Got a Stressed Dog? Try These Tips!

by Drs. Foster and Smith on September 3, 2009

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**Guest post from Ellen B.**

Just like humans, dogs can also get stressed. Dog stress and anxiety can result in undesirable behavior and can lead to health issues. Here’s a compilation of tips that worked for my friends or me. Remember, your dog’s veterinarian should be your #1 resource for major dog stress issues.

Dog StressPhysical Exercise - If you’ve ever went for a walk when really stressed, this tip is obvious. Exercise is a great recipe for stress management for humans and pets. Take your pet for a walk, play ball or whatever your dog likes to do. Your tired dog will be less anxious, and exercise is good for you too!

Mental Exercise – Boredom can lead to bad behavior, so here’s a few ideas to keep your dog’s mind challenged.

  • Toys, especially puzzle toys, can be very entertaining and mind-stimulating.
  • Teaching him tricks makes him “work” and provides mental exercise that all dogs need.
  • During our daily walk, I have a certain stretch that I refer to as Kobe’s “newspaper” area. He gets to sniff as much as he wants, during which time I think he’s discovering what has been happening in the neighborhood!

Play it Cool – When you return home, keep the event low-keyed and unexciting. If you get all excited and give your dog energetic attention when you arrive back home, he’ll quickly learn to get excited and ready for play every time you (and others) walk through that door. Try a calm hello with a pat on the head. Go about your business, and give him some more calm attention 10 minutes later.

Take it Gradually – If your dog experiences anxiety or gets stressed when you are gone, start by going outside where he cannot see you for 5 minutes. Don’t make an issue of walking out the door or coming back in. Gradually lengthen your absence.

Good-Bye Treat (or Not) – What works for my dog is to give him a treat every day when I leave for work. Although he’s about to be home alone for several hours, he gets excited because he knows he gets a treat. However, some owners find that it is better to stick with the play it cool approach, and not make an issue out of your departure. Experiment with dog treats and figure out if this type of ritual helps your dog.

Comfort Zone Plug-inCalming Products
– The Comfort Zone Plug-in worked for my friend’s toy-breed dog who had anxiety issues. I have heard success stories with this product, but have not tried it myself.  Many people successfully calm their pet using Rescue Remedy. I’ve heard of people both putting it in the dog’s water or giving it as directed.

Crates or Confinement versus “run of the house” - My last dog, Lucky, did  great having the run of the house. He loved taking long naps in a quiet, peaceful house and actually got stressed when I confined him to one room. Kobe, my current dog, is just the opposite. He feels safe and secure in his crate, and anxious if he’s home alone with no space limitations. Kobe happily goes in his crate.

Tryout some of these ideas, and you’ll discover what works best for you and your dog. If your dog has severe anxiety issues, talk to your veterinarian to see if a prescription anti-anxiety medication might be helpful.

Please leave a comment with any tips you have for relieving dog stress and anxiety.
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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristi September 3, 2009 at 3:07 pm

I definitely agree with getting your dog a puzzle or fun toy for when you are gone. My dog would get into everything. She’d even bring things downstairs that she knew she isn’t allowed to touch. She didn’t destroy or even chew on them but laid them out just to let us know she had them. We got her a few toys (including one big orange gorilla that she carries everywhere) and all that bad behavior stopped. We now keep a few toys out at a time and rotate them so she doesn’t get bored. We’ve even left food out accidentally and she didn’t even touch it! Good Girl!!

Joel Smits September 4, 2009 at 9:49 am

All pets require attention (love) and dogs are right at the top of the list for attention seekers. You’re right about training them to not miss you.

Ellen B. September 4, 2009 at 10:18 am

Kristi, thanks for the toy tips. I had to LOL about her putting her things downstairs just to say “I was here!”

Joel, I agree. I don’t want my dog to be unhappy every time I’m away from him. “Training them to not miss you” is a good way of saying it.

Annette September 4, 2009 at 11:00 am

I’ll have to read this when we are in California with Lily. When A&M got her, she was calm and quiet. No more! Now she wants to have fun!

Tina September 4, 2009 at 11:34 am

My dog is one of those that completely HATES to be confined to a crate. When she was going through the puppy chewing phase, we tried crating her during the day while we were out. She figured out how to break out easily and once bent the kennel door almost in half . We ended up having to face the (new) kennel door to the wall to keep her in. She no longer chews furniture or shreds pillows, so she is allowed to have the run of the house even when we are out now.

Strange part is, she loves the crate and goes in and out all day long. She just does not want to you shut that door on her.

