Summary List Placement
Like all animals, dogs can experience a variety of forms of fear, stress, and anxiety. Some pups are terrified of fireworks or other loud noises. Others panic when encountering strangers or when they are left home alone.
Fear triggered by scary experiences or a lack of early exposure to sights and sounds can be extremely debilitating for some dogs, but most dogs are more likely to encounter milder forms of stress and anxiety at some time in their lives.
For dogs that experience occasional low-grade fear, toys, supplements, and other supplies may reduce anxiety. While these products aren’t a substitute for visiting a veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist, or dog trainer, they may help manage anxiety, especially when used in addition to training.
With the help of two experts and drawing from my own experience as a professional dog trainer and certified separation anxiety trainer, I’ve come up with a list of toys, supplements, and supplies that may help calm a dog who is experiencing mild anxiety due to noise sensitivity, changes in the home, and other triggers.
For a veterinary behaviorist’s perspective, I spoke with Dr. Karen Sueda, a veterinarian at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital in Los Angeles. Malena DeMartini-Price, a world-renowned dog trainer and author of “Treating Separation Anxiety in Dogs,” also contributed her insights.
It’s important to note that when working with an anxious dog, devices that cause pain or prevent a dog from practicing a natural but unwanted behavior are never the solution. Equipment like prong collars and e-collars/shock collars are not just dangerous, they are likely to create more fear, not less. If you think your dog is experiencing fear and anxiety severe enough to warrant these devices, it’s best to reach out to an expert immediately.
“If we address the dog’s anxiety early with good advice, then we address the problem at its milder stage,” says Sueda. When anxiety is more developed, it is harder to overcome. “Anxiety is something that can blossom and get worse and worse and worse,” adds DeMartini-Price.
Our experts also do not recommend turning to CBD oils and products to calm an anxious dog because there are no studies validating their effectiveness. “Once we have the research, we may find that it really does help, but the hard part is we don’t know any adverse effects yet,” says Sueda.
Here 10 products to help calm an anxious dog:
A vet-approved supplement to help relieve stress
Virbac Anxitane (30 count), available at Amazon, $34.99
Sueda recommends nutraceuticals like Virbac’s Anxiatane, which is made with the green tea derivative L-theanine, as a soothing cup of tea. “There actually is some good research out there showing that [Anxiatane] can help,” she says. Our experts agree that this product is preferable to a chew or treat that contains L-theanine among a group of other ingredients. “Sometimes those other added ingredients can change how one particular individual reacts,” notes Sueda.
A natural supplement derived from milk proteins to help a dog relax
Vetoquinol’s Zylkene has a high concentration of calming milk proteins making it a good choice for a supplement that promotes relaxation. Though there’s good research that supports the effectiveness and safety of daily or episodic use of Zylkene, DeMartini-Price recommends checking with your vet before giving this or any other supplement to your dog.
A calming diffuser to decrease stress at home
Research shows that DAP, a synthetic pheromone that mimics the one produced by a nursing mother dog, can help to decrease a dog’s stress, according to Sueda. DeMartini-Price likes a plug-in pheromone diffuser for anxiety in the home.
“Using the diffuser gives us a generally even and consistent amount of product, and all I have to do is set my calendar for a month,” says DeMartini-Price about the 30-day cartridge. For the best effect, plug in the diffuser where your dog spends the most of its time.
A calming pheromone collar to help relax a dog on the go
Like the diffuser, the Adaptil collar emits the calming dog appeasing pheromone (DAP). Unlike the diffuser, the Adaptil collar is useful for dogs who get anxious outside the home. Sueda suggests using it for dogs that get anxious on walks or when they will be exposed to many different situations that may be overwhelming.
A treat ball to take your dog’s mind off of their worries
Puzzle toys can redirect a dog’s anxiety into productive play. The Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball is DeMartini-Price’s favorite, especially for dogs that don’t like to be too far away from their humans.
“If it starts to roll a little too far away, they can pick it up and bring it back,” DeMartini-Price says. “But what we tend to see is that eventually, it’s rolling down the stairs and around the corner and the dog is [having a blast]. It gives the dog a choice.” She recommends using the large ball no matter what size your dog is.
A classic toy that soothes as it feeds
After almost a decade in the dog training business, I still find myself recommending this basic, inexpensive food toy for every client I work with. “I think of the Kong as kind of a pacifier,” says Sueda. “You can set it, give it to the dog, and forget it.” Plus, she said it’s a good option for pups that are strong chewers.
A remote training machine to help build a dog’s resilience
This battery-operated training toy can be used to teach a dog all sorts of skills without relying on humans to make good things happen. “I’m a big fan of all the toys that are of the Manners Minder type,” says DeMartini-Price. “Sometimes I think it’s really valuable for the dog’s learning to go away from us to receive reinforcement.” Sueda agrees, adding that it can help dogs learn how to cope.
A calming cap for stressful situations
Like the blinders placed over a working horse’s eyes to narrow their vision, a calming cap can help a dog relax in the car or outdoors by removing stressful visual stimuli, according to Sueda. “If we take away one sensory experience, it may help to reduce the scariness of an object [or environment],” she said. Even just “having something over the dog’s eyes is calming.”
The dog can still partially see through the cap, but it dulls the vision. Just be sure to introduce a calming cap gradually. Taking away a portion of a dog’s sight without desensitizing them to the cap can cause them to panic.
A tight-fitting jacket for soothing mild anxieties
A ThunderShirt wraps around a dog’s body to produce a swaddling effect that may bring some relief for stressed-out nervous dogs. Sueda recommends trying the wrap for mild anxiety, including car rides, low-grade noise phobias, and fear around visitors.
Be careful about using the ThunderShirt for more stressful situations, though. Putting the ThunderShirt on a dog with separation anxiety before you leave the house, for example, can quickly turn the product from stress-relieving to fear-inducing. “It’s probably something I’d only use in mild situations or in conjunction with a training approach,” says Sueda.
A white noise machine to block out sounds that may scare your dog
For dogs who are sound sensitive, DeMartini-Price recommends white noise. Unlike music, radio, or television, white noise machines “can create sort of a blanket of noise protection because [the sound] is not so variable,” she says. A dog who is unable to hear distracting or frightening noises is more likely to relax.