10 things that may help calm a dog with anxiety, according to a veterinarian and dog trainers
- Dogs with anxiety may benefit from enrichment toys, supplements, and other supplies.
- Consulting a veterinarian, veterinary behaviourist, or professional dog trainer is the best way to help a dog overcome anxiety, but a variety of products may help manage the problem.
- To round up recommendations, we spoke with Dr. Karen Sueda, a veterinary behaviourist, and Malena DeMartini-Price, a specialist in dog separation anxiety.
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Like all animals, dogs can experience a variety of forms of fear, stress, and anxiety. Some pups are terrified of fireworks or construction noise. Others panic when encountering strangers or when they are left alone.
While fear triggered by scary experiences or a lack of early exposure to sights and sounds can be extremely debilitating for some dogs, most are more likely to encounter milder forms of stress and anxiety at some time in their lives. For pups who experience occasional low-grade fear, toys, supplements, and other supplies may help. While these products aren't a substitute for visiting a veterinarian, veterinary behaviourist, or dog trainer, they may help manage anxiety, especially when used in conjunction with training.
With the help of two experts and drawing from my own experience as a certified professional dog trainer and certified separation anxiety trainer, we've come up with a list of toys, supplements, and supplies that may help to calm a dog who is experiencing mild anxiety due to noise sensitivity, changes in the home, and other triggers.
For a veterinary behaviourist's perspective, we consulted with Dr. Karen Sueda, a veterinarian at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital in Los Angeles. World-renowned dog trainer and author of "Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs," Malena DeMartini-Price provided us with her expertise from more than 20 years working in the field.
It's important to note that when working with an anxious dog, devices that cause pain or prevent a dog from practicing a natural but unwanted behaviour are never the solution. Equipment like prong collars and e-collars/shock collars are not just dangerous, they are likely to create more fear, not less. If you think your dog is experiencing fear and anxiety severe enough to warrant these devices, it's best to reach out to an expert immediately.
"If we address the dog's anxiety early with good advice, then we address the problem at its milder stage," said Sueda, instead of when it is more developed and harder to overcome. DeMartini-Price agrees. "Anxiety is something that can blossom and get worse and worse and worse," she said.
Our experts also do not recommend turning to CBD products to calm an anxious dog primarily because there have not yet been any studies about their effectiveness. "Once we have the research, we may find that it really does help, but the hard part is we don't know any adverse effects yet," said Sueda.
For dogs that are experiencing mild fear or stress in unfamiliar environments and everyday situations, these 10 products may help:
A vet-approved over-the-counter supplement to help relieve stress
Dr. Sueda recommended nutraceuticals like Virbac's Anxiatane, which is made with the green tea derivative L-theanine, as a soothing cup of tea. "There actually is some good research out there showing that [Anxiatane] can help [calm an anxious dog]," she said. Our experts agree that this product is preferable to a chew or treat that contains L-theanine among a group of other ingredients. "Sometimes those other added ingredients can change how one particular individual reacts," said Sueda.
A natural supplement derived from milk proteins to help a dog relax
Vetoquinol's Zylkene has a high concentration of calming milk proteins making it a good choice for a supplement that promotes relaxation. Though there's good research that supports the effectiveness and safety of daily or episodic use of Zylkene, DeMartini-Price said it's worthwhile to check with your vet before administering this, or any other supplement, to your dog.
A calming pheromone diffuser to decrease stress in the home
There is some good research that DAP, a synthetic pheromone that mimics the one produced by a nursing mother dog, can help to decrease a dog's stress, Sueda explained. DeMartini-Price likes the plug-in diffuser for anxiety in the home. "Using the diffuser gives us a generally even and consistent amount of product, and all I have to do is set my calendar for a month," she said of the 30-day cartridge. For the best effect, Sueda recommended plugging in the diffuser where the dog spends its time, not necessarily the place in the house where its anxiety spikes. Get the refills here.
A calming pheromone collar to help relax a dog on the go
Like the Adaptil diffuser, the Adaptil collar emits the calming dog appeasing pheromone (DAP). Unlike the diffuser, the Adaptil collar is useful for dogs whose anxieties occur outside the home. "You could try it for dogs that are [anxious] out on walks [...] or for dogs that are going to be exposed to a lot of different environments," said Sueda.
A bright orange ball to fill with treats and take your dog's mind off of their worries
Puzzle toys can help to redirect a dog's anxiety into productive play. The Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball is DeMartini-Price's favorite, especially for dogs that worry about moving too far away from their humans. "If it starts to roll a little too far away, they can pick it up and bring it back. But what we tend to see is that eventually, it's rolling down the stairs and around the corner and the dog is [having a blast]. It gives the dog a choice," she said. She recommends using the large ball no matter what size your dog is.
A classic toy that soothes as it feeds
After almost a decade in the dog training business, I still find myself recommending this basic, inexpensive food toy for every client I work with. "I think of the Kong as kind of a pacifier," said Sueda. "You can set it, give it to the dog, and forget it." Plus, she said it's a good option for pups that are strong chewers.
A remote training machine to help build a dog's resilience
This battery-operated training toy can be used to teach a dog all sorts of skills without relying on the humans to make good things happen. "I'm a big fan of all the toys that are of the Manners Minder type. Sometimes I think it's really valuable for the dog's learning to go away from us to receive reinforcement," said DeMartini-Price. Sueda agreed: "It's a great opportunity to help your dog learn how to cope."
A calming cap for stressful situations
Like the blinders placed over a working horse's eyes to narrow their vision, a calming cap can help a dog to relax in the car or outdoors by removing some of the visual stimuli, according to Sueda. "If we take away one sensory experience, it may help to reduce the scariness of an object [or environment]," she said. Even just "having something over the dog's eyes is calming." The dog can still partially see through the cap, but it dulls the vision. Just be sure to introduce a calming cap gradually. Taking away a portion of a dog's sight without desensitising them to the calming cap can cause them to panic.
A tight-fitting jacket for soothing mild anxieties
A ThunderShirt wraps around the body producing a swaddling effect that may bring some relief for stressed-out dogs. Dr. Sueda recommends trying the wrap for mild anxiety, including car rides, low-grade noise phobias, and fear around visitors. Be careful about using the ThunderShirt for more significant stressors, though. Putting the ThunderShirt on a dog with separation anxiety before you leave the house, for example, can quickly turn the product from stress-relieving to fear-inducing. "It's probably something I'd only use in mild situations or in conjunction with a training approach," said Sueda.
A white noise machine to block out external sounds that may frighten your dog
For dogs who are sound sensitive, DeMartini-Price recommends white noise. Unlike music, radio or television, white noise machines "can create sort of a blanket of noise protection because [the sound] is not so variable," she said. A dog who is unable to hear distracting or frightening noises is more likely to relax.
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