Separation Anxiety: How to Get Your Pup Ready for More Alone Time

What is Separation Anxiety?

Technically, separation anxiety is a medical term that can only be diagnosed by your veterinarian. However, separation anxiety has become a blanket term for dogs that struggle when left alone which is evidenced by observable behavior before, during, and after absences.

What Causes Alone Time Struggles?

Main causes of alone time struggles include boredom, frustration, fear or general anxiety, phobias (like noise phobias), and health issues such as underlying pain or illness in older dogs.

Things that do NOT Cause Separation Anxiety

Cute pug dog sleep on pillow in bed and wrap with blanket feel happy in relax time

One of the biggest myths about alone time issues is that spoiling is a cause of alone time struggles. Spoiling your dog or giving too much attention do not cause separation anxiety. Being an only dog or allowing your dog to sleep on the bed doesn’t cause issues with alone time, either.

Optimizing Your Dog for Alone Time

There are ways to minimize the risk of boredom, frustration, fear, and anxiety. It is important to use enrichment to enhance your dog’s life while also using effective management when your dog has a fear of being left alone. Taking training at your dog’s own pace and maintaining regular vet visits will also minimize alone time fears.

What do Alone Time Struggles Look Like?

Escape related behaviors and destructiveness are obvious indications of alone time struggles, while inhibition is not so noticeable. Alone time struggles look like stress in your dog. Subtle signs include freezing, hiding, and refusing to eat treats when left alone. More obvious stress manifestations include shaking, restlessness, pawing at exits, and pacing.

Most common behaviors include destructiveness or vocalizations. These may start small and then escalate over time. It’s important to give just as much importance to the less obvious signs of stress signals as you would to the more obvious signs.

Excessive greetings on return can also be an indication of struggles with alone time.

Recognize Stress in your Dog

Learning to recognize stress indicators makes it easier to prevent alone time struggles. You need to be able to leave your dog alone for a certain amount of time, so it’s important to make your dog comfortable and content with being alone.

Create a Safe Space

black and brown dog sitting happily in crate at home

Every dog needs a safe space they can retreat to that is unique to your dog. It must be a place where your dog can go and be free of hands or attention. Supplies like a crate, blanket, music, and dim lighting will help create a calm environment for your dog. Some small dogs even enjoy having a small bed placed under a chair for extra security. Calming pheromones can also be helpful for stress relief for your dog.

Note that an open-door crate is not the same as a closed-door crate. Dens don’t have doors. A closed-door crate is not automatically a safe space. You will need to acclimate your dog to a crate and get your dog comfortable to the crate before confining.

Enrich Your Dog’s Life

All dogs need to have their daily energy drained through play, exercise, and mental enrichment. Your dog’s needs are unique and can even change over their lifetime.

Examples of great enrichment items include Whimzees, a Benebone Bully Stick Holder, a Kong Wobbler, and the Messy Mutts Slow Feeder Bowl. These items provide your dog with mental stimulation which enhances your dog’s quality of life.

Enrichment activities can also encourage independence in your dog. Start by setting your dog up on its safe space and move within five feet of your dog. Next time sit within eyesight of your dog. From there, move out of eyesight. This will create positive reinforcement with alone time and enrichment activities.

Make a Plan that Includes Your Dog

a woman returns home from the shops and chats on her phone as she enters the hallway . her dog runs to welcome her .

Are your dog’s needs being met? It’s crucial to examine how your dog’s schedule includes the best quality of life. Using age-appropriate enrichment activities throughout the day will make sure your dog gets just what she needs each day. Also, make sure you acclimate your dog to their confinement space ahead of time.

Absences longer than six hours should be divided into shorter ones. Any schedule changes, such as moving, should be made gradually to prevent stress. To keep your dog’s time alone staggered or broken up, reach out to neighbors, friends, or pet sitters to break up the longer absences.

Practice Short Absences

If your dog hasn’t been left alone or left alone long, your best bet is to start with short absences. You’ll want to record your dog and watch your dog’s behavior when you leave. You’ll want to make a promise to your dog to go at their pace or push or punish them by going to fast. You’ll want to practice at least once per day after you design your first training plan. It’s also important to take days off from training so your dog doesn’t get overloaded. Always remember to consistently come back before your dog panics when you are training so that you aren’t pushing your dog to panic.

Keep Your Arrivals and Departures Low-Key

Keeping your arrivals and departures calm will also help calm your dog. Prepare the night before to keep your departure uneventful. You can even give your dog something fun to do before you leave. Avoid making a big production of leaving or coming home. When you come home, make sure you remain calm and take a deep breath before entering. It’s important to say hi to your dog, but if your dog is really excited, it’s good to wait until they calm dog first.

Q and A in word bubbles

Dana Rebaza’s Responses to Unanswered Questions from Class

We have three dogs and one of them suffers from anxiety. Do you have any suggestions for training all three at the same time?

Yes! Totally! With regard to alone time training, you have to work at the struggling dog’s pace – this will be the dog that’s having the most difficult time. Monitor when & why they start to panic, and work to stay under that panic point. In multi-dog households, make sure the dogs get along in your training setup.

My dog has a serious case of FOMO. He plays with our other dog all day, but when I come home from work he won’t let our other dog come say hi to me (he will bite his legs, push him down, etc). How do you recommend how to help contain this bad case of FOMO?

Try to do some work to get your FOMO (or jealous) dog comfortable with the other dogs interacting with you. Set up your jealous dog with somebody else in the room, while you are also across from them in the same room. Bring your other dogs in slowly, and when the other dog approaches you, have the other person provide your jealous dog with tasty treats so that they start to associate positivity with the other dogs approaching you.

