In the category of anxious dogs, there are pacers, barkers, paw-nibblers, yawners, and howlers. If you’ve found this post, chances are you’ve either got one, or you’ve been in contact with one. Whether your neighbor’s dog barks all day, a pup nearby sticks his snout through the fence to snoop, or a Yorkie’s relentless yips have you walking around with earplugs, we’ve got you covered.
You’re not as alone as you might think. More than 70% of dogs exhibit signs of anxiety, and with almost 90 million domestic canines in the U.S alone, that’s a lot of pet parents in need of solutions to a remarkably common issue. According to a 2020 study where traits such as noise sensitivity, impulsivity, fear, and aggression (among others) were taken into account, almost three-quarters of the dogs studied registered significant anxiety reactions. The most common stressor among them, affecting the largest percent of dogs, was noise.
Stress triggers can run the gamut. Whether you’ve adopted a shelter pup whose background is not entirely known, or you have a dog who’s only ever lived with you yet seems to have anxious tendencies, it’s important to know what to look for and how to defuse a nervous pet. Dogs can become anxious as a result of being home alone, having a fear of abandonment, being exposed to new circumstances, experiencing a break in routine, as a result of abuse, and even as a sign of age-related cognitive decline and the disorientation that can come along with it. Especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which most people were home with their hounds, the days of leaving the house — and them — to go back to work or school can be extra triggering for them. Your dog’s anxiety can show up as shivering, whimpering, aggression, panting, shedding, and/or loss of appetite. When trying to determine if your pup is stressed, a good rule of thumb is this: If you notice a shift away from who she is when she’s at her best, it’s a good sign that something is up.
Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to help or calm a stressed dog. First and foremost, assess how much exercise your dog is getting. The number one alleviator of animal anxiety is movement (meaning theirs, but don’t be shy about joining them!). Having a handle on your dog's exercise to be sure he’s getting the right amount can make a huge difference. The Wagz Freedom Smart Dog Collar can track steps, sleep time, and exercise patterns of your pooch. It takes these factors into account (and more) to calculate your dog’s overall Health & Happiness Score. Some dogs need more movement than others, but there’s no question that every pet needs it. The general philosophy goes like this: A physically active dog makes for a tired (and happy) dog; a tired dog sleeps well; and a rested dog is a calmer dog.
While you’re out walking, moving, or playing, another opportunity to curb anxiety can happen through physical touch and loving play. Once home, cuddling, massaging, and brushing your pet can go a long way to help with a nervous dog. Your pup’s home environment matters, and certain music in particular can calm an anxiety-ridden dog in minutes. In persistent cases of anxiety, alternative therapies ranging from calming vests, dog houses that minimize light and sound, and acupuncture can trigger positive and profound shifts. The Freedom Collar also has a Companion Time feature, which shows the number of hours a dog spends with their companion. And time together can lower their anxiety while elevating their connection to you.
If the stress is occurring in the car, you might have a carsick pal on your hands. Because dogs are olfactory experts, scents can be your ally. Aromatherapy has been shown to dissipate stress in dogs, and a couple drops of a calming essential oil like lavender, applied to blankets or a dog bed, can do wonders—at home and on the go. Talking to your vet will help, too. Your dog’s doctor can help recommend products like theanine or CBD chews to help take the edge off. Pheromone sprays, especially in the car, emit the smell of a nursing mother and can even calm older dogs. Treats, cool temps, and safety mechanisms that minimize excessive movement also help to create a safe and low-stress environment when car travel poses a problem. The Wagz Freedom Collar senses ambient temperature so you can monitor whether the air temperature around your pooch needs to be shifted for her comfort, both physical and emotional. (Although it measures ambient air temperature, it is never meant to be an excuse to leave your dog in a car.)
Our dogs learn from us, and stress can be contagious. Mindfulness experts suggest doing your best to impart ease by setting an example. Meditating with your dog, for example, can provide a mutual benefit that helps everyone. Your slow and measured breaths create a calm energy that dogs pick up on, and you might be surprised to open your eyes after a five-minute session to find your pooch pal either watching with subdued interest or conked out altogether. All good signs. Have some heart—even if you’ve tried it all, keep revisiting the options with a beginner’s mind, knowing that your efforts are cumulative and rely on building trust with your dog. Like humans, dogs just need to know everything is going to be alright, and with you on their side, they’ve likely got a pretty good shot.