You're accidentally making your dog more anxious if you aren't trying any of these things, according to trainers

Expert insight on how to reduce your best friend’s stress levels.

ByClaire Epting
Originally Published: 
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When it comes to owning a dog, there’s no official rulebook. In fact, there are so many training techniques and products out there, it can be hard to know if you’re succeeding or if you’re accidentally making an anxious pup more stressed. That’s why I’ve rounded up some expert advice from professional trainers and vets who work with canines day in and day out.

Along with ideas for reducing stress, they have some fantastic product recommendations that can help keep your dog’s mood chill, from a treat-dispensing puzzle toy to a plush, fluffy bed that makes them feel more secure while sleeping.


Calming your pup with something they can sniff & eat

“Eating and sniffing are two behaviors that have been shown to calm and relax a dog,” says Meg Marrs, dog trainer and owner of K9 of Mine. The Bob-A-Lot dog toy combines these two activities into one, dispensing treats as your dog nudges it around. “Using the toy at mealtime or as a snack is a great way to add enrichment to your dog's day while also helping him relax and chill out,” says Marrs. Plus, this sturdy rubber toy has an adjustable treat slot, so you can control the difficulty level by making the hole bigger or smaller.


Giving your dog a lick toy that’ll help them self-soothe

Marrs also recommends this treat-dispensing toy that holds wet food such as canned pumpkin or sweet potato, as it encourages your dog to lick out their reward rather than sniffing. “The act of licking is self-soothing, and the food can also help distract the dog from whatever is causing their anxiety and provide them with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction,” Marrs explains. For an even more challenging experience, place the toy in the freezer prior to handing it to your pup.


Playing soft music to distract your pup from stressful outdoor noises

“Playing music can be an effective way to calm a dog who is easily triggered and stressed by sounds outside,” says Marrs. That’s why she sets up her Amazon Echo Dot in the same room as her dog’s bed. “Classical or soft instrumental music has been shown to be especially soothing, as the rhythm and tempo of the music can have a calming effect while also drowning out noises from outside and preventing your pup from hyper-fixating on whatever is happening outdoors,” she explains. The Alexa-enabled smart speaker delivers vibrant sound in a small package — it measures just under 4 inches wide. Plus, you can control the volume and playback features with a simple verbal command, or with a few taps on your smartphone.

  • Available colors: gray, blue, white


Setting up a soft bed to provide a sense of security

“Plush dog beds are comfortable and provide a sense of security for nervous dogs as they sink into the pillow,” says Ashley Reely, dog trainer and founder of Meraki Dogs. This fluffy donut-shaped bed has raised sides that further elevate your pet’s comfort level, and it’s machine-washable for easy upkeep. With four different sizes and five relaxing shades to pick from, you’re bound to find one that suits your decor.

  • Available sizes: 20 inches, 24 inches, 27 inches, 30 inches
  • Available colors: 5


Providing your pup with a rewarding job that doesn’t involve too many treats

KONG has become a household name among pet owners, and fans of their traditional red puzzle toy will likely love this slight variation — a treat-dispensing model. “These dispensers are a fun way to give your dog something to do without blowing through a ton of treats,” says Reely. Just twist off the top, add your dog’s reward, and close it back up — your dog will spend tons of energy trying to get the tasty pieces out.


Giving your pup a comforting toy with a realistic heartbeat

“Heartbeat toys are perfect for puppies who become anxious when left alone, especially when they first leave their mother and littermates,” says Reely. Designed with a battery-powered heart that mimics a real heartbeat, this dog-shaped plush toy acts as a soothing companion for your pup when you’re not there. It also comes with a disposable heat packet that warms up the stuffed animal’s body for further comfort.

  • Available colors: 5


Setting up a pet tent to keep your dog cozy

“An indoor dog house can give anxious dogs a cozy space to sleep or chew their toys,” explains Reely. Cute and modern, this pet tent is perfect for giving your dog a feeling of privacy in your home. The dome-shaped bed has high fabric walls and a removable plush cushion, which creates a comfortable, protected spot for your pup to rest their head. Not to mention, the entire tent is machine-washable, making regular cleaning a breeze.

  • Available sizes: 4
  • Available colors and styles: 13


Giving your dog a crate to hang out in when they feel overwhelmed

Reely recommends picking up a metal dog crate as another way to keep your canine calm. “Like an indoor dog house, crates provide a wonderful sense of security to anxious dogs, and many dogs will often go to their crate on their own when they feel overwhelmed or need a safe space,” she says. This one comes in a wide range of sizes, and even includes a sliding tray that catches any accidents. It also folds up easily when not in use, so it’s great for compact spaces.

  • Available sizes: 6


Creating a more peaceful space by adding a cover to your pup’s crate

For dogs who are especially anxious when spending time alone, Reely suggests picking up a separate crate cover for added security. “A crate cover will make the crate cozier for your pup if you have a wire crate,” she says. Made of durable polyester, this cover wraps around the sides of the cage, creating a den-like atmosphere that your pup will be drawn to. It’ll also reduce the amount of distractions surrounding your dog while they rest.

