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Create a calming environment for your dog with these seven tips!

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Seven steps to creating a calming environment for your dog

By Greta Inglis Dog Behaviourist | Animal Behaviourist

Updated on the

Lockdown has affected both animals and people, with Purina reporting that 28% of people feel their pet is now more anxious. Here we look at how to help.

As owners, we love our dogs more than anything, and to see them anxious can be very upsetting. It can be hard to know how best to calm them down and get rid of the anxiety, and many of us find ourselves questioning what we should be changing in the environment.

If you suspect your dog may be struggling, you may want to keep an eye out for one or more of the following signs of anxiety in dogs:

  • Compulsive grooming: your dog may lick or pull at their fur excessively. Some dogs may fixate on certain areas, such as the paws.
  • Trembling: Your dog may shake regularly, with lowered body posture (tail tucked, ears back, wide eyes).
  • Hyper-attentiveness: Dog anxiety can lead your pet to need constant company and reassurance.
  • Panting and lip licking: Panting and lip licking can both be signs of anxiety.
  • Aggression or vocalisation: Anxiety can cause changes in behaviour and defensive reactions to situations.
Unfortunately for our canine companions, anxiety and stress in dogs seems to be on the rise, with Purina's recent survey finding that 1 in every 4 dogs are suffering from lockdown anxiety.

If you're worried about your precious pet, there are steps you can take to help them feel more relaxed and comfortable.

What's the best environment for a dog? Helping your pup feel calm and stress-free

Helping your dog to feel stress-free takes time, committment and various steps to alter the way they perceive their environment. There are different ways you can help your dog, from diet to the creation of a calming space

In order to create a calming environment, you'll first need to understand the triggers for their behaviour:

  1. Does your dog seem afraid of being left alone?
  2. Are there certain areas of the house that makes them feel uncomfortable?
  3. Do they seem stressed at the lack of exercise and time outdoors, or are noises stopping them getting out and about?

Working out your dog's stress triggers will go a long way in helping you manage situations to help calm your dog and to work with them on desensitisation. Seek the help of a professional if you feel you need support to understand your dog and address these issues.

Did you know that gut health can affect your dog's behaviour? Click here to read more on new research by Purina PetCare into how your dog's tummy can impact their anxiety.

Understanding your dog will be the first step in working to calm them down. Spend some time watching your dog in different settings and at different times of day. Considering what it is that makes them feel nervous and afaid will be the first step in creating a calming environment.

The best environment will depend on your dog's needs and temperaments, with each dog needing something specific to their makeup. Generally speaking, a calming, positive environment for your pet is one free of fear, stress and anxiety, where your dog has all of their basic needs met, and at the same time feels mentally and physically stimulated. They should be able to express natural behaviours, confidently and without fear.

Seven ways to create a calming environment for your dog

Creating a calming environment for your dog, requires a consideration of all factors that influence their wellbeing. If you offer your dog more exercise, but nowhere to settle and relax at home, their anxiety will stay with them. With gut bacteria contributing to behaviour, if your dog is offered routine exercise and mental stimulation, all the while eating nutrient deficient food, then the likelihood is their anxiety will go unchanged. When it comes to calming down your anxious dog, you'll need to consider the whole picture.

Establish routine

Dogs thrive on routine and tend to find it very settling. Purina's survey found lockdown had a significant impact on dogs, due in part to the change in routine they experienced. Establish patterns for feeding time, exercise, time to play and time to settle - you'll notice your dog seems more relaxed and contented once they have structure to their day.

Choose a high quality diet 

One of the most important considerations to make when helping to get rid of anxiety is to think about whether the food you feed your dog is right for them. Purina PetCare found that in spite of the strong link between gut health and brain and behaviour, over 40% of owners are unaware of this connection, resulting in dogs being fed food that does nothing to help their anxiety. It's essential that dogs are fed a nutrionally balanced diet in order to maintain a healthy gut. This in turn will have a positive affect on their mental wellbeing and overall behaviour.

Offer mental stimulation 

For a dog to feel calm they need to exercise their mind as much as they need to exercise their body. This is the only way your dog will feel balanced, and offering mental stimulation can go a long way in reducing anxiety for pets. 

Food puzzles, training and games indoors are all great ways of offering mental stimulation and keeping your dog's brain active.

Exercise regularly 

Regular exercise and time outdoors to sniff and explore will really help your dog if they're the anxious type. Dogs love to use their nose to check out all the exciting scents on offer, and letting them do this will help them to relax in the long run. Games are also a great way to get your dog moving and breathing in some fresh air. 

Remain calm  

Research by Purina found that chronic behaviour issues - many of which can stem from anxiety - can be detrimental to the pet-owner relationship. It's true that our attitude as owners can have a huge impact on the anxiety our pets experience. Becoming tense or frustrated with your dog's anxious behaviour, will go no way in calming down your dog. If anything, it will do just the opposite.

To create a calming environment for our dogs, we must look to our own reactions and attitude. Dogs are incredibly perceptive, picking up on human emotion like no other animal we share our lives with. Try to remain calm and reassure your furry friend that everything is alright.

Use calming dog music

Calming dog music was developed to soothe anxious dogs. Melodies are chosen specifically to appeal to the ears of our canine companions, and this is a great resource if your dog is feeling unsettled. Start with the music on a very low volume at first, just to check your dog seems happy with it on. If they seem to enjoy the experience, you can play this when they're resting on a regular basis.

In conjunction with separation training, calming dog music can help to improve separation anxiety. If you feel your dog struggles to be alone, click here for our guide on helping your dog to settle

Create a safe space

Perhaps one of the most valuable steps you can take to calm your anxious dog is to offer them a safe space at home. This is a safe space they can retreat to when needed, offering comfort and respite from whatever worries them. 

How do I give my dog a safe space for anxiety?

To create a safe space for your dog, you will need:

  • A soft blanket or comfy bed, that you can place away from well-walked parts of the house. If you have the option of designating a dog room or dog place that is exclusively for your pup, all the better.
  • Build positive associations for your dog, encouraging them into the area and rewarding them for spending time here. Just remember that the food you feed your dog links directly to their gut health, which in turn can impact behaviour. Select high quality treats for your dog, a consider adding a supplement such as the Purina “Calming Care” supplement, which contains healthy bacteria BL999 to help reduce anxiety.
  • Increase the time they spend here gradually, encouraging rest and relaxation in the space. If your dog seems to enjoy it, play some calming dog music or classical tunes to soothe them.

Creating a calming environment for your dog comes together when you work on offering them all the factors listed here. Be patient and kind to your dog, and give them time to decompress and overcome their anxiety. Make sure they have a space they can retreat to, away from the hustle and bustle of life at home.

If you're concerned about your dog's wellbeing, it may be helpful to work with a professional to identify the root cause of any anxious behaviour.

A nutritional specialist or your vet will also be able to check your dog is receiving the best diet for their gut health. This, combined with a tranquil and calming environment at home, will put your pup on the road to recovery.

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