Over the years I have had the pleasure of meeting hundreds – maybe thousands of dogs. They come in all shapes, sizes, and personality types. Some don’t like when their people go away (separation anxiety). Some don’t like changes in weather. Some don’t like to ride in the car, and others don’t enjoy meeting new people. I have come across all of these dogs – in fact – they live in my house! Sadie is the shy one peeking out from behind her Daddy’s legs – this speaks volumes! She is our original fearful girl.
She doesn’t like new situations, thunderstorms, or the car. The older she gets, she is even more sensitive to sound – like the wind.
Nemo is Sadie’s exact opposite. He is super social, loves everyone and everything – especially if there is food involved. While he has become more sensitive to things in his golden years (he will be 13 this month!), his big issue was separation anxiety when we first brought him home at 2 years old. We video taped him one day and the poor kid screamed the whole time we were at work. I don’t know if it was harder on him, fussing all day, or Sadie who had to listen to him.
Then we have our big beautiful Hound Buster. He came to live with us from the shelter when he was about 3 years old. He hated meeting new people (we were his third home that we know of), he got sick riding in the car, and he liked to pick fights with poor Nemo. Besides my kids, as a pet sitter, I have met many other dogs who have anxiety surrounding different things. It might be the weather, the fact that their family is away, or something in their environment that they react to – like loud noises (garbage truck, thunder, fireworks). If your pet is easily stressed or fearful, know that there is help! Below is a review of some of my favorite natural remedies to calm your pooch.
You have probably heard of the Thundershirt. They do work well for some dogs. They work the same way a compression vest is used to help people. It is important to use them properly, otherwise the shirt becomes a stressor for your pet. When introducing the thundershirt, you need to put it on your pet when they don’t “need” it. Try it out when you are at home on a nice day, when your pet is happy. When they are calm and relaxing in the shirt – reinforce that mood and behavior with a treat. Do that often, until they get excited when they see the shirt because they know they will get praise and a treat for wearing it. Then, when you need it because a storm is on the way – get out the shirt and use it. The big mistake people make is only using the shirt when it is storming and never going through that first part of introducing the shirt when there is no reason to be stressed. What happens is, the pet is getting anxious because of the storm, they see you with the shirt, they know the last time they saw that shirt there was a lot of thunder and lightning, so the shirt just brings on more anxiety. I will add that Thundershirts are not just for thunderstorms. They can be used to keep your pet calm during any stressful situation like a car ride, or going to the Vet. They even make them for cats!
ADAPTIL (also known as DAP) stands for dog appeasing pheromone. It is the same pheromone the mother dog emits when nursing her pups. Dogs find it very calming and soothing, and it does wonders for separation anxiety. There are a variety of ways to use this product – there is an electric plug-in diffuser (like a glade plug-in), a spray, wipes, and a collar. My favorite is the diffuser – you simply plug it in and change the refill every 4-5 weeks. Groomers, Vets, and Shelters often use the plug-in to diffuse the pheromone into the atmosphere. It is completely odorless – you won’t sense it at all, but your dog will! The plug-in can be used for many different types of anxiety, including when there are changes around the house, like a change in schedule, different people, different pets, or the loss of a pet or person in the household. The plug-in can take up to 30-days to work, so if you think it’s something you’d like to try, get it going right away! If using the wipes or the spray – be sure to follow the directions closely. They are never to be sprayed or wiped directly on your pet. They are to be used on bedding, in kennels, sprayed in the car etc. Your pet should not have contact with the treated surface until dry. The best thing is – the electric diffuser can be used in conjunction with the spray and wipes for added results!
Rescue Remedy is also commonly used at Vets and groomers. Maybe you have heard of Bach flower essences?? They work on the same principal as herbal remedies and/or essential oils. There is one made specifically for dogs that is called Rescue Remedy (get the one with the paws on the label – the other Rescue Remedy is for people). It is more of an immediate acting, but shorter term solution to anxiety and stress. My kids each get a dose when we leave the house for the Vet. I put 4-drops on a treat and they eat it up. One cool thing I have found about this (and a cool thing about dogs I suppose) is that my Sadie will actually take a treat with the Rescue Remedy on it. Normally, when she is reacting to an environmental stressor, she is sort of out of it, and definitely won’t eat. She will however, take a treat with Rescue Remedy – almost like she knows it will help.
There is another spray I have used called Safety Zone. It is a natural herbal calming spray for dogs and puppies. It can be used on bedding, in crates, in cars, and any place your pet goes. Again, it is never to be sprayed directly on your pet – but in their environment.
There are a few other things we do for our client pets who are sometimes fearful when their people are away. Even though these pets are in their own homes – sometimes it helps to have the scent of their person in their bed or in their favorite spot on the sofa. This is easily done through a piece of clothing. We ask clients to sleep in a T-shirt before they go, or even put a towel, or small blanket between the sheets when they sleep. Leave this (unlaundered) in the pets crate, or bed. It acts as a security blanket and comforts them while their family is gone – and – it’s free!
We often put on a TV or radio for pets when they seem lonely. The noise is a distraction for them, they seem to find the sound of voices comforting, and it makes them feel like someone is there with them. The noise from radio and TV comes in really handy to drown out the sound of thunder or fireworks in sound/noise reactive pets!
I have had success with each of the methods above. I prefer the natural route to drugs, and you can’t beat a couple of the suggestions because they are FREE! Another natural alternative (and maybe the best) is training. Pets can learn to be calm when in and around situations they find stressful. Once they have mastered it – you may not need to use any additional methods. There is some debate that while drugs may make your pet seem calm on the outside, on the inside they are still frightened because the cause of their fear is not being addressed. That said – I have met pets who do not respond to anything other than medication. Without it – they would hurt themselves.