8 Natural Remedies for Dog Anxiety
Does your dog suffer from anxiety? A lot of rescued dogs do, and often we don't know the exact cause for their nervousness. Abuse, neglect or even a single bad experience before you adopted your dog could cause mild to debilitating anxiety. These natural remedies for dog anxiety have worked wonders for my very anxious dog.
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We adopted my dog, Jenna, two years ago. Jenna was three years old when we rescued her, and her story still breaks my heart. Lifeline Animal Project rescued Jenna from an animal hoarder when she was six months old. For those first six months, she lived in a crate 24/7. They didn't even take her out to pee and poop, they just changed the newspaper or laid new paper down. Jenna lived in Lifeline's no-kill shelter for two and a half years before she was socialized enough to be adoptable.
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Even after those years of care, Jenna was still incredibly fearful when we got her home. For the first 36 hours that we had her, she didn't pee or poop at all. She basically sat on her bed, shaking. By the end of second day we could get her to eat and use the bathroom, but it took weeks for her to finally trust us.
We've had Jenna for two years now, and she is a completely different dog. She is still wary of strangers and has her nervous moments, but she loves to run and play. She's even warmed up to family and friends who visit us often. Jenna is always going to have a high base level of anxiety, but thanks to the natural remedies I'm going to get into below, she also can relax and behave like a normal dog the vast majority of the time.
Every dog's situation is different, so what worked for Jenna may not work for your dog. If one of these natural remedies isn't doing it for your nervous dog, try another one! This is a laundry list of everything that's worked and one thing that didn't work for us but does for too many other dog owners to leave out of the list. Pick and choose natural remedies as you find out what helps with your dog's anxiety.
1. Obedience Training
I can't recommend a good trainer enough. Training gives your anxious dog confidence, and a good trainer can help you with commands that are especially important. I've been taking Jenna to training on and off the entire time that we've had her, and it has been a miracle for us. It took a few months for us to start seeing results, so don't expect a quick fix from this. The long-term benefits for you and your dog are well worth it.
Getting exercise with your dog is a bonding experience, and it also helps her work off some of that nervous energy. Jenna and I run 9-15 miles a week together, when I can swing it, and she loves to run more than anything else. We had to stop running towards the end of my pregnancy, and on that first run back, she had a huge puppy grin on the whole time we were out.
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Running is just one way to get your dog exercise. You can go for walks, play catch, or play training games like "touch." Whatever you choose to do, talk to your vet first. Some breeds of dog are great runners, but others (like pugs) can overheat easily and need lower-key exercise.
3. Essential Oils
One fear that Jenna is definitely not over is thunderstorms. She shuts down during storms, which can be rough during spring and summer when it storms frequently here in Atlanta. Essential oils combined with Rescue Remedy (more on that below) have helped her out a lot. Choose a calming scent like lavender, and just put a couple of drops onto the dog's collar. Putting it on the collar is key, because then your dog can smell the soothing oil but can't eat it.
4. Rescue Remedy
Rescue Remedy is a blend of flower extracts, and they make blends for pets and for humans. We use the liquid for pets and feed it to her in a lump of peanut butter. It calms her down considerably. Though, to be honest, I do wonder if getting her favorite treat (peanut butter) has something to do with it. You can find Rescue Remedy at natural food stores or online.
5. Focus Toys
Redirecting your dog's attention when she's feeling anxious can be a big help. You can try using commands that you learned in training class, or you can give your dog a focus toy. There are all varieties of these. You can go with a rawhide bone or one of those puzzle toys that dispenses treats when the dog gets it right. Jenna's favorite toy is a Nylabone. She's a 50 pound lab mix, so she tears through a rawhide in minutes. She's had the same Nylabone for months, and it's still pretty much intact.
6. Watching Your Tone
When your dog is scared, how do you react? Do you say, "It's OK, sweetie!" in a higher-pitched voice than usual? This is a normal reaction, but it's actually not the best one when your dog is scared. If your dog sees you as the alpha in the pack, she's going to take her cues from you, and that kind of attention rewards your dog's fear, reinforcing it.
Next time your dog is scared, try to react as if everything is normal. You can put a hand on her back, so she knows that you're there, but try not to make a big deal out of the situation. Don't say "It's OK." Instead, show her that everything is OK with your body language.
7. Crate Training
We were lucky that Jenna was crate trained when we adopted her. For an anxious dog, the crate can be a "safe place" they can retreat to. When there's a thunderstorm or our neighbors decide to shoot off fireworks, Jenna often curls up in her crate. Dogs like a small, cozy space. If you're not into crate training, I'd suggest setting up a dog bed in a quiet corner or even under an end table, so your dog has a cozy place that's hers where she can go when she is scared.
8. The Thunder Shirt
This is the one natural remedy on this list that has not worked for us at all. Jenna is more afraid of the Thunder Shirt than she is of thunder! We are definitely outliers here, though. Every dog owner I know that has an anxious dog recommends the Thunder Shirt to me when I mention Jenna's fear of storms. This is a great example of how different natural remedies work for some dogs and not others. The Thunder Shirt is definitely worth a shot! If it doesn't work for you, you can pass it on to a fellow dog owner or donate it to your local shelter.
Do you have an anxious dog? I would love to hear about what natural remedies have worked for your companion animal!