Lisa September 5, 2009 at 11:25 pm

I saw a trainer on a show using this training technique for a dog with separation anxiety disorder {when their human parent’s would leave them at home}. She did it in small steps: Leave for 5 mins, return, leave for 10 mins, return, leave for 15 mins, return, and then pushing the limit up to 30 mins,returning,etc. You get the idea. Always praising the dog and treating the dog for a job well done in her absence. Soon the dog learned that she wasn’t going to be away forever and would be returning. The dog and the owner’s anxiety was relieved. Making them both a little less stressed! :)

Stephanie September 7, 2009 at 8:38 pm

my dog , Balto, is BIG at 126 pounds. I have tried to ignore him upon my return home. I have also tried to have him sit quietly when I get home . He still can’t contain his exitement and jumps up and puts his paws on my shoulders and bounces around yipping his happiness.
i need more ideas…help?

Tina September 8, 2009 at 10:36 am

How old is Balto? I had the same issue with my Karma when she was younger, but she is a “little” more mellow now at 3 years. We have been working on her patience lately because she does tend to be a little high strung. To teach her the wait command, we used bite sized treats. I would stand in one place and hold the treat above her head while I continued to talk to one of the kids, another adult, etc. Only when I said “Get it”, could she have the treat. She does really well now by focusing on my hand rather than jumping on me or anyone else that comes in the door. I do not even need the treat any longer, just put out my hand above her head, and I can greet whoever comes to the door without trying to wrestle her away. She sits there nicely and stares at my hand like it is the Holy Grail. Once I am done with my conversation, she gets a pat or I tell her she can “Say Hello” (greet calmly) the visitor herself. She is pretty well behaved at home, but public places still need alot of work.

Ellen B. September 8, 2009 at 10:55 am

Stephanie – my dog makes me feel like a rock star every time I walk into the door – I think you are Balto’s rock star! On a more serious note, I’ll check around and see if some of our many dog lovers have any additional suggestions.

Dr. Scott A. McKay September 8, 2009 at 11:34 am

Stephanie, this may end up as a battle of wills. Yours vs. His. When you come home you must ignore him. Any response is, from his perspective, interaction. I realize this will be difficult when Balto is as big as he is. However, he is playing off you and your interactions with him. He must not be “rewarded” in any way when he acts inappropriately. When he leaves the situation and has calmed down, then, and only then, he gets praise from you and/or a treat. It may mean standing like a statue when you come home until he realizes that he is not going to get any attention using his current behavior. He will learn. Be consistent and persistent. You can do it.

Barb September 9, 2009 at 10:17 am

Stephanie- re Balto. Tina has a great point. If Balto is under 3, at his size, he could very well still be a puppy! Some tips I have found helpful for my 2.5 year old Newf include what you are doing – training Balto to sit whenever he greets someone, including you, getting down to his level so he doesn’t have to jump to get up to your face level, and stroking him slowly under his ears and on his chest to help calm him down. What really helps is doing leave/come back exercises (leave for awhile and come back and do not greet him unless he sits nicely – a couple of times a day until he learns – different for different dogs – could take less than a week if you’re consistent).

What kind of a dog is Balto? LOVE the name!

Stephanie September 9, 2009 at 11:16 am

oh boy! thanks everyone, for your advise! Balto is an 11 month old Leonberger and at 125 pounds and 30 inches high…he will get bigger….I love Tina’s treat idea, i’ve already learned that I need to carry treats with me more often. He is VERY food motivated. And Dr. Scott, i know you ar right about standing vry still and ignoring him, the problem is, he will move all around me and keep his feet up on my sholders. It doesn’t bother him at all that I’m not paying attention? Adn Barb, {do you recognize the name from the kid’s movie?} the sitting is starting to work, once he calms a little he does a very good sit-stay. Thank you for all your help, we will be working hard together!
Thanks Ellen for the forum!

Cheri September 13, 2009 at 9:53 am

OK I’ve got a major “stress issue” with one of my dogs. He absolutely freaks if you try to do anything with his claws. I was going to allow the Vet to trim his claws but after seeing how traumatized he became, listening to him cry from the waiting room just broke my heart, my Vet said the only way he would put him through it was to sedate him. I told him to let me think about it as I’m a bit of a worrier and the thought of him having to be knocked out for something as simple as trimming his claws really bothers me. I can’t help but feel that at some time someone hurt him while trimming his claws or it’s a part of the abuse we know he suffered before he found us at the local DMV and made it clear that he was adopting us and nothing we did would change that fact. Any and all suggestions would be greatly appreciated. He’s gotten to where he’ll let me rub his feet and fiddle with his claws but if he even thinks that I’m going to do anything else he takes off or gives me a warning growl. Simply walking him up and down the road to keep them worn down is not doing that much good. HELP!!!

