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Anxious dog hiding under a sofa

The essentials

  • Address anxiety before it begins — Anxiety can manifest in many forms, ranging from tension to running away or avoidance. Watching for the signs early on (such as aggression, shaking, panting, and whining) can help you to help your dog more efficiently.
  • Create a custom solution for your pet — No two dogs have the same experience. Since anxiety can happen for virtually any reason, understand that your pet might need a completely custom treatment regimen or time set aside for unwinding and relaxing. 
  • Consistency is key — Regularity is essential to lowering your pet’s anxiety levels and preventing future “attacks.” Picking an anti-anxiety routine and sticking to it is incredibly helpful to your dog and can strengthen your bond.

Our canine companions are more human than you might think. Like us, dogs are multidimensional, complex creatures. They have various emotions and mental states that can be influenced by their upbringing, environment, and other factors. And, just like humans, our pets can develop anxiety disorders. If left untreated, anxiety can take its toll on your pup’s health — possibly causing chronic behavioral issues, extreme anxiety disorder symptoms, or serious medical conditions.

Learning how to calm your dog before acute anxiety sets in can promote a strong relationship and help your furry friend avoid possibly dangerous situations.

11 ways to calm your dog

Nothing shows you care more than being there for your pup during times of distress. If your dog doesn’t have any underlying medical conditions causing anxiety (such as neurological or endocrine conditions), you may be able to help calm your dog down. Here are some expert-recommended tips to battle bouts of anxiety and calm your dog.

1. Eliminate exposure to anxiety triggers

Stop the anxiety before it starts by minimizing anxiety-inducing triggers.

For instance, if you know your dog gets anxious around other pets, keep them separate from one another in different areas of the house. Slowly introduce them to toys, blankets, or other items that have the other pet’s scent so they get accustomed to the new smell, and over time, they may be able to have face-to-face meetings.

Similarly, if your dog is nervous around strangers, have a plan for when they visit. You may need to distract them with a toy or keep them in a separate part of the house for a time. This type of anxiety can often be tackled with persistent training and incremental exposure.

For loud noises in the house, like the vacuum or beeps from kitchen appliances and timers, consider keeping your dog outside while the noises persist.

👉 Many dogs have an aversion to fire. If you are having a bonfire and know your pooch gets a little stressed, keep them inside.

2. Weighted jackets or blankets

For the loud noises you can’t control, such as thunder and fireworks, many dog owners have found success with weighted jackets, such as the ThunderShirt or a weighted blanket. These items apply a tiny amount of weighted pressure designed to comfort and soothe your dog’s anxiety, much like a hug does for humans. A study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior reported that 89% of surveyed pet owners said that an anxiety wrap was at least partially effective in treating their dogs.

Since it’s an easy addition to your dog’s schedule, many owners may find that this step is a good idea to prioritize because it can easily address your dog’s anxiety symptoms.

3. Physical touch

How do I calm my dog naturally, you ask? Sometimes you just can’t substitute the real thing. If the weighted touch of a coat or blanket doesn’t do the trick, you may just have to wrap your own arms around your pup to make them feel safe and secure. You can choose to accompany the touch with some cuddles or a nice muscle massage, which can be especially helpful in extremely stressful situations.

As you comfort your dog, watch their body language for signs of lowered stress. You might also want to keep an eye out for any signs of strain or anxiety, as nervous animals can be unpredictable. Staying aware of your dog’s mood throughout this process is a helpful way to keep both of you as safe as possible.

If anxiety is rare, there’s a good chance you’re safe with some good ol’ snuggles. After all — it’s one of the best ways to soothe anxiety naturally, and it’s free!  Be careful, though, as overcoddling can lead to dependency and make anxiety worse when you’re not able to provide comfort. This can lead to a formal diagnosis of separation anxiety.

4. Create a safe space

If you’ve ever found your dog in the closet or voluntarily in the bathtub, you know they love to have a designated place in the home where they can go if they feel anxious. Often that’s a crate. Crates lined with soft blankets and your dog’s favorite toys and in an especially quiet and calm location can be a comforting getaway in stressful situations.

👉 It’s helpful to start crate training early in your dog’s development.  Check our guide to crate training to get started today.

5. Exercise

Many studies have shown that dogs who partake in regular exercise generally exhibit fewer signs of fear and anxiety . Plus, it’s a great way for you and your dog to spend time together!

