Fact checked by Dr. Antoinette Martin, DVM
Just like us humans, dogs can suffer from anxiety and chronic stress. Not only is this uncomfortable for the dog, but anxiety can also lead to a wide range of unhealthy behaviors, such as biting, excessive barking, destroying furniture, and even self-harm.
If you want to help your furry friend feel less nervous and stressed, there are plenty of ways you can help sooth your dog’s anxiety. While some cases of anxiety are far more severe than others, the following seven techniques have been proven to help dogs feel less stressed and anxious:
1. Make Sure Your Dog is Getting Adequate Exercise
Dogs are high-energy animals. This is especially true for certain breeds, like huskies and border collies.
Not only is exercise good for the dog’s physical health, it can help reduce stress, as getting outside and burning off some of their energy is also important for the dog’s mental health. Regular walks and trips to the dog park are mentally stimulating for the dog, and all of that excitement causes the release of stress-reducing endorphins.
If you find your dog seems stressed and high-strung, or that it’s acting like a hyper dog, particularly at night, it could be a sign that your pet requires more exercise. Take this opportunity to spend some quality bonding time with your dog while enjoying the outdoors together. Consider bringing a ball or a frisbee so you can play some fun games of catch.
2. Offer Plenty of Physical Contact
Dogs are social creatures. For most of them, nothing calms them down quite like the reassurance that comes from physical contact with their owners. Even though dogs have been domesticated for over thousands of years, they still have some of the lingering pack instincts of wolves. This is why they like being close to others that they can trust.
Numerous studies have shown that physical contact from a trusted person can significantly reduce many signs of anxiety in dogs. In fact, one study even proved that eight minutes of continuous stroking on the top of the head can even reduce a dog’s heart rate.
This does not mean you should suddenly smother your dog, but regular pets, strokes, and scratches can help your dog feel less anxious and less afraid.
3. Music Therapy
While it may sound a little out there, numerous studies have shown that soothing music can actually help calm an anxious dog. While music is not necessarily a miracle cure for dog anxiety, conditioning your dog to feel more relaxed when it hears certain types of music can help reduce anxiety. Scientific studies involving classical music and stressed shelter dogs even showed soothing music played at a low volume can make dogs feel significantly more relaxed.
The next time your dog is in a calm mood, lightly stroke the dog while playing some soothing music. Repeat this process until the dog starts to associate that music with feeling relaxed.
4. Try Calming Coats
Recently, a variety of manufacturers have begun offering anti-anxiety and stress-relief coats for dogs. These specialized dog garments are designed to apply constant pressure on a dog’s torso, which has been proven to induce a calmer demeanor in most dogs.
These vest-like coats apply the same theory as weighted blankets. In dogs, the gentle pressure has been shown to reduce many of the most common signs of anxiety, including problem barking, excessive chewing, and pacing.
There are plenty of brands to choose from, like the ThunderShirt Anxiety Jacket, American Kennel Club Stress Relieve Coat, and the Comfort Zone Calming Vest. While they are not guaranteed to work, many dog owners have had great results with these unique products.
5. Make Sure Your Home is a Calming Place for Your Dog
It is easy to forget that our dogs spend more time in our homes than we do. The home should be a place where your dog can feel calm and safe at all times. Avoid loud and booming noises that scare your dog, such as excessively loud music and movies. If you do not want your dog on your furniture, make sure you provide plenty of soft surfaces where they can rest, like dog beds.
When visitors come into your home, let your dog greet them in a calm way that is at a pace the dog is comfortable with. Remember, your home is also your dog’s home, so it should be their sanctuary, just as it is yours.
6. Desensitize Your Dog to Anxiety-inducing Triggers
If certain objects, people, or situations seem to trigger your dog’s fear and anxiety, you can use counterconditioning to desensitize them to these triggers.
After you have identified the trigger, you can slowly and safely expose your dog to that trigger and reward relaxed and calm behavior with treats, toys, rubs, and positive affirmations. For example, if your dog becomes extremely anxious whenever you vacuum the house, try exposing the dog in a slow and comfortable way to the vacuum while it is off. Reward the dog for going near the vacuum until it no longer fears the object. Then, do the same while the vacuum is turned on but not moving. Once this is no longer anxiety-inducing, try doing so while moving the vacuum.
This type of counterconditioning can really help with situational anxiety of all types. If you would like help identifying anxiety triggers and want to learn how to develop a counterconditioning program, one of our online veterinarians would be happy to help!
7. Consider Anti-anxiety Medication When All Else Fails
For severe cases of anxiety, there are anti-anxiety medications that can be beneficial. While prescription medications should be seen as a sort of last resort, they can help.
If you fear your dog’s anxiety is too severe for non-medicated treatments, you can speak with a Hello Ralphie online veterinarian. Our virtual vets will go over all of your options and discuss the pros and cons of each and every type of anti-anxiety medication that would be right for your dog.
No matter how you decide to treat your dog’s anxiety, remember to be supportive, calm, and understanding. No dog wants to feel anxious, so it is up to you to help your dog through its issues.
For more information about dog anxiety, read our Understanding Dog Anxiety Guide and take the attached dog anxiety quiz. You can also read our Preventing Dog Separation Anxiety During COVID Guide, which is an excellent resource, especially if you have concerns that returning to work after the pandemic could trigger anxiety in your dog.
As always, feel free to book an appointment with a virtual vet if you ever have any questions about treating your dog’s anxiety!