How to soothe an anxious dog

From changes in their environment and separation anxiety, to long car journeys or the sound of fireworks, pets can become distressed and anxious for a wide range of reasons. Dogs in particular are highly sensitive creatures and will often respond to extreme stress by displaying bouts of disturbing or even destructive behavior.

Seeing a cherished pet behaving in this way can be extremely distressing for the owner. Thankfully there are many steps you can take to help reduce the level of anxiety in your dog. Read on to learn more about the symptoms, prevention techniques and options for treatment that can help restore peace of mind for both you and your dog.

For humans, compounds found in the marijuana plant have a positive effect on gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels in the brain. Research has suggested that some of the main phytocannabinoids — specifically, the phytocannabinoid cannabigerol (CBG)  — have been shown to have positive effects on receptors in the brain that cause anxiety, says THC Physicians.

What is making your dog anxious?

The three most common causes of anxiety in dogs are fear, separation and aging. Sources of fear may be obvious, such as the sound of thunder during a storm or explosions from nearby fireworks, but some dogs can also become fearful at the sight of people wearing hats or carrying umbrellas. Your dog may also become extremely anxious during a trip to the vet.

Around 14 per cent of dogs are believed to suffer separation anxiety. If your dog has started destroying the furniture or chewing up shoes, or if your neighbors report long periods of barking or howling during your absence or you return to find your dog has urinated or defecated in your home, this could be the cause. Dogs can also become more anxious as they get older and their mental faculties begin to decline, making it more difficult for them to understand what is going on around them.

Coping strategies

One of the most common ways to treat anxiety is with medication. The over-the-counter antihistamine Benadryl, will make your pooch drowsy so that it can better deal with a stressful situation such as a long car journey, but sedatives are not always the best solution.

In the case of separation anxiety or stress that results from changes in the environment such as moving to a new home, there are several strategies you can employ to help your four-legged friend to cope.

A good starting point is to look into what your dog is eating. If you dog seems hyperactive and behaves as if it has too much excess energy, switching to a high protein but low carbohydrate diet can help. You should also make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise, both indoors and out, and gets to play plenty of games with you and members of your family. The more enjoyment your dog has in all aspects of its life, the less it will focus on the negative emotions that emerge during times of stress.

Dogs love routine and get very flustered if their expectations are not met. Try to take your dog out for walks at roughly the same time each day and establish an order of events for some parts of a pre-walk routine, such as attaching a collar, so that you dog eventually learns that it is only when a collar has been fitted and you reach for you coat that a walk is imminent. This will prevent your dog from getting excited about you putting on your coat, only to realize that you are merely running an errand and leaving your pet at home for a short time.

Pot for pets

If you want try an alternative to traditional sedatives, consider treating your pet using oils that contain CBD, a product derived from marijuana plants. Unlike THC, the main psychoactive component of cannabis, this substance will no produce any kind of high. CBD is widely used to treat a wide range of common ailments and diseases in humans, but it has also been shown to be equally effective when used with pets.

Pets suffering from separation anxiety, seizures and a range of other conditions may benefit from taking doses of CBD oil which is mixed with olive oil and delivered orally. As with its use in humans, medicinal CBD does not create any of the psychotropic affects usually associated with marijuana, so you never have to worry about your dog having hallucinations or feeling even more anxious as a result of CBD treatment.

Swaddle your dog

The key problem with sedatives is that you have to give them to the dog well in advance of the event for them to be fully effective, and you can’t often predict when a storm is going to arrive, or a firework display is going to begin. If you wait until the noises have started before you deliver the sedative, you may have already missed the window of time during which they would be of benefit to your pet.

Some owners attempt to desensitize their dogs to loud sounds by playing recordings of thunder storms or exploding fireworks over a period of weeks or months, starting with small exposure and rewarding the dog for not showing signs of stress. Although this can work with some dogs, not all will respond to such fake sounds the way they do to real ones.

Though some pets may become used to the sound of the recordings, they will still become stressed and anxious during periods of extreme weather. This is partly because the sound of the recordings come from inside the house, which dogs consider to be a relatively safe environment. When similar sounds are heard emanating from outside the house, stress levels rise once again.

One extremely popular, non-medical treatment for fear-related anxiety is the ThunderShirt, a specially designed garment that wraps tightly around your dog’s torso and, in doing so, provides sensations that lead to a great reduction in anxiety.

The device was invented in 2008 by Phil Blizzard to help his dog, Dosi, who would become highly distressed during thunderstorms. One night, along with his wife Patricia, Phil wrapped a t-shirt around Dosi and then covered this with packing tape to increase the pressure on her torso. Almost immediately, Dosi stopped shaking and lay down. It was the start of a business which now enjoys annual revenues in excess of $15 million.