- This post contains affiliate links. Read more here.
- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
We would do anything for our pets, which is why it can be so heartbreaking to watch them struggle with stress and fear. We might know that the thunder will pass, the fireworks are no danger, or a vet visit is for their own good—but they don’t. Cue sad whines, shaky limbs, and a whole host of other fear responses.
In trying to help your pet, you may have seen “dog calming collars” in your search. But what are they, exactly, and do they really work?
What are dog calming collars?
Ever lit a candle or put on your favorite hand lotion to give yourself a little aromatherapy? Dog collars work a bit like that—except, instead of purely scent-based treatments, they also include a chemical called pheromones.
“Pheromones essentially work like hormones outside the body by exerting a chemical influence on another living organism,” says Joseph Turk, D.V.M., a veterinarian in Palm Harbor, Florida.
For pets who experience fear or anxiety around certain stimuli, like loud noises or veterinary visits, pheromones seem to help dogs feel more safe and secure.
Before you consider investing in a calming collar, it’s important to first recognize what stress or anxiety looks like in your pet.
What anxiety looks like in dogs
Much like humans, dogs of all breeds can experience anxiety. While sometimes the cause is clear, like hiding or shaking during thunderstorms or whining during separation, it’s not always so easy to spot. The AKC lists several common symptoms of dog anxiety:
- Urinating or defecating in the house
- Destructive behavior
- Excessive barking
- Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
When it comes to treating dog anxiety, there are several methods. Training dogs to focus on their owner rather than the object of their anxiety—say, another dog—is one method. Desensitization—exposing a dog in small increments to what causes them anxiety, all while giving them a positive reward—is another method.
In the case of severe anxiety, your veterinarian may recommend medication for your pet. These could be daily medications or situation-specific ones like if you know there will be a fireworks display over the weekend.
Regardless, if you’re concerned about your pet’s level of fear or anxiety, it’s worth discussing with their veterinarian.
Dog calming collars are often an alternative for people who don’t want to use medication for their pet. Many dog owners also use dog calming collars in addition to medication prescribed by their veterinarian and behavior training.
How do dog calming collars work?
As mentioned, dog calming collars contain pheromones, a chemical that animals and insects naturally release into their environment. Dogs inhale these pheromones to feel their effects. Diffusers are a popular way of systematically providing pheromones to dogs. (Not to be confused with essential oil diffusers, which need to be screened carefully—some essential oils are toxic to pets.)
There’s still a lot to learn about pheromones, but they seem to be used for a whole host of reasons in the animal kingdom, from communication to attracting a mate. Scientists are pretty sure that they’re species-specific and may change based on circumstance.
The pheromones dog calming collars work with is often called “dog-appeasing pheromone” or DAP. “This pheromone is released as mother dogs nurse their puppies very early in life,” says Dr. Turk. “As such, it appears to aid in relaxation for some dogs.”
They’re so relaxing that pheromones seem to help ease anxiety in some dogs. One study found that dogs who were exposed to pheromones were noticeably less anxious in a veterinary hospital. Another studied beagles and found they were less nervous during simulated thunderstorms.
What to know about dog calming collars
Dog calming collars appear to be effective for some dogs and veterinarians are on board. “I’ve seen success with calming pheromone collars and diffusers in dog patients exhibiting anxiety (firework, thunderstorm, separation, etc.), inappropriate urination/defecation, aggressive tendencies, and more,” says Patrick Mahaney, V.M.D., a veterinarian in Los Angeles.
But like any treatment, calming collars don’t always work for every pet. “Sometimes we have good results with these collars, and sometimes there can be little to no difference noted,” Dr. Turk says. He adds that it could be related to the severity of the dog’s anxiety, but it’s hard to know for sure.
That was the case for dog owner Rachel. “I tried to use a dog calming collar with my rescue dog, Wilma,” she says. “Her anxiety in public places or on walks was literally unmanageable. I took her to so many training classes and used positive reinforcement every day of her life and used a collar in addition to that. Nothing helped.”
But one benefit of these collars is that there don’t seem to be any side effects. “The only negative consequence I’ve ever observed was a dog who ate one of the collars and had gastrointestinal issues,” Dr. Turk explains.
If you do decide to try a dog calming collar, keeping track of your pet’s behavior can be helpful in determining if it’s helpful. “I recommend owners create a treatment log/journal by noting the dog’s response (improved, worsened, no change, etc.) on a calendar for ongoing reference in tracking progress,” says Dr. Mahaney. In addition, Dr. Turk recommends filming your dog—since cameras are so readily available on our phones—to try to provide some objective evidence for you and your vet, too.
Popular dog calming collars
Our home tests of these calming collars yeilded mixed to disappointing results, but if you’re interested in trying a dog calming collar for your pet, these are the brands people turn to most often.
Sentry HC Good Behavior Pheromone Dog Collar (Verified Review)
Our test reviewer had an all-around negative experience with this collar, and found it had no noticeable effect on her generally always excited Boston terrier. She also noted that it had an unpleasant odor, and looked poorly made.
Verified review: “This collar in no way calmed my dog. I was disappointed that the product did not slow my dog’s roll in any way shape or form. There was jumping, barking, and whining galore. I found the smell off-putting, and the appearance cheap and tacky. I’m glad my dog didn’t try to remove or chew the collar, because it seemed toxic with its horrible smell and glowing bright plastic. The collar was also not secure and very easy to remove.”Buy Now on Amazon
Adaptil Adjustable Calming Collar (Verified Review)
Recommended for loud noises, training, kennel time, and socialization, it’s also safe to use with flea and tick topical medications.
Verified review: “It was cheaper feeling and looking than I expected, flat black plastic with no discernible differences from a regular plastic collar. I wasn’t sure if it was infused with the calming pheromones or what. My dog was patient about having it put on and didn’t seem to mind it once I had fastened it around her neck. This calming collar did not have a noticeable calming effect on my (admittedly very anxious) dog. She did not bark or whine less or seem, well, particularly calm. It was a net neutral experience for us both. It was disappointing in that it did not have a magic calming effect, but I wasn’t expecting it to do much as my dog has high anxiety most days. I was surprised by how cheap the material seemed.”Buy Now on Amazon
ThunderEase Calming Dog Collar (Verified Review)
Made by the same brand as the ThunderShirt, this collar can be useful for stress chewing, problem barking, and separation anxiety, though our test reviewer would disagree (see below).
Verified Review: “Because it’s made of rubber, we had a hard time getting it to fit our dog comfortably. Part of this is probably because as a Greyhound she has a long, skinny neck, but it would keep riding up towards her face and then she would get annoyed at it. I think I’d prefer if it came in a reusable material with an insert for the pheromones so that the collar could comfortably stretch and fit better than bulky rubber. Because it didn’t fit her well, I wouldn’t be comfortable letting her wear it without supervision, so for a dog with separation anxiety I’m not sure it’s a feasible solution.”Buy Now on Chewy
- Is My Dog Happy?
- 7 Steps to Soothe Separation Anxiety in Dogs
- 15 Signs That Your Dog Is Stressed
- 5 Behaviors That Make Dogs Nervous, and What to Do Instead