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Dealing with dog anxiety? You’re not alone. Anxiety isn’t fun for your pup or for you, and interest in how to handle it is on the rise. According to the Rover Cost of Pet Parenthood survey, 60% of pet parents have invested in products, training, and medications to address a pup’s anxiety.
Dog anxiety and associated behaviors can be especially tough to solve because they aren’t the root of the problem—anxiety is usually a symptom of an underlying issue. For example, your dog might be having trouble with separation, or they might be triggered by certain events like visitors or like fireworks.
If you’re not sure what your dog’s triggers are, watch for the moment when signs of anxiety start—like flattened ears, hunching, shivering, drooling, and panting. You might also see destructive behaviors like obsessive chewing, destroying items in the home, and indoor accidents. If your pup remains a mystery, a veterinarian or animal behaviorist is a great resource to help you get to the bottom of things.
Once you’ve identified your dog’s triggers, it’s a lot easier to figure out what solutions are likely to work for you. For example, pups who need help with situational anxiety—that’s anxiety triggered by particular events, like loud noises or thunderstorms—are likely to benefit from temporary calming measures, which might include pressure wraps, calming treats, or distracting puzzle toys and lick mats.
Dogs who experience generalized anxiety—nervousness around the clock—might be good candidates for pheromones and specific types of behavioral training.
Below, we explore a wide range of remedies to help you build the anxiety-busting toolkit that’s most likely to work for you and your pup.
Gear and Toys for Dog Anxiety
A lot of anxiety-reducing gear is about two things: 1) safety and 2) distraction.
For example, one way to help a situationally-anxious dog feel safe is to create a comfy, dog-designated area that’s just for your pup. It could be a room, a crate, a pen, or just a quiet corner with their favorite blanket or plush toy. When your dog’s trigger is imminent—for example, if a storm is rolling in, or if you’re about to leave the house—help your pup get settled in that space and offer a special toy, something they don’t get at other times.
The ideal anxiety toy will be something that requires some brainpower, consumes a dog’s attention for a significant amount of time, and engages their instincts. With repetition, a dog can come to associate their trigger with positive things, like a safe spot and treats, instead of scary ones.
Gear usually requires some trial and error; not every toy or safe spot appeals to every dog. But we think the experimentation is worth it, since finding the right gear is like having an ace up your sleeve—it’s a trusty solution that you know won’t let your pup down when they’re under pressure.
A dog crate is one of the simplest and most effective designated safe spots for your dog. For it to be a cozy place, your pup will need to be crate trained (something that can happen either as a puppy or as an adult). Different crates work best for different dogs, so it’s a purchase that needs some thought. For example, a puppy’s crate will ideally be accident-proof and portable, while a heavy-duty chewer requires sturdiness first and foremost.
For most adult dogs, the perfect crate will be whatever makes them feel safest, whether that’s something light and airy that lets them see their environment or an enclosed cave that offers cozy, quiet darkness. Your best guide is what your pup seeks out on their own: are they big-time burrowers or open-air sprawlers? Do they hide under the furniture when anxious, or do they plop themselves in the middle of the room?
Puzzle toys are perfect for keeping dogs distracted while something scary is happening—like when you’re in the process of leaving, which can be the most stressful part for dogs with separation anxiety. The tricky treat ball is a particular favorite.
These chews will give your anxious dog something to focus on. Just be careful: bully sticks, bones, and other types of chew toys can sometimes fragment, so they aren’t the best to give without supervision. Safer options include naturally-shed antler chews or a Kong with frozen peanut butter. A safe chew can help distract and soothe dogs if you’re popping out to run errands or if they’re spending some time in their crate.
Much like the long-lasting chew, a lick mat is all about distraction. Its advantage is that it encourages a naturally soothing behavior—licking—and rewards it. It can take a pup quite a while to get a lick mat clean. Though dog peanut butters and other spreadable treats can be calorically expensive, they generate a lot of enthusiasm, so we’d say go ahead and pick your dog’s very favorite to keep them calm when triggers are around. For lower-stakes treating, try unsweetened applesauce or canned pumpkin.
Heartbeat toys can be especially soothing for a new puppy who may be feeling anxious away from their dog family and in a new space. SmartPetLove’s snuggly puppy toy with insertable heartbeat is a popular choice and helps calm puppies by replicating their mom’s heartbeat. We’ve tried it ourselves and been impressed.
A calming bed is another good option for that dog-designated safe space. A calming bed is very plush, with a round shape and sunken center, so your dog can find comfort by burrowing and curling up into a ball. Best Friends by Sheri makes the original calming bed, and we’ve found it can be helpful for dogs who may have anxiety around crating or trouble getting properly settled before rest.
The ThunderShirt is wrap that exerts gentle, constant pressure on a dog’s chest and sides to soothe them. It operates on the same logic as swaddling a baby—though unlike a swaddled baby, a dog is still fully mobile when wearing a pressure wrap. ThunderShirts are especially popular for event-based anxiety, like storms or fireworks.
