Nine Calming Aids for Fearful, Anxious, or Nervous Dogs
Through a Dog's Ear - Through a Dog's Ear (TADE) is one of the calming aids I recommend most frequently for anxious, nervous, and even impulsive, hyper dogs and is "is the only clinically researched auditory series with practical solutions for canine anxiety issues." The TADE music collection features Julliard trained pianist Lisa Spector and currently includes: Music to Calm Your Canine Companion vols. 1 and 2, Driving Edition - Music to Calm Your Dog in the Car, and Music for the Canine Household.
Additionally, there is a TADE book that is a wonderful resource to pet owners and professionals in helping us better understand the effects our sound environments have on our own behavior and that of our dogs.
To order TADE products online, visit the TADE store. On the Through a Dog's Ear website, you will also discover research findings regarding sound therapy, a great program where TADE donates music to help calm dogs in shelter environments, Lisa's weblog, musical tips for behavioral problems, and a variety of other great articles and resources.
Thundershirt is a new product that has taken the training industry by storm (really bad pun definitely intended). I first saw the Thundershirt exhibited again at the APDT conference in Oakland, California, last year and then again at ClickerExpo in Lexington, Kentucky this past March. We have recently started carrying the Thundershirt at the classroom, and those clients who have purchased them are giving positive and enthusiastic feedback. Thundershirts can be useful for dogs with noise phobias, separation anxiety, travel anxiety, and other anxiety-related behavior problems.
Massage - Massage helps heal the body and the mind, and can be a fantastic calming technique for an anxious dog. We're lucky enough to have a massage therapist on staff at our classroom. Our resident massage therapist, Sandy Kemp of K-9 Comfort Touch, lists some of the Benefits of Massage on her website. You can learn massage techniques from a certified massage therapist near you or experiment with various long, slow, gentle strokes to find out what is intuitively calming for you and your dog.
Aside from massage, owners of anxious or fearful dogs should be encouraged to explore other types of therapeutic touch, including Tellington Touch or "T-Touch" training, developed by Linda Tellington-Jones for which a variety of books and videos are available.
Calming Cap: The Calming Cap, manufactured by Premier Pet Products, is a useful tool to help reduce stress in dogs who are overly reactive to various visual stimuli. While it is not a tool I recommend frequently, I have seen great success using the Calming Cap in collaboration with behavior modification for aggressive and reactive dogs.
If you choose to use a Calming Cap, make sure to follow the fitting and acclimation procedures from Premier. Before you start using the Calming Cap in a behavior modification plan you must teach your dog that wearing the Cap is a pleasant, fun experience.
Dietary Modification Could you imagine spending time with a toddler who lived on a diet of Snickers and Kool-Aid? Aside from the obvious health benefits, there are very good behavioral reasons a parent might restrict the amount of processed sugars in her child's diet. Good food promotes good behavior.
Similarly, feeding a species-appropriate, high protein, low carbohydrate diet can help in calming an anxious or hyperactive dog. Many pet owners note a reduction in demand or anxiety behaviors after switching from a high carbohydrate diet to a high protein (low or no carbohydrate) diet. Discuss with your vet how your dog's current diet may be affecting his behavior and what dietary changes, if any, are advised for your favorite dog.
For more information on selecting appropriate diets for your dog, visit the nutrition forums on dogster where you'll find a variety of information on commercial and home-prepared diet options.
Dog Appeasing Pheremone (DAP): DAP is a product which is meant to chemically replicate the natural calming pheremones a whelping dam releases to her pups. DAP has been clinically proven to substantially reduce barking behaviors in the shelter environment.
DAP is available at many pet stores, training centers, and veterinary clinics, and is available as a room atomizer, collar, or spray form. To learn more about DAP and its uses for behavior modification, check out Canine Behavior Spotlight: Behavior Problems and DAP.
Protocol for Relaxation: Dr. Karen Overall, in her ground-breaking book Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals, shares what is known as the "Protocol for Relaxation," a comprehensive and systematic training program intended to reduce stress and anxiety. The protocol is available, in its entirety, from the Dog Scouts of America, and is available here.
Alternative Medicines and Holistic Therapies: There are a variety of alternative and holistic therapies which may be helpful in reducing your dog's anxiety problems, including but not limited to: acupuncture, homeopathy, Flower Essence therapies, Traditional Chinese Medicine, herbal therapies, and aromatherapy. The Whole Dog Journal is a great resource to learn more about holistic therapies and positive training. To find a holistic vet in your area, visit the AHVMA: American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.
Conventional Medication: Ask your veterinarian if she can shed any light on potential interventions to reduce your dog's anxiety. Remember that medication is not a cure-all - if you and your veterinarian decide prescription treatments are needed, you will see the best results if the medication is employed along with a behavior modification plan established by your trainer or behaviorist.
With a little dedication and consistency, these tools should help your fearful dog grow confidence in her trust and trust in you as her advocate and best friend.