Calming the Anxious Dog

Anxious dogs are quite common as human lifestyles changed: owners now live in smaller spaces, lead sedentary lives, and leave pets alone at home for most of the day. The easiest way to calm your distressed pup is to spend more time with them! But sometimes even the best owners need a hand, so here are some tools to relieve the tension.

Compression Calming

Anxiety Vests

These work by providing gentle compression to a dog’s body providing the feeling of a constant tight hug. Studies have found that many dogs find this sensation soothing and relaxing. You can use this on a dog any time you feel they are experiencing stress or anxiety such as a thunderstorm, vet visit, or car trip.

ThunderShirt Classic by Thundershirt

One of the original anxiety vests, the ThunderShirt Classic comes in all sizes and has adjustable velcro neck and torso straps. There is also a “scent patch” where you can apply a few drops of calming essential oils. The brand also recently released a weatherproof ThunderShirt Sport for outdoor excursions.

Calming Coat by AKC

This fur-resistant and washable fabric anxiety vest is a less expensive competitor to the ThunderShirt and comes in blue, pink, and grey. The neck opening is a bit wider and lower than the ThunderShirt, which may help dogs that don’t like pressure around the neck. Try the Calming Coat if you want a ThunderShirt with a lower price point and an alternative fit.

Supplemental Ingredients


Calming treats can help calm down an overexcited brain through the use of naturally calming ingredients. Remember that even natural ingredients can have adverse effects, and there are two to watch out for. Valerian is taxing on the liver and should not be used on puppies or dogs under 10lbs. Melatonin directly affects a dog’s sleep cycle and should be avoided except at bedtime. Please use calming treats sparingly—they are not a substitute for exercise and training.

Calming Soft Chews with Hemp by EasyBoy

These chews contain hemp, theanine, tryptophan, chammomile, and valerian. This is a great mix of calming ingredients that will calm your dog without putting him to sleep. But because valerian can be hard on the liver, don’t give EasyBoy Calming Soft Chews to puppies or very small dogs under 10lbs.

Quiet Moments Calming Aid by NaturVet

This valerian-free chew is perfect for small dogs and excitable puppies. However, NaturVet Quiet Moments Calming Aid does contain melatonin, so only administer this chew before bedtime.

Calm & Relax by LivanoPet

This German-based company innovated valerian-free and melatonin-free chews safe for all dogs young and old. Natural thiamine, ginger, chamomile, theanine, and passion flower relax your dog without completely sedating them. LivanoPet Calm & Relax is free of animal by-products, grains, and artificial flavors.

Essential Oils

Please do not diffuse essential oils in a house with pets or use essential oils directly on your pet. Almost all essential oils are toxic to animals in the air, ingested, and on fur or skin. There are many ignorant people and businesses trying to push essential oils into the pet market. A very small drop of lavender or chamomile essential oil on the Scent Patch of a ThunderShirt is safe. You may also try a carefully formulated calming spray such as Sentry Calming Spray.

Exercise and Stimulation

It’s the solution no one wants to hear, but exercise is pure magic for dogs. Most dogs crave exercise, and even lazy pups will enjoy themselves once they get going. A tired out dog is a happy and well-adjusted dog.

Agility Classes

Agility classes are intensely stimulating and fun for both you and your dog. This type of structured exercise builds confidence in your dog while teaching you how to communicate and read your canine. Although any kind of dog can participate in agility classes, working breeds like Border Collies, German Shepherds, and Dalmatians seem to benefit the most. It is best to try a class where there is a qualified agility teacher and a full agility course setup, such as the services offered at Kat’s Training Tails.

Socialization Classes

A structured socialization class helps challenge dogs mentally. Mental exercise can wear out a dog as fast or faster than physical exercise. Regular socialization keeps a dog calm and helps it play well with other dogs throughout its life. A good socialization class is not a dog park—it is a highly controlled environment with trained supervisors. A socialization class is also not an obedience class—the focus should be social behavior not tricks or commands. I use a local group that employs the Pack to Basics technique and it has been a lifesaver for highly anxious dogs.

Dog Parks

Should you use a dog park with an anxious animal? Only if supplemented with structured socialization classes. The danger of dog parks is the high number of irresponsible owners and untrained dogs. Anxious dogs need help relating to other dogs and you will need to be their guide and protector. One traumatic experience (such as getting bit by an aggressive dog) can set progress back months. Watch your dog closely and don’t be afraid to speak up to lackadaisical owners.


Much has been written about the proper way to walk a dog. Most owners don’t walk their dogs enough. Most owners don’t walk their dogs correctly. Dogs tend to lead the way with the owner at the canine’s mercy. While there is nothing wrong with letting your dog roam a bit in short spurts, most of the walk should be highly structured and led by the human. This controlled environment exercises the mind as well as the body. And for their own safety, dogs should not be accustomed to wandering off after new smells or wild animals.

