You love your dog just as much as you love every other member of your family. Watching your dog exhibit anxious behaviors can be challenging, especially since you can’t ask them how they’re feeling and talk them through the moment.
Here’s what you can do to ease your dog through tense or stressful situations and help them feel better naturally.
What Causes Dog Anxiety?
True anxiety is a medical condition. Past traumatic or stressful experiences can provoke a response from the brain similar to the “fight or flight” response. The brain perceives a situation as dangerous or scary, and the mind and body respond to the situation as though the stakes for safety and survival are very high. It doesn’t necessarily matter if the situation is truly dangerous or not. It’s all about your perception of the situation.
Dogs experience anxiety similarly to people, but their triggers are often different. For example, your dog isn’t going to feel anxious about public speaking or a response to a job application. Your dog might respond with anxiety in situations specific to their lives.
Common triggers for dog anxiety include:
- Unfamiliar animals, people, or places
- Separation from their human family members or pet siblings
- Sudden loud noises like storms
- Car travel
- Fear of potential abuse or neglect (especially in rescued dogs)
How Can I Tell If My Dog Is Anxious?
Dogs can express anxiety in different ways. Some dogs become very clingy when anxious, especially if they have a very secure bond with their caregiver. Other dogs may prefer to hide by running under a bed or behind the couch.
Many anxious dogs will whine and vocalize. Growling or snarling can sometimes indicate anxiety rather than aggression.
Anxious dogs tend to put their tail between their legs, lower their heads, and adopt a submissive posture. When afraid, dogs sometimes feel that demonstrating that they are not a threat can help to keep them safe.
What Is the Difference Between Anxiety and Environmental Stress?
Anxiety is a general state where emotional tension is very high. There may not always be an apparent cause or trigger for anxiety. It can sometimes happen without warning and is often difficult to soothe. Some dogs may act anxious, but only at certain times.
Changing the environment or the circumstances can lead to complete relief from symptoms. That’s the difference between anxiety and environmental stress.
If your dog only seems distressed during thunderstorms or car rides, their reaction is to a specific fear or uncertainty. If they’re fine when they’re out of the car or when the storm stops, it’s just a matter of waiting things out. Environmental distress is relatively normal and can be relieved in the same way you’d help your dog through an anxious moment.
What Are Some Natural Remedies for Dog Anxiety?
If your dog’s behavior indicates they’re anxious, here’s what you can do to help them navigate their feelings. Consistency is key to seeing an improvement in your dog’s general levels of anxiety.
1. Avoid Situations That Make Your Dog Anxious (When Possible)
If you know your dog is afraid of fireworks, don’t host a Fourth of July cookout or bring your dog to a friend’s holiday celebration. When it’s easy to avoid the trigger that makes your dog upset, distressed, or anxious, the best solution is to do just that.
If your dog feels overwhelmed in crowded dog parks, you don’t have to take them to one. Try going for a leisurely trail walk together on a dog-friendly hiking trail on a weekday. You’ll be less inclined to run into large groups of dogs, and the other dogs you encounter will be walking with their pet parents rather than playing rambunctiously.
You won’t always have the luxury of protecting your dog from things that upset them — like a thunderstorm — but avoiding voluntary situations that may upset your dog can reduce the amount of overall stress they experience.
2. Comfort Your Dog Through Tense Moments
It’s important for pet parents to understand when their dog wants comfort and when they want their space. If your dog is growling, cowering, snarling, or posturing defensively, you shouldn’t approach them. People and animals may lash out when scared, even if they don’t mean to. You don’t want anyone to get hurt.
If your dog seems to be seeking comfort or reassurance for you, provide it. Don’t provide it in the form of treats or special snacks, as this may coddle your dog. They’ll associate anxious situations with an opportunity to extort as many treats as they want from their gullible owner and may feign anxious behavior just because they smell bacon cooking.
Provide comfort with reassuring words and gentle touch. Allow your dog to stay near you. Research strongly suggests that your dog views you as their parent. When a child has a bad dream or sees a scary movie, being within proximity of their protector might make them feel safer. Your dog will feel similarly.
Don’t make a big deal of the situation, as this can heighten your dog’s reaction. Instead, project calmness. Speak softly and slowly, and reiterate that everything is okay. You might wind up with a “velcro pup” stuck to your side for the next few hours. If your presence seems to ease their stress, let them stick around.
