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Anxiety in Dogs

By Jo Hutchby March 01, 2017

Some ideas to try and help reduce your dogs anxiety.

Like us humans, dogs also suffer from anxiety issues in varying degrees from dog to dog. Some dogs strut through life afraid of nothing, while others are reduced to trembling wrecks at the thought of a car ride or the arrival of the vacuum cleaner in the room. And size does not determine who suffers from anxiety – there are just as many cases of ‘fraidy-cat’ great danes and bull mastiffs, as there are chihuahua’s who think they are bullet-proof.

A car ride. A clap of thunder. The dreaded vacuum cleaner. Fireworks. Any of these loud noises might turn your pup into an anxious wreck. Noise phobias can be especially challenging because the anxiety may feed on itself and increasingly become a problem until normal everyday sounds are causing your dog to become fearful. Maybe it starts with fireworks as an example; then the dog becomes afraid of loud bangs on TV, honking horns, or even the microwave. 

It is not only because a dogs hearing is more sensitive than ours that they become afraid of loud noises. Dogs are creatures of routine and as they become accustomed to every day sounds like the doorbell, they learn the sound and associate it with someone entering the house. Whereas fireworks or thunder are random loud noises that they cannot understand or associate with – so for an anxious dog this becomes frightening.

Guy Fawkes celebrations in early November causes fear and trauma to many dogs and pets every year. Pets spooked by fireworks often take off running, and get lost, or worse, hit by a car. It is similar to when a person has an anxiety attack - a dog may not be thinking clearly, they are just reacting and will run to get away until they stop from exhaustion, or are stopped in some other way.

If the anxiety becomes a problem for you and your dog, or you are struggling to manage the fear and it’s escalation, here are some suggestions to try and reduce the anxiety and to help your nervous dog

Consult a trainer

An experienced dog trainer / therapist may be able to help ‘desensitise’ your dog by gradually introducing him to scary noises while offering him rewards. Rewiring your dog’s associations to loud noise is a long-term solution that requires a lot of work, not only from the trainer, but you as well. If you are considering going down this track, it would pay to thoroughly vet available trainers by talking to some of their previous clients, as choosing someone unqualified may at best cost you money and time with no improvement, or at worst, make the problem worse.

Play music or try distracting your dog

If your dog is shut inside the house it may help to play music or have the television on to help mask the noise outside that is causing the anxiety. Distracting your dog by playing with him, grooming him, or even teaching him a simple trick may be enough to take his mind off the fear inducing noise.

Try a Thundershirt

The Thundershirt is a compression garment designed to reduce fear in dogs. Thundershirts work on a similar theory to that of swaddling a baby for comfort or giving a reassuring hug. The company that markets the Thundershirts claim it can help with a wide range of phobias and works for about 80% of pets that try them.


When a mother dog nurses her puppies she releases a calming pheromone that encourages them to lay down quietly. You can buy a synthetic version of that pheromone to help your dog relax at any age. Consult your veterinarian for further advice on pheromone’s to help reduce anxiety in your dog. 

Talk to your vet about medication

In very extreme cases, where some dogs levels of anxiety can become a safety risk to you or himself, and none of the above behaviourial modification solutions have worked, it may be necessary to consider a prescription medication. Once again, your veterinarian will give you the best advice on whether this step is appropriate for your dog.

Safety Tips for your dog on Fireworks night

Always prepare for Guy Fawkes night well in advance by ensuring all dogs, cats and other pets are safely shut inside the house. Preferably, make sure someone will be home with them, close the drapes, have the lights on, and also have the television on or music playing to help mask the noise of the fireworks outside.

Another good idea is to check your dog or cat is wearing a collar with address and contact info tags on. In the event they manage to get out of the house, this gives a much better chance of you being reunited with your pet.

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