The market is full of products to help calm your dog. Here are some tools I and other trainers and dog owners have used, that could be useful to you if you have a dog that is fearful, reactive, anxious or easily over-aroused.
- Thundershirt. The Thundershirt has become one of the most well-known products out there. It works by essentially swaddling the dog, which can be comforting. The pressure it gives can give an anxious dog some comfort, and relief. Alternately, taking a T-shirt and wrapping it on a dog can be just as effective; put it on the dog with the front of the T-shirt on the dog’s back, front legs through the T-shirt arms, and tie it snuggly in the back. To introduce it, I recommend putting a Thundershirt or T-shirt wrap on your dog when you know he will be calm, and give some yummy treats. This will ensure it has a positive association before you try to use it in less serene moments.
- Thundercap. Formerly known as the Calming Cap and developed by Trish King for a client whose dog became agitated in the car, this tool can help with dogs who are easily aroused or anxious in public, as it helps filter the visual stimulation that causes a dog to go over his behavioral threshold. It can be a great tool to help keep the dog calm and assist in modifying the behaviors. I highly recommend working with a trainer when using this tool, and it’s also very important to acclimate the dog properly to the equipment so it doesn’t make problems worse. If it is too aversive for the dog, it can actually make things worse, so please contact us for help in using this tool.
- Classical or calming music, or white noise. Calm music can help ALL of us, including our animals! Living in Denver and using Comcast’s basic cable, I have Music Choice and love the light classical and soundscapes channels for my pets. I always put it on several minutes before leaving (and leave it on when I’m there and working too!), and it helps to calm them and drown out other noises from the outside world that may over-stimulate them or make them more anxious. Fans can also be good–producing white noise to drown out sounds your dog may find bothersome. There is also music you can download from Through A Dog’s Ear.com; this is classical music that has been re-arranged to the rhythm of a resting heart beat, which can be very relaxing for your dog. Downloads are just $9.99, and they also have a version that you can play in the car if your dog has issues in the car, and music for cats too! They also have a portable player called the iCalmDog. I have this and use it with my dogs, as well as with clients, and absolutely love how much it can help!
- Diet. It’s very important to give your dog the best diet possible; artificial colorings, preservatives and additives definitely play a role in behavioral health as much as physical health! Read labels and know what they mean! The Whole Dog Journal is a great publication for both nutrition/training information for your dog and each year they publish a “best foods” list with an accompanying article about how to read pet food labels and choose food for your dog’s needs. Dog Food Advisor.com is also a good site for information about dog foods. Fresh food is great, and I often recommend turkey or chicken to clients because tryptophan can be calming and help their dogs. B-vitamins that can help with stress are also good supplements for consideration and dark green vegetables have B-vitamins so even just adding some green beans is simple and effective!
- Dog Appeasing Pheromone. Also known as DAP, there are several versions of this product, like ADAPTIL and Comfort Zone. Another brand that is easy to find is Sentry, though I DO NOT RECOMMEND the spray that emits a noise first! All DAP brands can come in a diffuser form that you can just plug into a wall, or you can also get spray bottles and calming collars of DAP. DAP is a synthetic version of the pheromones mother dogs release as they lactate, which can be very calming to dogs. It has also been clinically proven to reduce barking in shelter environment!
- Zylkene. This product has been used for a while in the UK and is now gaining popularity here. The active ingredient is casein, a milk protein that produces a relaxing effect on the brain. You can order the product online; my vet, Pets on Broadway, also carries it.
- Holistic and All-Natural Supplements and Remedies. There are numerous products out there, including the Rescue Remedy, Composure liquid or treats and Pet Naturals of Vermont Calming Treats, Pet Calm, Merlin’s Magic Calming Potion for Dogs, RutaVaLa oil, and Pet Ease Calming Spray. We have had varying degrees of success with several of these, as just like with people, different dogs respond differently to these products, so trying out one at a time or working with a trainer, you can find the right product or combination of products.
- Massage and TTouch. The power of touch can help ease your dog if he/she doesn’t find being touched uncomfortable. We highly recommend, and work with, Courtney Kirman of Tender Hands Animal Training. She is absolutely wonderful and will be able to guide you in how to use TTouch for your dog!
- Acupuncture and Holistic Care. There are more and more veterinarians who are learning about traditional Chinese medicine, herbal remedies, chiropractic care and more. Take care to ensure whoever you choose is adequately qualified and do your research. The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association has some useful information as well as a referral list. In the Denver area, I can recommend Gentle Vet, Dr. Rhea Dodd. She does an awesome job providing my foster dog, Uma, with acupuncture and chiropractic care.
As with humans, each dog will respond differently to different types of products and combinations of products, and most of these are very safe. We do recommend working alongside your vet and trainer to determine the best options and ensure the best possible success! Trainers can add a behavior modification plan to help your dog learn relaxation protocols, alternate behaviors and counter-condition responses to build a path for a stress-free life together. Vets can help monitor the need for any traditional medications, and provide referrals to other health professionals. It’s extremely important to find qualified help and not place your dog at risk for any further injury.
I hope you’ve found this quick guide helpful! I welcome your feedback.
Owner, Delightful Doggies