The number one problem I encounter with structured walks is a dog who pulls so hard that they 1) drag their owner around and 2) damage their own trachea. Fortunately we have solved this problem with modern innovations. A few tools to nip pulling in the bud will guarantee many enjoyable walks for years to come.

Halti Headcollar by The Company of Animals

The original no-pull device is still in use by thousands today. It is the most effective tool for large and heavy pullers. It works by applying pressure to the dog’s snout instead of the neck. While dogs are willing to choke themselves on a normal collar, they will not fight against pressure on the delicate nose area. The Halti Headcollar should not be used on puppies or dogs with compact snouts.

Easy Walk Harness by Pet Safe

For dogs with short or sensitive snouts, an alternative to the Halti Headcollar is the Pet Safe Easy Walk Harness. The harness works by destabilizing the front legs when the dog pulls hard against the leash. It is a gentle action and safe for puppies. Don’t forget—the leash clips to the harness in the front.


A dog on a good sleep schedule is a calmer pet, however, syncing schedules takes some effort. In the wild, many mammals wake and sleep in short bursts to take advantage of spontaneous events in nature. Human schedules are dictated by more arbitrary forces such as the 9-to-5 workweek grind. In order to attain domestic bliss, it is best to train your pets to emulate your own sleep and wake patterns as much as possible. After all, you work hard so your pets can have a better life.

Dogs are extremely dependent on routine for their well-being; the slightest shift in agenda can throw them into turmoil. You will have to exercise consistency and patience with dogs in order to achieve lasting results.


Over-the-counter melatonin is one of the easier ways to encourage sleeping in both cats and dogs. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland when the body is attempting to sleep. Animal rescues now use melatonin to help anxious or jet-lagged rescue animals. However animal usage of melatonin is fairly new, and the right dosage is a matter of trial and error.

It would be difficult to fatally overdose on melatonin, however caution should always be exercised. Melatonin should not be used long-term because the body will stop making its own melatonin and cause a dependency on the supplements. Side effects of a melatonin overdose include: headaches, dizziness, upset stomach, diarrhea, joint pain, anxiety, crankiness, and inability to sleep without melatonin.

The only type of melatonin safe for dogs is a basic tablet completely free of xylitol and other artificial sweeteners. Xylitol and similar sweeteners are toxic to many animals. Xylitol will be listed on the ingredients list, and it is generally present in chewable or dissolvable tablets.

Dosage of this supplement is a tricky business, but the basic recommendation is 1mg for every 10 pounds. Usually the smallest tablets come in 1mg, so for a small 5 pound animal you would cut that tablet in half. Some dogs will eat anything and will chew a tablet straight. For a more finicky canine, wrap the tablet up in a teaspoon of peanut butter or use a Pill Pocket.

Melatonin 1mg Tablet by Nature’s Bounty

Nature’s Bounty Melatonin tablets are only 1mg and free of harmful additives. Great for puppies and smaller dog breeds.

Melatonin 3mg Tablet by Nature Made

Moderately sized dogs do well with one or one and half 3mg tablets. Try Nature Made Melatonin for larger puppies and moderately sized adult dogs.

Melatonin 5mg Tablet by Nature Made

For the largest dogs, it’s much easier to administer a few 5mg tablets. Nature Made Melatonin is a very basic tablet without toxic ingredients.


Some puppies have trouble adjusting from the warmth of sleeping with mom and litter to sleeping in their own beds. There are a few ways to replicate the warmth of comfort to help the baby animal adjust. Please do not skimp on any electrical heating device or use unknown brands. There are many Chinese, Russian, and Indian companies out there trying to make inexpensive copycat pet products, but the products are not regulated and can be extremely dangerous to your pet.

Hot Water Bottle by Samply

The most economical choice for providing heat to your pet. A hot water bottle with a knitted cover provides lasting warmth through the night, and sleeping against the soft cover is similar to snuggling up against the fur coats of mom and siblings. Just remember that they’re not microwaveable—heat up the water separately before filling the bottle.

Microwaveable Warmer by K&H

If you can afford to spend a little more, the microwaveable warmer is much more convenient than a hot water bottle. The K&H Microwavable Warmer is soft and squishy with a durable neoprene cover. 5 minutes of microwave time provides heat that lasts for 12 hours.

Self-Warming Pet Bed by K&H

This K&H Self-Warming Bolster Bed bed is fully washable and uses radiant material so that your pet’s own body heat warms the bed as they lay in it. This is designed for small dogs and thus larger dogs will prefer the K&H Self-Warming Pet Cot.

Ortho Termo-Bed by K&H

The K&H Ortho Thermo-Bed has a removable and washable cover and the pad has two layers of orthopedic foam. There are dual thermostats to keep the mat at a comfortable and even temperature. The electrical components are MET listed and guaranteed safe for your pet. This heated mat comes in medium, large, and extra large. Small dogs will be better suited to the K&H Heated Pet Mat.


Do you have an anxious dog? What are your tips and tricks for helping them chillax?

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