Melissa R. September 15, 2009 at 10:14 am

Wow Cheri – sounds like you have a real problem with this fella’s poor feet! I am no expert, and am hoping some others chime in. I’ve never had much trouble with my dogs and their feet, but they have always been used to having their nails clipped. My first thoughts are to try to leave the nail clippers out all the time, so he gets used to just at least having them around. After he’s comfortable with them, lay them next to him all the time, give him treats all the time when doing so to help him be comfortable. I would hope sooner or later he would at least get used to the clippers being around, and thinking TREAT when he see’s them! treat, clippers, treat, clippers. All the while I would continue what you are doing by trying to get him use to you touching his feet. Treats, treats, treats. Just go slow and take your time and make him comfortable. Baby steps I guess. Hopefully your vet can help you out with some other suggestions on how to get over this. Anybody else have some suggestions?

Patricia Viamontes September 15, 2009 at 6:24 pm

I have heard not to try to cut all the nails at once. Cut every other nail one day and the others another day. Perhaps when you are able to snip once nail…offer a much wanted favorite treat and repeat?

Kathleen September 16, 2009 at 12:24 am

I have same problem with my male GDS, some dogs just don’t like having thier nails clipped just like some people don’t like the dentist. I have had my dogs since they were 3 1/2 months old ( one female and one male they will be 3 years old this January) I treated them both the same and my female doesn’t mind nail clipping but my male like I said hates it, freaks out. My Vet gave me medication to give him 30 minutes before clipping his nails and even though it is upsetting to see him in a “la la ” state, I am glad I am able to clip his nails now.

Kathleen September 16, 2009 at 12:54 am

Hmmn Balto ? Jumping up on you or guests is not a good thing. I handled my dogs excitement upon returning home with a training tool we found to be most helpful. We placed some change in an empty plastic bottle kept it right outside my front door. Upon entering house as dogs excitedly approached us I shook the bottle ( makes a startling noise) and gave the command I use as “No” in a stern tone. We practiced this with them on and off through the day. It is important you be calm and assertive when doing this. Your dog will catch on and when he reacts correctly then go to where you have his treats and reward him with one . We are greeted by our dogs with great joy that we are back home, they come to us they get rubs and then they follow me to kitchen and sit by the treat jar knowing they did a good job and will be rewarded. It can’t hurt to try it ; )

Ellen B. September 16, 2009 at 11:52 am

Thank you all for your input. Dog behavior can sometimes be very puzzling to us owners, so your comments are very valuable and appreciated. Keep the tips coming!

Ginger Spitzmiller January 24, 2010 at 5:44 am

We have a 2yr. old male Golden Retriever that we recently adopted from another loving family. He typically stays outside and has a nice bed on our covered porch. We were warned that he does not like storms and would fuss outside. We quickly found that to be true, so we started letting him sleep inside in his crate during storms and in really cold weather. Lately he has started fussing like crazy in his crate-whining, yipping, banging around. He did that tonight during a storm and managed to move the crate enough that he got the door opened. Any ideas on what we can do to calm him?

Ellen B. January 25, 2010 at 8:50 am

Ginger,

First, congratulations on your new family addition!

That is a great question because I think a lot of dogs stress during storms. Dr. Holly Nash wrote a really helpful article on our http://www.PetEducation.com site called Fear of Thunderstorms and Noise Phobias. Take a look at it here: http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=2+2085&aid=2545

One of her many good points is that you should “Project a calm attitude: Pets are very aware of the mental state of their owners. If you are worried or nervous, this will add to the pet’s fear.” I find that to be true with my dog in a few situations.

I’ve also recently discovered that LOTS of fun exercise makes my dog so tired that he simply doesn’t care what happens! Dr. Holly’s point… “Increase vigorous exercise: The pet should receive vigorous exercise daily, and more so on a day when the fear-producing noise is likely to occur.”

There are many other helpful tips, so take a look at the article. Please let us know if you find any other them are particularly helpful for your dog.