Not sure where to start? The good news is it doesn’t take much! You can simply take a long walk, run, or swim. Or, try throwing the frisbee for 30 minutes a day.

Reinforcing positive behavior when you see the signs of anxiety can redirect anxious energy. You can try playing with your dog when you notice the signs, rather than stressing yourself or doing anything that can encourage them to engage in the anxious behavior. Positive reinforcement and exercise that occurs when you see signs of anxiety can support a drive in your dog to play or expend energy when anxious rather than engaging in anxious behaviors.

6. Mental stimulation

Exercising your dog’s mind is just as important as physical exercise. It’s hard to be anxious when your mind is on other things or exhausted from stimulation. Spend time trick-training and providing “jobs,” such as walking beside you or fetching items for you, to help keep those neurons firing and give your dog purpose (besides looking adorable).

7. Toys

Similarly, toys like KONGs and chew toys keep your dog engaged and can reduce anxiety in different ways. If you go this route, consider using treats with natural ingredients and stay informed about what your pup could be ingesting. Homeopathic remedies and pastes, while popular,  may not always be safe for your dog. If you’re looking to use toys to curb your dog’s anxiety and nervousness, speak to your vet first

Puzzle toys like Lickimats are great for mental stimulation and help curb gluttonous pups from eating treats too quickly. This is especially true if you use wet food in them, encouraging the dog to lick until they get to the very last crumb!

Simply break out the Lickimat whenever you start to see signs of stress. Shaking, lip-licking, and aggressive behavior can all be signs that it’s time for a therapeutic toy.

8. Sound solutions

Music is another option that’s been reported to relax dogs. In fact, there are whole companies dedicated to treating anxiety with sound! Zoundz, for instance, provides scientifically-backed soundscapes and music for dogs (and cats) that pet parents can take with them on their phone or use to block out unwanted sounds. Your pet may also benefit from professional help and white noise machines, which you can use throughout their training process and resiliency steps.

Not sure where to start? You can keep it simple. With a quick search, you can find playlists for dogs on popular streaming services, like this one on Spotify which are dedicated to elevating your dog to zenful nirvana.

9. Training

Effective behavioral training can negate many behavior issues and distressing conditions (like anxiety).

There are many types of techniques for training nervous dogs, so it can be helpful to ask your vet for recommendations. They may have a better idea of your dog’s specific needs, especially if they’ve worked with them for awhile.

Training takes time and dedication, but it’s often well worth the cost and can have lasting long-term results on your dog’s stress levels.

10. Calming supplements

Calming supplements may help if regular exercise and other methods don’t do the trick.

Studies show that these supplements (such as Valerian root) are effective at easing anxiety by reducing the levels of stress hormones (like cortisol) and increasing happy hormones (like serotonin). Before you try any sort of alternative therapies, we always recommend speaking with a veterinarian. Just because it’s natural doesn’t make it safe for your furry friend; your vet can approve and review whatever treatment regimen you plan to use for your pup.

👉 While pet-sized doses of CBD oil have gained popularity as a way to reduce anxiety, there are risks. Learn more in our guide to CBD.

Additionally, treatment and regularity of use depend on what type of anxiety-related symptoms your dog has. Persistent anxiety can be treated with daily medication or natural supplements.

11. Anxiety medication

In some instances, your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist may need to prescribe anxiety medication. This usually means doing routine blood work first and then determining what drug will be most suitable. Some of the common brands include trazodone, fluoxetine, alprazolam, and clomipramine.

Reasons for dog anxiety

Getting to the bottom of your dog’s anxiety isn’t always easy. Dogs become anxious for a multitude of reasons, ranging from interactions with other dogs and strangers to vacuums, vet visits, and cognitive issues. But according to the Merck Veterinary Manual, there are a few common threads found in cases of anxiety:

Fear. Dogs fear anything that’s perceived as a threat. It can be as real and obvious as an aggressive animal approaching or something seemingly silly, such as a leaning umbrella by the door. Some fears can even stem from your dog’s genetic makeup. According to Live Science, small breeds may lash out against bigger dogs as a self-defense response because they fear they have more to lose in an altercation.

Separation. Nobody likes drastic change, including your dog. Separation anxiety can be triggered by changes that may limit their time with you or create irregularity in an already established routine — and this may take the appearance of clinginess, aggression, or shaking. Things like a recent move, household changes, or a change in work schedule can cause separation anxiety.

