It's no surprise that anxiety is increasingly common in our canine companions. As humans, anxiety and stress seem to be at an all-time high, and our dogs pick up on these energies and emotions. From separation anxiety to noise phobias, obsessive behaviors, and general skittishness, anxious dogs exhibit a wide range of symptoms and behaviors that can be disruptive for both dog and owner.
While conventional medications do offer relief, many pet owners prefer to calm their anxious pups through more natural methods for overall wellbeing. The good news is there are a variety of natural ways to support your anxious pet.
While anxiety medication is sometimes necessary in severe cases, there are a variety of simple and natural methods tailored to your dog that can often soothe stress and nervous behaviors. Read on to learn how to naturally help your anxious dog from the inside out.
Symptoms of Dog Anxiety
Anxious behaviors in dogs can take many forms. Some of the most common symptoms of anxiety in dogs include:
Destructive behavior: Dogs may chew furniture, walls, dig holes in the yard, or shred household items when feeling anxious. This is an outlet for their stress.
Excessive barking or whining: Dogs may vocalize more when anxious as a way to seek attention or release energy. Whining, howling or barking for no apparent reason could indicate anxiety.
Aggression: Fear-based aggression is common in anxious dogs. They may growl, snap, or bite when feeling threatened or afraid.
House soiling: Anxious dogs may forget their housetraining and urinate or defecate indoors. They may also pace and Eliminate throughout the home.
Pacing or restlessness: Dogs may pace or seem unable to settle when anxious. They may wander from room to room, have trouble relaxing, and seem on edge.
Hiding: Dogs may hide under tables, beds or in confined spaces when anxious. They want to retreat somewhere that feels safe.
Trembling or shaking: Dogs may physically tremble or shake when extremely anxious, especially during loud noises or new experiences.
If your dog is exhibiting multiple anxious behaviors, it's important to consult your vet to discuss anxiety management.
L-tryptophan is an amino acid and a precursor to serotonin, "the happy hormone" associated with a positive mood. Foods high in tryptophan include turkey, eggs, cottage cheese, fish, and bananas.
Another option may be slow feed dog bowls with ridges, mazes, or obstacles to make your dog eat more slowly. This slower pace gives their brain more time to feel full and signals the body to start producing serotonin. Slower eating can result in a calmer disposition after meals. Look for puzzle feeders and bowls designed to slow your dog's frantic gobbling.
Exercise & Play
Getting ample exercise and playtime is crucial for relieving stress and anxiety in dogs. Physical activity helps your dog burn off nervous energy and just chill. Make sure your anxious dog gets at least 30-60 minutes of vigorous exercise per day. Activities like running, hiking, swimming, and playing fetch allow your dog to release pent-up energy and endorphins, creating a calming aura.
Engaging your dog's natural instincts with play also helps distract them from stressors. Allow your dog to chase and retrieve balls or flying discs, which satisfies their prey drive. Provide sturdy chew toys which allow them to exercise their teeth and jaws. Puzzle toys are great for mental stimulation as well. Rotating different toys will keep your dog engaged and entertained. Just be sure to supervise playtime to avoid any injuries or consumption of toy pieces. The right kinds of exercise and play will go a long way toward reducing anxiety.
Training & Mental Stimulation
Mental exercise through training is just as important for dogs as physical exercise. Obedience training and teaching your dog tricks are great ways to build their confidence and stimulate their mind. Practicing basic obedience cues like sit, stay, come, down, and heel regularly will help reinforce structure and commands. Dogs love to please their owner, and this will help strengthen your bond too.
Teaching your dog unique tricks like spinning, rolling over, crawling, or playing dead are fun ways to engage their mind. Start with simple behaviors before moving on to more complex tricks. Always use positive reinforcement like treats, praise, and play to motivate your dog during training sessions.
Puzzle toys and games are another way to activate your dog's natural problem-solving skills. Food puzzles that require manipulation to access the treats inside provide mental stimulation. Introduce puzzle toys slowly and demonstrate how your dog can interact with them.
Creating a Calm Home Environment
A dog's environment can have a big impact on their anxiety levels. Here are several changes you can make at home to help create a calming space for your anxious pup:
Provide Safe Spaces
Dogs naturally seek out dens to make them feel secure. You can create a similar safe space at home by designating a crate, bed, or corner just for your dog. Place it in a quiet area of the house and allow access at all times. Drape a blanket over the top and edges to help muffle sounds and create a den-like enclosure. Having their own designated safe space can help relieve anxiety.
Use Calming Music or TV
Soothing music or TV made just for dogs can help drown out external noises that may cause anxiety. Try playing calming dog music or turning on the DogTV channel when you're away or when your dog seems stressed. The familiar sounds can have a soothing effect.
Limit External Stimuli
Dogs prone to anxiety can be extra sensitive to loud noises, visual stimuli, and unfamiliar people or dogs. Try to limit your dog's exposure to potential stressors by keeping the blinds closed, avoiding crowded areas on walks, and turning down loud music or movies.
Try to limit your dog's exposure to potential stressors by keeping the blinds closed, avoiding crowded areas on walks, and turning down loud music or movies.
Minimizing external stimuli removes triggers that can kick anxiety into high gear.
Anxiety Wraps & Garments
Wraps and garments that apply gentle, constant pressure can help relieve anxiety in dogs. The tight pressure has a calming effect similar to swaddling an infant or using a weighted blanket.
Scientifically designed anxiety wraps and garments help safely reduce a dog's heart rate and provide comfort. The gentle pressure also supports the release of endorphins, which lowers stress.
Choose an appropriate size garment and allow your dog to get used to wearing it for short periods. Monitor for signs of improved calm and relaxation. With patient conditioning, anxiety wraps and garments can be an effective natural way to ease a dog's anxiety.
Massage therapy for dogs has many benefits for reducing anxiety. The physical touch helps relax muscle tension and lower heart rate. Massages also release endorphins which boost mood. Focus the massage on areas prone to tension like the neck, shoulders, back and hindquarters. Always start slowly and gently until your dog is comfortable. Regular massage sessions can have a cumulative calming effect.
When to Seek Professional Help
While there are many natural remedies you can try at home to ease your dog's anxiety, in some cases professional help may be needed. If your dog's anxiety is severe, chronic, or debilitating, causing a major impact on their quality of life and health, you may need to take additional steps.
Don't hesitate to seek outside help from qualified professionals if your dog's anxiety is beyond your own ability to manage. Getting the right treatment early leads to greatly improved welfare and outcomes for anxious dogs. With some patience and persistence, you can curb your dog's anxiety and help them live a more relaxed, happy life.