Calming Aids for Anxious Dogs

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Does My Dog Need a Calming Aid?

Sometimes, stress in dogs can get quite overwhelming, and you may be considering calming aids for dogs to take the edge off. While there are several calming aids for dogs, it must be remembered that these are aids, and they aren't a substitute for behavior modification. In other words, they won't work like magic. We all dream of a product that can magically transform an overly stressed pooch into a relaxed one within minutes. If such a product existed, there would no longer be fearful dogs on this planet, and behavior consultants would be wiped out of business.

So, what's the purpose of calming aids? As mentioned, they help take the edge off, at times in a sufficient matter to help open the lines of cognitive function which allows us to pave the path for successful behavior modification. In order to better understand this, imagine having a tremendous fear of heights. Your therapist wants you to face your fear by taking baby steps, but you are too terrorized to even phantom the thought to look out of a window from the first floor of a building. Your mind is bombarded with scary thoughts, and you feel like you just can't do it. Your therapist therefore decides to prescribe you a calming aid, and you soon find yourself a bit calmer. The idea of looking out the window is still scary, but now you feel a bit better under control to face it. Your therapist has also taught you positive thinking and coping strategies. The fact you are able to successfully handle this little step, gives you an exhilarating sensation of success, and now you feel you have the strength necessary to progress to the next step.

Dogs cannot rationally self-talk themselves through their fears, so their coping skills aren't exactly the same as in humans. However, desensitization and counterconditioning is very effective in animals since animals learn through associations. A calming aid can help a dog be less reactive so the dog can better cope with its fears. You know you need a calming aid when you aren't making progress, or you're making very little progress despite the correct implementation of systematic desensitization.

In the next paragraph, we will be looking at some over the counter calming aids. Please note that these calming aids are mild, so if your dog is still not progressing or if the fear is very intense it cannot be managed, you may need your vet to prescribe a stronger sedative to be used along with behavior modification.

General Tips for Addressing Dog Anxiety

  1. See your vet to rule out any underlying medical problems that may be causing stress, fear anxiety, and aggression in your dog.
  2. Identify the sources of your dog's stress and do the best you can to minimize exposure to those intense, stress triggering stimuli.
  3. Provide a predictable routine for your dog.
  4. Keep your dog mentally stimulated through foraging games, interactive toys, healthy exercise, and play.
  5. Never take good, acceptable behavior for granted. Make sure to capture such behaviors as they unfold and reward them generously.
  6. Avoid punishing your dog's behavior. Punishment paves the path for more stress.
  7. Work with a behavior professional on a program of management, desensitization, counterconditioning, and response substitution.
  8. Understand that when using counterconditioning, you're not looking to reward any particular behavior, your focus is creating positive associations.
  9. If necessary, start your dog on a prescription medication under the guidance of your vet. Medications should be used, along with behavior modification.

Calming Aids for Stressed Dogs

The following are some examples of calming aids for dogs. These are over-the-counter products that are commonly sold in pet stores or online. Not all calming aids are effective for all dogs. Each dog may respond differently. For severe cases, your dog may need products prescribed by your vet. Changes in behavior takes time, especially when dogs have suffered from chronic stress over the years.

Dog Appeasing Pheromones

Jacqui Neilson, a veterinary behaviorist owner of the Animal Behavior Clinic, a veterinary in Portland, Oregon, claims that appeasing pheromones, can sometimes help relieve stress in pets. These products are available as sprays, plug-in diffusers, wipes, and collars. For dogs, look for products such as Comfort Zone and Adaptil.

How do they work? We're dealing with the synthetic version of dog appeasing pheromones, chemical messengers produced by mother dogs to help comfort and reduce stress in newborn pups. These products can be used for general stress, separation anxiety, noise phobias, and travel, but they're not effective for aggression, explains Wayne Hunthausen, veterinarian and director of animal behavior consultations held at Westwood Animal Hospital.

The Calming Cap

As the name implies, we're dealing with a cap that fits over the dog's head with the purpose of calming the dog down. This calming aid is helpful for dogs who are reactive towards visual triggers and need to be kept at lower threshold level for the implementation of behavior modification.

How it works: According to veterinary behaviorist Patrick Melese, the dog's vision is reduced, as the dog sees through ” translucent, sheer" fabric. Because the dog is limited in its ability to fixate on visual triggers, it's helpful for dogs who are reactive towards other dogs, animals, and humans. Along with behavior modification, it can help an anxious dog walk through a crowded area and gradually face other visual triggers.

Mutt Muffs

These are lightweight ear muffs that were specifically designed for dogs to meet the contour of the dog's head. Mutt Muffs were originally designed to protect the ears of dogs from the loud noises derived from flying in aircraft cockpits.