We’ve often heard to leave clothing or fabric that has our scent nearby to sooth the dog.  Does this work?

I love this question! I used to advise this myself. But keep in mind, dogs have an incredible sense of smell – everything in your house smells like you. If your dog struggles being left alone – this won’t make much of a difference for them. For some young dogs, they may do okay with the last item you were wearing, but it’s not necessarily going to make them feel better or help with the issue long-term.

My 5 month old American Staffordshire Boxer loses her mind when left in the kennel at home to the point that she might hurt herself. Since then we’ve decided to leave her out of the kennel alone. Was that the right thing to do?

The answer is yes & no! Yes, because if your dog struggles with confinement, putting them in the crate may lead to them injuring themselves. But, if your dog is being pushed to the point of panic – you will likely come home to a different display of panic now that they are not confined.

What are your thoughts on the video devices that distribute treats you can speak to your pet?

This is a great option to watch and interact with your pet!

What are some enrichment toy suggestions for when leaving a smart 6mo puppy alone?

Enrichment should always be supervised. Try something that encourages them to paw at the object, or involves them having to chew such as the Whimzees we spoke about. The goal is to not offer the same type of activity, and find something they love.

My dog is crate trained and loves it. She sometimes just goes in there to relax while I am home doing my usual routines.  Since COVID with me home so much more, she has occasionally been unhappy to be crated when I have to leave.  This is not an anxiety type behavior (which she has with things like storms) but it is different, as she seems more irritated at me for leaving.  She does it even if she has been fed, just pottied, etc.  Is this separation anxiety that I am not recognizing?  She does not do it every time I leave (she is usually ok with me leaving).

Anxious behaviors come in a variety of behaviors, so depending on what it is, pawing, vocalizing, anything that seems uncomfortable, you might try to go back to the basics on crate training.

What do you think about CBD oil?

Anything that your dog ingests or consumes – be sure to speak with your vet first to make sure this is a good option for them. Check out the webinar “Your Dog’s Friend” on this topic. CBD oil can differ, so you need to be sure you’re aware how much your dog is getting every time they consume it.

My Ally Sue Blossom is 4 years old now.  She always jumps or pounces on anyone entering the door, even if she knows them. She does not stop jumping for probably 2-3 minutes.  I have to pull her off, and she’ll get away from me and go back to them and do it again.  It takes FOREVER to calm her down.  She doesn’t do it to me now, but to everyone else.  My granddaughter has a room at my home and stays with me one or more days a week.  Every time she enters the front door, we go through the jumping and pouncing.  She is Lab/Rottweiler/Husky/Weimeraner/Great Dane so she is very tall and a lot bigger than most people visiting and knocks them over or hurts them.  H-E-L-P

With any behaviors we’re trying to change, it requires management and change. Right now, we need to prevent the rehearsal of the unwanted behavior. Try putting your dog away when people enter, and wait until your dog is settled before letting them out. Try mat training to get them to settle on their mat. Then when they get good at that – teach them if they hear a knock on the door, doorbell, etc that they need to go to their mat. Once you’ve done that, you can reintroduce them to people when they come over.

I have a 9 month old goldendoodle who does well in his crate but last week destroyed his bed about an hour before he normally is let out in the morning. He did not bark or indicate that he wanted to be let out, just woke up and destroyed the bed. I’m now worried to leave a bed in his crate . Any recommendations on what I should put in his crate to make him comfortable?  Thank you!

There are different reasons he might be doing this. He likely just woke up with a lot of energy and thought it might be fun! Take a look at your day to day to see if there are any gaps in your dog’s day where you can make improvements or changes to their schedule. Puppies do provide a risk of chewing and destruction, so you might consider more enrichment and see if you notice decreased destruction over time.

I have had my foster for 3 months, and she does not exhibit any signs of separation anxiety. Sometimes she is left alone for 8-9 hours. Am I causing other behavioral issues by leaving her alone more than 6 hours at a time?

Good question! As far as the length of time that your dog is left alone – it’s nice for your dog to have regular potty breaks. This doesn’t mean you’re causing any additional issues, but consider adding more interaction in their day.

Any “safe” treats or chews you suggest? Are there any useful interactive toys or puzzle toys that you like to leave dogs with?

What I like to leave with the dog depends on the dog. Every dog is different. A food motivated dog might do well with a treat puzzle, but a noisy dog might do better with a snuffle mat. I encourage dogs to have things to move around to keep to them interested and engaged.

What can we do to help with destructive behavior when 10 month old German Shepherd is left alone? He has adequate amounts of rewarding and hard toys but still chooses to go for household items that are not meant for him.

A young dog, we’ve got to puppy proof! It might be time to go back to basics and only give them access to things that are fair game. Blocking off their access to certain areas to encourage legal chewing, and provide more access to things and places within the home over time.

My dog does alright at home alone, but recently she’s started crying when in her crate at night. I wonder it could be from sleeping outside of her crate some nights and sleeping in her crate other nights. Any tips for keeping her calm and reassuring her at night?

Your guess is likely spot on. It can be a little confusing to sometimes sleep inside the crate and then outside of the crate. If you don’t need to confine your dog while you’re sleeping and they are reliable, give them the option to sleep with or within their crate. This can be beneficial to your dog!

What is your best advice for kennel training for a new puppy?

