Anxiety can be the most uncomfortable feeling, and the worst part is that you don’t know why it is happening. Sometimes it comes out of nowhere and all you can do is try to hang on. Dogs can have a similar relationship with anxiety. They can feel overwhelmed, and they don’t have a way to understand what is happening to them. It is our jobs as loving owners to help direct our dog’s energy and see it as a condition that we should be sympathetic to instead of bothered by. At The Humane Society of Southern Arizona (HSSA), we see many dogs returned after being adopted because they have “too much energy” or have separation anxiety. However, there are many ways to help your dog with anxiety.
When dogs are feeling anxious they may act scared, timid, aggressive, or fearful. They also may shake, tremble, or whine. Some dogs will pace, and others will become destructive. They are trying to handle emotions that are too big for them to understand. It is similar to a toddler who is experiencing emotions for the first time.
Here are a few tools that can benefit both you and your dog.
1. A walk!
Anxiety hates a walk. This is one of the best tools I’ve ever learned. Sometimes, anxiety can make you feel weighed down or too scared to make decisions. Dogs can feel the exact same way. If you notice that your dog is feeling anxious, try a walk.
Walk for a substantial amount of time, a minimum of 20 minutes. When I went through the worst of my anxiety, my dog and I would walk for over an hour. As time went on the anxiety would drain, and when I got back home, I realized I felt so much clearer, too.
My dog was benefiting immensely as well. This is truly the tool I use most with my dog because it helps him so much. He sleeps better, is calmer around guests, and is more relaxed, which makes his mommy’s anxiety better, too!
2. Essential oils!
Lavender is a calming scent that can be used in bubble bath, teas, or even capsules. Dogs can benefit greatly from lavender (and other essential oils!). You can put essential oil drops on your dog’s bedding or crate, as well as applying it directly to your dog’s foot pads to relieve hyperactivity. You can also use a chamomile mixture.
Always dilute the essential oils when using them with dogs and do not use them with cats. Always talk to your vet for more information on safely using essential oils with your pets before you begin treatment.
3. A quiet, calm space!
Some dogs are too fearful or anxious to walk with you on a leash, and would like to run away or hide. These dogs are going to need your complete patience as they go through this transition.
The best way to help them with their anxiety is to give them a safe, calm place, like a crate and a blanket, in an area that isn’t too exciting. Let them come to you and over time they will begin to trust you and want to spend more time with you.
Once the dog is comfortable, you can introduce the leash. When the dog is comfortable with the leash, you can introduce walks. Walks will help the dog to drain some of the excess worry and stress that they’ve been dealing with, but don’t force them to walk until they are ready.
(Leo is one of our long term residents at HSSA. He is currently staying with a foster, and when he comes to HSSA he experiences a lot of anxiety. Leo feels comforted by laying under the desk and being near a trusted person while he is on campus. You can make a bed near you to help give your pet a secure space to try to settle their nerves.)
4. Attention and cuddles!
Dogs will become greatly bonded to owners that support them through their anxieties. When you help a dog to manage their needs, they will begin to see you as someone they can rely on and go to for help.
It is so rewarding when, after a long walk, your pooch comes over to cuddle you and thank you for the care you’ve put into their needs. Spend time sitting with them and petting them. Both of you will reap the benefits. They can’t talk, but they appreciate it more than you know.
5. Care for while you are gone!
If your dog is having issues while you are gone, it may help to use the anxiety tools before you leave. Walk your dog and give them attention. Crate training your pet while you are gone is also extremely beneficial.
Some people see it as unkind to have dogs in a small box for long periods of time, but it can do a lot to make them feel more secure. And remember, this will not be forever. Over time, your dog will become more and more comfortable, grow out of destructive activity, and be able to roam your house alone. You can also put a piece of your clothing in their kennel with them. It will smell like you, and that will comfort your pup while you are gone.
Remember that learning to manage your emotions and feel secure takes time, for people and for dogs. The best thing you can do for your pet is to be aware and give them patience. Animals also feed off of your energy, so make sure your needs are met, too.