How to relieve my dogs stress
Stress is a commonly used word that describes feelings of strain or pressure. The causes of stress are exceedingly varied. Perhaps you are stressed out by your job, you become nervous when meeting new people, or you get anxious when your daily routine is disrupted.
To reduce stress levels, you may seek comfort in several ways. Maybe you find solace in the company of a trusted friend. Perhaps you relieve stress when occupied by routine chores like cleaning the house. Or maybe you blow off some steam with physical exercise.
“Our dogs can become stressed too.”
Our dogs can become stressed too. Since we know how stress makes us feel, we certainly want to help alleviate our pet’s stress as well. However, our dogs do not voice their feelings, slam down the phone, or have a tantrum, so how can we tell they are stressed? The signs of anxiety in dogs are often subtle. In fact, some stress-related behaviors mimic normal behaviors.
What are some of the indicators of stress in dogs?
Pacing or shaking. You have seen your dog shake after a bath or a roll in the grass. That whole body shake can be amusing and is quite normal…unless it is occurring as the result of a stressful situation. For example, dogs are commonly stressed when visiting the veterinarian. Many dogs “shake it off” when they descend from the exam table and touch down on the ground. Dogs, like people, also pace when agitated. Some dogs walk a repeated path around the exam room while waiting for the veterinarian to come in.
Whining or barking. Vocalization is normal self-expression in dogs but may be intensified when they are under stress. Dogs that are afraid or tense may whine or bark to get your attention, or to self soothe.
Yawning, drooling, and licking. Dogs yawn when they are tired or bored, they also yawn when stressed. A stressful yawn is more prolonged and intense than a sleepy yawn. Dogs may also drool and lick excessively when nervous.
Changes in eyes and ears. Stressed dogs, like stressed people, may have dilated pupils and blink rapidly. They may open their eyes really wide and show more sclera (white) than usual, giving them a startled appearance. Ears that are usually relaxed or alert are pinned back against the head.
Changes in body posture. Dogs normally bear even weight on all four legs. If a healthy dog with no orthopedic problems shifts his weight to his rear legs or cowers, he may be exhibiting stress. When scared, dogs may also tuck their tails or become quite rigid.
Shedding. Show dogs that become nervous in the show ring often “blow their coat”. Dogs also shed a lot when in the veterinary clinic. Although less noticeable in outside settings, such as visiting a new dog park, shedding increases when a dog is anxious.
Panting. Dogs pant when hot, excited, or stressed. If your dog is panting even though he has not exercised, he may be experiencing stress.
Changes in bodily functions. Like people, nervous dogs can feel a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. When your dog urinates shortly after meeting a new canine friend, he may be marking territory and reacting to the strain simultaneously. Refusal of food and loss of bowel function are also stress indicators.
Avoidance or displacement behavior. When faced with an unwelcome situation, dogs may “escape” by focusing on something else. They may sniff the ground, lick their genitals, or simply turn away. Ignoring someone may not be polite, but it is surely better than being aggressive. If your dog avoids interaction with other dogs or people, do not force the issue. Respect his choice.
Hiding or escape behavior. An extension of avoidance, some tense dogs literally move behind their owners to hide. They may even nudge their owners to prompt them to move along. As a means of escape, they may engage in diversion activities such as digging or circling or may slink behind a tree or parked car.
How can I help my dog handle stressful situations?
In order to differentiate stress signs from normal behavior, you must be familiar with your dog’s regular demeanor. Then you can tell if he is licking his lips because he is anxious or because he wants a treat.
When relaxed, he will have semi-erect or forward-facing ears, a soft mouth, and round eyes. He will distribute his weight evenly on all four paws. Distinguishing normal behavior from stress signs will help you quickly and effectively diffuse an uncomfortable situation.
“If your dog is stressed, first remove him from the stressor.”
If your dog is stressed, first remove him from the stressor. Find a quiet place for him to regroup. Resist the urge to overly comfort him. If you want to pamper him with petting or treats, make him earn them first by performing an activity (e.g., sitting). Responding to routine commands distracts the dog and provides a sense of normalcy. It is amazing how comforting sit, down, and heel can be to a worried dog.
If your dog becomes consistently stressed, see your veterinarian. After ensuring that your dog’s behavior does not have a medical basis, your veterinarian may refer you to a trainer or veterinary behaviorist to evaluate stress-related issues. They may also prescribe anxiety-reducing medications if appropriate.
As with humans, exercise can be a great stress reducer. Physical activities like walking or playing fetch help both you and your dog release tension. It is also good to provide your dog with a safe place in the home where he can escape anxious situations. Everybody enjoys a calm place to retreat.
And, finally, remember that stress is not always bad. Fear is a stress-related emotion that prompts us to avoid potentially dangerous situations. So, stress may actually be a protector. Regardless, stress is part of everyday life for us and our dogs, so we should learn how best to deal with it.
Anxiety is not only a common trait in humans, but animals can also suffer as well. Many of the dogs in our care have anxiety — which usually stems from being abandoned by their owners and the shelter environment in general.
Just like with other unhealthy behaviors — biting, barking, chewing on everything in sight — anxiety can be treated. Anxiety can be totally cured, but sometimes it can only be managed; noticeable under certain circumstances.
If you have a dog that suffers from anxiety, this post is a must-read. We’ll outline several proven methods for supporting your anxious dog and promoting a happy healthy life.
So let’s take a look at what can cause your dog’s anxiety and the most common proven ways to calm your anxious dog.
Anxiety in Dogs
Anxiety can manifest itself in multiple ways, from whining and barking to shivering and whimpering. You may also find that your dog becomes destructive or hostile when anxious. Over time, they may lose their appetite and become completely withdrawn if the anxiety is not addressed.
