As a dog parent, your No. 1 goal is to give your pup a happy, healthy life. And that includes taking care of their mental health too. So if your dog was recently diagnosed with anxiety, or even if you suspect your pup is experiencing anxiety, you’re probably just as stressed as they are and trying to figure out what you can do to help. Here’s the good news: There’s plenty you can do, and we’re here to help you learn how to calm your dog with anxiety.
First, take a deep breath and remember you’re not alone. Dog anxiety is quite common, and comes in many forms including:
- Separation anxiety
- Noise phobias
- Storm phobias
- Travel anxiety
- Anxiety triggered by strangers
- Anxiety triggered by other animals
Some dogs also experience generalized anxiety, feeling stressed out almost all the time.
If your dog exhibits any of the common signs of anxiety in dogs, you’re probably eager to help them calm down. There are lots of tactics you can use to soothe your pup’s stress—and you don’t have to pick just one. In fact, dogs with anxiety tend to respond best to multimodal therapy, aka several forms of treatment at once. Your veterinarian can help you understand which tactics will be most effective for your dog.
Let’s look at the most effective strategies for how to calm dogs with anxiety.
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The Difference Between Anxiety and Nervousness in Dogs
Anxiety or nervousness—what’s the difference? They may sound like synonyms, but clinically speaking, a nervous dog and an anxious dog are two separate things.
Dog nervousness is the normal stress a pet feels when they hear a surprising sound or when their favorite person is preparing to leave. The stress experienced by a nervous dog is temporary, low-intensity, and typically goes away within a few minutes.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is a more intense reaction to a stress trigger. Anxious episodes can last much longer than a few minutes, and your dog’s reaction to their trigger (such as your absence or a thunderstorm) will be extreme.
Think of it in human terms: Imagine you’re preparing to go to a party where you won’t know many people. It’s normal to feel a little nervous about the experience. But someone with clinically diagnosed anxiety might respond with intense, potentially debilitating symptoms. The difference between nervousness in dogs and dog anxiety is similar.
Veterinary Treatments for Dogs With Anxiety
Dogs who are suffering from moderate to severe anxiety often require veterinary treatment. Think of this as getting help from a therapist rather than just talking out your problems with a friend. Make an appointment with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist to discuss your dog’s symptoms.
First, the vet will confirm that your dog truly does have anxiety and what type is involved. They will perform a physical examination and perhaps some basic diagnostic testing to rule out other potential causes of your dog’s behaviors, like injury or illness.
When they’ve confirmed your dog’s anxiety, they may suggest one or more of these treatments:
1 Behavior Modification
Two behavior modification techniques are commonly used as treatments for dogs with anxiety.
- Counterconditioning: With counterconditioning, dogs are taught to associate something positive with what used to trigger their anxiety. For example, a dog who becomes anxious when another dog approaches while out on a walk could learn to sit and expect a treat. With repetition, the dog no longer looks at another dog approaching as a bad thing, but as a sign that treats are on their way!
- Desensitization: This involves exposing dogs to watered-down versions of their triggers and rewarding them (more treats!) for remaining calm. As they become less anxious, you can gradually increase the intensity of their triggers as long as they stay relaxed. For example, dogs with separation anxiety may start becoming anxious when they pick up cues that their people are about to leave home. To start desensitizing your dog to the sound of jingling keys, you could carry your keys around the house for a little while and then put them down and never leave the house.
Your veterinarian can recommend a behavior modification plan based on the specifics of your dog’s case.
2 Anxiety Meds for Dogs
Behavioral treatments are designed to teach your dog how to react more calmly to their triggers. But many anxious dogs cannot relax enough to be open to learning new ways to behave. When a dog is in full-on panic mode, they’re simply in no position to make rational choices.
In these cases, prescription dog anxiety medication is usually necessary. Several different types are available, and your veterinarian can recommend safe and effective anxiety meds for dogs based on your dog’s needs and overall health. Examples include:
- Reconcile (fluoxetine) is a serotonin-reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) that raises levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, a hormone that promotes your dog’s feelings of well-being, in the brain.
- Clomicalm (clomipramine) is a tricyclic antidepressant medication that works, in part, by increasing brain levels of serotonin and a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine that affects your dog’s stress levels.
Both of these drugs have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat separation anxiety in dogs, but can also be prescribed for other types of anxiety.
Many dogs can be weaned off their medications as their anxiety improves, but some do require lifelong treatment.
DIY Treatments for Dog Anxiety
It’s always a good idea to check in with your vet about any health issues your dog may have. But there are lots of ways you can help your pup on your own, too. Here are some of the most common DIY techniques for calming dogs with anxiety. Also, check out this list of the best calming aids for dogs as rated by pet parents like you.
