable being left unattended. Otherwise, they may become anxious when left alone and this can result in destructive behaviour.
“Chill, my Border Collie, loves to be close by my side and will happily follow me from room to room, if I allow it. While it’s comforting to have him near me, I make a conscious effort to put him outside or in his crate for at least an hour, twice a day. When I place him outside, I always give him a toy that has food inside it. This gives him something to do and makes his time alone positive and rewarding.”
Perhaps try getting your dog a toy like a KONG, that allows you to pop some healthy, nutritious treats inside it and will keep him busy for a decent length of time.
Another great idea is to crate train your pup for a couple of hours each day. Buy a crate that gives him space to move, as well as eat and play. Pop in his favourite blanket, or perhaps a sweatshirt that has your scent on it. It will soon become his ‘den’ and a favourite place to hang out.
Give Your Dog Its Own Anxiety-Reducing Bed
Dogs, as we know, love to snuggle into a cosy bed. There are many on the market, but my choice is the Snooza brand. I have four in my home, which my three dogs all adore (the aforementioned Mookie, and her two ‘sibling’ huskies, Pepi and Sky). They are funny little things, swapping beds as they see fit, but I always know they are completely relaxed when curled up in it. While the beds themselves offer much comfort (especially the Ortho bed, which helps with Pepi’s arthritis, too), I do try to pop a favourite blanket of theirs’ in it, so they know they are totally secure. You may wish to try the same. Finally, the raised edges of both the Ortho and Oslo beds help give your dog stronger sense of security and really help lower anxiety levels. They can snuggle right into the corners and it makes them feel super-secure.
Use A Calming Mist
There are plenty of natural and safe calming mists for dogs on the market that really do work to quell their fear and provide a feeling of security via their extraordinary sense of smell.
There are fantastic options that allow you to mist into the fur at the back of their neck, which will then waft the calming fragrance past their noses and ease their anxiety.
Other wonderful options allow you to plug a diffuser into your electricity outlet and a subtle calming pheromone is continually released, thereby taking the edge off your puppies’ angst. These are also available in the form of a totally safe collar, too, both made by the reputed brand Adaptil.
Set Up Safe Chew Time
If you’ve got a chewer on your hands, Dr Katrina suggests giving him/her some time out each day to chew their own toys (not yours). Perhaps you can purchase a puppy play pen and pop your pooch in there for an hour or two with a good selection of chew toys. The good news is, most dogs stop chewing once their adult teeth come through. If they don’t it may be worthwhile visiting an animal behaviouralist for some advice.
Pop On a Weighted Vest
In much the same way comfort blankets help to ease anxiety in humans, weighted vests help keep your pooch poised when it’s piddling down. Dogs are notoriously frightened of storms, so wrapping yours in one of these will do wonders to help feel them safe and secure. They use a gentle hugging action to calm your dog. The gentle, constant pressure has a calming effect for most dogs if they are anxious, fearful or overexcited.
The concept using gentle pressure to calm dogs is quickly being embraced by vets, animal behaviouralists and dog trainers around the world. Experts believe that the pressure has a calming effect on the nervous system, possibly by releasing the calming hormones, endorphins. When using them for exercise, they can also help improve muscle strength and fitness.
Dogs respond to human energy and it is much the same with music. You may wish to leave a chilled out radio station on for your dog when you go out, or create a playlist of your favourite spa songs or classical music. In our house, we rely on an artist called Perry Wood, who specialises in creating calming music for pets. I play it at night to settle them (and myself) and in times of high anxiety, such as the recent loss of one of our dogs.