Dogs can get scared or anxious just like humans and for many of the same reasons. Neglect and abuse leave lasting scars – and dogs are intelligent, sociable animals – below an elephant (and the usual suspects) in the brain chain but above most other mammals. It is therefore no wild stretch to compare them to humans, because many of the same causes, reactions and therapies hold true for dogs as well as us.
I will offer the example of my own dog, an Australian shepherd. He loves people, other dogs a little less so, but he is always polite. He also has no problem at all with cars or crates, he takes most things in life with equanimity.
But he is terrified of thunder and fireworks, anxious about strong rain and more generally put off by any kind of ‘weather’. Also, if he considers anything ‘amiss’, he will abort a walk (see image). If something is in the wrong place, if he hears a tree fall or even comes across a band of unruly children, he will insist on turning back.
So, he is within the standard range. Very sensitive and displays typical anxious behaviour for dogs, particularly shepherds (storms).* However, most of the ‘natural’ therapies do not work for him.
What Are the Standard Ways to Treat Anxiety in Dogs?
- Physical contact
- Special treats
OK. Let’s consider these. Imagine it’s you. When you are scared, will you want to exercise? Yes, maybe! Run! Fight or flight! And your dog?! Well of course he wants to run! But he will go anywhere and be terribly confused. Its an awful idea on the face of it. For generalized anxiety, yes, but she should be getting enough exercise to begin with.
Now 2-4. Again, for generalized anxiety, they are just fine. But they otherwise do not help much: a massage would be rebuffed just like food is, and physical contact amounts to only momentary distraction. Remember, the dog is terrified!
So, what REALLY works for dog anxiety besides medication?
- Storm jacket for dogs
I have never tried this one. But it makes sense and there is evidence to back it up.
Does your dog head to the bathroom for refuge?
Dogs may seek water for grounding. The changes to the atmosphere that go with a thunderstorm can create elevate static electricity in your dog’s coat – and even shock them. So why is the same behaviour often exhibited with fireworks? That is not clear, but perhaps fireworks ‘simulate’ a thunderstorm.
The inventor of a coat for dogs latched on to the theory that the static charge before and during thunderstorms was the trigger that upset dogs. He developed a cape with a special metallic lining that discharges the dog’s fur and protects the dog from a static charge buildup.’ The resulting product was tested at Tufts university with extremely positive results.
See one of the products here.
Again, consider yourself. Music alters your mood. It can make you sad, happy, excited, depressed, etc. Humans aren’t the only species that can be calmed by soothing music. Many owners leave a television or radio on when they leave their dog home alone.
Thanks to the initial psychoacoustic research conducted on the effects of sound on shelter dogs, we have learned that certain types of music can help reduce anxiety, lower heart rate and respiration, and alleviate certain behavioral symptoms in dogs.
Compositions that use longer, sustained notes, a slow tempo, consistent rhythm, and perhaps a single instrument help do help to calm your dog. Loud and sudden noises might incite an increase in adrenalin, while repetitive and gentler sounds will often relax the nervous system.
For what it’s worth, my dog also loves Beethoven (but not the 9th symphony!).
Specialized music can help for a range of situations like separation anxiety and travel anxiety. There are even compilations designed to help desensitize a dog with noise phobias.
I have found this product particularly effective, because it even works during storms and does seem to facilitate an extended nap time when we are gone. This is particularly relevant for owners of active ‘working’ dogs who can get extremely antsy and bothered by too much ‘down time.’ In fact, as the website says ‘it is perfect for those occasions which bring fireworks potentially scaring your pup, or for a dog who suffers with separation anxiety.’
Its 9 hours of music plus a book on dealing with your dog’s anxiety.
No kidding. I hadn’t known this. We use essential oils ourselves and only knew that certain oils like cinnamon could be harmful to dogs but we tried it – it’s great! Our neighbor tried it for separation anxiety and reported the same.
We use it now WITH the music for thunder, so the experiment could mean different things, of course but it’s quite clear also that he likes both separately, too.
We consulted with our slightly nutty vet, because you should concoct the right formula and make sure it’s properly diluted.
When applying, be sure to run the oil along your dog’s back – and avoid anywhere they could possibly lick it off (not easy!).
For reference, we used, per the vets ‘s recommendation, a combination of:
- Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) can help balance emotions by depressing panic, snappiness, irritability.
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is probably the most well-known essential oil for stress, fear, and agitation.
- Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata) has a sedative action. It can tamp down nervousness and insecurity.
- Frankincense (Boswellia carterii) slows breathing during times of stress and fear.
There are many more possibilities – essential oils tend to be calming, after all. You can see here for more healthfitplace.com/essential-oils-and-meditation-recommended-products-and-practices/ .
Here are a couple of magic brews for your reference:
Essential Oils For Thunderstorms / Sound Sensitivity:
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Melissa (Melissa Officinalis)
- Neroli (Citrus aurantium var. amara)
- Inhaling (during)
- Diffusion (before/during/after)
- Topical message (before/after)
For Separation Anxiety:
- 8 to 10 drops of Sweet Orange (Citrus Sinensis)
- 4 to 6 drops of Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
- 4 to 6 drops of Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata)
Effective ways to use the topical spray and roll-on:
- Apply spray or roll-on to your fingertips and gently massage dog’s ear flaps or chest.
- Lightly mist bedding and your clothing or apply the roll-on to your wrist.
- Use with other comforts like the music mentioned and some good chewies!
Do remember please, that proper dilution is essential for your dog’s health and safety.
Here’s a rule of thumb: Use a 0.5 percent to a one percent dilution. This means 3 to 6 drops of essential oil per ounce of a carrier oil. Our vet recommends using almond, coconut or apricot kernel oil. This recommendation is for topical use.
For your source, you absolutely need a reputable supplier. We recommend:
There is also a product that combines music with essential oils. We don’t specifically recommend it (friend and I separately found its efficacy limited); however, it may prove effective for some dogs in certain situations – especially separation anxiety. If your dog has mild symptoms, it is certainly the most convenient option.
- Finally, there is the most essential product of all: dog training. HealthFitPlace features one of the most successful online training programs available. I can easily imagine it to be – as I have heard – more effective than conventional and usually contradictory in-person programs. Please see here for the training you and your puppy may really want.
Or click here
* So, does that mean sheep are afraid of storms, too?! This raises some questions…..: )