Dogs, like their human companions, can experience restlessness, anxiety and fear, whether due to specific circumstances (a thunderstorm or unexpected loud noise) or due to an inherent aspect of their personality. The offshoot of this roller coaster of challenging emotions can vary, from overtly destructive behaviors such as chewing, scratching and soiling to an inner turmoil that can involve changes in demeanor, the onset of or heightened separation anxiety, aggression, "frustration" barking and hiding.
Safe Chewing Options
The act of chewing has been shown to significantly reduce stress in dogs, but it's important to take the time to find safe, nutritious treats and toys that pose no hazard to the animal. In addition, many veterinarians and animal care experts recommend constant supervision during administration of edible treats to prevent possible choking. Hard treats that are difficult to digest and which can be broken off in large chunks by the dog's powerful jaw strength are generally not recommended; instead look for items that are soft, bendable and suited to the size of the dog in question. Rawhide, meaty raw bones (uncooked marrow bones) and other digestible chews can distract a dog from what's bothering him and instill a sense of peace and happiness. Toys should be free of easily removable parts and be well-constructed and as impervious as possible from being torn into shreds that could be swallowed.
According to the book Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats, stress disorders in dogs can be treated with a nutritional approach. For example, a daily vitamin supplement that contains an optimal level of the spectrum of B-complex vitamins can do wonders for the anxious dog. If the dog won't accept a vitamin tablet, try sprinkling nutritional yeast on his food; nutritional yeast is a powerhouse source of B vitamins. Vitamin C at a dose of approximately 1 to 2 grams has been shown to have a calming effect, especially when given after the dog has experienced a particularly upsetting event, such as being left with a sitter or taken to a boarding kennel with which he is not familiar. Some anecdotal evidence suggests that Bach's Rescue Remedy is effective, and can be dosed either by placing a few drops directly into the dog's drinking water or under his tongue.
Aside from edible and chewable treats, the savvy dog owner can calm an animal quickly and effectively using a variety of simple massage and acupressure techniques. If the dog is comfortable having his mouth touched, massaging his lips and gums can be a truly restorative experience, as can a gentle ear rub. Gently stroking the animal along the spinal column and pressing gently along the sides of the vertebrae can release built-up muscular tension and send endorphins coursing through the animal's body.
The good news is that there are numerous ways to calm a dog and bring him back to center. Any of these techniques, or a combination, will enhance quality of life.
By Michelle Kodis
Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats; Richard H. Pitcairn et al
The Well-Connected Dog: A Guide to Canine Acupressure; Amy Snow et al
Vetinfo.com: Products for Calming a Nervous Dog
About the Author
Michelle Kodis has been a writer and editor for more than two decades. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University, is the author of nine books and has contributed articles to various magazines, newspapers and blogs. She is also a certified Pilates instructor and studies canine therapeutic massage/acupressure.