Dogs can become anxious or develop anxiety from a number of factors that are typically from life experiences; however, some dogs are just more sensitive and nervous in general. We will discuss ways to help your dog cope with anxiety and provide tips to help you modify their behavior so they feel safer and have less anxiety.
Anxiety1 is described as a feeling of worry, nervousness or agitation. It is a painful or apprehensive uneasiness of the mind, usually over an impending or anticipated threat. The bottom line is that the dog is scared and has doubt about their ability to cope with it. Dogs can feel an abnormal or overwhelming sense of fear often marked by physiological signs such as:
- Destructive Behavior
- Whining or Crying
As pet parents we often feel empathy and a sense of helplessness when we either see our dog exhibiting the signs of anxiety or see the aftermath of what they endured while we were away. It’s heartbreaking and we become fearful of them hurting themselves. It can also no-doubt be frustrating after having to get a new kennel, repair sheetrock or replace some carpeting after one of your dog’s anxiety attacks. Let’s take a deeper look into the subject and figure out what we can do to help them…and you!
There are many reasons a dog might show signs of anxiety:
- Fear or fear-based personality
Each dog is unique, as is their circumstances that brought them to their current level of anxiety or what triggers it. Regardless of what triggers the onset of anxiety in your dog, there are several ways to help them using natural and safe techniques:
- Behavior Modification
- Support Tools
Each one on its own can positively impact your dog and using a combination can really enhance the overall results much quicker. For example, find a local professional dog trainer to help you to establish a leadership role and build trust with your dog or perhaps take a refresher course to help you both remember what you’ve already learned. Behavior modification techniques and support tools can be used to help soothe and relieve your dog’s anxiety. Here are the primary support tools I often suggest:
So, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts! Here are some tips on how to help your pet with anxiety.
- Know the trigger. Is it thunderstorms, loud noises, guests in your home, separation? Whatever the cause of anxiety, understand your trigger. If you are still wondering what causes your dog anxiety, you could look into animal communication to get their perspective on things. It can be very helpful in learning how to work with your dog and get the best results. Knowing what causes the anxiety can help you prepare your dog and deter the onset of an attack.
- Create a safe place for your dog to go when he or she is feeling uncomfortable or you expect it. This is where a kennel or den-like area can be very helpful. Dogs often feel safe nestled into something secure. Create a cozy place with bedding and blankets. This should be somewhere safe within your home and somewhere they have been prior to the onset of an anxiety attack. Introduce and train your dog to go to their “den” during a time where they feel safe and secure. Do not introduce this place for the first time when your dog is already feeling anxious. Make it a fun place. Feed them here, give them treats in it, and let them go in and out on their own.
- ThunderShirts can provide a sense of security for dogs and cats. Putting it on before you expect the anxiety to be triggered is best. For example if you know your dog has separation, put the ThunderShirt on 30 minutes before you leave. Note, that you will want to have the area your dog will be in climate controlled during warmer weather. Adding a fan or having the air conditioner running will help keep your dog from becoming too warm while wearing an extra layer. (NOTE: You want to do some positive reinforcement training prior to using the Thundershirt for the first time to get them used to wearing it, similar to the example given with #2 above and kenneling.)
- Essential oils, such as Peace & Calming, can be very helpful in managing anxiety with dogs, cats and horses. Lavender can also be effective, but I have found over the years that the dogs prefer Peace & Calming and show the best
response when using it. This essential oil when inhaled and/or absorb into the body, will cause the brain to send a message to release “feel good” hormones throughout the body. This relaxes the animal and in turn lowers their heart rate. These physical reactions make it more manageable for your pet to deal with their current anxiety. So, whether they like it or not, their body will be calming down! Young Living therapeutic-grade essential oils are safe for pets and fully ingestible. It is important to use only a product that you know is safe for pets and I know and trust this brand and have been using it on my own pets and for my clients for almost 10 years. For a large dog, such as a Bernese Mountain Dog weighing close to 100#s, several drops can be applied. I would put four to five drops of oil in the palm of my hand and then gently rub onto the underside of their ear flaps or around the lobe of their ear. Also, collar diffusers can be filled with calming essential oils and snapped around your dog’s collar to slowly diffuse out the oil over time or a home diffuser can be running in the room where your dog will be located. Try to apply the oil 30 minutes prior to when you expect the anxiety to be triggered. You can apply another dosage 30 minutes later if you don’t get the results you want. Remember, when using essential oils, it is best to start with less and add more if needed.
- Visualization. Another simple technique to help modify your animal’s behavior is to practice “active visualization”. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the power of positive thinking, right? Well, let’s take this to the next level and become active and intentional about it. Active visualization is easy to incorporate into your routine simply by taking a few moments to think about what you would like the outcome to be for the current situation. If we stick with the example of separation anxiety, here’s how I would see a visualization exercise going. Take a few minutes prior to leaving to sit with your dog and imagine what a good and positive experience will look like when you go. Visualize a few milestones such as:
- Your dog calmly entering their kennel
- Licking peanut butter out of their Kong
- Relaxing and sleeping
- You returning home
Make sure that when you visualize you only include the positive experience to show him or her what a good experience looks like. Don’t include the negatives: “no crying, no busting out of your kennel, no …etc.”. This will cause confusion. It may sound strange, but your dog really will pick up on signals that you emit during this process.
- Emotional/Trauma Release Sessions. These sessions are designed to help your dog release stored stress and tension from a traumatic event using a combination of essential oils, massage and healing techniques. They provide comfort and healing in a very non-invasive way and should be performed by a trained animal massage therapist.
- Massage is not only relaxing and helps manage stress, it has a physical effect on an animal’s neurological system. Information from a sensory input is processed in the central nervous system and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and calms the sympathetic nervous system. Without getting too technical, this is important because the sympathetic nervous system is often referred to as the “flight or fight” reaction and it is what triggers anxiety. Therefore, we find cats, dogs and horses that receive regular therapeutic massages see a decline in anxious behaviors.
This is a lot of information about anxiety. Pick one or two things to start with and began to incorporate them with your dog’s routine. Ask for help from the experts – don’t feel you need to figure it all out on your own. I encourage you to be patient and consistent and provide reassurance to your dog. There is no one thing that works for every dog. Expect setbacks and applaud the steps forward for both you and your dog. Be patient with yourself too.
Thank you for all the love and support you give your animal companions. If you’re taking the time to read this article, I know that you have a special appreciation and love for them.
For more information about your specific situation, feel free to contact Animal Intuition.
Footnotes and credits:
1. Anxiety definition: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anxiety