How to calm an anxious dog

Updated 19 March 2024
Read time: 9 mins
article author
Written by Corinne Homer

No matter how much we pour affection onto our dogs, many of them are anxious creatures - easily spooked by a bird at the window, a passing pooch or even a friendly neighbour at the door. It’s not unusual if your dog gets freaked out occasionally; in fact, a Finnish study of almost 14,000 dogs showed that an incredible 72 percent of them could be considered anxious (1). That’s a lot of nervous pups! 

So how can we ease our dogs’ anxiety? In this article, we go in-depth about anxiety in dogs and unpack some of the most common reasons your dog might be anxious. If you’d like to get to the bottom of your dog’s on-edge behaviour, read on to get some expert tips and advice for soothing their nerves and calming them down. 


Why is my dog anxious?

The reasons for a dog’s anxiety are wide-reaching - some dogs are affected by traumatic experiences in their past, while for others, the cause could be as simple as having a different dog food bowl than they’re used to. 

There are scenarios that will commonly unsettle a dog, however, and they usually include the following:

  • Change of environment - If you’ve recently moved house or renovated your home in some way, your dog may take a while to adjust to their new surroundings.
  • Other dogs or pets in the home - If your pooch has spent a while being the only dog you dote on, having unfamiliar dogs or new pets in the house may appear threatening until they get to know them better.
  • Strangers or new people - If you have a new partner, a new baby or have unfamiliar people in the house, even a delivery person regularly knocking the door, this can be frightening to dogs who are naturally territorial.
  • Dietary changes - Have you changed your dog’s diet recently? Perhaps they’ve eaten lots of treats or human leftovers? There’s a strong relationship between food and behaviour (read on for more), and some foods can exacerbate a dog’s reaction to common stressors. 
  • Noises caused by storms, building works or fireworks - Lots of dogs hate loud noises, but if it’s a continual racket caused by the likes of neighbours, bad weather or construction, your dog might suffer from sensory overload. 
  • Crowds - Similarly, having a party in the house, or taking your dog to a place with lots of people and stimulation can be too much activity for them to handle.
  • Being left alone - Dogs form strong attachments to their owners, and if left alone without their dog parents for too long, they can develop separation anxiety.
  • Past experiences - The most anxious of dogs have usually become so due to their past experiences. When dogs have been traumatised in their past, they don’t feel as consistently safe as dogs who have had a secure, loving upbringing.
  • Some breeds are prone to anxiety - All dogs can be anxious, but some breeds are more prone to becoming on edge, and particularly experiencing separation anxiety when left alone. These include Border Collies, Bichon Frises, German Shepherds and Cocker Spaniels. 

Symptoms of anxiety in dogs

If you’re not sure how to detect whether your dog is feeling anxiety, that’s fair enough - sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate whether your pooch is scared or excited. On the other extreme, some dogs become quiet and withdrawn when they’re anxious, which could easily go unnoticed if you’re busy. Generally speaking, common symptoms of anxiety in dogs include: 


  • Barking and whining more 
  • Tense body language, including quivering or cowering 
  • Becoming aggressive, hostile or destructive
  • Hiding away, or becoming quiet and withdrawn
  • Digestive issues, such as excessive gas or going to the toilet in the house
  • Low appetite, or stopping eating entirely.

How to calm an anxious dog

It’s not fun to see your dog in a state of stress, no matter what the cause. So, what are the best ways to calm your anxious pooch, and be aware of their anxieties so you can reduce the chance of it happening again? Here are some tips and strategies to help your dog cope with their tense emotions.

Tips to calm a stressed dog

If your dog is displaying anxiety symptoms, try to identify the cause and if possible, put some distance between your pooch and the stressor. 

  • Take them for a walk or to enjoy some form of exercise like playing with a ball outside. The immediate change in surroundings and activity should calm them.
  • Soothe them with snuggles. While it’s important not to overly fuss, let your dog know you’re there to keep them safe by touching and stroking them. Mild massage of the face or back muscles may also help them to physically let go of tension.
  • Provide a safe space. Your dog should have a place to escape to when they’re overstimulated, such as a covered den or bed, or a room that’s quiet and cool so they can be alone. Ensure this place is always clean, airy and smells good, without harsh lighting or distractions. 
  • Apply mild pressure to your dog. Some dogs respond to pressure when stressed, such as from a weighted blanket or a dog anxiety wrap. 
  • Play music. Particularly useful for separation anxiety, pleasant music such as classical, piano or harp music can be soothing for a dog and block out harsh noises. 
  • Try simple commands. If your pooch won’t settle down, distracting them with simple training tasks can divert their attention. Reward them a treat afterwards.
  • Consider their diet Unbeknownst to their owners, some dogs are nervous because their diet has them feeling fidgety and uncomfortable. The gut and brain are intrinsically linked, so if your dog isn’t digesting their food properly or has an underlying allergy, such as grain or wheat, it could be causing them discomfort and distress.