3. Give Your Dog a Productive Distraction
Some dogs experience temporary environmental distress during car rides or when you have guests in your home. Try giving your dog something else to focus on during these moments. If something captures their attention and interest far more than the distressing situation, they may be able to work out their feelings on their own.
Puzzle toys are a great solution. If you have a food-motivated dog, save a special treat for moments when you really need to draw your dog’s focus away from a situation. Many dogs love peanut butter, and if they only get a small amount of all-natural, unsweetened peanut butter on special occasions, it’s unlikely to impact their health.
Try putting some peanut butter in a puzzle toy. Your dog’s sense of scent is one of the most powerful senses in the entire world.
They’ll know that there’s peanut butter somewhere nearby. If your dog wants that peanut butter, the sweet treat in their puzzle toy will completely occupy their attention. They won’t stop until they get it, and it could be a while.
By the time your dog licks their puzzle toy clean, the distressing situation might be over. Even if it isn’t, they may have become so distracted by their peanut butter side quest that they’re no longer very concerned with the source of their stress. Snacks really can make everything better.
4. Keep Things Low Key (and Keep the Keys Quiet)
Your dog might not like it when you leave the house, especially if you work long hours. They may feel anxious or afraid because they don’t understand if or when you’ll be coming back, even though you always return.
If you’re going to a dog-friendly place, consider bringing your dog. Many dog-friendly establishments, like restaurants and coffee shops, offer patio seating for guests who want to bring their pets. Your dog won’t have to miss you if they’re along for the ride, and it might be a great opportunity to help your dog make new friends.
Most workplaces aren’t pet friendly and won’t allow you to take your dog. This is where things get tricky — we’d all love to retire early and hang out with our dogs all day. Until that’s possible, you need to find a way to leave the house without provoking an anxiety response from your dog.
If you have an elaborate morning routine that creates a lot of noise, your dog will associate the actions of your routine and the sounds you make with your inevitable departure. They may start to work themselves up. Simplifying your morning routine can make life easier for both of you.
Setting your clothes out ahead of time and getting dressed behind closed doors will make the “getting ready” portion of your morning a little more discrete. If you prep your breakfast beforehand, your dog won’t be alerted to your inevitable departure by the sounds and smells of food cooking in the kitchen.
When it’s time to go, discreetly slip out of the house. As much as you want to stop and say goodbye to your dog, doing so exacerbates their anxious feelings. Things always seem a little more intense when you make a big deal out of them. Keep things low-key and make a quiet exit.
Desensitization can sometimes calm dogs who stress out over things that happen often. Dogs who are afraid of other dogs can only learn that some of those dogs may be great new friends if they can socialize with them. Dogs who fear car rides won’t understand that travel often ends in fun destinations unless you take them on exciting trips.
Desensitization should happen slowly. You should never place your dog in an intense, scary situation and allow them to navigate it alone. This can lead to your dog acting out, potentially injuring themselves, a person, or another dog. Slow and steady exposure is the best course of action.
If your dog gets anxious in the car, take them on short trips. In the mood for a burger? Take your dog on a quick drive-through run. Your dog will begin to realize that the car can be fun.
If your dog gets nervous around other dogs, find a suitable playmate. If a friend or family member has a dog that’s gentle with other dogs, make that dog the top contender for your pet’s new best friend. Introduce them on neutral territory for short periods of time until your dog realizes that the other dog doesn’t pose a threat.
It’s a good sign when your dog plays or lies with another dog. It signifies that they understand that friendships with other dogs can be rewarding.
Can I Use Supplements to Treat My Dog’s Anxiety?
Anxiety is a legitimate medical condition. It’s more than just feeling wound up. It’s a response from the brain that can make everyday situations feel more challenging. If your dog is living with chronic anxiety, you shouldn’t attempt to medicate it on your own.
Human medications and relaxation aids may not work the same way for animals. Some things that are perfectly safe for humans may not be safe for dogs. Dogs process things differently, and even a tiny amount of something that works for you could harm your dog.
Can I Use Supplements to Manage My Dog’s Temporary Environmental Distress?
If your dog only feels stressed out in specific situations, supplements may help. CBD has been demonstrated to promote a calm mood in dogs during situations like thunderstorms or celebrations with fireworks.
In Conclusion: Dog Anxiety Can Be Effectively Managed
You’d go to the moon and back to keep your dog happy, healthy, and comfortable. When your dog is anxious or stressed out, they’re counting on you for guidance and support. Leading by example, avoiding anxiety triggers when possible, and being patient are all important parts of naturally managing your dog’s anxious feelings.