How to Calm an Anxious Dog

Learn how to calm an anxious dog with safe, gentle strategies that really work.

I never have to check the weather to know that a thunderstorm is coming. Before the clouds even roll in, my little dog Grady moves from his usual spot on the couch to hide in his crate or under the kitchen table. He's not normally an anxious dog, but thunderstorms and fireworks make him really nervous.

My big dog Griffey is the complete opposite. He's much more of an anxious dog overall but thunder doesn't bother him one bit. Turn on the vacuum or take him to the vet though and he has a full on panic attack.

Just like us, all dogs get nervous from time to time. Whether its because of a summer storm or a trip to the vet, there are things you can do to help calm an anxious dog. After living with two of them for 10 years I know what really works, and I'm here to let you in on my best solutions to calm an anxious dog.

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How to Calm an Anxious Dog

Know What Makes Your Dog Anxious

The first step to calming an anxious dog is to know his triggers. This is easy after you've lived with them a while, but might be harder when you've first brought your pet home. If you're still trying to figure it out, look for signs of anxiety in your dog and note what is happening around him when you see them.

Signs of anxiety in dogs can include:
  • trembling
  • yawning (when not tired)
  • showing "whale eyes"
  • pacing
  • shaking like they are wet when they are not
  • hiding
For more details on how to spot anxiety in dogs click here.

Once you know what makes your dog nervous, you can try to anticipate these situations and help calm him down before the anxiety even hits. And, there are a few things that you can do when your dog is totally calm that will help him learn to control his own anxiety and to feel safer in stressful situations.

Need a place to store your dog's information? Try my printable pet binder!

Create a Safe Space

Make sure that your dog has a safe place that he can retreat to when he is anxious. Crate training is a lifesaver for many nervous dogs. Our dog Grady loves his crate, and often retreats to it when he is feeling stressed.

Some dogs actually experience anxiety about going in the crate though, so you'll want to consider an alternative in this case. Get some ideas here.

Allow your dog free access to his safe space so that he can retreat to it when he needs to. And if things like strangers visiting your home are stressful to him, don't force him to meet them. Let him relax in his safe spot instead and you'll all be much calmer.

Give Him a Massage

When our dog Griffey was an anxious puppy, we learned about an amazing tool that was life changing for him. It not only gave us a safe, gentle way to help him calm down when he was nervous but also retrained his brain and body to learn to relax.

It's a form of massage called Tellington Touch (or TTouch) and it was first used on horses. It has since expanded to dogs and even cats (I've even tried it on my kids). 

You can learn more about how to do TTouch with your dog through books, videos, training classes, or even consultations with professionals. Learn more here.

Try a Thundershirt

You know how swaddling helps to calm fussy babies? A Thundershirt works on the same principle: gentle pressure to help relieve anxiety and promote calm and relaxation. We have one and it is pretty amazing.

Thundershirts are really easy to use - simply place it on your dog's back (kind of like a saddle). Then wrap the front flaps around his shoulders and the long flaps around his belly. You'll want it to be snug but not tight so that your dog is comfortable. Our dogs calm down instantly when they are wearing theirs - it is seriously genius.

Use a Calming Spray

This trick can work in conjunction with your Thundershirt for extra calming power or on its own. Make a homemade dog calming spray with essential oils to spritz on your dog's bed, on his Thundershirt, or anywhere that he may need a bit of calm. I love to spray it on a bandana when we go out for walks to help my dogs stay more relaxed.

You can find my DIY dog calming spray recipe here (it includes free printable labels too).

If you find the calming spray to be effective for your dog you can also diffuse calming essential oils in your home. Just be sure that they are safe to use around dogs, and also use caution if there are kids or cats in your family too. Here's a great resource for knowing which essential oils are dog safe.

If you're planning to use essential oils be sure to grab my Essential Oils binder set to keep your information and DIY recipes organized at your fingertips! See it here.

When You Need More Help

These tools have worked for our family to help alleviate situations where my dogs are feeling anxious. But for severe or persistent anxiety, they may not be enough. If your dog is anxious more often than not, or his anxiety is causing him to possibly harm himself or others, you should seek professional advice. Your veterinarian is a great place to start, as he or she may be able to recommend a behaviorist or even prescribe medication that can help. Please do not give your dog medication without consulting your veterinarian first!

No matter what makes your dog nervous, anxiety can be helped in a kind, gentle way that will bring you even closer to your best friend. 

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Help calm your anxious dog with these gentle strategies that really work! Help for dogs scared of thunderstorms, dogs scared of fireworks, dogs with separation anxiety, dogs with stranger anxiety, and more. Calming techniques for dogs that really work. #dogmom #dogtraining #doghealth #dogownertips

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