A brown dog lay down calmly on a purple background

How to calm an anxious dog at night

Is it at night time that your dog just won’t settle? If you have a pooch who gets spooked when it’s time to sleep, here are some tips to help them wind down each evening.

  • Stick to a bedtime routine. When a dog has a regular meal time, bedtime and place they usually sleep, they’ll want to sleep at the same time each night. If your pooch doesn’t have a bedtime routine, start one as soon as possible, because getting them to sleep will be much harder. 
  • Keep a calm, safe sleeping area for your dog to rest in. A comfortable bed, cosy blankets and a cool, dark environment each night should have them snoozing in no time. 
  • Consider their feeding routine. Does your pooch eat dinner very close to bedtime? This means they’ll still be digesting food when it’s time to sleep, which could disrupt their sleeping patterns. 
  • Use an oil diffuser. Lots of dog owners have success using an oil diffuser, as the sweet smells gently send their dog to sleep. Be sure to use diluted oil in a calming scent dogs appreciate, such as lavender.
  • Introduce a bedtime toy or blanket. If your dog has a toy you give them to snuggle specifically at bed time, that toy will become a clever sleep trigger, letting them know that it’s time for bed. Over time, they may end up getting it out to let you know they’re sleepy.


Tips for separation anxiety in dogs

The bond between dogs and owners is so strong that many form separation anxiety. If you’ve noticed your dog getting severely anxious each time you leave the house, or you return to a trail of mess and destruction each time your pooch has been left alone, there are some straightforward steps you can take to ease their distress. 

Give your dog reasons to be entertained while you’re not around. This could be as simple as leaving a few treats hidden around the house, placing a few toys or interactive dog puzzles around to distract them. Music is also particularly comforting to dogs, or you could even experiment with Dog TV. To be certain they remain comfortable, take them out for a walk so they can go to the toilet before you leave, and close curtains if you live on a road with passers-by. 

If your pooch is racked with grief every time you go out without them, try not to leave them for too long. If you’re planning to go out for a while, get a trusted dog sitter to play with them and keep your devoted pooch company. 

How to calm dog anxiety naturally

Heard of the gut-brain axis? Yep - it’s scientifically proven that even for dogs, stress and anxiety is intrinsically linked to activity in the gut (2). Therefore, there are plenty of ways to reduce anxiety through nutritional means to reduce anxiety - such as adding natural gut-boosting ingredients to your dog’s food, or trying natural anti-anxiety supplements for dogs

Try giving your pooch a boost of gut-supporting probiotics, either with probiotic supplements for dogs or with a calming dry food; it can help address the balance of friendly bacteria in their tum, instilling a sense of ease and wellbeing throughout their body and mind.

Or for a bite-size dose of calm that tastes great too, calming treats for dogs contain naturally soothing ingredients such as hemp, chamomile and even turkey, which helps produce serotonin (the happy hormone) with its key amino-acid, L-tryptophan.   

Winding down… 

Now that you’re clued up on the most common reasons for anxiety-ridden pooches, remember that every dog is unique - so keep a close eye on yours to work out exactly what spooks them.

When it comes to easing a dog’s anxiety, taking a holistic approach is best, considering their environment, routines and diet. If you’ve tried all of the above, however, and your dog still works themselves up on a regular basis, take them to the vet for a check up; it could be that they have an underlying condition and would benefit from anxiety medication. 

Pooch & Mutt have a range of tasty, grain-free dog treats and anti-anxiety supplements to calm a dog’s nerves. You could also try our Calm & Relaxed recipe, specially formulated for anxious dogs. For more information about dogs with anxiety, get in touch with us to chat further. 

Comments (1)

Very informative, I like this site and I am very grateful for the information you post on most issues which could happen with your pooch. Thanks for your input it’s much appreciated.

Jean Vause - Sep 11 2023

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