Bonnie Ramba January 26, 2010 at 9:19 am

My greyhounds really don’t have stress issues EXCEPT when there is a thunderstorm! I am a real fan of Bach’s Rescue Remedy. I first started using it when I worked at a large pet store where we had multiple pet issues – especially foul tempered hamsters (which I love, by the way). By calming them with the Bach’s it gave me a chance to work with them with the result of a people friendly hamster – often even friendlier that the ones that were “good” when they came in. I’ve used the Bach’s with my greyhounds with much success during a thunderstorm. They make a storm away coat which if used before a storm gets bad, is supposed to help. I bought one recently but have not had an opportunity to “put it to the test” !

Jo October 12, 2011 at 1:05 am

Hi Everyone, my 12mth old pom/maltese is what we believe to be highly stressed. I took all the kids away for a 4 day break during school holidays while my husband stayed to work. He was gone early morning until returning home early evening. After a week of being home, she is continuing to show signs of stress. Her appetite is almost non-existent, she only plays with my daughters two toys which are as small as a newborn pup and which move and make animal sounds when touched. It’s as though they have become her pups / babies and she takes them into all sorts of corners in the house from under my bed, to behind the laundy basket, to her bed in which she places them and almost ‘nurtures’ them. I have tried taking them away, walking her every morning, we play during the day and especially in the afternoon when we are all home together but she is not getting any better. She is a beautiful girl but cries when I take them away – I believe these little toys may have made her feel secure when we were away but its like nothing else matters now. Even taking her for a car ride (which she normally loved) has become an anxious time for her, shaking and appearing very anxious until we get home – to her babies! Please, if you have any advice I’m open to it all – she cannot continue this way and the love, kindness and understanding we are giving her (alone time also) is not working and I’m worried.

Ellen B. October 12, 2011 at 8:58 am

Jo, I asked Dr. Holly Nash to offer you advice. Below is her reply. I wish you luck. Please come back and leave us an update with how she’s doing.

Ellen

From Dr. Holly:
Jo, I’m sorry to hear your dog is having this problem. You did not say if your dog is spayed or not. This behavior can be due to hormonal changes if she has not been spayed. If she is not spayed, the usual recommendation is to have her spayed as soon as possible. If she has been spayed, it is most likely an anxiety-related behavior. The first thing I would do is have her examined by a veterinarian to be sure there is not a medical condition contributing to the behavior. I would try to engage your dog in more social interactions with you, such as play and training. Use really fantastic treats (e.g., cooked chicken) for rewards during the interactions. Provide some new toys, including those that you can put treats inside of. I would not reinforce the behavior she is displaying, but instead try to redirect the behavior to something more positive. In addition to these behavior modification exercises, your veterinarian may recommend that your dog be placed on a prescription anti-anxiety medication for a while to help break the cycle. Best wishes to you and your dog! I hope this can be resolved soon.

kevin beadle November 8, 2011 at 7:08 am

Just a note on the cutting nails issue. I had this problem with my Jack Russel, he just wouldnt let me or the vet cut them. He started crying before i even touched him…. I have found that taking him for a 1 hour walk twice a week along pavement/sidewalk or anything hard grinds them down without stress or expense. Not as much fun as a run in the park but he is a lot happier for it !

Emily Frye November 16, 2011 at 10:08 pm

My dog is a 5 year old dachshund and he is new to our home. At first he seemed happy and excited, but it’s been a couple weeks and he’s starting to seem stressed. Any advice?

Holly Nash, DVM November 17, 2011 at 8:33 am

Hi Emily: To help answer your question, could you tell us what signs your dog is showing that he is stressed? When do these occur – when you are gone, when you are home, or both? What is your dog’s usual routine? Do you have any other pets? etc.

sherrice May 18, 2012 at 3:41 am

my dog, awsome, is about 7 and im not sure if it is anxiety or not but he lays around and chews on his feet and wont let anyone touch them at all when he walks across tile he backs up litirelly thats any where in the house. we got him from the pound about 4 years ago and it took over 2 years to fatten him up he was skinny hes not intrested in anything at all he is a great dog. can a dog be autistic? sometime i think he may be. any suggestlngs thanks sherrice

Betty Roberts December 27, 2013 at 9:59 am

Our dog is a 15 mo old standard poodle + lab but she has a bad habit of digging. We live in the desert and out landscaping is artificial grass plus rocks about 2″+ She has destroyed our drip system but the main problem is this. We have bought only the best of dog food, many kinds, no grains etc. She eats the white rocks are do not know if they are limestone? She will go 2-3 days and not eat her food. She is a digger through the rocks and up to 2 ft. below looking for the drip system that is not there any more. What do you have for a suggestion?

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