Over the years of working with clients I have found a few great tools that I heavily rely on. Below are a list of items that I turn to when dealing with fearful, anxious or even aggressive behavior concerns for nervous dogs. Some of the more holistic, natural tools work for some dogs and might not work for others. Trying a variety of tools is appropriate; however, doing so one at a time is the best way to see which one is working. Keeping a journal is a great way to keep track of the progress or lack thereof.
A simple way to do that would be to develop a scoring system. For example, your system could include: 1= least fearful / 5 = most fearful. I would then write what each of these categories looks like. 1 = Loose body postures, approaches people, etc. 5 = Tense body postures, low growling, backed into a corner. Once your scoring system is developed you can then use it to score your dog each day and / or in specific situations. This will give you data to see which techniques and tools are working best for your dog. The scoring system also helps to prevent you from generalizing one bad situation into “he’s not getting better at all.”
Mental Stimulation – This is the number one tool I use when working with any dog really! Most dogs do not receive enough mental stimulation; therefore, they find other ways to entertain themselves which could result in unwanted behaviors and destruction. Many nervous dogs feel better when they’re distracted, too! Check out my Kongrecipe post and mental stimulation videos.
Dog Appeasing Pheromone Collar (DAP collar) – This collar produces a synthetic pheromone specific to canines that can create a sense of calming in most dogs. I have used this collar with several clients for their nervous dogs and they have reported a difference in their dog’s behavior.
Essential Oils – In the past few years I have been experimenting with essential oils with my clients to help reduce itchy skin, digestive issues and anxiety. I highly recommend the brand Frogworks. They offer a variety of oils designed to aid in specific concerns for nervous dogs.
Supplements – Composure and Nutri-Calm are 2 of my favorite supplements when trying to calm anxious or fearful dogs. The active ingredient in Composure that supports the calming of the nervous system is the amino acid, L-Theanine. This helps to promote relaxation and sleep. When the body is stressed we lose B vitamins which are important to regulate our nervous systems. One of Nutri-Calm’s beneficial ingredients include B vitamins in order to replenish your system’s supply.
Nutrition – I experience a lot of dogs that are suffering from fear, anxiety or aggression are also suffering from chronic health issues, such as itchy skin, irregular bowel movements, vomiting and skin irritation. I believe that the two are correlated. When you do not feel well you become irritable, short-tempered and uncomfortable; therefore, your behavior might shift. Avoiding foods that have these ingredients could help: barley, gluten, grain or poor meat sources. It is important to look at the ingredients in your dog’s food to see if common allergens are in your dog’s food. My colleague and dear friend Dr. Angie Krause has created a great online course for the Itchy Dog. I highly recommend this course.
Through a Dog’s Ear – This is a classical music CD series developed to soothe the canine companion in your life. The composer, Lisa Spector, spent many years developing these CDs. You can read about her creation and why they are different than just putting on regular classical music.