Is your Dog Anxious??

By Karen Becker and comments by Diane Weinmann

When we talk about “nervous” dogs, we’re really discussing dogs who are anxious. And while it may seem unlikely your pampered pooch has any reason to feel stressed, it’s important to recognize that dog stressors can be quite different from human stressors.

It’s also really important to understand that research clearly shows dogs can and often do experience stress, and according to one study, “There is evidence to suggest that the stress of living with a fear or anxiety disorder can have negative effects on health and lifespan in the domestic dog.”1

When dogs feel anxious, their bodies release an excessive amount of norepinephrine, the fight or flight hormone, which has the potential to alter gut bacteria and interfere with gastrointestinal (GI) tract motility.2 This flood of norepinephrine can result in physical symptoms like diarrhea, which only exacerbates your dog’s stress — especially if she has an accident in the house.

Some dogs primarily experience short-lived stress, but others suffer chronic stress. The more you know about what triggers your pet’s anxiety, the behaviors she tends to perform when she’s anxious, and the effect of stress on her health, the better able you’ll be to identify the signs and take action to minimize or eliminate stressors.

Signs Your Dog Is Anxious

Estimates are that about 30% of dogs show signs of anxiety, identified by either body language or behaviors such as obsessive licking. Since each dog has his own communication style, it’s important to learn your pet’s signals that he’s feeling nervous or stressed. There are many signs of anxiety in dogs, and they can change over time. Some of them include:3

Lowered or tucked tail Trembling/shaking
Ears pulled or pinned back Increased whining, howling and/or barking
Yawning or panting Diarrhea
Nose or lip licking Reduced or absent appetite
Cowering, crouched body posture and/or hiding Destructive behaviors

If your dog is showing one or more signs that he’s anxious, I strongly encourage you to make an appointment with your veterinarian for a wellness checkup. It’s important to rule out an underlying medical condition that may be the cause of or a contributor to the anxiety.

8 Common Triggers for Anxiety in Dogs

Some of the causes of stress in dogs are species-specific, while others are triggers that can cause anxiety in humans as well. And just like sensitive people, sensitive dogs generally tend to be more susceptible to stress. Some common triggers include:

  1. Sudden loud noises (e.g., fireworks, thunderstorms)
  2. Punishment-based training methods involving yelling, hitting, shock collars, etc.
  3. Adverse relationships with other pets or humans in the household
  4. Unwanted attention such as being randomly awakened from a nap, or being forcibly hugged, kissed or held
  5. Lack of opportunities to express normal species- and breed-specific behaviors such as running, retrieving, hunting, herding, etc.
  6. Exposure to the strange and unfamiliar (objects, animals, people, etc.)
  7. Changes in housing, household routine or household members
  8. Separation from family members, including other pets

As you go about identifying the triggers for your dog’s anxiety, also consider her history. If you adopted her, what do you know about her past? Was she abused or neglected? Is she anxious mainly around men or kids? Other dogs? Some of the things that cause anxiety in dogs can be unavoidable, such as thunderstorms passing through or a move to a new home. However, there are several things you can control to minimize stress and improve your dog’s quality of life. Examples:

  • Use only positive reinforcement behavior training/trainers.
  • Help everyone in the family understand and respect your dog’s need for uninterrupted sleep and human handling he feels comfortable with.
  • Increase your dog’s daily physical activity level, since the vast majority of dogs, especially large breeds, don’t get nearly enough. Daily movement is extremely important in mitigating your dog’s stress response.
  • Dogs left alone for several hours during the day get lonely and bored. If there’s often no one home to keep your dog company, recruit a friend or neighbor or hire a dog walker to take him for a stroll around the block, at a minimum. An alternative is doggy daycare.

Tips to Calm an Anxious Dog

  1. Consider adding a probiotic supplement or fermented veggies to your dog’s fresh, nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate whole food diet, as studies show probiotics reduce stress-related GI disturbances in dogs.
  2. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise, playtime, mental stimulation, attention and affection. Daily rigorous exercise is one of the most overlooked, free and effective treatments for reducing stress that very few pet parents take advantage of.
  3. Add a flower essence blend like Solutions Separation Anxiety to her drinking water and invest in an Adaptil pheromone collar or diffuser.
  4. When your dog will be home alone, leave him with an article of clothing or blanket with your scent on it and a treat-release toy, place small treats and his favorite toys around the house for him to discover, and put on some soothing doggy music before you leave.
  5. Also play calm, soothing music before a possible stressor occurs. This may relax your dog and have the added bonus of drowning out distressing noises.
  6. If your dog responds well to pressure applied to her body, invest in a wrap like the Thundershirt; also consider Ttouch, a specific massage technique that can help anxious pets.
  7. Consult a holistic or integrative veterinarian about homeopathic and TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) remedies, Rescue Remedy or other specific Bach flower remedies that could be helpful in alleviating your dog’s intermittent stress.   Diane makes custom blends depending on your unique situation after she talks with your pet to determine the triggers for stress and anxiety. Products I use, always in conjunction with behavior modification, include homeopathic aconitum (or whatever remedy fits the symptoms best), Hyland’s Calms Forte or calming milk proteins (variety of brands).

