How To Calm Your Canine

by Kris Phillips

Doggy anxiety is a real thing! It’s estimated that around 14% of dogs suffer from anxiety. It can be temporary or on-going. It can be caused by a world of different factors. And can manifest in some pretty devastating ways.

My very first Husky, Shadow, suffered from severe separation anxiety. And she took it out on every house we ever lived in. She shredded the carpet, demolished doors and walls, and ate the most bizarre things – that I generally found later when they came out one end or the other. All the chaos started when she was about six months old and my life turned upside down. A personal tragedy lead to a cross-country move for a job that failed and left us without a place to call home. We couch-surfed with relatives for months while I tried to sort it all out. And poor Shadow knew the only thing in the world she could trust was me, until I had to leave for the day. Yes, I tried crate training. And it worked for about 3 days until she ripped the door off an airline approved large dog kennel. The anxiety became a war of wills and she was a force of nature demolishing anything in her path. I reinforced her kennel door with chains and carabiners, I’m sure the casual visitor thought I was keeping a grizzly bear instead of a 35 pound, 7 month old husky puppy. I’d spend hours at the dog park every day hoping to tire her out, so she’d sleep while I was gone. But every time I had to lock her in, and listen to the sound of her cry as I left I was heart sick. In time she grew up, and life became somewhat more normal. Shadow did eventually settle down and understand that I’d always come back for her. The kennel stayed open, and the only time carpets were shredded was when we moved to a new house. I share the story of Shadow because I though I knew what anxiety was, and how to cope with it. 

It’s been fifteen years since then, Shadow has crossed the rainbow bridge, and I have welcomed other huskies into my home & heart. I’ve counted my blessings as each one seemed to settle into life without much stress. Though I still have Shadow’s kennel, usually with the door open, to comfort new friends.

And then about a year ago the neighbors from Hell moved in below us. When they weren’t playing their tv loud enough to rattle our windows they were having middle of the night drunken screaming matches. Complaining to management did little, neither did the few times I finally broke down and contacted the authorities. So we did our best to adjust, running our own tv whether we were watching it or not, just to drown out the constant noise. But what I didn’t expect was the toll it started to have on my previously well-adjusted dogs. When Floki decided there was some threat under the floor and shredded the linoleum, I knew instantly this was anxiety. But Swota, Swota was much more stoic and internalized her stress. I started waking up in the middle of the night to her panting heavily. And she was suddenly having accidents in the house. When I asked the vet about it we ruled out things like dementia and arthritis pain and ran blood work to make sure she was otherwise healthy. And the only thing left was anxiety caused by the chaos down below. I was simultaneously heartbroken and enraged. I felt like I had failed my pups by not having a house, and so angry that someone else could so disrespectfully wreak havoc on my dogs health. And the worst part was feeling like there was nothing I could do to help them. I loath the idea of on-going mind-altering medications. When you work for yourself, saving for a house can be daunting.

With the obvious solutions of moving, drugs, or taking out the neighbors off the table I started to search around and found some perfect & easy solutions.

  1. More exercise. I feel like this is the first answer to every dog problem. By getting them out of the house for at least an hour every single day the dogs get a reprieve from the cause of their anxiety. An opportunity to decompress, smell stuff, and play.
  2. Lavender Essential Oil Spray. I like ZumMist aromatherapy room & body mist. It smells great and while I don’t recommend spraying it on your dog, knowing that it’s just water, essential oils, and glycerin helps me feel more comfortable about spraying it in the air around them.
  3. Relax My Dog Music. This is the one I was most skeptical about. Especially when there was a high pitched tone 30 seconds in. I turned it on and within a few minutes I heard a loud, deep sigh from Swota. It was like she just let go and relaxed for the first time in months. I watched her sleep for a while and I swear it was like she melted into the floor. Their website explains why the sound combinations work so well. AND you can stream through all the major platforms!

I wish I’d known about the essential oils and the music back when Shadow was struggling pup. How much easier our life would have been.

So whether the anxiety is new or something you’ve been challenged with for some time, consider integrating calming therapies into your dogs routine. There’s something beyond adorable about watching a grown dog fight falling asleep as their eyelids get heavy and they start to nod off.

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