Just like humans, dogs occasionally suffer from anxiety. Often, they exhibit temporary anxiety in response to things like trips to the vet or being left home alone. But other dogs experience more general, chronic anxiety that affects every aspect of their lives.
While occasional anxiety isn’t necessarily a medical problem, chronic anxiety can be very detrimental to your dog's health and well being. Accordingly, you’ll want to make every effort to alleviate the problem and help your dog feel better.
There are no perfect solutions to anxiety problems, but the following eight strategies are often helpful. Try to start with the strategies that are best suited for your dog, but don’t be afraid to experiment with any of the suggestions listed below.
If there is a magic bullet for helping to treat just about any behavioral problem dogs exhibit, it is clearly exercise. As they say, “a tired dog is a happy dog,” so consider increasing the length of your daily walks and try to make time to get to the park more often.Exercise not only wears dogs out, but it releases endorphins which can help improve your dog's mood too.
In addition to walking, you can consider a number of other games and activities to get your dog more exercise. For example, playing fetch with your dog will help tucker out your dog, while not exhausting you. Swimming is another great full-body exercise, which most dogs seem to love.
In some cases, dogs experience anxiety due to a specific cause. In such cases, the easiest way to reduce your dog's anxiety is by eliminating the upsetting stimuli – the problem is figuring out what is causing your dog to fret. It could be anything from noisy neighbors to other pets, so you’ll need to observe your dog carefully in order to identify the source of her anxiety.
If you cannot completely eliminate the offending stimuli, do your best to cover it up or deemphasize it. For example, you can’t very well stop your neighbor from walking his dog in front of your house, but by simply keeping the blinds closed, you may be able to prevent your dog from noticing.
Physical contact – snuggling, petting, scratching or massage – is a great way to help calm down a dog experiencing acute anxiety. This is not terribly likely to help reduce long-term, chronic anxiety, but it is unlikely to hurt either. Contact with a pet has been demonstrated to reduce the blood pressure and anxiety of humans, and the reverse is probably true as well.
However, if physical contact is taken to the extreme, you can end up with a dog who constantly runs to mom or dad whenever frightened. This can become quite a problem and further exacerbate your dog’s anxiety, so it may help to work with a certified trainer to ensure your dog remains well balanced.
Zoo keepers and other animal-care professionals have long understood that nervous animals often feel more secure when provided with a den-like retreat into which they can withdraw. The same technique often helps soothe anxious dogs too. One way to do this is by covering your dog’s crate or kennel with a blanket or a specially designed cover.
Some dogs may prefer to hide in other places, such as under the bed. And as long as it doesn’t represent a safety hazard, this is acceptable too. Any place that makes your dog feel safe will help to alleviate some of her anxiety.
Although tight-fitting clothing often causes humans to feel restricted and anxious, it often has the opposite effect in dogs. Some dogs may be calmed by wearing a regular sweater or shirt, but others will benefit from one of the commercial products designed to help calm anxious dogs.
Most of these types of garments are designed to fit very snuggly, through the use of stretchable fabrics, Velcro closures or both. Although this seems like a counterintuitive method for calming nervous dogs, it is often highly effective.
The ThunderShirt is one of the most popular anxiety-calming garments. It is available in seven different sizes, so you should be able to find a size that works well for your pet, and it is backed by the manufacturer's money-back guarantee.
Dogs usually feel better when they have something to do -- something on which they can focus, rather than think about their worries. Mentally challenging toys, such as those that contain a hidden treat, are great, but normal toys that are sufficiently durable can also get the job done.
If your dog’s anxiety is associated with being left alone, you may consider getting an interactive or automated toy, such as a ball launcher. This may help stave off some of the boredom anxiety that dogs often suffer while being left alone.
Dogs are incredibly sensitive to their owner’s emotional state, and their mood will often reflect that of their human. Accordingly, it is important that you remain calm and relaxed, to prevent your dog from becoming anxious herself. This can be one of the more difficult causes of anxiety to alleviate, but it is often one of the most important.
Try to be cognizant of your mood whenever you interact with your dog, and try to the best of your ability to remain positive when doing so.
If nothing else works to reduce your pet's anxiety, you may consider discussing medications with your vet. While medications should always be the last option, they are sometimes necessary to help provide your dog with some relief. You’ll still want to identify the primary reason your dog is suffering from anxiety so you can fix it, but medications may help in the meantime.
Understand that many anxiety-reducing medications can have significant side effects, so you’ll need to discuss the pros and cons of medicating your dog with your vet before making a decision.
In some cases, over-the-counter supplements may serve as a very effective dog anxiety treatment.
For example, Zesty Paws Calming Soft Chews are made with L-Theanine, which often helps to calm anxious canines. They're also fortified with several other calming ingredients, including ginger root, passion flower and hemp oil.
Have you ever dealt with an anxious dog? Were you able to determine what was upsetting her? Did any of the solutions listed above work in your case?
Tell us all about your experiences in the comments below – you never know when your story will help another owner solve their pet-anxiety issues.