Some pups are more anxious than others. If your dog lives with chronic anxiety, the smallest things can set them off. Car rides, dog parks and social gatherings may seem nearly impossible.
Rest assured, any dog is capable of reducing their anxiety levels in stressful situations. They can overcome anything with you by their side! Try these eight tips next time your anxious dog is faced with a triggering situation.
- Avoid your dog’s triggers: A quick fix for anxious pups is navigating around stressful situations. Learn what triggers your dog’s anxiety and do your best to avoid those stressors. If your dog gets aggressive around strangers, suggest gathering at a friend’s house instead of your own. You might also want to visit a park where there are fewer people. This strategy won’t cure your pup’s anxiety, but it can offer some reprieve as you work toward a more permanent solution.
- Pet or massage your pup: For dogs with mild anxiety, all they might need is their loving owner’s gentle touch. Petting a dog on the shoulder, chest or base of the tail releases oxytocin, a neurochemical that promotes relaxation. You could also try giving a puppy massage to relieve muscle tension and increase blood circulation. Dogs view positive physical touch as a great way to feel safe and bond with their humans.
- Limit stimuli in a safe space: Sometimes, a dog gets so stressed out, they won’t respond to your petting or soft voice. In this case, anxious pups need a safe space they can retreat to until their stress levels go down. Safe spaces should be quiet and isolated from people, like a laundry room, bedroom or walk-in closet. Equip your dog’s safe space with toys, blankets and music to mask any frightening noises. One study found that reggae, soft rock and classical music are most effective at reducing anxiety in dogs.
- Travel with pheromones: When you’re on the go, your pup won’t have access to their safe space. Venturing outside the home puts your dog at a greater risk for encountering stressful situations. Pack tools that will help calm your pup no matter where you travel. For example, a pheromone collar reduces anxiety by mimicking the scent of a nursing female dog. Some pet stores also sell pheromone diffusers that clip to your car’s air vents.
- Give them a calming vest: In addition to a pheromone collar, dogs can wear calming clothes during their travels. Calming vests, jackets and wraps are designed to reduce anxiety in dogs. They apply gentle pressure in a way that’s similar to a hug or weighted blanket. This type of clothing also satisfies the anxious pup’s need for physical touch in stressful situations. Put on the calming vest only when your dog needs it, since wearing these clothes all the time can diminish their effectiveness.
- Exercise your dog: Exercise is the ultimate stress reliever for dogs and humans alike. Any form of physical activity will release endorphins, a feel-good hormone that banishes anxiety in dogs. Plus, exercise burns off nervous energy and redirects your dog’s attention away from the triggering event. A few minutes of play time can be enough to make them happy again.
- Practice desensitization therapy: One of the most effective treatments for anxiety in dogs is to help them face their fears. Desensitization therapy gradually exposes the dog to a trigger until they become less anxious. If your dog hates car rides, start by holding them on a leash some distance away from the parked car. Once they’re comfortable with that step, coax them a little bit closer. This form of therapy requires a lot of patience and going at your dog’s pace. However, over time, desensitization can teach them to tolerate stressful scenarios.
- Seek out a veterinary behaviorist: In severe cases, pet parents won’t be able to treat the dog’s anxiety on their own. Your vet can refer you to a behaviorist who specializes in working with anxious, fearful or aggressive dogs. A veterinary behaviorist can instruct you on how to handle triggering situations. They might also lead training sessions that offer your anxious pup professional help.
Life is a bit tougher for anxious dogs. Simple activities like car rides or visiting the park can trigger a fearful response. But with proper guidance, the most anxious dogs can overcome those fears and live the stress-free life they deserve!