Get the crate set up and make sure your dog explores it on their own, make it a place they want to investigate by leaving treats inside. Toss treats inside to allow them the freedom of movement of going inside and walking out. Over time, get them used to sending them in the crate and build from there by leaving the door open, then move on to shutting and locking the door.

Are dogs ever too old train or change old behaviors? I have an 8 yr old hyper yorkie who doesn’t calm down with visitors and is almost uncontrollable. Any suggestions?

Old dogs can learn new tricks!! Keep in mind, habits can sometimes be harder to break – so for an older dog you can do the work and see a positive outcome. Teach your dog what to do instead, reference the answer above about trying to train them on their mat.

My dog does fine when I leave him in his crate at home. But when we travel somewhere and he is in a new environment, he barks as soon as I leave him in his crate.

Confinement may be making the new space more difficult, in this situation. My guess is that when I see this happening, your dog might not be as acclimated to the crate as you think – so go back to the basics on your crate training.

My dog was abused in the past. He’s on medication, but he gets set off when loud noises are made. How do I help him?

Sound phobias or sensitivities can be tough for dogs! This can be a lifelong thing that you want to be aware of. There are a lot of ways to help with this – Your Dog’s Friend and Vet Girl have a lot of sound phobia trainings that may benefit you.

How do I stop my dog from barking at every small noise outside both when I am gone and at home?

Good question! A lot of dogs that struggle with being left alone also struggle with sound sensitivity. There are training techniques that you can use to show that scary sounds may not be so stressful. There are webinars that you can attend such as Your Dog’s Friend and Vet Girl that focus on sound sensitivities.

My rescue hates being alone ever. We use doggie day care. I believe he is a little anxious but enjoys playing. When he is left in the kitchen when we are home he lies by the doggie gate rather than dog bed so does not totally settle although he is quiet. We use behavior toys, lots of exercise. Will use these training plans that you shared. Thank you for these ideas!

I would really focus on your pre-departure cues, because it’s likely that your dog is having a hard time when you get your keys, jacket, purse, etc. So make sure they are comfortable with those activities, too.

Our 7 month Basenji puppy has increased his time outside (he uses his doggy door multiple times a day).  My husband and I work from home and have noticed our puppy seems to be more comfortable playing alone outside or on his safe bed inside (provided we are home).  However, the minute we leave the house he is NOT happy and begins to whine continuously (we have a camera and see that he goes in and out the doggy door and whines).  If our neighbors are outside he will make every attempt to escape.  Do you have any tips for this behavior?

So those are real extreme examples of being over the threshold and showing panic signs. We need to change the way he views the absences and then find out where the point of panic is for him as well as breaking down your pre-departure cues.

Bubs is 2.  He was “okay” with some poor behaviors at day care.  Since COVID and away from others, he screams at every dog.

Dogs social skills change over their lifetime, so this isn’t uncommon to see. Most dogs are selective or tolerant, so they can be choosy of their friends. Daycares are great, but busy! So it might be more difficult for your dog to positively interact with dogs at daycare. You might try to do smaller groups to see if that helps him.

What if your dog does not do well with any of the training?

Generally, that means we’re going too far too fast and we haven’t broken it down enoguh. I would work to get a Certified Separation Anxiety trainer on board for additioanl help.

The marking question earlier, I did watch the dog on video. How do you tell the difference between marking and separation anxiety for a 7 year old dog? We have a cat.  We are 4th owners.

As far as the differences between separation anxiety versus housetraining, you’ll generally see signs of stress or they are not settling – if accidents coincide, that’s likely separation anxiety. If the dog is calm at your absence & has accidents, that’s a house training issue.

I have a brilliant 8yr old toy poodle who is very anxious. When I take her for a drive (and she loves going) in the car she whimpers and shakes for 15-30 minutes before she finally calms down. What can I do to relieve the stress before getting in the car? BTW she is anxious with me but rarely with my wife alone but is when it is the two of us together

Getting your dog comfortable with being in the car means we need to manage car rides into smaller steps. The goal isn’t to get your dog in the car and drive away in the 1st step. Start slow with the keys, the car, then work up to turning the car on and leaving.

Do you feel separation anxiety is inherited from the dog’s parent or grand parent?

Since we see it across breeds, ages, lifestyles, etc, we know that there are likely a lot of factors. There might be genetic factors, but we don’t know. Regardless, we will still train the same way.

My 7 yo dog usually squeals when we put him in his crate. He is quiet when we return. What does this opposite behavior mean?

I would still go back to the basics of crate training with him – he might be struggling with confinment issues. He might do better if he’s not crated, but monitor them to see if this is an option.

If you are out of the house and watching your dog on camera and seeing them getting ready to pee in the house, can you speak to them to stop them? Is it a good idea to try to speak to the dog from remote?

If you are watching your dog & they are about to have an accident – they likely have been panicking prior to that point. If it was a fluke, you can certainly try to talk to them. But normally, when we interrupt an accident, we are then immediately urging them to go outside – but being remote you don’t have that option. I would likely take the loss and clean up the accident when you get home with no punishment.

You mentioned finding a trainer who specializes experienced in separation anxiety. How do we know?

Search for Certified Separation Anxiety Trainers (CSAT) and you can likely find one in your area!

Our 18 week old male Bichon loves to “eat” the area rugs in our home.  Other than removing all rugs, is there another solution to remedy this? We redirect with toys but he goes back always to various rugs. Thank you.

It sounds like this isn’t specific to being left alone – but as far as this being a general issue, I would bring up all the rugs at first so they learn what’s fair game. Then slowly reintroduce the rugs to the floor while also teaching a leave it command. When they go for the rug, introduce something fun for them to do, as well.