Medications and Supplements
Some dogs’ anxiety may require an over-the-counter or prescribed medication or supplement to help them achieve calm. Some of these products, like pheromones, target generalized anxiety, while others (like calming treats and CBD oil) can be given a few hours before a stressful event to combat situational anxiety.
It’s a good idea to check with your vet before introducing any of these products to your dog’s diet—you want to ensure they’re appropriate for your pup and don’t interfere with any existing health issues.
Pheromone Calming Products
Plugin diffusers can be placed around your home to release pheromones that reduce feelings of stress and fear in your dog. There are also collars that do the same thing—but they go wherever your pet does. Some pet parents swear by Adaptil and other pheromone-based treatments; others say results are mixed.
Calming Treats and Supplements
Another non-prescription option, calming treats are nutraceuticals that promote calm. As with human supplements, the market isn’t closely regulated—which means it’s worth taking a hard look at a product’s ingredients before you buy. Early studies indicate that tryptophan, melatonin, and L-theanine could have a positive effect on a dog’s anxiety, while traditional human soothers like lavender and chamomile haven’t really been put to the test. Chat with your vet before incorporating new supplements in your pet’s diet.
CBD Treats or CBD Oil
A growing number of pet parents swear by pet-safe cannabis-derived treats. Because CBD doesn’t have THC in it, it won’t get dogs high—but evidence suggests it may calm them down. It works best for situational anxiety, since you’ll typically need to offer it to your dog an hour or so before you want to see the effects. You can buy CBD treats or CBD oil made just for pets. Whichever route you take, remember to check in with your vet to ensure it’s okay for your particular pup’s system.
Trazodone for dogs? Xanax for dogs? Some pets can greatly benefit from treatment with prescription medication.
Alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), clomipramine (Clomicalm), and amitriptyline (Elavil) are common prescription medications used to treat anxiety in dogs. Trazodone is a common prescription, too, though it’s primarily indicated for use in humans and veterinary use is considered extra-label. Medications like these are usually only for occasional needs rather than daily use (such as the night of a fireworks’ display).
Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is an over-the-counter product well-tolerated by dogs and can have a mild sedative effect. Be sure to check with your vet for dosage recommendations.
If you’re not ready to jump into medication but are looking for alternatives that may help alleviate some of your dog’s anxiety, consider experimental treatments like aromatherapy and massage. Most of the evidence in their favor is anecdotal—but there are pet parents out there who swear by them.
Does doggy aromatherapy treatment sound like a leap? Well, it’s been shown to have some benefits, and with dog-safe essential oils and proper use, it could be helpful to your dog—though we think more evidence is needed.
It might sound unusual, but giving your dog a ten-minute massage every day could help relax your four-legged friend—plus it’s a great way to bond. There are many different techniques you can try. Just remember to be gentle and start slowly, and check in with your dog periodically to be sure they’re still enjoying it.
Try a fan, white noise machine, or radio to distract your dog from startling noises. Try playing classical music—studies show it can have a relaxing effect on dogs with noise anxiety.
Training for Anxious Dogs
Behavioral training is one of the best tools at your disposal—and for seriously anxious dogs, nothing else will do. Other tools can help, but this one’s a must when it comes to addressing and managing anxiety successfully.
Separation Anxiety Training
Separation anxiety in dogs is increasingly common, and you can help. This handy series of articles is a great jumping-off point for understanding separation anxiety and how to help lessen its effects.
Make sure the crate is a sanctuary and safe place for your pet by giving them the proper crate training. These expert tips for a puppy and adult dog can help.
Socializing your dog early on can help them be more relaxed in group settings, like an in-home daycare. It’s also a fun opportunity for them to play and burn off pent-up energy that can lead to anxiety.
Scolding an anxious dog can just make the problem worse, so use positive reinforcement techniques to encourage dogs to replicate desired behaviors. Your dog’s calm depends on your ability to stay cool yourself.
A tired dog is a happy dog. Plus, exercise releases serotonin, a feel-good chemical that we humans also get when we work out. With Rover, you can schedule extra walks or playtime with a dog lover in your neighborhood. You can also try agility training—a game that takes a lot of brainpower and satisfies the workhorse pups who crave a job.
How To Budget for Your Dog’s Anxiety Treatment
According to Rover’s Cost of Pet Parenthood Survey, you can expect to budget anywhere between $10-$500 for products and services relating to anxiety remedies for your dog.
The price of anxiety treatments can feel steep, especially with recurring costs like vet visits and medications—but we’ve found investing in quality solutions is better in the long run. One way to reduce the drain on your wallet is to take it slow: instead of buying a lot of toys in one style, try just a few different models at a time until you’ve found the right fit for your dog.