As rewarding and exciting it is to own a dog, it can also be a bit overwhelming when they act out of control — especially if you own a hyperactive dog or an overly anxious pup. That’s not to say you love your pup any less; it simply means you have your work cut out for you.
While it’s completely normal to be immediately greeted at the front door with wet, slobbery kisses and a wagging tail, it’s a whole other thing to discover your pup hiding under the bed shaking uncontrollably, or to walk into a half-chewed living room. These unwanted behaviors can be alarming for pet owners and their families, but they’re also signs that something deeper is going on and your dog may need some help in curbing these behaviors.
So what causes dogs to develop these behaviors? And which ways are best to get your dog to calm down?
Anxiety in dogs may be the root to unruly behaviour
It’s no surprise that our beloved canine friends share similar emotions as we do, like stress, fear, anxiety, excitement, and pain. Anxiety is perhaps the most common source of behavioral issues in dogs, particularly separation anxiety. So when you see your dog shaking uncontrollably, it may not be because they are cold; they may be scared or anxious. Same goes for a half-chewed living room. Separation anxiety affects many dogs, and some may react in more extreme ways, depending on their environment. Nevertheless, there’s a reason behind their behaviour, and it’s important that pet owners observe how our companions are showing their emotions.
According to Ashley Atkinson, a professional dog trainer and behavior consultant at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, “Dogs use body language to communicate how they are feeling.” There are various reasons why your dog may express unwanted behaviours:
- Lack of exercise –– If your dog isn’t getting enough exercise, they may resort to destructive behavior. This is especially true for energetic breeds and puppies.
- Vet and grooming visits –– Dogs who’ve had bad experiences in the past with vet or grooming visits may develop fear and anxiety anytime they get near the facility. This may cause them to uncontrollably shake, pant, drool, whine, bark, pace, or even act out aggressively.
- Abuse –– If you own a rescue dog, they may have endured negative treatment in the past. Dogs that have suffered abuse may show aggression or timidness due to fear and anxiety.
- Loud noises –– The most common fear, anxiety, and stress-inducing noises for a dog are fireworks, gun shots, and thunder. For dogs who live outside, these noises may cause them to run away to seek safety.
- Lack of socialization –– Dogs that have been isolated or prohibited from socializing with other dogs or humans may display aggression or nervousness.
- Changes in the household –– Maybe you’ve moved to a new place, just had a baby, or got a new job. These changes can easily provoke anxiety, stress, fear, and destructive behavior.
- Separation –– Leaving for work, going on vacation, or even stepping outside for a short period of time, can easily bring stress and anxiety on your dog, causing them to act out in a number of inappropriate ways.
Now let’s learn how to calm a dog down, especially those who are showing signs of fear and anxiety.
How to calm down a dog with anxiety
As pet parents, learning how to get a dog to calm down can be stressful — especially after discovering your favorite shoes are now forever ruined. The key to calming your dog down is patience, practice, and a whole lot of love. So here are some strategies and tools to help soothe your anxious pup:
Did you know it’s been scientifically proven that classical music helps reduce levels of stress in dogs? In fact, in one study involving an animal shelter, researchers played “Four Seasons”, as well as other classical melodies for kennelled dogs. Researchers quickly noticed that classical music helped calm down the dogs in the shelter.
Amazingly, in other studies, researchers noticed that dogs exposed to heavy metal music spent most of their time barking. So the next time you head off to work, or head to the store, try playing some Mozart, Beethoven, or Bach to help calm your dog down.
If dogs had a superhero strength, it would be their sense of smell. Why? Because a canine’s sense of smell is far greater than a human’s sense of smell. How much greater you might ask? 10,000 to 100,000 times greater. This means dogs can detect a higher amount of chemical compounds than humans, just from different smells.
But did you know that certain scents can help calm your overactive pooch? In one study, scientists observed 32 dogs who became overly excited when traveling in cars. They found that when each dog was exposed to lavender, they spent more time relaxing and sitting, and less time barking.
Additionally, dog-appeasing pheromone collars (DAP) also help produce calming properties in beagles when tested in stressful situations: Vet visits, crating, traveling in the car, separation from owners, exposure to fireworks, etc. DAP collars give off the scent of a mother offering a sense of wellbeing and safe atmosphere. This study also confirms that certain scents do in fact calm a dog down. This also means that certain scents may be toxic for dogs. If you are unsure of which scents are safe or toxic for your dog, a quick Google search for accredited sites (.gov, .edu) or a call to your vet may help you identify the safest scents for your dog.
To hug or not to hug
As pet parents, our first response to our trembling pup is to hold, hug, and comfort them. But hugging your dog when they are showing signs of fear, anxiety or stress could actually make them more stressful and more likely to bite.
According to Dr. Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, what we think is a comforting hug for our dog may do the exact opposite. Instead, a hug may increase their stress levels. This is because when fear arises in a dog, their first instinct is to run. A hug may make them feel trapped — restricting them from moving. Instead, Dr. Stanley Coren suggests using kind words, treats, and petting them to express comfort and tenderness when you need to calm your dog down.
This may come as no surprise, but dogs are active animals and they need to move, just as do humans. Exercise is one of the best things for a dog’s health, and it’s perfect for calming a dog down. Something as little as a 25 minute walk per day can improve the quality of life for your little pooch.
Research has shown that when dogs in shelters participate in a 25 minute exercise session along with human contact, their cortisol (stress hormone) levels were lowered and it improved their behavioural test scores. So if you’re looking for an excuse to get out and explore your local park or nature trail, take along your four-legged friend and get healthy together.
Pharmaceuticals are definitely a viable option in calming down a dog with anxiety. But it’s important to note that pharmaceutical drugs can have harsh side effects. And given that our canine friends are much more sensitive to medications than humans, extra caution should always be taken. That said, studies have shown that clomipramine –– an antidepressant –– can decrease separation anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder in dogs.
Still, it’s important to check in with your veterinarian to see if other routes can be taken before going with pharmaceutical drugs. Diet change and the other options mentioned in this article is worth trying before incorporating a new medication to your dog’s regimen.
CBD for dogs
If you haven’t already heard, CBD, otherwise known as Cannabidiol, is a phytocannabinoid that naturally occurs in the Cannabis sativa plant. But don’t let its origin steer you away from its beneficial value. This molecule offers an array of therapeutic benefits without any intoxicating effects.
In fact, in one study, researchers administered CBD to stress-induced mice. They quickly noticed that CBD not only reduced their anxiety and stress levels, but it enhanced their overall mood and wellbeing. Other studies suggest that CBD reduces pain and seizure frequency, both of which contribute to anxiety and stress in dogs.
Additionally, the safety profile has been noted by researchers as well tolerated among its users. However, too much of anything can cause issues. Each dog responds differently to supplements, medications, and even different foods. That said, it’s crucial to observe your dog when trying out a new supplement, especially if they are currently on any medications. It’s also important to keep your vet in the loop anytime you add a new supplement to your pet’s regimen.
So the next time you see a storm on the radar, or it’s getting close to firework season, try administering full spectrum hemp oil with CBD to get your dog to calm down and feel safe and secure.