It is coming to the time of year anyone with an anxious pup at home starts to dread. Here in Queensland, like much of Australia, we’re entering storm season, which brings the thunder and lightning and some very frightened doggies. After that we get into holiday season with fireworks going off, Christmas lights, loud parties and all kinds of other weird and wonderful scary new things. I see lots of anxious pups in clinic and today wanted to share with you all some of the suggestions I make to owners to help them deal with the problem in a drug-free manner. So here are my five top tips to help you keep Rover calm and yourself less stressed this storm and holiday season…
Make a Den
Dogs in the wild always have a little cave like den they call home – whether it is a hole they’ve dug, a natural cave or an area of heavy undergrowth, they always manage to find somewhere cosy to lay their heads. In the modern world we have lots of fancy beds and hammocks, but these don’t fulfil the cosy nook in the same way. To make a den all you need is a cosy space with a roof and walls on three sides. Many people (including myself) use a dog crate for this purpose, since it has a handy door which can be used to keep your doggo safe and sound if there’s danger present. I put a large towel over the top of the crate to cover all sides, making a cosy dark place for my dogs to lay their heads. Other options are kennels or DIY solutions like affixing a towel over a space under the worktop in the laundry. The key is to make the space cosy, dark and calm – a soft squidgy bed in the den and their water bowl is all your dog will need. The other thing to keep in mind in the size of den – too big and it doesn’t have the same safe, cosy feel; too small and your pup will be uncomfortable. Aim for a size in which your dog can stand and turn around easily, and can sleep comfortably in their chosen position. Familiarise your dog with the den in a fun way – food is a great bribery tool, ideally prior to the scary event occurring. Then when you see a storm coming, or the neighbours have a firework party pop Rover into his den beforehand, so they’re all cosy and calm!
Run off the stress
Exercise has an amazing way of calming anxious doggies (and anxious humans too!) for two reasons. Firstly it tires them out, leaving less energy for leaping about barking at thunder or destroying the furniture when you’re not at home. Mix up the type of exercise you do too or the route you take on a walk – we all know that doing the same thing day in day out is dull, and dogs are no different. New smells and sights will keep your doggies brain active and interested, and the exercise will be more fun! Second reason we love exercise for anxious pups is that is releases the feel good hormones called endorphins. These make our dogs feel GREAT, and a dog that feels good is less likely to become quite as anxious quite so easily. So on days when you know you’re going to get a storm take out Rover for a good long run, or swim at the beach beforehand so that by the time that thunder arrives he’ll be worn out and asleep (in his cosy den of course!)
A large number of animals use special hormones called pheromones to send signals to other members of their own species. These signals can give lots of different messages – anything from ‘this is home and you’re safe here’, to ‘my territory get OUT’ to ‘Hey! How YOU doin’ ala Joey from Friends. Some clever scientist folk worked out how we can use pheromones to our advantage, and there is one I commonly recommend to dog owners which goes under the name of Adaptil. At this point I should point out that I’m not associated with or sponsored by Adapatil and get nothing if you happen to buy it. I simply recommend it for it’s uniqueness as a product. Adaptil contains a pheromone called Dog Appeasement Pheromone, which is normally produced by a bitch when she is lactating in order to calm the puppies. In some dogs this pheromone (which comes as a spray or a plug-in air freshener like thing) can be incredibly good at calming them down and helping them relax at home and I recommend it for all new dogs too, as it’s a great way to tell them their new house is really ‘home’. Some dog’s don’t respond to Adaptil, but it’s always something to try in the pursuit for a more chilled out pup!
The calming effects of certain essential oils have been invaluable to me and my two rescue doggies and I recommend them to everyone who is struggling with any behavioural issue in their pets. The oils I use most for this purpose are Lavender, Vetiver, Chamomile, Ginger and Geranium. There are others too, but these guys I happen to enjoy most. The best way of introducing your doggie to the oils is using an ultrasonic water diffuser and placing 3-4 drops of your chosen oil into it – then just hit go! Make sure your dog can leave the room if they wish and keep an eye on how they react. I tend to start with lavender since this is probably one of the safest oils, and then add in others depending on how your dog goes. Another way you can use oils with your dog is to use them in a dilute solution (fractionated coconut oil is the best diluent) and spray this onto their bedding or your hands before you pet your pooch. I do need to point out here that essential oils used incorrectly, or poor quality essential oils can be dangerous to your pets so choose wisely and be careful. Please get in touch if you need some oils (I can supply Doterra ones which I check for quality first), or would like me to make up a ready-made solution for you to try (I make these to order) and I’ll help you out - just email email@example.com
There are a growing number of supplements out there now to help calm your dog, all with slightly different ingredients and all of differing costs. Similar to all natural products, I find that some products work well in some dogs but not in others, so it can be a matter of trial and error to find the right one for you. Some common ones here in Australia are PAW Complete Calm by Blackmores and Zylkene, but there are plenty of other options too. One easy and very cost effective supplement though is to use Chamomile tea, which for centuries has been used in humans as a night time tipple to help us drift off to sleep. Simply make up a small cup of chamomile (the organic version is best if you can get it), let it cool and then add to your dog’s food. The amount will depend on the size of your dog – for chihuahuas just a quarter cup will be fine, for a big rottweiler then a whole cup will be great. For all supplements, even if they sound natural you should always keep a check on your pet for any signs it doesn’t agree with them – any vomiting/diarrhoea/abnormal behaviour then best to check in with your vet and avoid that supplement in future.
So that’s it – my five top tips for managing an anxious pet naturally. Obviously there are a multitude of other options too, and working with a good dog trainer is always a great plan for any dog having behavioural issues. In addition, any animal with behaviour changes or problems should always be fully checked out by a vet first, since pain or underlying illness is a common reason why they may suddenly start behaving differently. In my mobile clinic I will be offering behaviour consultations so please get in touch if these may be of interest.