Calming nutraceuticals and herbs that can be of benefit include holy basil, l-theanine, rhodiola, ashwagandha, GABA, 5-HTP and chamomile.

The essential oil of lavender has been proven to reduce the stress response in dogs. Place a few drops on your pet’s collar or bedding before a stressor occurs or diffuse the oil around your house. There are also great oil blends specifically for calming animals. Diane likes Calm-A-Mile by Dr. Melissa Shelton DVM.


  1. If you’ve adopted a dog who may have had a rocky start in life, I highly recommend a program called A Sound Beginning, which is designed to help rescue dogs and their adopters learn to communicate effectively and form an unbreakable bond.
  2. If your dog’s anxiety seems to be getting worse instead of better, consider an individualized approach to managing her stress by allowing her to choose what best soothes her via applied zoopharmacognosy (self-healing techniques offered through a trained professional).


Empathy from your Pets?

By Dr. Becker and Diane Weinmann


rescue remedy

Your mood and emotions matter to everyone in your household, including your pets. A dog living in a household with a lot of yelling and tension may become stressed, fearful, anxious or aggressive. On the other hand, a happy, relaxed household signals to your pets that it’s OK to relax.

Your pets are, in fact, very observant of your emotional state, which they can pick up via your voice, body language and other subtle clues. Additionally, since they can read your thoughts, they understand what you are feeling whether it’s sadness, happiness or stress. It’s in their best interest to decipher your emotional expressions and it gives him a leg up (pun intended!) in evaluating your motivations and intentions especially with how it would ultimately relate to their wellbeing.

Are you friendly? Are you a threat? Is it a good time to ask for a belly rub? Your dog may pick up your mood not only for her own devices but also for your benefit. Dogs are known, for instance, to respond to people when they cry. My dog will come cuddle hen I cry, pressing his body against me to give comfort and offering his paw to get my attention away from the sadness. My horse would wrap me in a hug with her neck when she felt I was stressed or unhappy.

They do all these actions by approaching and displaying submissive behaviors, which is a signal that they’re showing empathy.

Dogs Can Tell the Difference Between Angry and Happy Faces

Does your dog wag her tail in glee when you arrive home with a big smile and lots of ear scratches to give? And does she, in turn, hang back or crawl into her bed when you’re angry or yelling? She may also run up and lick your face or roll onto her back when you’re sad and crying. My dog responds to yelling and conflict by running for comfort from a stable, happy person in the room. He rubs his face on my leg and puts his ears back to show he is afraid of the noise and confrontation while attempting to draw comfort from the person not engaged in the yelling.

These behaviors aren’t a coincidence; your dog can discriminate between your different emotional expressions.

According to research published in the journal Current Biology, dogs can discriminate emotional expressions of human faces in a controlled experiment, which they do by using their memories of real emotional human faces.

Research published in Biology Letters also found dogs recognize both dog and human emotions. The dogs were presented with either human or dog faces with different expressions (happy and playful versus angry and aggressive). The faces were paired with a vocalization that was positive, negative or neutral.


The dogs looked significantly longer at the faces that matched up to the appropriate vocalization, which is an ability previously thought to be distinct to humans. The researchers concluded:

“These results demonstrate that dogs can extract and integrate bimodal sensory emotional information, and discriminate between positive and negative emotions from both humans and dogs.”

Pets Are Sensitive to Shifts in Your Mood

The way you move, speak and behave all send subtle signals to your pets that indicate your mood. When you’re in a situation that’s stressful to your dog, such as at your veterinarian’s office, your pet will look to you to help her calm down. They search your heart and mind along with your actions for strength and stability.

If however, you seem tense and nervous, your pet will likely become even anxious. This is true of your veterinarian as well — his or her energy can either calm or agitate your pet, so it’s important to choose a provider who uses deliberate body language and communication to help put your pet at ease.

Pets are extremely intuitive. According to scientists dogs appear to process emotional cues and meanings of words in different hemispheres of the brain, similar to humans. As an animal communicator, I am aware that your pet knows what you are emotionally feeling inside; however, sometimes the emotions are so complicated (like us humans) they fail to understand why you are feeling the way you do. After all, animals have a different way of thinking than us humans. They do not have an ego and do not judge. When most people become upset they are coming from a place that pets cannot fathom!