Is it better to leave the TV when I’m gone at night?

Generally, it depends on your dog and what tv channel you choose. Make sure it’s a calming station. I would recommend calming music. Keep in mind, if your dog doesn’t like being left alone – the TV may become another predictor of the scary thing – your absence.

I have a 1 year old pit rescue that will pee out side but will not poop outside. I take her out frequently to relieve herself but she will only urinate come back inside and poop.

That’s a struggle! With housetraining, I do like to go back to the basics. Get them on a schedule and provide enough breaks for them. If your dog hasn’t pottied when they normally would, supervise them when they are inside – then maybe let them back outside more frequently. Also monitor how they react when they are pottying – they may feel like they are going to get in trouble and are trying to hide the accident from you, which is why they aren’t doing it outside. Keep it lowkey and non-stressful while you’re working through this.

My 8 yr old rescue has some but not total hearing loss.  What suggestions do you have to keep her attention for training?

There is a great website for deaf dogs that provides amazing tips! You can still use word-based training with a deaf dog, or marker training using a flash of light with treats, etc. Always keep safety in mind – deaf dogs should always be leashed in case they wander.

Can you provide examples of high value foods? My teacup Yorkie is 13 and is virtually toothless.

There are lots of different options for your Yorkie. High quality canned food, such as Weruva or Fromm, or dehydrated food like The Honest Kitchen are ones that Hollywood Feed recommends. These would be easy for your Yorkie to eat and highly digestible. You may have to try a couple before settling on the ones that work best, but you can always bring back anything your pet doesn’t like to your local Hollywood Feed.

About the Expert

Dana Rebaza (formerly VanSickle) has spent nearly 20 years working with a variety of domestic and exotic animals at some of the nation’s leading animal organizations. They are experienced evaluating and rehabilitating dogs of varying breeds, sizes, and dispositions, and are committed to bringing you evidence-based behavior solutions that fit your lifestyle and goals.

Dana is a Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer, one of roughly a hundred worldwide. This specialized certification requires intensive study of the treatment of separation anxiety, as well as demonstration of extensive training and counseling experience. They are a Certified Shelter Dog Behavior Consultant through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. This high-level certification requires a rigorous application process that is assessed by a panel of experts in dog training and behavior, requiring the knowledge and ability to handle complex behavior cases in order to be certified. Dana is also a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, a certification that requires hundreds of logged training hours and passing a comprehensive exam.

Dana graduated with distinction from both the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior, and the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior. They also completed Michael Shikashio’s Aggression in Dogs Master Course. Dana graduated from Regent University with a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership & Management.

In addition to their work doing online dog training for Peach on a Leash, Dana mentors students for the Victoria Stilwell Dog Training Academy. They previously worked and volunteered for The Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Behavior Team, helping rehabilitate animals rescued from abuse and neglect. They have also pioneered lifesaving programs at various shelters and rescues. Dana previously managed regional training programs in Charlotte and Santa Fe.

Dana is a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT 200) and enjoys hiking with their rescue dog, Hope Rising. Dana is fluent in Spanish and currently resides in Santa Fe, NM.

4 Tips to Acclimate Your Dog to the Workplace

Puppy adoption soared due to the coronavirus pandemic. Dogs and their owners have experienced extended quality time the last year, and leaving them to go back to the workplace can be difficult. Many employers are beginning to consider letting pets assist their owners at the office, but getting your furry friend acclimated to the workplace can be a challenge in of its own.

1. Housetrain your pup.

Most dogs are typically potty-trained by their owners as a puppy, but if they have not yet reached that stage then it is important to make sure you and your pet are confident in housetraining before you decide to bring them into the office.

Don’t know where to start? Check out our Foolproof Guide to Housebreaking New Puppies.

It is also important to give your dog regular walks outside of the office – they need a bathroom break too! Be considerate of your coworkers and carry around a waste bag dispenser to clean up. Our Earth Rated-Waste Bag Dispenser can be sized to fit any leash.

2. Pet proof your office.

If an accident does happen while your pup is in the office that is OK! Having pet-friendly cleaning supplies on hand is essential.

Dogs also love to chew, so it is important to keep your office floor clear and free of any cords or potentially chewable items. Keeping your desk clear of highlighters, pens, and any other toxic materials can keep your pup safe from consuming anything they shouldn’t be having.

We also recommend using a dog pen or gate to keep your dog from wandering off.

3. Give them their own space

The office can be a stressful environment for dogs, so creating a corner where they can relax is highly recommended. A comfortable dog bed in a private space, like under your desk, can give your pet their own personal space to unwind.

You should also keep your pet occupied with something they enjoy so they do not get too hyper and disturb you or your coworkers. Keeping a basket of their favorite toys and bones can keep your pup stimulated for hours in the workplace.

Have dog treats or food on hand in the office too – keeping your pup full can also help with hyperactivity. These Heavenly Hounds Relaxation Treats are perfect for any hyper hounds.

4. Separation training

You will not always be in your office, and your pup might not be able to come along with you wherever you go. Just like at home, you want your dog to be comfortable in the office and practice separation training to develop independence.

Interested in learning separation anxiety training? Dana Rebaza’s upcoming HFU webinar on Separation Anxiety in Dogs: How to Get Your pet Ready for More Alone Time can give you valuable tips on how to start preparing your pet for more alone time.

dog wearing thundershirt

ThunderShirt Works for Annie’s Anxiety: A Product Review

ThunderShirt is an interesting, unique and effective product for helping to keep dogs calm. There’s nothing else like it for dogs that I’ve ever seen. Interestingly, though, pressure has been used to comfort cattle, infants (through swaddling), and people with autism for many years.

