The senses are a very powerful avenue for affecting calm in an anxious animal.
• Through a Dog’s Ear is a specially selected and arranged collection of music that has been demonstrated to calm dogs under stress. It can also be purchased with a companion book that explains how the aural environment can affect behavior.
• Massage can be an extremely helpful technique in calming an anxious dog. Long, slow, gentle strokes on various parts of the body, particularly the chest, can have very effective physical consequences such as slowing heart rate. It also might be worth investigating such therapeutic touch techniques as Tellington Touch, more commonly known as TTouch.
• Lavender helps reduce stress and anxiety in dogs. Spray about .16 ounces of diffused lavender oil on a towel or washcloth. Start associating the scent with pleasurable, relaxing activities, like soothing brushing or massaging. Then bring a lavender-scented towel along for situations that may cause stress, like a grooming or vet visit.
There are several alternative and holistic approaches that can relieve a stressed dog:
• Bach Flower Remedies, and particularly Rescue Remedy, can help a dog to relax and be more at ease.
• Dog Appeasing Pheromone, or DAP, is a synthetically produced pheromone that mimics the “appeasing” pheromones secreted by nursing mother dogs, communicating comfort to her pups. Plug a DAP diffuser near the crate or wherever your dog spends the most time.
• Tryptophan is an amino acid precursor to serotonin, the “happy” neurotransmitter that elevates mood. To increase tryptophan in the diet, feed a mixture of brown rice and cooked carrots to your dog two hours after a meal. Alternatively, you can use a tryptophan supplement such as ProQuiet.
• Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to elevate mood and decrease anxiety in humans. Omega 3s are also great for the health of coat and skin. When introducing this to the diet, start at half the suggested daily dosage and work up gradually (sudden introduction can cause diarrhea).
• Swaddling a dog has been found to help lower stress and fear in dogs. Such equipment is called an anxiety wrap. There are several commercial products available: the ThunderShirt can help calm your dog during scary events like thunderstorms, fireworks, separation anxiety, etc. Other such products are the Anxiety Wrap and the Storm Defender. Or you can try just putting a snug doggie Tee on your dog to see if it helps.
• A calming cap works a bit like blinkers on a horse. It can be helpful in decreasing the visual stimuli that are associated with certain high-stress situations, such as nail clipping.
Medication will hopefully not be necessary forever but the advantage of it is that it can take a bit of the edge off of the anxiety, enough to allow your dog to learn faster from the training and behavior modification techniques you’re doing. If a dog is too fearful or anxious, for instance, it’s hard to let the good experiences in completely, and medication can help with this. The most widely used are TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants) and SSRIs (selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors), which are long-term slow-acting anti-anxiety medications. Benzodiazepines are fast-acting anti-anxieties best used for situational distress such as thunderstorm phobias. Your vet can help you decide what seems the best course of treatment.
It might go without saying but it doesn’t hurt to be explicit: If there’s something in your dog’s environment that is causing stress, do what you can to eliminate it if possible. For instance, if, while you’re at work, street noise is making him anxious, then have him spend his time in a room that is quieter and away from noisy windows. If your younger dog is “dogging” your older one, make sure he has plenty of time to himself to relax unbothered and also set aside time to devote some of your own personal attention to him away from the young whippersnapper.
Also remember that the use of punishment only tends to increase anxiety in an anxious dog. Using positive techniques when training and doing behavior modification will help build confidence in a dog who lacks it.