1 Avoid Their Triggers
To reduce your dog’s anxiety, avoid the things that make them anxious. Sure, it might sound obvious, but there’s more to it than you might realize. Think of your dog’s anxiety like a muscle: The more they use it, the stronger it gets—and the harder it becomes to stop it. This is one of the reasons why anxiety tends to worsen over time if it is not addressed.
But the opposite is true too: When they get less “practice” at being anxious, it can actually reduce the stress response they have when they are confronted with their triggers.
So how do you know what your dog’s triggers are? In some cases, it’ll be obvious: Dogs who are afraid of thunder will hide and shake during thunderstorms, for instance. For others, you may need to do a little detective work. When you notice signs of anxiety in your dog, ask yourself: What’s different? Did someone new enter the room? Am I preparing to leave the house? Did a delivery truck just roll by? Make note of anything you think may be causing their stress, then watch your dog the next time that circumstance happens again. If they act anxious each time, there’s a good chance that’s an anxiety trigger for your dog. (If you’re still not sure, or suspect your dog may suffer from generalized anxiety without a specific trigger, consult your vet or a veterinary behaviorist.)
When you know your dog’s trigger, the next step is to avoid them. For dogs with separation anxiety, for example, make sure they have company at all times, at least until their treatment has started to work. (Remember: Dogs with anxiety respond best to multiple methods of treatment, so you’ll want to pair this step with other measures, such as the ones below.) You might need to look into doggy day care or a pet sitter or see if your dog can accompany you at work. Thankfully, these inconveniences should be temporary.
Unfortunately, some triggers, like thunderstorms or loud noises, are harder to predict and therefore harder to avoid. But if you know that a storm or fireworks display is about to occur, you can use white noise or music to partially mask the sounds—music for dog anxiety is even available.
2 Over-the-Counter Relief
Calming dog anxiety products can be a great help for dogs with anxiety—and as an added bonus, they typically work quickly. These are among the most common:
- Pheromones: Sprays containing dog appeasing pheromone, such as Adaptil Calming Spray, send the same messages that mother dogs use to comfort their puppies. (Imagine it comforting your dog just like your favorite homemade dish from childhood.) Consider dog-appeasing pheromone collars or diffusers for long-term use.
- Dog Anxiety Vests: Another form of rapid relief is provided by dog anxiety vests, like the ThunderShirt, that work by wrapping dogs in reassuring, deep pressure.
- Homeopathic Solutions: A wide variety of calming products take the homeopathic approach, such as Rescue Remedy, which includes calming ingredients from flowers like cherry plum and clematis. Isle of Dogs Everyday Essentials 100% Natural Chillout Dog Treats use lavender to help your pup chill out.
Other over-the-counter treatments for dogs with anxiety need to be administered for a few weeks before you’ll see their full effect. These include:
- Probiotics: Veterinarians and pet parents report success using Purina Calming Care (a probiotic)
- Supplements: Calming nutritional supplements, like Composure also have high rates of success, according to vets and pet parents.
- Specialized Diets: Royal Canin Comfort Care dog food provides complete and balanced nutrition and is specially formulated to help dogs with anxiety.
3 Care and Keeping Tips
Did you know you can train your dog to be less anxious? It’s true! Try these tactics:
- Praise them when they’re calm. Be sure to provide your dog with lots of love and attention when they are relaxed. If you catch them staying calm when presented with a situation that typically makes them anxious, hand out lots of praise and treats. You may be surprised at how much of a difference your encouragement can make!
- Distract them with something delicious. Some dogs with milder anxiety can be distracted by a food dispensing toy, particularly if it doles out something truly irresistible. This is a great way to help your dog stay calm when you can’t avoid their triggers.
- Give them plenty of physical activity. Don’t overlook the anxiety-relieving benefits of exercise. A tired dog is a happy dog, after all. But before you embark on a full-scale workout regimen, talk to your veterinarian first, especially if your dog is out of shape.
Preventing Dog Anxiety in the Future
Stay in touch with your veterinarian after your dog’s treatment is underway. It’s not unusual for their anti-anxiety plan to have to be tweaked from time to time, but you should start seeing improvement after a few weeks. Follow these general guidelines to help prevent flareups of dog anxiety in the future:
- Do not change dog anxiety medications or other forms of treatment without first talking to your veterinarian.
- Always reward your dog for remaining calm in any situation that could trigger anxiety.
- Never force your dog into a situation that causes them stress. Take it slow!
- Try to avoid sudden changes to your dog’s schedule. Dogs are better able to adapt to change when it occurs gradually.
- Work on socializing your dog, aka introducing them to new people, places and experiences, as long as it can be done in a positive manner. Find out more about dog socialization.
How to Calm Dogs With Anxiety: FAQ
How can I calm my dog’s anxiety naturally?
How can I calm a dog with storm anxiety?
How can I calm a dog with severe anxiety?