Puppies are fuzzy balls of adorable energy, but did you know that there's more going on between those floppy ears than just thoughts of sleeping, eating, and roughhousing with their littermates? It's true; puppies can even experience an all-too-human emotion: anxiety.
Sure, they aren't worried about the same things – bills, the kids' soccer schedule, what's for dinner – but they still have their worries. And, for a puppy with weeks or months of life experience, their fears could very well be the worst things to ever happen to them in their entire tiny lives.
Why do puppies, some of the world's most carefree creatures, get anxiety? Well, consider life from their perspective.
They're tiny new bundles of joy introduced to the world, and they're soaking up everything. Anything they encounter could be a new source of joy and fun… or it could be a terror, a hazard, a source of pain and fear.
Sometimes, it's that buzzy bug in the sky that suddenly hurts a whole lot when a stray snap catches it. Sometimes, it's a sudden loud noise in their space, which you're using to clean up their messes. Sometimes, it's strange people, and they don't know how those people are going to act around them.
Sometimes, it's just loneliness; it's beenMINUTESsince they last saw their parents – canine or human – and that's an un-fur-givable amount of time.
They don't have the life experience to know what's minor and what's major, what's safe and what's dangerous, what's normal and what's abnormal. They yelp and yip and whine at anything, for any reason, but when that anxiety starts to get to them, they might take to more detrimental behaviors.
And, in cases where separation anxiety is in play, you might not be around to teach them that everything's alright and that they shouldn't be gnawing on that pillow.
Why is Anxiety Dangerous in Puppies?
Puppies, especially young puppies, are still learning, growing, and building up their experiences. Those experiences will become the foundation of their entire lives. You've heard that you can't teach an old dog new tricks – and you've heard that you actually can, of course – but it can be quite difficult to change two things about a dog: their breed predilections and their early learned behaviors.
Anxious puppies start to do things, either out of fear, worry, or an attempt to soothe themselves. Behaviors that you don't want, like:
Chewing on things they shouldn't chew on, like furniture, cushions, electronics, books, or other household items. Sure, they're already probably chewing on everything, but anxious chewing is altogether more thorough and destructive.
Constant barking. Whether they're calling for a parent, calling out to hear something other than the silence of a house they've been left alone in, or just barking because it gives them some kind of way to express themselves and they're out of other options,incessant barkingis a sure sign of anxiety for many dogs.
Having accidents. Whether it's a puddle of piddle on the rug or an altogether smellier pile left under a couch or in the middle of the carpet, puppies often have trouble controlling themselves early on, and anxiety makes it worse.
Health issues. Just like in people, anxiety can cascade through their system and affect other bodily processes; they can end up with gastrointestinal problems, reduced immunity, sensitivity, and even allergies.
Distraction and sadness. An anxious puppy isn't the carefree bundle of joy you want it to be, and that's really just the saddest possible thing.
While a dog is unlikely to perish or otherwise suffer extremely from anxiety, it's still not good for them, and it's not good for you. So, you want to do anything in your power to assuage the anxiety and help your puppy grow up to be a strong, confident, and self-fulfilled doggo. I've put together five options to help you calm down an anxious dog, no matter their age.
1: Training Away the Bad Behaviors
No matter the age, condition, or severity of the reaction, usually, the number one thing you can do for any behavioral problem in a dog is to work on training with them.
When it comes to anxiety, though, training isn't necessarily a solution. Training exists to help redirect your dog's behaviors away from negative, destructive behaviors and towards positive or neutral behaviors.
For example, instead of chewing on the furniture, you might train them to cuddle and chew on a specific anxiety toy.
"Mild cases of separation anxiety can be addressed with a counter-conditioning program, where, over time and through positive reinforcement, we change the dog's negative reaction to a situation (being left alone) to a positive one," says Erin Katribe, DVM and medical director forBest Friends Animal Society. "This is usually achieved through associating the situation with something really positive that the dog enjoys, like really delicious food or engaging toys. It's also helpful to start the training process by providing these positive items while you're gone for only a short period of time — the goal is to avoid the fear and negative association all together." -HGTV.
Training puppies is a lot easier than training older dogs, but dogs of nearly any age can be trained.The older a dog is, the harder it can be to train them, but it's still possible right up until they reach a point where they're no longer capable of retaining new information, which is usually end-of-life.
It's important to remember that training is only part of a solution. You should still try to figure out what is causing your fur baby to be anxious and remove or mitigate that cause. Sometimes, it's easy, like removing a stressor; other times, it's hard, like dealing with separation anxiety.
2: Too Tired to Worry
One of the solutions to anxiety in people is exercise. Exercise serves two purposes. First, exercise releases endorphins in dogs that can help counteract things like cortisol, the stress hormone, and fight off the bad brain chemicals that make a dog anxious in the first place. Secondly, it wears them out; a tired dog is more likely to be able to calmly go to sleep or relax rather than worry about whatever was bothering them before.