How they work: Today, Mutt Muffs can be used as well for dogs who are easily frightened by auditory stimuli. They work by muffling loud noises making them less intense. According to Mutt Muffs, they work extremely well to reduce a dog's fear of fireworks. Mutt Muffs may also help in dogs frightened by storms, but only in those cases where mostly the noise of thunder bothers them. In dogs who get stressed by the low clouds, increased humidity, and statically charged air, they may not suffix. As an alternative to Mutt Muffs, some owners use foam earplugs. However, with these, there's a risk they may get stuck in the ears. Some owners have found that passing a knotted thread through the foam earplugs can help in easily retrieving them. Ask your vet to show you how to safely insert earplugs or cotton balls in your dog's ears.

Pressure Aids

Nowadays, there are several accessories to calm dogs down through pressure. Thundershirt, the Anxiety Wrap and Storm Defender are a few examples you can find in pet stores.

How they work: There's proof that applying pressure on certain areas of a dog's body may have a beneficial effect on the dog's nervous system. This isn't only present in dogs. Dr. Temple Grandin, creator of the ''hug machine'', several years ago reported that pressure is soothing to people suffering from stress and it was common practice in the old times to swaddle babies in an effort to calm them down. There are mixed results from using pressure aids in dogs. Some people see improvement with their use especially when used in conjunction with behavior modifications, others report no changes.

Calming Supplements

There are several over-the-counter supplements for anxious, stressed dogs. As with other calming aids, they're not a cure-all. Following are some popular ones, but there may be several others as more and more are being produced. It's good practice to consult with your vet before giving supplements; at times an underlying health problem may be contributing to stress and anxiety.

Composure by VetriScience consists of soft chews containing 3 active ingredients: colostrum proteins meant to work in synergy with the other ingredients to support cognitive function and reduce stress, thiamine, meant to soothe and support relaxation, and L-theanine, an amino acid known for reducing stress and the behaviors associated with it.

Pet Naturals of Vermont Calming: contains the same ingredients as Composure and works in a similar fashion.

Virbac Anxitane M-L Dogs: contains as well L-Theanine. The chewable tablets are meant to help dogs relax without side effects and without affecting their personalities.

Serenin Vet: these capsules contain St. John's Wort, Passion Flower, Eleuthero, Vitamin B6, and B12 and other minerals meant to provide the building blocks for the natural synthesis of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood, sleep, and appetite.

Harmonease: the chewable tablets are made of a natural blend of Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense extracts. These tablets are used for noise phobia and stereotypical behaviors, such as licking, spinning, and cowering.

Rescue Remedy: these are drops made of alcohol-free formula that can be placed on a treat, in the dog's water bowl or rubbed on the belly. As with several other remedies, there are success stories, while some owners report no changes.

For Further Reading

  • Understanding Dog Trigger Stacking
    Humans are not the only ones to fall victim to the cumulative effects of stress; dogs do too! Trigger stacking in dogs may have deleterious effects that can pile up and cause bouts of aggression.
  • Understanding the Dog Fight or Flight Response
    Understanding dog fight and flight response is important if you're planning on learning more about your dog behavior. Learn how fight & flight responses are important in changing dog behavior.
  • Can you Reinforce Your Dog's Fear?
    We are always told not to pet, cuddle or comfort a fearful dog because this may reinforce fear. But can you really reinforce fear in your dog? Learn what the experts say about this.
  • A Guide to Dog Behavior Modification Techniques and ...
    Successful dog behavior modification requires the correct implementation of techniques. Familiarizing yourself with dog behavior modification techniques and terms will turn out helpful.
  • Why is My Dog Scared of Going Outside?
    Why is my dog scared of going outside? There may be several reasons. Following are several exercises to hopefully help your dog enjoy the yard again.

© 2014 Adrienne Farricelli

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 10, 2014:

Thanks DDE!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on December 10, 2014:

Informative and very helpful about these issues with dogs,

The best calming product for dogs of 2020

Whether it's separation anxiety, a fear of fireworks or thunderstorms, or a generally high-strung nature, some dogs need help to calm down. Calming products for dogs come in many forms, from calming treats to anxiety jackets to pheromone diffusers.

Finding a calming product that works for your dog could greatly improve her quality of life.

We've done our research to bring you the best calming products for dogs of 2020, focusing on returning favorites that have stood the test of time, plus a new favorite.

Best calming products for dogs of 2020

Here you'll find our shortlist of favorite calming products for dogs. Check out the bottom of this article for more information on each.

1. PetHonesty’s Hemp Calming Anxiety & Hyperactivity Soft Chews: These treats contain a range of calming ingredients, including hemp, chamomile, and Valerian root. They’re a new addition to our list and have taken the top spot as they seem to make a real difference to anxious dogs.

2. ThunderEssence’s Dog Calming Essential Oils: A blend of essential oils that provide calming aromatherapy to dogs. This returning favorite product can be used alone or in conjunction with a ThunderShirt.