Dogs also pay attention to your body language, taking note of your posture and eye contact, so recognize that your pets may sense changes to your vibe even when you don’t think you’re being overtly emotional.

10 Tips to Reduce Your (and Thereby Your Pet’s) Stressrescue remedy 2

When you reduce your own stress, you thereby reduce your pet’s stress. The following tips can help you adjust your mood for the better:

  1. Interact With Your Pet: Cuddling with your pet, petting her, or playing a game of fetch is calming for both of you. Better yet, take your dog for a walk, which adds the stress-busting benefits of exercise into the mix.
  2. Breathe Slowly and Intentionally: When you breathe deeply, it stimulates your parasympathetic system, which lowers your heart rate and blood pressure and helps you relax.
  3. Try Meditation: Meditation helps to lower levels of anxiety and depression and improve symptoms of stress-related disorders. You can also try mindfulness, which is a less formal variation of meditation that involves actively paying attention to the moment you’re in right now.
  4. Play Calming Music: Pets and people respond to music in similar ways, and both of you can benefit from the stress-relieving benefits of calming music.
  5. Take Five Minutes to Recharge: When your day is getting overly hectic, take five minutes to stop and regroup. You might step outside to get some sunshine and fresh air, read a few inspirational quotes, jot down your thoughts in a journal or have a chat with a positive person.
  6. Engage in Meaningful Activities: Having a sense of purpose and focus is important to your emotional well-being. Try a new hobby, volunteer, or mentor those in need or join a local community group, such as a church or recreational club.
  7. Nurture Your Human Relationships: Pets provide unconditional companionship and love, but it’s important to develop strong relationships with other humans too. Take time to nurture important relationships and create new ones throughout your life.
  8. Get Support When Stress Is Overwhelming: If you feel you’re nearing burnout and can’t cope, get help. This might mean talking to your spouse, another family member or a friend, or you may want to seek the help of a therapist.
  9. Tap: Also called Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), this simple exercise can have profound benefits that decrease your anxiety level and overall attitude about stressful or negative situations or thoughts. For more information, check out Dr. Mercola’s website on EFT. This technique can also benefit pets!
  10. Rescue Remedy or Essential oils: Rescue Remedy is a pre-made Bach Flower essence that is a natural way to obtain calmness. Additionally, lavender essential oil can be worn by you or your pet and also diffused in the home to create a serene atmosphere. Both, Rescue Remedy and essential oils can be enjoyed by pets or people in stressful situations.

4 Stress Relief Tips for Your Dog

As I mentioned above, you’re not the only one who might need some stress relief. The tips that follow are especially useful when you know your dog is going into a stressful situation, such as trip to the veterinarian or groomer.

  1. Exercise your dog right before the stressful event. Vigorous activity will tire your dog out, which will help to relieve his nervous energy later.
  1. Add a flower essence blend like Stress Stopper by Spirit Essences, Anxiety by Green Hope Farms, Rescue Remedy Bach Flower Essence or Stress and Trauma Relief from OptiBalance to your dog’s drinking water. Homeopathic Aconitum may also help.       Additionally essential oils can invoke peace whether it is lavender or another blend. See Dr. Melissa Shelton’s at


  1. Invest in an Adaptil collar or diffuser for your dog. Adaptil is a pheromone and is designed to have a calming affect on dogs. The collar seems to work well for many dogs suffering from stress-related behaviors. Put the collar on your dog the morning of the stressful event and remove it just before the event begins.


  1. Offer an Earthing Mat. Providing a means for your pet to ground out and reduce EMFs may reduce stress in a variety of physiologic ways, especially if you live in a condo or apartment off the ground, live in an area with significant weather extremes or have a home full of electronics.

If you’re a cat owner, don’t worry — homeopathic, herbal or nutraceutical remedies can be helpful for kitties too. Talk with your integrative veterinarian about stress-relief options for your cat. Feliway spray or diffusers can offer calming pheromones to stressed felines.


Blended flower essences, such as Spirit Essences or several Green Hope Farms Essences, and Rescue Remedy along with essential oil are often effective for cats and birds, too. And remember, your mood matters! The more you display relaxed, happy behaviors, the more likely your pet is to follow suit.

What is it all comes down to is that the calmer/happier you are, the more serene the atmosphere in your home will be; thereby, providing the healthiest environment for you and your pet to thrive.essentail oil chart

Photo courtesy of Natural Healers (
Photo courtesy of Natural Healers (


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