One struggle I often hear about from pet parents is, “My dog has bad anxiety.” Firstly, I’m terribly sorry. I know what you’re going through and I understand how difficult it can be. Although I’m not a veterinarian, there are some ideas that I have for helping your dog with their anxiety. I’ve learned first hand about the challenges you face, as Khloee’s anxiety has been apparent since she was just a wee gal. While this post offers suggestions, please note that I absolutely recommend consulting a veterinarian or licensed canine behaviorist if you think your dog’s anxiety is out of your control.
Identifying the Anxiety Type
Separation anxiety is misdiagnosed quite frequently because it’s a term we often throw around. “My dog chewed the couch. It must be separation anxiety.” “My dog chewed the door. He has separation anxiety.” Slow you’re roll there, and really take some time to consider what may be causing your dog to commit those acts. Sure, you may be gone when the behavior is occuring, but maybe there’s a noise that’s triggering your dog. Perhaps they are just bored. Maybe they’re acting out due to stress.
Separation anxiety IS a thing, though. And it can be quite terrible. I do believe that Khloee suffers from this debilitating anxiety type, and I also think it’s my fault. When Matt and I adopted her at 3 months old, Khloee was fearless. She was full of sass (although she still is) and she looooved being around us. At the time, Matt and I were both home everyday. Matt was finishing college and I was working from home. Khloee was never without us. This was a huge mistake on our part. Khloee was originally abandoned at a boarding facility, so I think that if we leave the house, she believes we’re neglecting her. It’s quite sad, really. We should have sent her off for sleepovers and left her at the house more frequently when she was growing up. But we didn’t – and now she has separation anxiety.
So what have we done for Khloee’s separation anxiety?
- Use ZenPets hemp oil (lavender based) in her food. Lavender essential oil is proven to have calming affects for humans and animals.
- Treat puzzles. I swear by treat puzzles for all of my dogs. They keep my babies busy and focused. When I leave Khloee, I fill up a treat puzzle to occupy her. They’ve been super helpful. This interactive puzzle is Khloee’s favorite.
- Don’t get excited when we come home. Instead of greeting the dogs like, “OMG HIIIIIIIII. I MISSED YOU! HIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!!!!!” don’t make a big deal out of it. If you don’t get excited about coming home, then leaving probably wasn’t a big deal to begin with. I know it’s hard to resist, but being overly enthusiastic when you get home to your pups can do more harm than good.
- Leave on the TV or calming music. When we’re away from the house, we put on the TV or classical music for the dogs. This will help to drown out other outside noises that could produce stress. Calming music is also scientifically proven to calm dogs.
- Leave for small amounts of time. If you think your dog has serious separation anxiety, start by leaving for a few minutes at a time. Step outside your home and go out of sight for a few minutes. Then simply walk back inside like nothing happened. Repeat the process and be gone for 10, 15, 30 minutes, etc. Your dog will begin to realize that although you are leaving, you are definitely coming home!
Does your dog get stressed out and anxious in the car? Some symptoms of travel anxiety are:
- Excessive panting
- Excessive drooling
- Improper urination
What can you do to get your dog used to the car?
- Start with the basics. Take your dog out to the car. They don’t have to get inside of it. Your dog can simply be standing by the car, and then you’ll want to treat them. You will want to use positive reinforcement methods, which means rewarding your dog for good behavior. If your dog is standing or sitting by the car, give them a treat! You want to paint a picture that the car is a GOOD thing!
- Take it up a notch and put your dog in a parked car. (But don’t force it if they aren’t ready – this will only make them more fearful). Allow them to sniff around in the car to get used to the smells. Treat them again! They are being so brave in the car!
- Next, take your dog for a ride around the block. I’m talking a two minute drive. If you have someone who can join you for the ride, have them treat your dog while you drive. (Or have them drive so you can treat). You can to continue to reinforce the fact that being in a car is a positive experience.
- Continue the process with longer drives or trips to somewhere positive – maybe they like visiting the park or Grandma. The goal is to show your dog that the car is a fun, happy place that brings them to wonderful destinations.
But I’ve done that and they still have anxiety!
- Try a natural solution like ZenPets hemp oil.
- Pet Naturals of Vermont offers a great treat with calming properties for anxiety.
- Put a crate in the car. Assuming you’ve crate trained your dog and the kennel is considered to be a safe place, crate your dog while you drive. This could be a game changer. You can even cover up half the crate with a blanket so they can see out front and a little bit of the sides, while still feeling secure.
- Put a blanket from home in the car (and/or crate) and their favorite toys. The more your car can smell like the comforts of home, the better.
- Consult a veterinarian.
The process for training your dog to use the carrier for airplane travel is basically the same as getting them used to the car. Use lots of positive reinforcement, and just leave the carrier out on the floor in your home so your pup can get used to it. Be sure to put a blanket or t-shirt from home in it when you travel. The solutions for air travel anxiety will be similar – natural solutions like ZenPets or calming chews, or a prescription from your doctor.
Many dogs experience some sort of noise anxiety at some point in their life. Examples of noise anxiety are thunderstorms or fireworks. Did you know that the 5th of July is the busiest day in animal shelters? That’s because when dogs get scared, they tend to flee. So they hear fireworks and they book it in an attempt to escape the noise.
Symptoms of noise anxiety:
- Hiding under the bed, in a closet, or somewhere dark and confined.
- Cowering with ears flat
- Becoming restless, or the opposite – immobility
- Destructive behaviors like chewing or digging
- Attempting to escape
What can you do?
- Consider a Thundershirt. I know a lot of pet parents who have had success with this product.
- Create a safe place in your home with your dogs favorite blankets and toys. Put on the TV or some calming music.
- Pay attention to them. A lot of times, ignoring your dog can make it worse. Sit with your dog. Play with them. Pet them. If you and your dog are focusing on each other, it takes their focus away from the scary noises.
- Try the natural calming agents I listed above.
- Keep your dog busy with a frozen Kong or treat puzzles.
- Ask your veterinarian for a sedative for severely affected dogs.
Maybe it’s not anxiety…
You may think your dog has anxiety, but maybe they are just stressed or bored. Luckily, there are plenty of solutions for you!
- Allow your dog plenty of exercise. If you have a working breed such as a Heeler and you find them chewing or digging, it’s probably because they need a job to do. Be sure you’re taking them on a long walk or run twice a day. Physical exercise is the first place to start.
- Offer your dogs interactive toys. Like I said above, I swear by treat puzzles. They give your dog a chance to work at something and use their brain. I love watching dogs focus on the task in front of them. Chewy.com offers a plethora of feeders and puzzles at excellent prices.
- Try doggy daycare. If your dog enjoys the company of other dogs and you feel like they aren’t getting enough attention or exercise, consider doggy daycare! They will get plenty of mental and physical stimulation. I recommend Happy Pets Palace & Playground if you’re in Arizona’s East Valley.
- Play with them! Maybe your dog just needs your undivided attention for a bit! Put down your phone and enjoy game of fetch or hide and seek with your dog. That’s the most valuable gift you can give them on a daily basis.
Phew – we’ve covered A LOT in this post! If you find yourself overwhelmed or at a loss, I recommend reaching out to a veterinarian or licensed canine behaviorist who uses positive reinforcement methods of training. You and your dog deserve to work through the anxiety or boredom. It’ll make your household and experiences a lot more peaceful for everyone.
*Affiliate links are present in this post but Amanda only shares products she uses and trusts!*