3. ThunderShirt’s Sport Dog Anxiety Jacket: The constant gentle pressure provided by this jacket elicits a calming response in around 80% of dogs. If it works for your dog, it can be a game changer, which is why this product has returned to our top three.

What you need to know before buying calming products for dogs

Calming products for dogs is an umbrella term that can cover a huge range of different products, so you'll need to decide what type or types of product you want to try for your dog.

Calming treats, tinctures, and supplements are ingested orally and can contain a variety of natural calming ingredients like chamomile and l-tryptophan. They can work wonders for mild calming needs but tend not to help much with severe phobias and anxieties.

Anxiety jackets exert a constant calming pressure that helps to relax the majority of dogs. They were designed for noise phobias but can help a range of anxieties.

Pheromone products release synthetic versions of dogs' calming pheromones to relax dogs. They generally have mixed results so they may not work for your dog but are worth a try.

Other calming products include sprays and other aromatherapy products, calming music, CBD products, and other wearable calming aids.

Consider how easy these products are to use or administer and whether your dog is likely to put up with them. Some dogs hate wearing anything on their bodies, in which case, anxiety jackets will be of little use. Other dogs are picky eaters and might not like the calming treats you've bought them, making them a waste of money, so carefully consider your dog before committing to a certain product.

Also, think about the source and severity of your dog's nervousness or anxiety. A slightly nervous or hyperactive dog might only need a small calming helping hand, whereas a dog with a severe anxiety issue will probably need training in addition to calming products, or a combination of two or more different calming products for dogs.

Depending on the item you choose, calming products for dogs can cost anywhere from $10 to $50.

6 Natural Remedies For Dog Anxiety

Dog anxiety is common. It can stop your dog from enjoying normal doggie activities … like going for a walk around the neighborhood. So it’s important to find a way to help her relax and have fun!

While some vets may prescribe your dog pharmaceutical meds … they may not be the best choice. Medications for anxiety can have some pretty bad side effects (which I’ll talk about shortly). Luckily, there are lots of natural remedies you can try.

Before I get to those, here’s some background on dog anxiety.

Additional Steps to Soothing Your Anxious Dog

While calming supplements can help your dog relax, the best approach to tackle anxiety is a comprehensive one.

Treating the source of your dog’s anxiety through counter-conditioning and training, rather than only masking the stress symptoms, is always ideal.

Dogs with more serious anxiety may need the help of more high-dose dog anxiety medication that can be more powerful than the supplements covered here. Talking with your vet can narrow down the best treatment plan.

Other tools and techniques you can use include:

  • Increasing exercise: Upping your dog’s activity levels can alleviate stress. This is particularly important in woofers exhibiting anxiety related to a change in routine.
  • Crate training: A crate gives your pooch a place to unwind, feel safe, and relax. Ideal for keeping dogs with separation anxiety safe and out of trouble, a crate can also be used to isolate your storm-fearing dog with calming music during thunder.
  • Thundershirt: Like swaddling a baby, a Thundershirt provides your dog with security when he’s feeling anxious during an event, like a storm or fireworks. Snug but not restrictive, thundershirts may be used alone or in combination with another anxiety-controlling method.
  • Prescribed medication: For doggos with severe anxiety, medication like Xanax may be the best option. These specially formulated medications target chemicals in your pupper’s brain to help him relax.
  • Desensitization/Counterconditioning: If specific things send your pup’s anxiety through the roof like other dogs, desensitization or counterconditioning training can tackle his fear. This gradual training exposes your pooch to his trigger over time, reducing and finally eliminating the phobia and subsequent anxiety.
  • Providing a chew toy: Chewing and licking help to release endorphins in your doggo’s brain, which will help calm him down a bit. Plus, these types of toys help keep his brain busy too.

Have you tried any of the calming supplements above or another with your pooch? What works best for calming your doggo? Let us know in the comments.

Before You Begin

Dogs typically have no problem sleeping and many will zonk right out whenever they get the chance. If your older dog has always slept well, health issues may be preventing it from getting a good night's sleep. Conditions such as pain, dementia, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and urinary tract infections can have a negative effect on a dog's sleep. In these cases, it's best to schedule a check-up with your vet. Be sure to tell the vet about any other unusual behaviors your dog is exhibiting as it may help with the diagnosis.

On the other hand, it's not unusual for puppies to cry and have trouble sleeping after first arriving in their new home. After all, they've just left their mother and siblings where they probably slept in a pile, and now they are asked to sleep by themselves in a strange new place.

Once they have settled in, puppies typically sleep very well. They get plenty of naps while you're at work which means they have lots of energy to stay awake at night to guard the house, play, and pester snoozing owners. Since midnight games likely won't thrill you, there are a number of methods you can use to prompt your pet to sleep on your timetable.

Watch the video: 9 Hours of Deep Separation Anxiety For Dog Relaxationtested (July 2021).