Some dog breeds are trickier to wear outthan others. Some dogs seem to have endless energy, and you have to do more than just play fetch with them for an hour. Most dogs can benefit from an exercise that involves both physical and mental stimulation, some kind of enrichment that engages them so they get mentally tired as well as physically tired.
If your dog only sleeps for a few hours and wakes up with hyperactivity and anxiety at night, you may need to adjust schedules to wear them out more during the day. Every dog is different, so you'll want to experiment to see what works best with your furry child.
3: Try Calming Treats
Just like we might reach for a bit of chocolate or a soothing cup of tea when we're feeling stressed, you might be able to give your dog a treat that can help calm them down. Not chocolate, though, never chocolate.
Calming treats for dogs are generally going to include ingredients like hemp oil, valerian root, chamomile, orCBD. It's always tricky to use herbal remedies properly, though, so be careful not to go overboard with dosages; if your dog gets sleepy or bleary after a treat, there's probably too much in it. All you want is to help take the edge off, ideally while you're doing other things to help them calm down and learn that whatever is making them anxious really isn't all that bad.
Some people also recommend aromatherapy. Aromatherapy makes sense – dogs experience the world largely through their noses, after all – but you have to be very careful with it. Their sense of smell is a lot better than ours, so something we can barely detect might be nearly overpowering to them. Moreover, certain scents – certainessential oils, that is – are toxic to dogs. Do your research before starting any kind of aromatherapy, and consult with your vet if your pooch shows any side effects other than being calmer.
4: Use Other Calming Products
Depending on the dog and the source of the anxiety, you may be able to use one of a variety of different products to try to combat it.
You may want to consider trying:
Contact and massage. Close contact with your fur baby can help calm them down, which is good if their anxiety stems from something like fireworks or a thunderstorm that they'll live through and that isn't always present.
Music. Some studies have shown that calming music at a low volume can be beneficial and relaxing for both people and dogs. Harps, classical music, and "new age" soundscapes can all be good options. There are evendog-focused albumsmade for just this purpose.
Safe spaces. If you have the space in your home, give your dog a place they can go where they'll never be bothered, and they'll always be comfortable. If you don't have room to have a dedicated space, you can also try products like theZenCrate, a sturdy, enclosed, thick-walled crate container that provides protection and a cozy spot for your pooch.
Shirts. Similar to both a safe space and contact, a calming shirt, coat, or sweater can be a sort of mild pressure that helps your fur baby feel like they're being held, even when they aren't. One of the most popular brands is theThunderShirt, made specifically for thunderstorms, but there are other options out there as well.
Most of these options are best in cases where you're traveling, when you're bringing your dog somewhere unfamiliar, or when you're bringing someone unfamiliar to your home; in other words, ways that you can react to the anxiety. They aren't as useful for things like separation anxiety since, by definition, you won't be there to swaddle them.
5: Desensitization Training for the Anxiety Trigger
To wrap this back around to training, one of the most long-term solutions to anxiety in your dog is to work with them to figure out what is causing them anxiety and to desensitize them from it. This can only be done with certain kinds of anxiety triggers, so be careful with what you're trying to work on. You should also start slow, progress slow, and only do one trigger at a time.
For example, if your dog is afraid of car rides (maybe because every time they end up in the car, they end up at the vet, and they're scared of the vet), you can start by playing out and around your car. Exposure to the car when it's off can help get them used to the sight and scent of the vehicle. From there, you can open the car up and play with them inside and out of it, so they're more used to being in it without going anywhere. Rewarding them all along helps them associate it with good times.
Eventually, you can work up to riding in the car. Take them around the block or to a dog park, somewhere they can enjoy, so there's no dread or negative end result.
"Lead by example throughout the process. Use body language to show your furry friend that everything is ok. Your pup is a loyal friend, so he or she will follow your lead and react to the trigger with less anxiety." –Pet Honesty.
You can also take them on trips to the vet even when there's no vet treatment, and they don't even need to see the vet. In fact, many vets even offer puppy wellness visits when they're young specifically just to bring the dog to them, get a few treats and some affection, and send them home, solely so they don't develop vet anxiety.
Often, the hardest part of dealing with anxiety for dogs is simply figuring out why they're anxious. Sometimes, it might be something you don't even notice or recognize – a strange smell from an animal nearby outside, a beeping you can't even hear, but they can, or even a bad vibe they get from a neighbor. In these cases, you may even consider hiring a professional to help diagnose the issue so you can handle it. Good luck!
As always, if you ever have any questions, I'd be more than happy to help you out however I can! Just leave me a comment down below, and I'll get back to you as soon as possible!
K Marie Alto
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer (https://www.amazon.com/author/kmariealto), and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 45K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).