So what exactly is ThunderShirt? ThunderShirt is a vest we can put on our anxious, stressed or scared dog. The vest is fitted to our dog with easy to use ‘hook and loop fasteners’ making it very easy to adjust to our dog’s exact size. We wrap a ThunderShirt snugly around our dog (though not too tightly), and it then provides constant pressure on her torso. It’s like experiencing a calming, comforting hug for humans!

Why Use ThunderShirt?

So, in which scenarios may we consider using ThunderShirt? There are so many situations or behaviors for which a ThunderShirt will come in handy! Here are the most common situations in which ThunderShirt may be useful, but this list is not all-inclusive:

Does your dog become stressed or scared during:

  • Thunderstorms
  • Fireworks
  • Construction noise
  • Loud children

Does your dog experience:

  • Separation Anxiety
  • Travel stress

Does your dog display anxious behaviors, such as:

  • Leash pulling
  • Barking
  • Licking
  • Scratching
  • Shaking
  • Drooling
  • Panting
  • Hiding
  • Running away
  • Even seizures!

If your dog experiences any of the above behaviors and you have not found an effective training solution, or you want to stop dosing your dog with lots of medication, then ThunderShirt is definitely worth trying. Can you imagine how different life might be if your dog didn’t hide in the corner and whine during every thunderstorm? Or what if your dog stopped chewing up your blinds every time you leave the house?

Annie Tests a ThunderShirt

Annie and a Medium ThunderShirtMy Annie is a highly anxious dog in her everyday behavior. She is not a dog who is scared of storms or loud noises. Instead, her anxiety manifests as a need to be ‘on’ and ready for action at all times. She sleeps very lightly, must get up and follow me immediately as soon as I stand to do anything, and is a leash puller. She will whine and bark if she isn’t doing what she expected to be doing. She is 10 years old, and this anxious personality has been present since I adopted her at 6 months old, though she has mellowed some with age.

For Annie and I, ThunderShirt testing happened during a regular day with nothing new or stressful going on around us. As soon as I put the ThunderShirt on Annie, who was very tolerant even if she was annoyed by the brief process, I noticed a difference in her energy. Her usually tense and assertive demeanor suddenly changed to a calm and relaxed vibe. It was so strange to actually see a difference in Annie’s everyday, regular energy appearing right before my eyes.

ThunderShirt spread out on a counter topFor the rest of the day, Annie wore her ThunderShirt. As recommended by ThunderShirt, I took it off of her and checked to make sure there was no irritation and that the vest was not too tight every couple of hours, since this was her first day to wear it.

Throughout the day, Annie did not seem to feel the need to stand and follow me every time I got up to use the restroom or get a glass of water. When my husband got home from work and the dogs and I heard the garage door start to open, instead of the usually loud and annoying barking that Annie starts in my house, she remained completely quiet and merely stood up slowly and walked to the door to greet my husband!

ThunderShirt Features

Annie, a black dog showing off a ThunderShirt PatchI already mentioned the easy to use ‘hook and loop fasteners’ which make Thundershirt adjustable. The vest also has a patch on which you can put a calming spray, such as lavender and a reflective patch on the back which comes in handy for nighttime walks. ThunderShirt is machine washable, soft and comfortable, as well.

Pros:

  • Calms without medication
  • Easy to use
  • Effectively calms my dog from her usually high anxiety
  • Can be used to help with multiple issues
  • Washable, comfortable fabric

Cons:

  • May get dirty easily if worn outside
  • Eventually, ‘hook and loop fasteners’ will fray and become less sticky
  • Thundershirt may not be effective for every dog.

The Bottom Line: My Opinion

After the change I visibly saw in Annie’s energy, and the few small victories we had with her calm demeanor throughout the day, I am a fan of ThunderShirt! I am especially excited that this change occurred without any training or special actions on my part. All I did was put a ThunderShirt on Annie. I would definitely recommend ThunderShirt to my friends and family with anxious dogs!

Sizes, Price, and Where to Buy!

Annie, a black dog in a ThunderShirtThunderShirt is available from size XXS to size XXL. My Annie, who is 40 lbs and has a barrel chest, wore the Medium size very comfortably, and it is meant for dogs who are 26-40 lbs. You can find the right ThunderShirt for your dog, no matter what her size here or at any of Hollywood Feed’s store locations for $44.95 in any size (which is less expensive than new blinds or a new comforter, and definitely worth it to see your dog happy and calm!)

If you’re curious and would like to try ThunderShirt out, remember the Hollywood Feed Promise:

If your pet doesn’t love it, or of you don’t love it, we’ll gladly replace or refund it.”

~ Shawn McGhee ~ Proprieter ~

So, there’s absolutely no harm in trying ThunderShirt yourself, and in fact, there may be a great benefit for you and your dog!

Who has used a ThunderShirt before to help calm your dog? What was your experience like, and for what behavior did you use ThunderShirt? Let us know in the comment section below!

Read more about ThunderShirt and its uses in:

Fear, Anxiety, Stress and Phobias in Dogs
Fun on the Fourth for the Whole Family: Keeping Your Dog Safe Around Fireworks
How to Take a Vacation When You Have and Anxious Dog
Dogs and Fireworks Don’t Mix: How to Keep Your Dog Safe and Calm this New Year’s

spaniel under a bed

Fear, Anxiety, Stress, and Phobias in Dogs

We all have encountered fear, anxiety, and stress in our lives. Our dogs are no different. Fear and anxiety and the stress they induce in our pets is often down-played and overlooked. Most of us fail to notice anxiousness in our own pets. Once we understand stress and can recognize the signs, we can work to identify the underlying cause, and take the appropriate steps to eliminating the stress in our dogs’ lives.

