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Learn how to calm an anxious dog

Anxious dog trying to be calmed down advice
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Basic things like food, territory and mating make dogs anxious. They may not worry about talking in front of an audience or taking a driving lesson but their anxieties are as real to them as ours are to us. Learn how to calm an anxious dog.

By Nick Whittle

No breed is more susceptible to anxiety than another, but each breed has different needs; what makes a dog anxious is due to these needs not being met. For instance, a Shih Tzu will be concerned about new people monopolising the owner’s affection; a collie will become anxious if it is kept indoors all the time; a greyhound will get agitated if left alone for long periods of time.

If untreated anxiety can cause a whole host of problems, and not all of them are psychological. We’ll find out more about this later. First, in our effort to learn how to calm an anxious dog, let’s look at what causes a dog to stress.

What causes a dog’s anxiety?

In order to know how to calm your dog down you need to learn what is making her anxious. The causes of this are various and getting to the root of the problem will take time and patience and awareness of your own living arrangements and state of mind. Here are some of the potential causes:

  • The dog’s upbringing
  • The dog’s sleeping arrangements
  • The dog’s exercise and care
  • The dog’s food
  • Your work commitments away from home
  • Your mental health
  • Your family chemistry
  • Visual/auditory influences

Dogs that suffer with stress tend to fall into one of these next three groups:

Fear-related anxiety comes mostly from an external stimulus. Some dogs can have an inbuilt phobia of objects that to us are completely harmless, such as an umbrella or a musical instrument. Different types of surface can stress some other dogs: they hate walking on the rough tactile paving at pedestrian crossing and (for obvious reasons) get nervy when they try to step over a cattle grid.

There is also anxiety caused by separation; this is thought to afflict over 10% of all dogs. Some breeds are more susceptible to separation anxiety but no dog will appreciate being left along for a long period of time. Separation anxiety will manifest itself in various ways, including messing in the house, chewing furniture and doors and excessive vocalisation.

The last major group of anxiety sufferers are those dogs that have reached a stage of life that we call geriatric. Canine dementia more often affects dogs that are considered senior or geriatric, that is to say they have surpassed the usual longevity of the breed. The limitations of their sense of the world around them cause dogs with dementia to become anxious.

Symptoms of anxiety

So how can you tell if your dog has anxiety? There are several important symptoms to look out for:

  • Physical symptoms: vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Skin irritations due to excessive salivation, biting and licking
  • Destructive behaviour
  • Depression and withdrawal
  • Excessive barking
  • Aggression
  • Urinating or defecating in the house
  • Restlessness or reduced activity
  • Trembling

Calming your anxious dog

When you have discovered the possible causes of your dog’s agitation you should prepare yourself to do whatever it takes to calm her down.

Remove the cause of the agitation

It is unlikely that one-to-one dog counselling works as well for dogs as it does for humans. If you want to properly treat canine anxiety you should deal with the problem from the dog’s point of view: in way that is uncomplicated, simplistic and immediate. Removing the triggers of a dog’s stress is still the most effective way to calm your dog. If crowds are the problem, avoid them; if umbrellas are a problem, get wet!

Use aromatherapy and essential oils

There are many holistic therapies for treating a dog’s hyperactivity and getting her to calm down. You may even consider a calming massage or a warm bath with added essential oils (that is if your dog actually likes to have a bath).

Increase your physical contact

Petting a dog calms her down as much as it calms you down. If you are out a lot during the day you should devote more time to your dog at night. They will crave your attention and be upset if they don’t receive it, especially if they haven’t seen you all day!

Increase the amount of exercise you give her

Regular exercise and stimulation are crucial for a dog’s development, physical, and mental well-being. A stimulated dog is less likely to pick up destructive behaviours. In tandem with this, good nutrition is equally important for your dog's health.

Find her a space to where she can retreat

A crate is the perfect spot for your dog to be alone and to de-stress. To have a crate gives your dog somewhere she can go when all of your other methods to calm her have failed. It would be useful to position your crate in a quiet room or in a room away from where there is noise and action.

Knowing what has caused your dog to become anxious leads you to find the appropriate remedy of the condition. If necessary you may have to resort to medications, but usually a consistent and well-thought-out programme of calming measures should calm down a stressed dog in no time. You should not leave your dog to just 'get through' a chronic bout of anxiety: doing so can bring on far more serious health concerns and exacerbate the problem.