6 Ways to Help Your Dog with Anxiety

Many dogs suffer from anxiety and overarousal issues. 

In my holistic practice, I have a specific interest in assisting them. I encounter a lot of dogs who are locked in an overarousal condition. Most of the time, their sympathetic nervous system is overactive.

These dogs have become accustomed to being aroused. As a result, they have a difficult time regulating themselves and relaxing. A healthy dog, on the other hand, has an off switch. She is aroused when it is healthy for her to be so. She may then swiftly settle herself into calmness once the stimulus has passed.

The parasympathetic (rest or digest) nerve system activates when your dog relaxes. The sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) becomes less active.

That arousal has nowhere to go, and it’s causing them anxiety. If your dog hasn’t learnt to relax, all of that stimulation will remain active in her system. The powerful fight or flight nervous system is always operating at a faster rate than is healthy!

Hypervigilance In Dogs

Adrenaline levels are constantly increased in that state. The dog becomes hypervigilant… and is more likely to experience intense arousal as a result. This is why the majority of anxiety disorders deteriorate over time. Thunder phobia is a classic example. 

In the long term, this state is quite unhealthy for your dog. The immune system is suppressed by high adrenaline and cortisol levels generated by sympathetic nervous system activation.

Of course, some dogs are genetically predisposed to be more aroused than others. This is true of many working dogs, such as Border Collies, Labradors, and other high-drive breeds. 

However, there are also many dogs with genetically poor temperaments. These dogs are sharp or shy and far more likely to have anxiety or overarousal problems. Especially if they’re poorly socialized.

Over-vaccination can sometimes stimulate these behaviors. You need to take special care if you have a dog to prevent them from getting stuck in arousal mode.

6 Ways To Help Your Dog Learn To Relax

Before I explain how and why weighted blankets are an excellent aid for many dogs suffering from anxiety or overarousal… I’d like to offer a few of the recommendations I make to all of my clients who have pets like this.

Make Sure Interactions With Your Dog Are Calming

We humans LOVE to razz up our dogs … scruffing them, stimulating them, making them excited. 

If you have an anxious dog, try connecting with a slow, gentle, firm touch. Slow down all your patting or stroking to a quarter or an eighth of the speed. Make your touch connected, calm, and very intentional.

cute greyhound laying on sofa
Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

Stop All (Or Most) Stimulating Play

If your dog is addicted to a ball or toy, every time she picks it up or merely sees it, it activates her sympathetic nervous system.

This isn’t good for her neurological system, even if she carries it around all day. Remove all of the toys and place them in a cupboard. If you must engage in this type of activity, limit yourself to one or two brief sessions per day, followed by something relaxing. For example, a meal is a good idea.

Focus On Scent Based Training And Play

cute dachshund puppy lying on comfy bed
Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com

Anything that encourages your dog to utilize her nose relaxes her. It’s a good idea to hide treats in your yard or around the house for your dog to find. Any official tracking or nose-work action is the same.

Get Your Dog Off All Processed Foods And Treats

dog eating a carrot
Photo by Samson Katt on Pexels.com

Processed foods and treats often trigger dogs (a bit like red food dye does to kids). Fresh whole foods are much better for all dogs.

Try CBD To Relax Your Dog

CBD is a great herbal medicine to help dogs relax. I recommend it for all dogs with anxiety or overarousal issues. Be aware that your dog may seem a little worse for the first week or two though! But. CBD restores homeostasis, or balance, in your dog and has been scientifically proven to be successful in reducing anxiety.

Plus, unlike pharmaceutical medications, there’s never been an ‘overdose’ of CBD. It’s all about trial and error finding out the best dose for your individual dog (Of course, check the legality wherever you live).

Avoid Or Limit Vaccination

Vaccination can trigger many behavioral responses. These include anxiety or fear that stems from brain inflammation.

For a dog with vaccinosis, consider consulting a homeopathic vet. Homeopathy can help you resolve her issues.

How Weighted Blankets Help Your Dog

close up photo of sleeping dog
Photo by Lisa on Pexels.com

Your dog’s body contains deep pressure nerve receptors. The parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system is activated when these receptors are activated. They start to get more active.

This response bypasses your dog’s mind and teaches her how to relax at a body level.

Weighted blankets are great!

Use a blanket that is around 10% of your dog’s body weight. Heavier blankets, up to 15 or 20% of body weight, can also be beneficial. These heavier blankets should only be used for structured, timed sessions when you’re present to supervise. Your dog may struggle to get up due to the added weight.

Introduce Your Dog To Weighted Blankets Slowly

Many dogs will initially find the sense of relaxation strange, uncomfortable, or even dangerous. They’re so used to being on the go that relaxing is uncharted ground for them!

At first, you’ll probably have to treat your weighted blanket like an unpleasant medicine. It’s possible that you’ll have to sit with your dog and gently tell her to stay under the blanket. At first, she may require some bodywork to help her adjust to deep touch.

In the beginning, you may notice your dog relax and then startle herself into arousal. This is due to the fact that when the body relaxes, the mind begins to freak out a little. That’s because she believes she must always be on high alert in case of any type of dangerous event.

This is what I refer to as the arousal-relaxation cycle. When I initially started using weighted blankets with dogs with severe anxiety, I did notice some initial concern from the dog. They need to teach themselves that they are safe and understand that relaxation with you is safe (this has a lot to do with trust as well).

Your dog will eventually settle down and appreciate it so much that she will sit beneath it for hours. It’s a wonderful, natural treatment for stressed dogs that helps them develop an off switch over time.

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