The terms fear, anxiety, stress, and phobias are often used interchangeably when referring to a dog’s behavior; however, they are very different. As responsible guardians for our dogs, we are obligated to understand these principles and the impact they have on our canine companions so we can do what is necessary to minimize stress in their lives.

 

  • Fear is an emotional response that occurs when an animal perceives something or someone as dangerous. Fear is a normal and beneficial behavior which helps us to adapt and survive.
  • Anxiety is the anticipation of future danger or a threat, whether it be real, imaginary, or unknown. Anxiety and fear both lead to stress and cause a similar physiologic stress response involving the release of neurotransmitters and stress hormones.
  • Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Stress is much more than just an emotional problem. It can cause many serious physical health issues and exacerbate other mental and physical problems.
  • Phobias are persistent fears of certain things or situations that are often extreme and out of proportion to the actual threat that they pose. Unfortunately, many dogs have phobias that are often not diagnosed or handled properly.

Most fears, phobias, and anxieties in dogs develop at the onset of social maturity, from 12 to 36 months of age. Often times owners who have a dog they adopted from a shelter, or don’t know the full history of, assume that fearful or anxious behaviors they have are because of past abuse and tend to ignore the problem. While in some instances this may be the case, there are also many dogs born with heritable predisposition to being fearful or anxious. Many dogs suffer from a pathologic fear or anxiety and perceive a threat even when none are present.

As dog owners, we need to do a better job of learning normal animal behavior and becoming aware of how are dogs are learning from positive and negative experiences. Ignoring these problems will not make them go away and only prolongs your dog’s suffering. When a dog cannot change its behavior in a way to help it better cope with fear and anxiety, or escape from the situation they perceive as dangerous, the prolonged negative effects cause the body to remain in a stressed state. This can have serious negative mental and health consequences.

Let’s talk a little bit more about fear, anxiety, stress, and phobias in dogs.

Fear

Fear is an emotional response that occurs when an animal PERCEIVES something or someone as dangerous and causes them to avoid situations and activities that may potentially be dangerous. It is very important to know that just because we may think a particular person, event, or object is nothing to be feared, that does not mean that your dog feels the same. A dog’s perception is their reality, and they will respond to what they perceive as a threat even if we do not see it as threatening. When a dog can’t get away from something they perceive as fearful, they may freeze up or become aggressive in a self-defense manner. This, in many cases, is a perfectly normal adaptive response. The context of the situation determines whether the fear response is normal, or abnormal and inappropriate. Most abnormal fear reactions are learned and can be unlearned with gradual exposure.

Anxiety

Anxiety is defined as the anticipation of future danger, whether it be real, imaginary, or unknown. Anxiety can result in similar physiologic responses similar to those associated with fear and has an effect on almost every body system. Some of the most common visible behaviors and signs are urinary or bowel eliminations/accidents, destructive behaviors, and excessive vocalization. Separation anxiety is the most common specific anxiety in companion dogs. When alone, the animal exhibits anxiety or excessive distress behaviors. Many dogs live in a constant state of anxiety, always wary of potential threats or always worrying that their owner will leave them at any minute. It is vital to your dog’s health to be aware of these issues and work towards improving them.

Stress

Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Stress affects dogs both emotionally and physiologically, just as it does in humans. Certain levels of stress are normal, beneficial, and even necessary for survival. The “good stress” allows us be alert, increase our sense of awareness, and use energy to help us learn new tasks and adapt. When a dog experiences fear or anxiety frequently, especially when they are unable to escape from the stressor, it is called distress. This “bad stress” can cause insomnia, euphoria, depression, mania, mood swings, irritability, suppression of the immune system, weight gain, and even psychotic behavior which further exacerbates the stress our dogs face. It is important to note that every animal is different in how they respond to stress and what their stress threshold level is. A large majority of behavior problems in dogs, especially conditions such as separation anxiety and aggression, are often the result of stress.

Phobia

Phobias are persistent fears of certain things or situations that are often extreme and out of proportion to the actual threat that they pose. Phobias are quite common in dogs and can be directed at anything. One of the more common phobias in dogs is a fear of loud noises such as fireworks and thunderstorms. Dogs will often become very anxious in anticipation to exposure to these things or situations. Every dog is different; some may have very mild anxiety responses and some may panic severely and can even injure themselves or others as they attempt to escape from the stimulus. They often lose sight of everything other than getting away from the stimulus. Phobias often start out mild and increase in severity every time they are exposed to the fearful stimulus again.

Physiological Effects of Stress

When an animal is fearful or anxious, the body responds by going in to its “fight-or-flight” mode by activating the Sympathetic Autonomic Nervous System (SANS) and stimulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) to release stress hormones. When this “fight-or-flight” system is activated, neurotransmitters such as adrenaline and stress hormones such as cortisol are released. This essentially tells our body to shut down all functions that are not essential for fighting or flighting from the stressful stimulus. At the same time, they ramp up the body systems needed to protect ourselves from the threat. The overall response by the body is to increase the energy and oxygen directed towards muscles and movement, decreasing perception of pain, and increasing memory and sensory function.

