Many “pandemic puppy” owners recently have described their dogs as having “anxiety” - even puppies that are just a few months old! While dogs can experience anxiety similarly to people, it's critical to determine if your pup’s behaviors are the result of anxiety - or boredom, lack of exercise, and lack of training.
For rescue pups, there can be a variety of triggers based on past experiences and those can cause feelings of stress, and nervousness which can manifest itself in a variety of ways. From chewing through carpets, shaking, aggression, and pulling apart beds, couches, or pillows, there are many signs of dog anxiety that all dog-parents should be aware of.
The most common type of anxiety in dogs, especially adopted or rescued pups, is separation anxiety, often stemming from past trauma, abuse, and neglect. Additionally, some dogs can experience various levels of situational anxiety which is either mild or extreme.
If you visit a conventional vet, they might recommend giving medication to your puppy. Oftentimes this medication is the same medicine used for people, like Xanax or Prozak. Unfortunately, most conventional medication comes with a long list of adverse side effects, and while people can tell their doctors how these medicines make them feel - obviously the same can’t be said for your dog. While medicines can work, often they fail to address the underlying issues. Thankfully, there are plenty of natural remedies to explore that may help to ease stress and anxiety. (The FDA has not confirmed through its own studies that these products reduce anxiety). While May 2 - May 8 was Dog Anxiety Awareness Week 2021, its always good to explore tips for helping your pup be the best it can be.
Dogs and puppies need exercise. It’s critical for their heart, body, and mental health. Dogs that are home tearing up the house may not have anxiety at all - but are bored. Obviously, we are big supporters of doggie daycare as it provides both physical and mental stimulation if your pup is a good fit. But if not a good fit, then a good run, bike ride, doggie treadmill, ball throwing, puzzle time -- all are helpful for your pup (in fact they are essential even if you do take your dog to daycare!). Exercise can soothe anxiety in people, and the same is true for dogs. It burns off excess energy that otherwise translates to restlessness. And the best part, the exercise benefits you as well!
If your dog gets anxious at specific triggers, such as loud noises, there are a number of ways you can help them calm down. Distract them from the noise by playing a game with them, giving them a toy or puzzle, or have them do tricks in exchange for high-value treats. Alternatively, soothing music, cuddles, and weighted blankets can help curb the immediate response to the trigger.
Some dog parents use what’s called counter-conditioning to train their dogs to associate their triggers with positive feelings rather than anxiety. This can look like giving your dog cuddles and treats when they feel triggered, by thunder for instance. Over time your pup will begin associating their trigger with a positive feeling.
There are a number of supplements that we use in our store with great success. CBD oil, or Cannabidiol oil, is becoming increasingly popular for people and their dogs. CBD is derived from Industrial Hemp, and should not be confused with marijuana which also comes from the marijuana plant.. Marijuana contains THC which is the chemical that makes one feel “high.” CBD, on the other hand, either contains little or deminimis amounts of THC.
CBD interacts with the Endocannabinoid system of either your or your pup’s body. Endocannabinoid chemicals stimulate serotonin production, which is the chemical that stabilizes mood and makes us feel relaxed and happy. Dogs naturally release endocannabinoid chemicals in their bodies. We research any product we offer before selling it and only sell organic derived ingredients, from reputable suppliers. We also trying them on our own dogs - and work with our in store clients to ensure that what we are offering are valuable tools for any dog owning parent. Check out our dog-friendly CBD oil. Alternatively, try giving your dog CBD treats if you find it difficult to use the dropper with your pup or you’re trying counter-conditioning. Humans may also benefit from CBD and we offer those as well because well, such as Charlottes web sleep gummies which I have used since the start of the pandemic! After all, dogs benefit from calm happy humans!
Not all dogs respond to CBD however, and we also offer a variety of other options made with essential oils. These products have been around for many years and some are even specifically designed to address issues resulting from a rescue situation, to aggression, or dealing with the loss of an owner via divorce or death. And, of course we are required to tell you that the FDA has not verified the use of any product - other than pharmaceuticals for either dogs or humans nor proven that CBD or any supplement can help with anxiety.
Food & Gut Health
Our diet and our dog’s diet has a huge effect on mental health. I bet you didn't realize that more serotonin is created in the gut than in the brain. That is why it is absolutely essential to watch your dog’s gut health and to feed them food full of nutrients and protein rather than just dog kibble. If you can't use raw, freeze dried options are also great as a meal or a topper as they contain healthy farm raised meats, organic veggies and bone and organs.
Also, just like humans, all dogs can use good probiotics and digestive enzymes. These help heal the gut, and allow for better overall digestion - ensuring that your pup takes in all the good protein and vitamins that you are feeding it.
If your dog experiences separation anxiety and/or you have to leave them home alone frequently, we strongly recommend enrolling your dog into doggy daycare. It’s important to remember that dogs, biologically and evolutionarily, are pack animals: socialization is in their bones. When left alone frequently, dogs get lonely, anxious, and bored, all of which have an adverse effect on their long-term health and social skills. Doggy Daycare allows your pup to run around, explore, play with other doggy friends, and develop their social skills while you’re at work. It also helps them get in that extra exercise to help burn off excess energy.
Work with Positive Reinforcement Trainers and Don’t Give Up!
Like people, all dogs are individual and unique. What works to ease one dog’s anxiety might not work with yours. There are often trainers in your local area that can help you with positive reinforcement mechanisms to move your dog away from anxiety to happiness. Make certain your trainer does not use prong collars or E collars which while they may work by teaching your dog that pain is the only way to get results, will cause severe regression and is absolutely not necessary. Test out a variety of different methods and natural supplements to find out what works for you and your pup. Your pup loves you and doesn’t want to act out -- so help him help you!