- Watch for the signs — Anxiety can manifest in many forms; look out for the common symptoms such as aggression, shaking, panting, and whining.
- No one-size-fits-all solution — Dogs develop anxiety for several reasons and there may be some trial and error as you identify the source and treatments.
- Stick to it — Regularity and persistence are the keys to preventing anxiety and countering bouts when they do arise.
Our canine companions are more human than you might think. Like us, dogs are multidimensional, complex creatures. They too have a wide variety of emotions and mental states that can be influenced by their upbringing, environment, and other factors.
That means our pups are also susceptible to developing not-so-inviting conditions like anxiety.
If left untreated, anxiety can take its toll on your pup’s health, spiraling into chronic behavioral issues or serious medical conditions. If you suspect your dog may be anxious or has developed distressing behavior, review the signs and learn how to calm your dog.
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 dog 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 Livescience, 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. Have you recently moved or changed work schedules? Is your household makeup, including family and other pets, any different lately?
Age. As dogs age their state of brain cognition may see significant decline. According to the Journal of Veterinary Medical Science, 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) 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:
- Inability to sit still
- Excessive drooling
- Rapid heart rate
- Excessive yawning
- Excessive lip licking or grooming
- Decreased appetite
- Dilated pupils
- Uncontrollable urinating or defecating
- Barking or whining
- Chewing, digging, or general destructiveness
- Hiding or standoffishness
If your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms for a prolonged period of time (several days or more), consult your veterinarian as it will be important to rule out any underlying medical conditions.
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, 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. Often this type of anxiety can 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 you know your pooch gets a little paranoid, make sure to 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 weighted blankets. These items apply a tiny amount of weighted pressure designed to comfort and soothe your pooch, much in the same way a hug does. 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.
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. Accompany the touch with some cuddles or a nice muscle massage to help alleviate any stress.
If anxiety is rare, there’s a good chance you’re safe with some good ol’ snuggles. Be careful though, as overcoddling can lead to dependency and make anxiety worse when you’re not around or preoccupied to provide comfort.
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 can actually be a comforting getaway in stressful situations.
👉 It’s helpful to start crate training early in your dog’s development, since it can take up to 6 months for some dogs. Check our guide to crate training to get started with your dog.
It’s been studied that dogs with regular exercise exhibit fewer signs of fear and anxiety. What a great way for you and your dog to spend time together!
Take a long walk, run, swim, or spend time throwing the frisbee for 30 minutes a day, and you’ll likely see your dog’s anxiety (and even other behavior issues) lessen or completely go away.
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).
Similarly, toys like KONGs and chew toys keep your dog engaged and can reduce anxiety. Puzzle toys, like Lickimats, are great for mental stimulation and they help curb gluttonous pups from eating treats too quickly.
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.
Many behavior issues and distressing conditions like anxiety can be negated with effective behavioral training.
There are many types of techniques and methodologies for dog training, so ask your vet for recommendations, as they’ll have a better idea of your dog’s specific needs. But generally, a professional trainer will observe your dog’s behavior in controlled situations that induce anxiety to determine the best plan and means to rectify.
Remember, training takes time and dedication, but it’s often well worth the cost and can have lasting long-term results.
10. Calming supplements
If regular exercise and other methods don’t do the trick on their own, you might try calming supplements. Studies show that these supplements are effective at easing anxiety by reducing the levels of stress hormones (cortisol) and increasing happy hormones (serotonin).
Treatment and regularity of use depend on what type of anxiety your dog has: persistent or situational. Persistent anxiety can be treated with daily supplements, such as one of our favorites: Premium Care’s Calming Chews. Tens of thousands of pet owners rave about this #1 top-selling dog relaxant on Amazon. According to reviews, pup parents love the product for it’s natural ingredients, but more importantly, its results for curbing over-sensitive and anxious behavior.
Gentle on stomachs
Premium Care Calming Chews
Our vet also recommends Purina Calming Care Probiotic Supplements. This daily formula too has outstanding Amazon ratings, with users observing a noticeable reduction in anxious behavior in just a few days, and even more reduction over time.
👉 While pet-sized doses of CBD oil have gained popularity more recently as a supplement to help reduce anxiety, there are risks and specific means for delivery. Many vets don’t recommend it because there’s not enough research on effectiveness and safety. Learn more in our guide to CBD.
11. Anxiety medication
In some instances, your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist may need to prescribe anxiety medication. This usually means doing routine bloodwork first and then determining what drug will be most suitable. Some of the common brands include Trazodone, Fluoxetine, Alprazolam, and Clomipramine.
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.
What is a natural sedative for dogs?
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.
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.