Age. As dogs age their state of brain cognition may see a significant decline. According to the Journal of Veterinary Medical Science, the sense of smell, hearing, vision, recognition, learning, memory, and behavior can all be affected . As a result, stress or compulsory behavior may set in as they have difficulty navigating their surroundings. Other physical ailments from age, such as organ failure or tumors, can also cause pain and anxiety.

Other underlying medical conditions. At any age, dogs can develop certain diseases that can create or exacerbate anxiety symptoms. For instance, the American Kennel Club notes that excess hormone levels produced by the thyroid gland (i.e., hypothyroidism or metabolic disease) can cause excitability and changes in appetite . And according to the NC State Veterinary Hospital, encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, has also been linked to irritability and behavioral changes in dogs.

Symptoms of an anxious dog

Dogs show signs of stress and discomfort in a variety of ways. The most common signs of anxiety include periods of:

  • Aggression. This can look like biting or other forms of aggression (like scratching against the floor or with no particular “aim.”)
  • Shaking. This can be caused by anxiety or pent-up energy in your pup.
  • Inability to sit still. This can look different for everyone and can include symptoms like restlessness, constant shifting, and the inability to find a comfortable place to sit or lie down.
  • Panting. While this can be a sign of anxiety, it can also preclude other conditions. Consult with your vet if you aren’t clear on the cause.
  • Excessive drooling. Same as above! You may notice excessive drooling if your dog pants when they are anxious, as this can prompt salivation. However, if you aren’t sure, it’s always best to ask your vet.
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia). A rapid heart rate can be caused by anxiety and a range of other conditions. Always check with your vet if you notice a rapid heart rate that is otherwise unexplained.
  • Excessive yawning. Many pet parents might assume their pet is just tired, but excessive yawning is often a missed symptom of anxiety.
  • Excessive lip licking or grooming. Like yawning, dogs may appear to have an oral fixation when anxious. This is because licking can promote the flow of mood-regulating hormones in your dog, helping them calm down naturally.
  • Decreased appetite. Like humans, your pet may not want to eat if they are feeling anxious.
  • Dilated pupils. This can occur if your pet enters a “fight-or-flight” state of mind, which can happen during extreme anxiety.
  • Uncontrollable urinating or defecating. Stress can wreak havoc on your pet’s GI tract, possibly leading to peeing or pooping in excess.
  • Barking or whining. Your dog may attempt to vocalize to tell you something’s up.
  • Chewing, digging against the ground, or general destructiveness. This can be another attempt to distract themselves from feelings of nervousness.
  • Hiding or standoffishness. This can be a common defense mechanism for many dogs.

If your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms for a prolonged period of time (several days or more), consult your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical conditions.

Your dog can live a fear-free life

Anxiety happens — but your pet isn’t without help! There are plenty of strategies you can use to help your dog live a fear-free life. While many of the methods on this list can offer support after the anxiety has set in, there are alternative options (such as behavior modification) that can be effective as a preventative measure. Speaking with your vet is the best place to start, as they’ll be able to provide evidence-based support that works for your pet’s specific needs.

Frequently asked questions

Where to rub a dog to calm them down?

Most dogs love a good rub down, including a light massage of their legs, back, side, neck, chest, and chin. But your dog may be sensitive in certain areas of their body. Follow the American Kennel Club’s massage guide for the best techniques.

How do you massage a dog?

The American Kennel Club has a wonderful step-by-step guide to giving your dog a spa-worthy massage.

How can I calm my dog’s anxiety naturally?

Many natural herbs such as lavender, chamomile, and valerian root are used as ingredients in dog calming supplements, where they are refined and aided by other ingredients for optimal digestion. Never give your dog raw herbs. Always consult with your local vet on which calming supplement will be best for your dog based on the type of anxiety displayed.

How can I instantly calm my dog?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution that instantly calms all dogs. Start with one of the 11 methods above to see what works best for your dog.

Do hyper dogs calm down with age?

While many dogs do calm down with age because of physical wear and tear and outgrowing their puppy energy, it’s ultimately a case-by-case basis. Many adult dogs that have been bred for work and labor will act out if they do not get regular exercise.

What calms a dog?

Each dog may respond differently to different methods of soothing. Some common options include supplements, medication, behavioral therapy, exercise and specific toys that can promote a calmer experience for your pup.

Why is my dog so hyper and crazy?

Puppies and young dogs naturally have a lot of energy. But adult dogs are often hyper because they are not getting enough exercise as part of their daily routine.