If you have an anxious dog that suffers from mild separation anxiety or noise phobia, such as reacting to loud noises like fireworks and thunderstorms, there are some products I often recommend to owners that may assist and that are available from PETstock, as well as a couple of other key things to do.
Ideally any products designed to assist an anxious dog will be used in conjunction with environmental enrichment, independence training and other behaviour modification strategies specific to the issue.
A thundershirt really can help an anxious dog feel calmer in different situations that can trigger anxiety. Much like a weighted blanket can help for anxiety in humans, these work in the same way.
They wrap tightly around your dog, like they are being held or being cuddled, which can help reassure them. This helps as it also means you’re not making too much of a fuss or potentially reinforcing your dog’s anxiety.
When we hug and hold them, in their brain this can communicate that we too are worried about the situation, so it can make it worse. Similar to when an owner panics and picks up their dog up anxiously when another dog is approaching – this doesn’t give a dog confidence that their ‘leader’ has the situation under control, since the owner is reacting in panic too, so can make the anxious worse. Read more about how we can reinforce anxiety in our dogs HERE.
Pheromone based products and herbs
Pheromone based collars, sprays and adapters that you plug in the wall may also help an anxious dog with mild separation anxiety or noise phobias, such as Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats.
There are also a number of calming chews and supplements available at PETstock or from your Vet that can also assist in mild cases, or for events like car travel.
For both separation anxiety and noise phobias, soothing sounds can help some dogs. Dog TV is great for this. It’s an online resource created for dogs with sights and sounds scientifically designed to enrich their environment, with options to also help with anxiety
Interactive Toys & long lasting chews
Again for mild separation anxiety, treat dispensing interactive toys, puzzles and long lasting chews can help to keep them occupied when left alone.
However, an anxious dog will often not want to eat or engage with play, so they will need to be used inconjunction with other behaviour modification strategies. Also if your dog is noise sensitive, then make sure you consider what flooring you have and the choice of interactive toy.
Keep inside with bed, toys and/or crate
For many dogs, simply being allowed access to a family area or bedroom in the house can help with anxiety, places that smell like us.
If it is noises that trigger their anxiety, sound proof the room by closing windows and blinds and place cuddly dog bed or crate inside the room with their usual blanket and favourite toy for extra comfort.
If for some reason they have to be outside, then make sure you have a secure and sheltered kennel with their bed and toys in it by the back door to offer protection.
I know first hand the challenges that having a highly anxious dog can pose, after adopting my dog Vindi who came to us at the start of the Melbourne lockdown in 2020, and who had had a very rough start in life.
As anxiety is often genetic, as well as being due to a lack of early positive socialisation, aversive life events, harsh treatment and more, medication is often required as part of a wider treatment plan to help ensure your dog can be receptive to all of the other training and behaviour modification activities required.
From my own experience, I can’t testify as to the positive difference it has made to Vindi’s training and responses during ‘trigger’ events, and has made him more receptive to our daily behaviour modification program.
When a dog is in an anxious state they are not able to learn, so if you are concerned about your anxious dog, don’t wait. Please see your Vet or ideally a Vet Behaviourist as soon as possible. Dogs don’t grow out of problem behaviours, they just get worse.
Keep in mind your anxious dog is suffering in much the same way a human with anxiety or who has panic attacks does. They just can’t tell us how bad it is, so it is up to us to recognise the signs and take action to help them.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is a NDTF certified dog behaviourist and trainer, Executive Producer and Host of Pooches at Play on Channel 10 and editor of Poochesatplay.com. Lara also runs her own dog training and boarding business in Melbourne’s Bayside area and is the Author of Eat, Play, Love Your Dog.