A car ride. A clap of thunder. The dreaded vacuum cleaner. Any of these triggers might turn your pup into an anxious wreck. And it’s not easy to see your pal so distressed: When a dog panics, “every single muscle in their body contracts simultaneously, like they’re having a seizure while standing up,” says veterinarian Marty Becker, founder of Fear Free, a program that trains veterinary professionals to create a more calming experience for their patients.
Noise phobias can be especially challenging, says Becker, because the anxiety may snowball. Maybe it starts with fireworks on the Fourth of July, for example; then the dog becomes afraid of loud bangs on TV, honking horns, the microwave.
But there is hope for high-strung hounds: “There are simple, safe, and sure-fire solutions so pets don’t have to suffer,” Becker assures. Below are seven strategies to help nervous dogs relax. Because the anxiety response can be complex, it may take some time to figure out which therapy, or combination of therapies, offers your furry friend the most relief.
Consult a trainer
In some cases, you can “train the dog out of having the reaction in the first place,” says San Diego-based veterinarian Jessica Vogelsang. The traditional approach, she says, is desensitization, which entails gradually introducing your dog to scary noises while offering him rewards. Rewiring your pooch’s associations is a long-term solution. The catch? It’s a lot of work, and your best bet is to hire a trainer who specializes in the technique, says Vogelsang.
Vogelsang recommends a series of albums called Through a Dog’s Ear. “[The music] is specifically composed to decrease a dog’s stress response,” she explains. If your pup is freaked out, put her in a dark room (ideally with no windows), and play one of these CDs. You can also do this in advance of a known trigger: Say you’re planning a road trip, or a party at your house. Try this music therapy in the day or two leading up to the stressful event. (Regular classical music may help as well.)
Get rid of static
You may notice that your dog gets anxious prior to a storm. That’s because he’s triggered by the buildup of static electricity in the air, explains Becker; and in response, he may hide in the closet, bathroom, or basement. One possible remedy: “Take an unscented dryer sheet and wipe down the trunk of your dog’s body,” suggests Becker. “About half [of dogs] won’t have a problem with the storm.”
Try a Thundershirt
The Thundershirt is a compression garment designed to reduce fear in dogs. “It’s like swaddling a baby for comfort,” says Becker, “like a comforting hug.” The company says that the vest (also available for cats) can help with a range of phobias, and works for about 80% of pets.
When a mama dog nurses her puppies, she releases a calming pheromone that encourages them to lay down quietly. You can buy a synthetic version of that pheromone to help your dog relax at any age, says Becker, who suggests asking your vet for a recommendation. He likes a company called Adaptil, which sells both a collar and a diffuser.
Give your dog a chill pill
Becker often recommends a supplement called Zylkene, which packs a calming milk protein. Another option: chews that contain the green tea extract L-Theanine, available at many pet stories.
Talk to your vet about medication
If the strategies above don’t relieve your dog’s anxiety, it may be worth trying a prescription med like Xanex or the new non-sedating drug Sileo. According its manufacturer, Sileo works by blocking the fear chemical norephinephrine to dampen a dog’s anxiety response.