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How to Calm an Anxious or Stressed Dog

Cynthia is a pet owner and animal lover. From cats and dogs to livestock animals. Cynthia loves caring for her pets.

Calming your pet can be easy with a few simple lifestyle adjustments.

Calming your pet can be easy with a few simple lifestyle adjustments.

Many dogs—like their human counterparts—suffer from stress and/or anxiety. Dogs are often bundles of energy. There are many symptoms you may notice that will give a clear indication that your dog has anxiety or is overstressed. Ever noticed excessive shedding or shaking? These are both good indicators that there is something going on with your dog that needs your attention.

Constant barking, whining, or even excessively panting or drooling can all be signs that your dog is suffering. Taking care of our pets is not just a matter of providing food and water. We need to care for them at all levels and provide them with the best life in a caring forever home. Calming your pet can be easy with a few simple lifestyle adjustments.

Your dog could be suffering from stress and anxiety because of the amount of time you are away.

Your dog could be suffering from stress and anxiety because of the amount of time you are away.

Symptoms of Stress and Anxiety in Dogs

Before we jump into what you can do to help calm your pet, having a basic understanding of symptoms to keep an eye out for is a good starting point. Hopefully, you are already in tune with your dog’s normal behaviors. Every dog and breed are different, and their normal behaviors are something a good pet owner should understand. Some symptoms, for example, can be confused for regular behaviors for certain breeds, as some breeds do drool a lot, or have a more nervous temperament.

  • Full-body shakes
  • Continuous pacing
  • Dilated pupils and rapid blinking
  • Long drawn-out yawning
  • Excessive grooming and licking with an increase in drooling
  • Changes in bowel movements
  • Shedding more than normal
  • Refusing to eat

Let's discuss some of these symptoms in more detail.

Pacing and/or Shaking

Of course, there may be instances where full-body shaking is normal. I have a few dogs that are swimmers and after a day playing at the river, they tend to shake a lot.

This is not a sign of stress; it is just a way for them to try to dry their coats. If your dog continually paces around—inside or even outside in a fenced area—that is a good indicator that they are experiencing some anxiety or stress.

Long, More Frequent Yawns

Yawning may seem silly but outside of any normal yawning, an anxious pet may have more frequent and longer yawns. This is where observing their regular behaviors is key, if you don’t know how often they yawn and their normal ‘tired’ times, this can be tricky to notice. Dilated pupils or excessive blinking are also a great indicator that you need to address issues with your pet.

Excessive Grooming or Licking

Excessive grooming or licking are two things I notice when my dog is distressed—this one seems to go hand in hand with shedding. No, not basic shedding—stressed or anxious canines shed more than normal. These two symptoms are not always seen in tandem, but for me, I noticed my dog going through both.

This symptom can also lead to infections if you cannot stop the excessive grooming, and your dog is grooming to the point of breaking the skin.

Refusing to Eat

Much like a toddler or young child, a dog will refuse to eat when they are upset. Giving Rover his favorite dish and noticing he walks away uninterested is a symptom that something underlying is bothering him, and you need to address it.

If any of your dogs are experiencing a few or all these symptoms, the odds are good that they are under some form of stress or having anxiety issues. Unlike humans, dogs cannot tell us what is going on with them, so we must put forth the effort to help calm our pets and figure out what triggers their anxiety.

If you have recently moved to a new home, this can create anxiety in your dog.

If you have recently moved to a new home, this can create anxiety in your dog.

What Causes My Dog to Become Anxious and How Can I Help Them?

Odds are if you made it to this section, you believe your pet suffers from some form of anxiety or stress. So, what triggers this in dogs? Understanding the triggers may help you to calm your pet much faster. In some cases, a solution is extremely easy, while in others it may be harder or impossible to determine the cause. There are some basic anxiety triggers that may very well be the cause for your dog, or you may find your situation is harder to diagnose.

Some of these triggers have extremely easy solutions, but all dogs don’t fit the mold, so you may have to pursue alternative methods for calming a pet.

Anxiety and Stress Triggers

  • Sudden changes in daily routine
  • Separation anxiety
  • Noise
  • Social interactions
  • Visual stimuli
  • Moving to a new home
  • Aging

Easy Ways to Calm an Anxious Pet

  • Avoid sudden changes to daily routines.
  • Find a companion while you are away.
  • Avoid crowds and roadways, and make a safe space during storms.
  • Avoid interactions with strange people or other animals.
  • Avoid using anything in front of your pet that is a trigger.
  • If you moved recently, create a friendly space with items from your previous home to acclimate your pet to their new surroundings.

Here are some more ways to tackle each trigger.

Schedule Changes and/or Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety can be harder to remedy. Your dog could be suffering from stress and anxiety because of the amount of time you are away. Another cause could be that your daily routine has changed, and your dog feels unsettled. Remember, they love routines.

  • Have someone take over walks: Adjusting daily routines could be as simple as having a family member take over the morning walk if a work schedule change happens.
  • Have someone come check in on your pup: Separation anxiety can be treated by finding a way to have interaction during the day with your pet, either by hiring an individual or getting a family member to check in on them periodically.
  • Buy a pet monitor: These days you can even buy pet monitors that will allow you to video call so that your dog can see you, and you can talk to them throughout the day. While you won’t be there physically, these monitors do help your pet since they can see your face and hear your voice.
  • Leave music or the radio on: I have always left a radio on a lower volume if I must be away for any length of time. It does the trick, but every dog is different so you will need to determine what works best for you.

Loud Noises

Loud noises such as thunderstorms, fireworks, or even loud vehicles can be upsetting for many pets. This is something we hardly have any control over—mother nature makes it rain when she wants after all.