The most common reasons for anxiety in a dog is abandonment, fear of being home alone, loud noises, traveling, and/or being around strange people, children, or other pets. We’ve also seen the anxiety in dogs that have been abused or neglected.
The best way to treat your canine companion is to determine the cause. Anxiety is usually evident and easily identified. Once you pinpoint the reason, you can go about treatment management.
7 Proven Ways to Calm Your Anxious Dog
1. Exercise Your Dog
If your dog has separation anxiety, the obvious way to ease their mind is to never leave them alone. That is not a reality for most pet owners, so using exercise as both a bonding time and to tire out your pet is often an easy fix!
Because anxiety can cause an excess of energy, taking your dog out to play ball or on a long walk before you leave can be helpful. Providing plenty of physical contact and talking to them during this time is also beneficial. And, like their human counterparts, exercise can help relieve stress by producing beneficial endorphins.
Check out our recent guide: How to Exercise Your Dog
2. Physical Contact
There is probably nothing more soothing to an anxious dog than its owner’s touch. Try to identify the signs of anxiety in your dog and nip them in the bud as early as possible by picking them up, cuddling on the couch, or giving them a good long petting session.
As you probably know, a massage will relax and calm even the most anxious human — did you know it also works wonders with dogs as well?! Anxiety often causes tensing of the muscles and massage therapy is one way to alleviate tension. Start at the neck and work downward with long strokes. Try to keep one hand on the dog, while the other works to massage. Over time you may even be able to identify where your dog holds its stress and just work on that one particular area.
4. Music Therapy
Music therapy has been proven to be beneficial for both humans, as well as our canine and feline friends. The power of music can be calming and relaxing while you’re home, in the car, or away from your pet. Music can also alleviate noise sensitivity by blocking the street or scary noises that bother some dogs and create anxiety.
Research has shown that many dogs prefer classical music. Harp music, often used in hospice situations, can be a natural sedative. You might try:
- Through A Dog’s Ear by pianist Lisa Spector and psychoacoustics researcher Joshua Leeds
- Noah’s Harp: Surrender by Susan Raimond
While anxiety isn’t a bad behavior per se, it can help to give your dog some time-out when they’re acting out. Isolating your pet in a safe and quiet space can help calm their frayed nerves. Maybe that space has some very quiet music playing, low lights, and/or some aromatherapy available (see below “Alternative Therapies”).
You might also try a ZenCrate for time-outs, and as a general escape pod for your furry friend. The ZenCrate was designed to help dogs with a variety of anxiety factors. It’s similar to a standard crate but it provides vibration isolation, noise cancellation (through sound insulation), reduced light, as well as comfort and security. A motion-activated sensor turns on a gentle fan when your dog enters, which helps block noise and provides a steady stream of fresh air. You can pre-program the crate with music. It comes with a removable door, so your dog can self-comfort and enter at any time.
6. Calming Coats/T-Shirts
Calming coats and t-shirts apply mild, constant pressure to a dog’s torso, surrounding a dog much like a swaddling cloth on a baby. It’s recommended for dogs with any type of anxiety induced by travel, separation, noise, or stranger anxiety.
Depending on the size of your dog, there are several brands and models to choose from. You can check out ThunderShirt Anxiety Jacket, American Kennel Club Stress Relief Coat, and the Comfort Zone Calming Vest.
7. Alternative Therapies
While there is limited evidence that alternative products can be of benefit to dogs suffering from anxiety, the products listed below are non-invasive and will cause no harm. They are therapies that can be used alone or combined with those above to be more effective. Be sure to do proper research before implementing alternative therapies, and consult with your veterinarian, too.
Rescue Remedy for Pets
Rescue Remedy is part of the Bach homeopathic line of remedies for humans. Homeopathy was founded over 200 years ago and is popular in Europe and England. (The Queen even has her own Royal Homepath.) It is based on the principle of similarity and uses plants and flower in all remedies.
Rescue Remedy Pet is comprised of 5 different Bach Flower Remedies that constitute a stress reliever. It is completely safe to use on your dog. You just add 2-4 drops directly to their drinking water. There is also a spray that you can use on pet bedding and toys.
Note: There are other homeopathic remedies that can be used on pets for specific issues, like constant barking, intolerance toward strangers, or loss of an owner. For a full list, check here.
There are dog treats that contain helpful supplements proven to help anxiety. Typically they will contain melatonin, thiamin, chamomile, L-Theanine or L-tryptophan. Some also have a ginger element to help with sensitive stomachs. These are often recommended for general and travel anxiety.
Adaptil Home Diffuser
Adaptil is basically aromatherapy for dogs! It uses pheromones to help allay fears, much like a nursing mother gives off to her puppies. It is easy to use: just plug the diffuser into the room your dog spends the most time in. The diffuser releases “dog-appeasing” pheromones, an odorless scent particular to dogs. (Humans, cats, and other pets will not smell anything.)
For puppies, you can also use Adaptil’s lightweight collar that can be worn until they’re 6 months old, which helps with the inevitable separation anxiety.
This unit combines music therapy with aromatherapy to help calm your dog by using both auditory and olfactory senses. The sound machine can play a variety of calming loops, such as a babbling brook or relaxing waves lapping at the shore, while the essential oils combine several known to be calming, like lavender, chamomile, and geranium. Good for dogs with noise sensitivity, separation anxiety, and to help them sleep through the night.
If you find that the above treatments are not the answer for your dog and their anxiety, it’s best to consult your veterinarian. There are a variety of prescription medications available for separation anxiety and destructive behavior that could be beneficial.