Let me give you a little quiz.
Your answers might tell me a little about you, but they will tell me a great deal about your dog.
🌩️How do you feel when you see a storm approaching?
🧨What kinds of preparations do you make for New Year’s Eve or July 4th?
🚗Does leaving the house to go to work make you sweat?
People with anxious dogs answer these questions much differently than people who live without dog anxiety.
We often think of dogs as carefree, tail-wagging companions.
That's how dogs are much of the time.
But the truth is that over 72% of dogs show some signs of anxiety related behavior. And because we adore our furry pals, that colors how we think of and prepare for events that make our dogs anxious.
Let’s dive into the best ways to deal with dog anxiety.
What does dog anxiety look like?
An anxious person might bite their nails, jiggle their feet, get sweaty hands, and get an unpleasant sensation in their guts. 😬
Dog anxiety displays itself in a variety of ways, too.
Bark or whine
Shake or tremble
Display destructive behavior like digging, chewing, or scratching at doors and windows to get to their human
Show aggression toward people or other animals or when a person comes between the dog and the source of the aggression
Urinate or defecate in the house
Being anxious is NO FUN for anyone!
Now that you know what it can look like in your dog, let’s look at what could be causing all this unpleasantness.
What causes dog anxiety?
Most dog anxiety has its root in one of five areas. Each root cause of anxiety in dogs produces similar behaviors, but for different reasons.
Dogs are social beings who are emotionally attached to their people, so dogs don’t usually relish their alone time. But for some dogs, being separated from their people causes severe behavioral reactions and emotional distress.
Anxiety can be produced from exposure to a past trauma. Whether that’s from being in a shelter, turned in to rescue, mistreatment, or being exposed to an unpredictable or unstable environment. The memories of these traumatic events can cause anxiety for some time after their home lives become loving and stable.
Illness or Age Induced Anxiety
Advancing age often comes with many unpleasant side effects that can make any pup anxious. The loss of hearing or sight can make older dogs startle easily. Many older dogs can experience cognitive decline where memory, perception, learning, and awareness begin to fade. Understandably, these conditions can cause anxiety in senior dogs as they often do in older people.
Illnesses and disease can also create anxiety such as:
Thyrotoxicosis or Grave’s Disease
If you see symptoms like weight gain, hair loss, lethargy, clumsy gait, excessive thirst, or the appearance of cataracts, contact your veterinarian to rule out these illnesses.
Another culprit may be over vaccination, particularly of rabies vaccinations. A homeopathic veterinarian may be able to help if you suspect this to be the case.
Social or Situational Anxiety
Plain ol’ ordinary fear of unfamiliar people, places, or things like loud noises are anxiety provoking for some dogs. Thunderstorms, fireworks, car rides, and trips to the vet are common fears for dogs. Often these fears can be helped with training, but becoming aware of the cause of your dog’s anxiety is key.
Sometimes the cause of your pup’s anxiety isn’t understood. They may be genetically predisposed to suffering from anxiety. Certain breeds are more prone than others.
It could be that a traumatic event occurred that you didn’t know about or recognize. Anxious behaviors are often so subtle that they can be mistaken for a simple breed characteristic.
How can I calm my dog’s anxiety?
Fortunately, there are lots of things you can do to treat dog anxiety. After your vet has ruled out any illness or disease as the cause, begin with natural remedies first.
Calming Anxiety Naturally
Many veterinarians will prescribe medications also used for human anxiety like SSRIs, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines. While there are some cases where these medications are necessary, I encourage you to try methods that don’t have any harmful side effects first.
Here are some effective methods to try:
Dr. Edward Bach, an English medical officer, discovered the power of plant medicine in treating soldiers dealing with shell-shock in the 1930s. He discovered through research on thousands of plants that the essence of certain flowers helped to restore emotional balance to his patients.
Today, flower essences are widely used for many different uses including dealing with anxiety. They can be safely used on both people and animals since they are non-toxic and have no side effects.
Flower essence blends can be quite effective for all kinds of stressful situations like going to the vet or groomer, changes in routine, or for separation anxiety. To learn more about flower essences, click HERE.
Research shows that CBD may increase serotonin in the brain, a natural mood stabilizer. It’s great for dogs with situational anxiety as it works fairly quickly.
If you’ve ever enjoyed the calming effects of a cup of chamomile tea, you’ve experienced the power of herbs. Herbs can have the same effect on dogs. Some good herbal remedies for anxiety include:
Chamomile – its soothing effects help ease nerves and calm an upset stomach.
Valerian – a widely used herbal sedative that promotes physical relaxation. Great for dogs who get over-excited or before stressful events.
St John’s Wort – a gentle, safe alternative to antidepressants. It’s great for fear-based anxiety like loud noises or separation anxiety.
Essential Oils, Pheromones, Aromatherapy
Certain smells can be a very effective way to calm dog anxiety. In fact, a recent study done by the NIH found that certain pheromones used in a hospital setting – a stressful place for all – reported that pheromones “decrease separation-induced anxiety, distress, and fear in inpatients, and possibly facilitate recovery in hospitalized dogs.” Amazing!
A caution if using oils, pheromones, or aromatherapy: never use these products directly on the dog, allow the dog to swallow them, or use them in full strength. Use a diffuser or spray a diluted solution on bedding or in the air.
Intuitive Communication for Better Understanding
Unless your dog was born in your own home, you really have no idea what happened to your dog before they found their way to you.
If you have an anxious dog, it may be very helpful for you to know their backstory. Animal intuitives and animal communicators have special abilities to connect telepathically with animals and can communicate with them to find the root cause of their anxiety.
Having an understanding of why your dog behaves the way they do can go a long way to help you be proactive in keeping your dog away from stress triggers.
The insight you gain as a pet parent calms your own fears and allows you to deeply connect with your anxious dog. Being heard and seen is validating and reassuring for your pup and can be the catalyst you need to resolve your dog’s anxiety at its core.
As a part of my practice called Partnership Energetic Transmission (P.E.T.), I’m able to see a dog’s backstory in images, almost like a movie. If you’re interested in learning more, click HERE.
Behavioral Training to Calm Dog Anxiety
Can you train your dog out of being anxious? Sometimes, yes! At the very least, using the following techniques may help your dog cope with anxious situations a bit better.
You’ve heard of this technique to help people overcome phobias by being exposed to their fears a little at a time, very G E N T L Y.
Desensitizing your pup works in much the same way.
The key is to take baby steps toward the fear, then reward for a job well done. Keep moving forward until your pup gets the idea that this trigger isn’t so bad, after all!
Enrichment and Exercise
Both enrichment and exercise are important for the mental and physical health of your pup, but they’re also great tools to use during stressful events. For example, if your dog is afraid of loud noises, take your dog for a nice, long walk before the fireworks begin popping on the 4th of July.
And during the festivities, play some white noise and keep your doggo occupied with a food puzzle, treat dispensing toy, snuffle mat, or other dog puzzle.
Feel empowered that you can treat your dog’s anxiety naturally!
Of course, always check with your vet if your dog displays signs of anxiety.
In the meantime, these natural methods are a great place to start and complement other methods that may be prescribed by your vet.
The Healthy Animal Healing Center specializes in offering holistic, natural approaches to tackling dog anxiety. We offer a wide variety of flower essences, CBD, enrichment toys, and energetic healing modalities. Visit our website or contact us for more information about treating your dog’s anxiety naturally.