Normally after a stressful incident, the “fight-or-flight” and stress systems will turn off and all the neurotransmitter and stress hormone levels should decrease to normal. It does not happen instantly and may take up to 24 hours to stabilize. However, with frequent and constant stress, the neurotransmitter and stress hormone levels may not have time to return to normal before another stimulus is encountered. This keeps these systems constantly active and keeps the levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones elevated. This has a strong negative impact on the body and can lead to lethargy, high blood pressure, impact normal gastrointestinal tract function, weight gain, increased thirst and urination, cause hair loss, suppress the body’s immune system, and can lead to or worsen behavioral issues.

These emotional, stressful, and fearful situations systems activate the “primitive” part of the brain which is directed at survival and suppresses the “thinking” part of the brain. This is why people and dogs don’t make the best decisions and may respond inappropriately in an emotional, stressful, or fearful situation. Brains are built to remember these negative and stressful situations in order to help adapt and be prepared for them if they are encountered again in the future. It is very important to note that when dogs are stressed, memories that occur during this time are very strong and can have lasting impacts on their behavior. Therefore, it is very important to handle these situations properly and to not worsen the situation by punishing a dog for his response to a fearful or stressful situation.

Now, let’s move on to common causes of stress in dogs and how to identify them.

Common Stressors in Dogs

  • Excessive stimulation (too much play, doggie daycare, dog sports, etc.)- and the inability to escape or avoid stimulation
  • Insufficient stimulation/attention
  • Grief due to the loss of a companion (human or animal)
  • Arguments among family members and yelling
  • Too many dogs/animals in one space
  • Environmental changes (new home, schedule, people, animals, increased noise)
  • Punitive training (shock, choke and prong collars)-even yelling and telling “no” can cause fear, anxiety, and stress in some dogs
  • Combination training (rewards and punishment)
  • Inappropriate play partners
  • Insufficient social time/family time
  • Scary events and loud noises
  • Frustration
  • Uncertainty- Inability to predict the outcome of a situation
  • Excessive play that becomes borderline “obsessive/compulsive”
  • Not being taught to be okay with being left alone (separation anxiety)

Identifying Stress in Dogs

Dogs express themselves and communicate with body language, vocalizations and behavior. Most people recognize the obvious signs of stress in their pets such as avoidance behaviors, flattened ears, crouching, trembling, or panting. However, the more subtle signs are often overlooked. As pet owners, it is important to learn to read your dog’s body language for these signs to help them avoid experiencing unnecessary stress and, thus, a reduced quality of life. It is important to interpret your dog’s body language, vocalizations, and behavior as a whole.

Some key indicators of stress in dogs are listed below:

Eyes

  • Dilated pupils
  • Tightness around the eyes
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Staring
  • Wide eyed
  • Blinking, squinting
  • Whale eye- when the dog’s head is turned away from a stressor while keeping their eyes focused on it causing you to see the whites of their eyes
  • Furrowed eyebrows

Mouth

  • Yawning
  • Lip/nose licking
  • Lip curling
  • Panting
  • Excess salivation
  • “Smiling”/showing teeth
  • Teeth chattering
  • Cheek puffing
  • Wrinkled muzzle
  • Mouth closed tightly or pulled back
  • Mouth pursed forward
  • Mouthing

Ears

  • Pinned back/flattened
  • Upright and alert

Body

  • Tense
  • Freezing or walking slowly – little or no movement
  • Cowering- crouched low to the ground, tail hanging low with head down
  • Stretching
  • Excessive shedding
  • Urogenital licking/“check-out”- your dog may turn their head around and inspect and lick/groom their urogenital region
  • Urination/defecation
  • Low body posture, weight shifted back
  • Trembling/shaking
  • Sweaty paws
  • Tight brow
  • Shake off
  • Lifting one leg
  • Nails extended
  • Hair standing up
  • Turning away (C-shaped)

Vocalization

Dogs may indicate that they are stressed by vocalizing. Some of the more common stress related vocalizations are:

  • Barking: growling, howling, whining, screaming
  • Hissing: Low pitch = threatening / High pitch = fear/stress

Behavior

Signs of a dog that is stressed include:

  • Restlessness, inability to relax
  • Poor sleeping habits
  • Excessive sleeping, often due to exhaustion
  • Jumpy/High-strung
  • Irritable
  • Destructive
  • Excessive self-grooming
  • Loss of appetite
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
  • Inability to focus, appearing distracted
  • Hyperactivity
  • Increased urination and defecation
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Biting, nipping, snapping
  • Clinging to owner
  • Hiding
  • Pacing
  • Running off, Jumping and startling easy at slight changes—hyperalert state
  • Sniffing
  • Taking treats harder than usual, being pickier with treats, or not taking treats at all even if hungry
  • Trembling
  • Turning away (C-shape) or turning head
  • Will not settle down and rest, or will for a moment but back up and moving again

Steps to Reducing Stress in Dogs

There are many approaches to eliminating stress in dogs. In order to reduce our dogs’ stress we first need to understand it and identify the underlying cause in each situation so we can take the appropriate steps to correct this.

The first and simplest way of helping reduce stress in your dog is safety and avoidance of the situation or environment which stresses them out. This will not fix the underlying problem, but it will temporarily alleviate it and not further subject them to the stress. If the specific situations that dogs become stressed in is something they cannot avoid completely, such as separation anxiety or a hatred towards the local mailman, you may need to work with a qualified behavior consultant to help get your dog over this fear. While there are thousands of books, articles, and TV shows directed at correcting behavioral issues, you need to be very cautious with these. Most owners find themselves unsuccessful trying to resolve these problems on their own and often make them worse by trying to follow bad advice. In addition, dog training classes are rarely recommended for dogs with anxiety or aggression issues as it puts them in an environment where they will be constantly stressed and unable to learn and adapt. This is known as flooding and sensitizing. Research tells us that using aversive and punishment training methods can cause and worsen anxiety and fear in dogs. Every dog and every situation is different, and thus require different plans to try and correct these problems.