I have one dog who is so terrified of thunderstorms that she breaks into my basement and hides in the corner. This is her safe space to deal with her noise anxiety. I set up an area down there where she can ride out the storm. Once it's over, she is back to her regular energetic self.

  • Find a quiet place for them: Creating a safe space may be an easy solution if you have an area that helps to eliminate sound from any storms.
  • Leave the dog at home sometimes: If you're going somewhere with large crowds, fireworks, sirens, or other loud noises, it's best to leave your dog at home.
Diagnosing anxiety issues with your pet may mean taking a trip to visit a vet.

Diagnosing anxiety issues with your pet may mean taking a trip to visit a vet.

Social Interactions

Social interactions can be a bit trickier to combat in order to calm your dog. As a young teen, I had a dog with social issues—with other dogs or people. He was my dog and that was painfully evident as he stressed out whenever anyone else was around.

I learned that properly introducing him to people helped tremendously. He needed to know I was safe around the other humans—not so much a worry of the human bothering him.

  • Calm your dog before guests come inside: Before people entered the house we would sit outside, and I would tell my dog they were okay by rubbing their arm or some form of affection. Unfortunately, this never really worked for other animals my friends may have had.
  • Put some space between your dog and other animals: Invest in a baby gate or pet gate—there are several good options on the market today. Creating an obstacle and allowing your pet to have a room in the house allows each animal a safe space where they can sniff each other and investigate with a barrier between helping to keep them calm. This also a good practice if you are bringing a new pet into the home as well.

Visual Stimuli

This is perhaps one of the triggers with the easiest solution. Is your dog afraid of the hose like mine? Don’t use it around your pet—problem solved. It may seem silly, but dogs are afraid of certain items for reasons we will never know. It may be a water hose, it could be the TV remote, or just about any other random item.

If you need to use the item, be sure to do so when the dog is not in view. By removing the trigger from view, it will keep your dog calm.

Moving to a New Home

When we move, we upset the daily balance of our dog’s life. Their daily routine is suddenly different. They are surrounded by unfamiliar scents and surroundings. This is often a cause of anxiety.

This happens sometimes. Pet owners move, so there really is no way around that. While you're packing and preparing for the move, take your dog to the new place a few times. Let them investigate and get a little familiar with the home and yard.

Aging

Our pets rely on us for their care and well-being. As they age, their needs can often change, or some will experience health issues and pain. An aging dog getting on in years may exhibit signs of stress or anxiety.

The obstacle with an aging pet is that a dog cannot speak to us and let us know exactly what trouble they are having. The stress trigger could be pain associated with joints and hip problems that many breeds are prone to later in life.

Understanding common health trouble among your dog’s specific breed may help. It can also be any of the above triggers as well. Start with anything I have mentioned: routine changes, social anxiety, a recent move? If the answer to all those is no, you will have to try to assess the issue.

This may mean visiting a local veterinarian to ask questions and seek advice. Many breeds can suffer from osteoarthritis or degenerative joint diseases as they age and exhibit signs of anxiety or stress.

I am currently using calming treats with one of my dogs. I did discuss ingredients and dosages with my vet prior to administering.

I am currently using calming treats with one of my dogs. I did discuss ingredients and dosages with my vet prior to administering.

What to Do If the Problem Persists

When nothing seems to be working, it can put owners on an emotional roller-coaster ride. We get upset since we are responsible for providing our pets with the best care we can. If you've exhausted the above tips or suspect it's something more, make a vet appointment.

Over the years I have had many dogs, often strays or rescues, show up. We seem to be a frequent hot spot for people abandoning pets. We have lived on a farm for over six years and in those six years, we have had over 30 animals ‘show up’ without an owner. Everything from goats to cats and dogs have been dropped off and despite reporting and making posters and sharing posts on social media, no one ever claims them.

Many have had a medical issue and/or have anxiety and stress issues that needed attention. After all, every one of them found themselves without a home or a safe place.

There are prescriptions your vet can prescribe for anxiety issues. These often got very costly for me since strays and rescues are often full of issues that take time to remedy.

Calming Treats

I have had luck with a few different calming treats I found on the market. I made sure to discuss these treats with my veterinarian before using them. They can be a bit pricey, but a little more cost-effective in comparison to prescription medications for multiple dogs.

I have one elderly dog who is blind and has trouble with her hearing. As you can imagine, this is a stressful situation for her. She is an otherwise healthy companion all around, but her poor eyesight caused intense anxiety. She began shedding like crazy and would never stop grooming to the point where she had caused several patches of skin infection.

After doing some research and discussing ingredients in a few different calming treats I found, I settled on PremiumCare Calming Treats. I have been using them for some time and am happy to report they work very well. My blind companion is a much happier pooch these days and has stopped the over-grooming. Her shedding is back to normal, and I find myself running the vacuum less frequently these days.

Be sure to discuss with your veterinarian before using any calming treats. Some breeds of dogs do not do well with certain ingredients in their foods or treats of this nature. If you need to pursue a more cost-effective approach than prescriptions, a veterinarian can help ensure you administer the correct number of treats. Some treats contain ingredients that are generally not harmful, but dosages can be tricky.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: If my dog is showing several anxiety symptoms what is the first step I should take to help them?

Answer: The first step would be to determine if there are any easy fix triggers causing your dog's anxiety. Sometimes whatever triggers anxiety in our pets is often something we can fix. Especially if we have changed anything in their daily routines recently.

If you cannot find a simple trigger then the next step is a visit or phone call to your veterinarian. The safest action for the health and well-being of our pets when we have concerns is seeking professional advice.

© 2020 Cynthia Hoover