How to make your pet feel secure and safe during the ups and downs of anxious times
4th May 2020
By certified dog trainer Mikkel Becker in collaboration with Sure Petcare technology products.
CBCC-KA, CDBC, KPA CTP, CPDT-KA
Certified trainer and behavior consultant, Mikkel Becker is the lead trainer for Fear Free Happy Homes. Mikkel lives with Indiana Bones and Otis, pug mixes, who help her champion reward-based training. She co-authored From Fearful to Fear Free.
Times of transition and change can have a detrimental impact on an animal’s physical and emotional well-being if progressing stress is left unaddressed. But, thankfully, there are ways to settle and soothe stressed out dogs and cats and provide increased security during seasons of change (or, to continually protect and promote canine and feline well-being no matter what season you’re in).
Thanks to technology there are now a number of ways to track your pet’s behavior from anywhere / to determine if there are warning signs that your animal is experiencing stress and/or a health problem. Today’s animal behavior monitors can detect problems with sleep, excess barking, and itching and shaking. All of these being signs that some-thing may be wrong with your pet. Most trackers can simply be worn on your pet’s collar and offer insightful data via a downloadable application.
Here are some ways to help soothe detected stress and anxiety in your pets.
Security boosting scents
Soothing scents can be incorporated into the animal’s environment to provide calming reassurance. Lavender and chamomile are better known scents for their ability to soothe animals when stressed. But, other scents have also shown potential to calm anxious dogs; including valerian, vanilla, coconut and ginger.
The acoustical environment has a direct impact upon an animal’s emotional state. Minimize the outside noise and offer calming acoustical elements in your home environment by adding in both white noise and calming acoustical options for your pet.
Certain sounds offer calming reassurance to animal hearers. Calming music options can include species specific music (set to the beat of the species’ resting heart rate), reggae, soft rock, classical music, and even certain audiobooks.
The white noise in and of itself can lessen the surprise of sudden noises and help to dampen other noises that may seep into your pet’s environment and be cause for concern. Common white noise options include a quiet fan, a fountain, or a white noise ma-chine. And, when used in combination with calming music or audiobooks, they can help to further minimize outside audio input and offer a calming element during any lulls in the audiobook or music.
Synthetic versions of dog and cat, species specific pheromones send signals of well-being to the canine or feline recipients. Spritzing and regularly refreshing pheromone sprays in areas where the dog or cat rests, or placing pheromone diffusers in rooms where the animal regularly resides, provides calming, noninvasive reassurance to the dog or cat.
Set up a safe space
Just as you may have a special area where you go to getaway and relax (like your recliner, the porch swing, your bedroom or the bathtub), so too do dogs and cats benefit from having a designated space to go to when they want to retreat and relax. Animals also need their own space and time, especially if they’re overwhelmed by surrounding situations, like an overly rambunctious animal housemate or overly eager child.
Offering cats high spaces to get up and out of the way and seek a high vantage point from which to survey their surroundings and to escape when wanting to retreat and rest. And, the more cats, the more high spaces and resources should be offered throughout the home (more litter boxes, feeding areas, water bowls or pet fountains, additional toys and resting areas) to reduce need for competition and offer each pet their own sanctuary space.
Other happy hideaway locations for the pet to get away when needed may include a crate, a certain piece of furniture or a gated off area or room.
Ideally, allow the animal free access in and out of the area when possible to allow for easy entry and exit and provide the important element of choice.
In a multi-pet home, use of feeders that are specific to each pet and ideally located in their safe space manages mealtime chaos and furthers positive familiarity and comfort associated with the animal’s happy hideaway retreat space.
Create a calming routine
Consistency for what the dog or cat can expect out of their day by establishing given schedules and routines is key to calming the dog or cat. And, even during unstructured times, such as the COVID-19 crisis or during holiday or school breaks, keeping consistency in interactions and daily care is essential for the dog or cat’s wellbeing. Cats in particular are especially sensitive to shifts in daily routines and rely upon regularity in what to predict out of their day in order to better keep calm. So, even when lacking a normal schedule, incorporating a regular routine into each day offers calming reassurance about what the animal can generally expect.
Note that anytime a dog or cat has a concerning change in behavior, it’s important to ad-dress the change with ongoing oversight from your pet’s vet. The difference in behavior or seeming distress a dog or cat is experiencing may be related to their health, as under-lying illness, pain and other imbalances manifest first as a change in behavior.
One way to keep tabs on your dog or cat’s normal behavior, and attending to any change that may indicate concern, is to have a general baseline for the activity and behavior of your dog or cat. Animal activity monitors are one such way to track your pet’s behavior and have a physical record you can refer back to, as well as use for comparison and reference by your pet’s vet.
For instance, activity trackers that monitor important indicators like ‘barking bouts’ and ‘shaking’, which both are indicators related to underlying anxiety, are important ways to monitor the level of stress the dog may be experiencing. Such information can be invaluable in pointing out a problem and providing a baseline to go from when addressing an issue to see what treatments are providing positive progress and helping the pet.
Consider what you’re communicating to your pet
Lastly, remember that concern is contagious. And, by taking care of your own emotional well-being, you are by extension better able to provide calm reassurance to your dog or cat.
Just because our dogs and cats don’t fully comprehend what we say verbally about what we’re going through, it doesn’t mean they’re disconnected to what we’re feeling. Instead, it’s quite opposite. Many dogs and cats are so intimately connected and emotionally attuned to their humans, that they’re able to pick up on even subtle signs of stress or changes in behavior that fellow human family members may miss.
Dogs and cats understand the unspoken messages; perceiving emotional signals we likely aren’t even aware that we’re giving off. Indicators animals clue in on for emotional meaning include human facial expressions, body language, the pitch, tone and delivery of verbal messages, and chemical messaging and body odors produced by the human body when under stress.
Being aware of our own emotional state and engaging in well-being practices, like exercise, adequate rest, deep breathing and meditation, can help to keep our own bodies in a state of calm, and by extension, offer reassurance to our dogs and cats.