A behavior consultation with a certified behavior consultant will help you identify your dog’s stressors (triggers) and develop a personalized treatment plan. The behaviorist will almost always recommend a behavior modification protocol, specifically tailored to your dog’s situation. Additionally there may be recommended changes in diets, treatment with products such as pheromones, and medical managements through the use of certain drugs prescribed by your veterinarian. If your behavior consultant is not a veterinarian, it is strongly recommended to have your behavior consultant and veterinarian work together to help correct these issues. Some veterinarians have a special interest in behavior and are members of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. You can find nearby veterinarians that are AVSAB members by visiting their website: http://avsabonline.org. In addition, some veterinarians pursue years of advanced training to become a board-certified veterinary behavior specialists through the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. To locate a veterinary behaviorist near you, please visit the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists website: http://www.dacvb.org/.

Treatment plans for fear, anxiety, and stress in dogs involve:

  • Avoiding known triggers and negative stimuli- PREVENTION IS KEY
  • Cue-Response-Reward-teaches predictability and structure to interactions with humans and reduces stress and anxiety by making sure anxious behaviors are not rewarded
  • Teaching new coping skills-hand targeting, eye contact on cue, and how to relax on a mat are techniques that can help to redirect and refocus. These also make hand and eye contact less scary.
  • Social and Environment Enrichment– food dispensing and puzzle toys-reduces stress and gives the dog more control over their environment. One-on-one human play and training time is important as well for social enrichment. Sometimes another animal (dogs, horses, cats, cows, etc.) can provide social enrichment.
  • Desensitization/counter-conditioning– the only way to change fear is by eliciting a new positive emotional response and gradually reintroducing triggers in a controlled environment. Counter condition is a way of training an animal to elicit a behavior or response that is counter to, or opposite of, the unwanted behavior or response to a particular stimulus. Desensitization is the process of slowly exposing your dog to a stimulus without causing the unwanted response. By introducing them to the stimulus or trigger very slowly, many dogs begin to realize it is not something to be feared and do not elicit the undesired behavior. These methods are not simply training the dog to accept the trigger or stimulus, as this type of training does not change the emotional response. These methods help the dog realize there is no need to be fearful of the stimulus so that they are no longer fearful of it. Remember fear is irrational and cannot be reinforced, therefore desensitizing/counter-conditioning will not make fear worse unless you go too fast at the gradual reintroduction of the trigger. For example, a dog that is fearful of the car and car rides can be gradually counter conditioned and desensitized to not be fearful of it. You can slowly bring the dog closer to the car each time and reward them for not acting in the undesirable manner. As they are successful, they can slowly be moved closer to the vehicle until they are getting into the car, and eventually riding in the car in a calm and quiet manner while still being rewarded for accomplishing their goal. It is important to watch for the signs of stress listed above and work to keep in a calm emotional state when working.
  • Medications– medications are not a cure for behavioral problems, they must be used with behavior modification but can be very helpful by decreasing overall anxiety and fear levels and increasing learning and behavioral modification potential
  • Tools– in addition, there are many tools on the market designed to help your canine companion with their behavior conditions. The ThunderShirt uses pressure in a manner similar to being hugged to help reduce anxiety and trigger relaxation. There are a variety of supplements and treats available that use natural ingredients to help support proper nervous system function and help keep your dog calm and relaxed. Other options include caps that can be used to reduce visual stimulations, and DAP sprays that emit drug-free, natural vapor signals to your dog that the area is friendly and safe by mimicking a dogs natural pheromones.

Summary

Stress makes us feel miserable; it makes our dogs feel the same way. The effects of fear and anxiety are serious and distressing for the animals that experience them. As dog owners, we owe it to our best friends to become better at recognizing signs of fear, anxiety, and stress and do more to decrease their fear when possible. In addition we must work to help prevent fear in new pets by understanding the principles behind it and avoiding actions and situations that predispose our dogs to stress. Dogs that show a pathologic level of fear or anxiety need to be recognized and treated to prevent them from a reduced quality of life and the long list of medical problems that occur secondary to prolonged stress. They do not deserve to suffer simply because we are not adept at recognizing their suffering and the signs of stress. It’s time to take action and work to improve the lives of our four-legged companions.

Do you want to learn more?

ThunderShirt Works for Annie’s Anxiety: A Product Review

10 Ways Your Dog is Telling You He’s Stressed

How Changes in Our Routine Affect Our Dogs

Tell us about your experiences with stressed or fearful pets in the comments section below. Ask your questions here or you can, email bark@hollywoodfeed.com. The experts at Hollywood Feed are always happy to help!

References:

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  • Overall, Karen L.Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals. St. Louis: Mosby, 1997. Print.
  • Pfaffenberger CJ, Scott JP. The relationship between delayed socialization and trainability in guide dogs. J Genet Psychol 1959, 95: 145-155.
  • Radosta, Lisa, DVM, DACVB. “Canine Fear-Related Aggression Toward Humans.” Clinician’s Brief, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.
  • Scholz, Martina, and Clarissa Von. Reinhardt.Stress in Dogs. Wenatchee, WA: Dogwise Pub., 2007. Print.