Dogs often experience anxiety as a result of fear. While many of the things that dog’s tend to fear are not actually worthy of their worries, a perceived threat is a threat nonetheless. So in order to help your dog be less anxious, you have to work on eliminating the dog’s fear, first. For example, when I first got my dog, he was spooked by the TV. The noises and voices confused him and he’d bark anxiously every time I turned the TV on. After many months of giving him treats and reassuring pats on the back during TV time, he finally realized that whatever is going on with the TV won’t affect him. But in other instances, my dog’s anxiety is a lot harder to challenge with exposure therapy. For example, ever since my dog was a puppy, he’s suffered with separation anxiety. Now that we’ve been living together for 10 years, you’d think he’d understand that when I leave, I always come back.
Alas, with dogs, certain fears and deeply embedded into their psyche. So, in situations that are hard to avoid or repair, like leaving a dog alone, or dealing with an upset dog during a thunderstorm, there are certain activities, products and methods you can do to reduce the amount and extent of anxiety they experience. Here I’ve put together a list of some of the top ways to help your dog feel less anxious. Combine them all together or test them out one-by-one to see which your dog responds to the best. For me, turning on some calming music and giving my dog some puzzle treats helps him to stay calm when I leave him alone. It might take a lot of trial and error, but staying calm, keeping your dog exercised and making a ritual out of these methods will help to minimize your dog’s irrational fears.
Remember that you’re the alpha and that your dog looks to you for guidance. If you react to your dog’s anxiety with more anxiety, you’re not sending the right message. Instead of getting stressed out by your dog’s energy, take a deep breath, relax your posture, and stay calm. Set a strong and controlled example by speaking in a non-frantic tone of voice, and stay steady.
According to “dog whisperer” Cesar Millan, at least half of a dog’s day should be comprised of physical activity. If your dog is properly exercised, they have less energy to fuel their anxiety. If your dog has separation anxiety, make sure they have a long or strenuous walk before they’re left alone. If your dog gets anxious around new people or in public places, make sure you exercise them first.
Just in the same way that certain kinds of music relaxes humans, certain kinds of music relaxes dogs. If you do a simple search on Youtube, you can find playlists that are hours long and devoted to calming down your pup. If your dog is anxious in the car, play this music on your road trips together. If your dog is anxious alone, leave this music on when you leave the house. Studies show that these simple and melodic arrangements give dogs something positive to focus on which can mellow them out and make them sleepy.
When your dog appears fearful or anxious there are all kinds of doggy massages that can help to calm the nervous system. By simply running your hand from the base of your dog’s neck to the base of your dog’s tail, you can help them calm down and focus on the sensations. Some dogs also respond well to ear massages, and gentle squeezes.
Part of keeping your dog calm is keeping your dog busy. Whether you’re about to leave them home alone, a thunderstorm is rolling in, or a new guest is visiting, keeping your dog distracted is a great way to keep them distracted from their own anxiety. Get your dog a toy that acts as a puzzle, releasing treats sparingly and with only certain maneuvers.
If you’ve tried everything and your dog’s anxiety won’t wane, you should talk to your vet about the possibility of prescription medication. If your dog’s anxiety is getting in the way of their health or well-being, your doctor might suggest an anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication for regular use.