If dogs could write letters to Santa Paws, they would definitely ask for tasty treats and, maybe, a dose of calmness. The upcoming holiday season coupled with this ongoing pandemic may trigger anxiety, stress and fear in some once mellow dogs.
“There are some pets who adjust and adapt, but there are others who are desperately trying to find ways to cope,” says Dr. Lisa Radosta, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist who operates the Florida Veterinary Behavior Service in West Palm Beach, Florida. “Stress will get worse in these pets if we ignore it.”
By definition, stress is the general term used to describe any physical, mental or emotional toll on a dog. Fear is a normal response to a real or perceived threat, and anxiety is the anticipation of a response.
Stress, fear and anxiety can trigger medical conditions in some dogs, by weakening the immune system and causing gastrointestinal upset.
Unaddressed, some rattled dogs may:
become major yappers
start piddling in the house
wolf down food at mealtime
vault off the sofa to charge the front door when a delivery arrives
stick to you like a shadow as you move from room to room
Or do all of the above and more.
Stuff those stockings
Of course, there are traditional dog treats, made even more fun when it’s a special seasonal treat. To add other items to the stocking that aren’t so traditional but really show you care, Santa Paws (aka Dogster) delivers a rundown of some healthy stocking stuffers to relieve holiday or just regular stress in your dog:
Toys with squeakers
These toys can tap your dog’s inner hunter. Encourage and praise your dog for ripping out the stuffing and extracting that coveted prize — the squeaker.
“Let your dog take out the squeaker — it is great fun for your dog,” Dr. Radosta says. “Keep a supply of these toys and bring out new ones and toss away the destroyed ones. Your dog needs a healthy outlet like this. Otherwise, he will dig in your backyard, bark out the window and destroy your furniture.”
Holiday Miniz 3-Pack Naughty and Nice Bones $9.99. zippypaws.com
Holiday Brainey-Reindeer $8.99. zippypaws.com
Available in sprays, plug-ins, collars and even in travel sizes, products like Adaptil contain synthetic calming pheromones specifically for dogs.
“Pheromones affect the dog’s brain in a different way than other smells,” Dr. Radosta says. “They are more connected to the emotional sections of the brain. People can’t detect the smell of these products, but their dogs definitely can.”
One diffuser covers 600 to 700 square feet, so don’t go overboard on the number in your home. Help calm your dog by also spraying inside your car and his crate during road trips or drives to the veterinary clinic.
If your dog loves opening wrapped gifts, don’t take it personally if he doesn’t go gaga over this stocking stuffer.
“My dog, Maverick, doesn’t get excited when he opens this gift,” Dr. Radosta says. “It’s like giving your kid vitamins for Christmas.
Cuddly stuffed toys
These stocking stuffers deliver hug-ability and comfort for those dogs who like sitting on or resting against a soft, plush toy that may look like a doggie pal.
Snuffle and licki mats
These food puzzles are the canine equivalent of you doing a crossword puzzle. They require your dog to focus on the food mission, distracting them from perceived stressful situations.
“Food is fun for a lot of dogs,” Dr. Radosta says. “Licki mats and snuffle mats can definitely encourage them to use their noses to hunt and forage for food. They keep dogs mentally entertained.”
Try rotating each type so your dog doesn’t get too ho-hum about the same food mat or puzzle.
Music with predictable tempos like classical genre can be calming sounds to an anxious dog. Playing music or white noise devices may help block out outside aggravating noises to your dog, such as delivery trucks or leashed dogs walking by in front of your house.
Special clothing designed to calm dogs
Thundershirts and other clothing brands were created to help reduce feelings of separation anxiety in some dogs.
“The concept is that pressure reduces stresses as it does in babies who are swaddled,” Dr. Radosta says. “Just make sure that you apply these pet shirts per the directions, so you put it on correctly.
Comfy dog beds
Figure out your dog’s napping and snuggling styles before shopping. “My dog has a little arthritis in his elbows, so I bought an orthopedic bed for him in colors that match my home’s interior — gray and blue,” Dr. Radosta says. “I paid attention to how he sleeps — flat on his side spread out — so I could buy a bed that was long enough to match how he sleeps.”
Catnip for dogs
New research is showing that the benefits of catnip for cats can also help some dogs calm down. Geralynn Cada-Ragan, a certified professional dog trainer, is part of the team at Meowijuana that recently added a lineup of items for dogs called Doggijuana that contain dogginip.
“If you put dogginip in a dog’s food, mix it with peanut butter on a licki mat or in a toy, you up the attraction factor and make these items more appealing to a dog,” she says. “This is another way to distract a dog and help him get that extra amount of calm.”
Dogginip $9.99. doggijuana.com
CBD treats and Zylkene supplements
The popularity of people using cannabidiol (CBD) products to ease anxiety, pain and other issues is sparking use on their pets. CBD items come in treats, soft chews, sprays, tinctures and capsules for dogs, but these products are not regulated and do vary in quality.
“We do not know what dose is right for dogs for CBD, and we certainly do not know how safe CBD is,” Dr. Radosta says. “There may be promising research on the use of CBD for epilepsy and arthritis, but its use has not been proven yet for behavior issues.”
Zylkene is an over-the-counter food supplement that contains a calming natural milk protein. It is most effective when given before a stress-inducing event, like the arrival of holiday houseguests, because it does not cause drowsiness.
Paw CBD Peanut Butter for Dogs $69.99/600mg strength. cbdmd.com
Suzie’s CBD Soft Chews $24.95. suziespettreats.com
The gifts that keep giving
Here’s a dandy gift idea you can’t wrap and stuff in a stocking — treat your dog to a workout every day.
“Dogs need a balance of physical and mental exercise,” Geralynn says. “Take your dog for a brisk walk or a run to help them get their energy out. Or, if the weather is bad, train them by having them go up and down the stairs or back and forth on a long hallway. A tired dog is a good dog.”
Focus on building your dog’s can-do confidence and unleash positive feedback when he masters a new trick or pops into a sit without hesitation.
“Keep in mind that our dogs are experts at smelling our body chemistry,” Geralynn adds. “Your level of stress can make your dog more stressed.”
Houseguests can also trigger unwanted emotions in some dogs. Days or weeks before guests arrive, train your dog to head for a sanctuary space, a safe, private spot. It can be a spare bedroom, walk-in closet, laundry room or other space away from the hustle and bustle.
“Your dog needs and deserves a place to go that feels safe and where he will not be bothered by visitors,” Dr. Radosta says. “Condition your dog now that this is his safe, calm place by tossing in treats and putting his favorite toys in that space.”
Based on his response, strive to increase the time he spends inside this closed space.
“You are giving your dog an agreement that this is a sanctuary that he can go to and will not be bothered by visitors,” she says. “Be patient and supportive, because one of the pillars of preventive behavioral medicine is independence training.”
You and your dog need and deserve a calming holiday season — one that is full of jolly and no folly.