Anxiety in dogs is a very naturally occurring phenomenon. Some dogs seem to be anxious by nature, while others are triggered into anxiety by events like thunderstorms or fireworks.
While no pain is being done to your pooches when they’re feeling anxious, it’s understandable that you want to do all you can to lessen the burden they’re feeling in their mind.
Luckily, there are many different options available today to help your dog feel safe and secure. Let’s take a look at some common reason for anxiety in dogs and then get into some methods to reduce that anxiety.
Common Causes of Anxiety in Dogs
Loud, Deep Sounds
One of the most common events that triggers dogs into feeling anxious are loud, deep noises. These are things like thunder, fireworks, and gunshots.
When it comes to these events, most the time you can know about them ahead of time so you can be prepared. Keep an eye on the weather report, especially during the spring/summer thunderstorm seasons so you don’t get caught off guard.
For fireworks, you obviously want to expect them around New Years Eve and the weekends surrounding the 4th of July holiday. There may also be fireworks shows after some baseball games during the summer or county fairs, so you may want to be aware of those schedules as well.
When it comes to gunshots, hopefully those are coming from hunters! Rifle hunting season varies from state to state, but it typically runs from sometime in November until December/January. You may have many more gunshots prior to hunting season though as hunters target practice and sight in their scopes.
Sometimes, dogs develop fears or phobias from some sort of traumatic event that happened earlier in their life. You may not know or understand where the fear comes from and you likely never will, but you should be able to determine the triggering event. It could be interactions with other dogs, male strangers, electronic door chimes, etc.
Best Ways to Reduce Anxiety in Dogs
Regardless of what kind of the severity of your dog’s anxiety or the cause of it, there are some ways you can try to help them out.
First and foremost, your goal should be working towards curing your dog of their anxiety or lessening the extremity of it. The best way to do that is through behavior modification – here’s a great list of different techniques you can try with your own dog.
My dog Kartoffel has had anxiety of loud noises all his life. I have found that not overreacting to his anxiety or rewarding his anxiety with treats has made him much more calm over time. You may want to seek a professional dog trainer or specialist for tips on what will work best for your specific situation.
Here’s some other options/products that can help your dog cope with anxiety.
Thunder Shirt/ Anxiety Compression Jacket
Anxiety jackets are widely popular solutions to helping dogs cope with stress. The most popular brand by far is ThunderShirt, linked to above.
These jackets are safe and easy to use – simply wrap around your dog and the jacket applies a soft, constant pressure that has a calming effect just like a baby being swaddled.
This is a great option that I would recommend you trying before treats or medication. It has a ton of anecdotal success stories and is also recommended by many veterinarians and dog training professionals. It’s also quite affordable and doesn’t have the ongoing costs that medications or treats do!
Create a Safe Space
Part of what may be making your dog feel anxious during a thunderstorm is the feeling of being exposed. Many dogs may try to hide under a table or chair as a sort of “safe space” to hide and feel more secure.
It’s important that your dog have a space like this they can retreat to. If your dog is crate trained, you may find them voluntarily retreat to their crate to wait out a thunderstorm or fireworks show which is perfectly fine.
If you don’t have a crate for your dog, I highly recommend you pick one up like those linked above. This crate is mesh, lightweight, and folds down flat for easy storage. Even if you never plan on crating your dog, you can still take this out and set it up as your dog’s go-to safe space during an anxious episode.
Durable Dog Toys
If your dog is feeling anxious, chewing on a toy may help them relax more and relieve some tension. I’ve tried a good many of dog toys and created a list of the best durable dog toys I’ve used with my dogs. The one that has lasted me the longest by far is the West Paw Hurley, linked above.
It’s a pretty plain looking rubber bone of sorts, but my dogs never seem to tire of playing with it and it has lasted longer than any comparable toy.
I would avoid using anything hard like an antler for very long during a dogs anxious episode, as they may chew too long and hard to the point of hurting themselves.
Calming Dog Treats
There are many dog treats on the market that have ingredients believed to relax your dogs by providing components that promote relaxation in the brain. I don’t believe most of these components have actually been studied in pets and are likely basing their claims from research in humans, so their effectiveness may be questionable. That being said, there are hundreds of positive reviews online for the treats like those linked to above, so many dog owners believe these do have a positive effect when used.
Unlike dog medications (which we will get to below), these treats do not require a prescription from your vet and also are not tested by the FDA for harm and benefit. I would suggest you ask your vet before using any of these treats, though it’s unlikely they will harm your dog.
If your dog’s anxiety is severe, you can speak to your vet about getting prescribed anxiety medication for you dog. The nice thing about prescription medications is they have been studied and must be approved by the FDA, so you have some certainty to their effectiveness and safety.
There are two different general types of medications.
Once Daily Antidepressant
Just like humans, dogs can be prescribed an anti-depressant that will help their overall mood. These must be given once a day, every day, and take a few weeks to to kick in.
One example of such a drug is Clomicalm. If your dog has a lot of anxiety issues or is anxious in general, this type of drug might be the best option as it will help their all-around mindset.
If your dog is fine most of the time but has serious anxiety issues during certain events like thunderstorms or trips to the vet’s office, then an as-needed sedative might be the right option. One example of this type of drug is Acepromazine.
A small dose of this sedative can relax your dog and slows down their central nervous system. As a result, your dog may not be very lively or seem like themselves, but it’s likely preferable to the stressed out mindset they would have otherwise. Discuss with your vet if this is a good option or not, and they will instruct you on how to properly administer the pills.