  • Available colors: black, brown, gray


Tiring your dog out with a ball launcher

“Regular exercise and interactive play can help reduce anxiety in dogs,” says Patrik Holmboe, Head Veterinarian at Cooper Pet Care. One way to ensure your pup reaches their daily quota of exercise? The ChuckIt! ball launcher. Not only does this ingenious tool help propel your dog’s tennis ball twice as far during your game of fetch, but it also saves your arm from the exhausting act of throwing. Plus, the scoop at the end means you don’t have to bend down to pick up the ball when your dog brings it back. Boasting an impressive 4.7-star overall rating, it’s a win-win.


Keeping your pet’s brain stimulated with a puzzle toy

Holmboe also says, “Using puzzle feeders and mentally stimulating toys really helps keep a dog's mind engaged and keeps them less bored — which reduces anxiety.” One fun, wallet-friendly option is Outward Hound’s highly rated brick puzzle feeder. It’s designed with several compartments that can be lifted or flipped, revealing the hidden treats underneath. Depending on your pup’s experience level, there are plenty of other designs to choose from, ranging from easy to expert level.

  • Available styles: 26


Reinforcing good behavior with training clickers

“Reinforcing desired behaviors with treats and praise can help build confidence in anxious dogs. A classic product to use here is a clicker,” says Holmboe. You can pick up this pair of clickers for a wallet-friendly price, and incorporate them into your dog’s training routine in no time at all. Each one is designed with an expandable strap that can slip over your wrist and secure to your bag. Combined with treats, the clicking sound will let your pet know when you’re pleased with their behavior.


Feeding your pup hemp chews that support lower stress levels

If your dog is stressed out — whether it be due to a vet visit or a bout of noisy fireworks — Michelle Lehr, therapy dog trainer and Head Writer at Good Dog Swag, suggests feeding them some chews made with hemp powder. How exactly do they work? “Hemp-based treats are high in essential fatty acids and antioxidants, which help support overall neuro health and are associated with calming, anti-stress effects,” she explains. Thanks to their appetizing chicken flavor, your pup won’t mind chowing down on them.


Putting your dog in a pressure wrap that provides a hugging sensation

“Search for a pressure wrap or dog jacket, such as a Thundershirt,” says Iram Sharma, veterinarian and writer at PupVine.“This might look like a fancy suit, but it is very powerful in combating your dog's anxiety. It puts gentle, constant pressure around his torso, creating a calming effect.” The Thundershirt comes in a wide range of sizes, with adjustable Velcro straps that ensure a comfortable fit. You’ll also find a patch on the front for adding a few optional drops of calming essential oil or a spritz of pheromone spray.

  • Available colors: 2


Exercising your canine with a distracting flirt pole

“If you are dealing with an anxious pup, then a good idea is to provide him with more exercise,” says Sharma. “This will keep him physically active and tired, so he won’t have time to feel anxious!” One of Sharma’s toy suggestions is a flirt pole — its long nylon cord provides a fast-moving, engaging distraction for your pooch. The sturdy stainless steel pole has a nonslip rubber handle on one end, so it’s easy to grasp, even as your dog grabs the rope toy at the end of the cord.


Playing a game of fetch with this chewable flying disc

Another one of Sharma’s toy picks is a flying disc, which gives your dog the opportunity to participate in an exciting game of fetch. This hard-wearing rubber disc comes from KONG, the same company behind the famous red bouncing toy. It’s especially great for aggressive chewers — if you have a dog who could snap a plastic disc in two, this one’s flexible, durable rubber material will stand up to their powerful jaws.

  • Available sizes: 2


Providing a rope toy for chewing, tugging & fetch

Sharma also singles out rope toys as a great way to deplete your dog’s energy. This one is made from premium cotton-poly yarns tied in sturdy knots, ready for games of tug and fetch. There are plenty of sizes available, ranging from 10 inches to 72 inches in length. Not only does this rope toy keep your dog engaged in play, it also promotes good dental health — the strands floss your dog’s teeth as they chew.

  • Available sizes: Mini — Super X-Large


Putting your dog’s brain in high gear with a slow feeder

“Using dog puzzle toys, interactive slow feeders, and talking buttons is a great way to put your dog’s smart brain in high gear,” says Sharma. For dogs who tend to gobble down their dinner without a second thought, this uniquely designed bowl is a great investment. The inner spiral creates narrow pathways for your dog’s kibble to fall between, so your pup has to work harder to get it out. Not only will your dog remain more engaged during mealtime, they’ll eat much slower — which reduces the odds of bloating or indigestion.

  • Available sizes: Small — Large
  • Available colors: 11


Teaching your pet to “talk” with these programmable communication buttons

In a perfect world, our pets would be able to tell us exactly what they want. While dogs may not be able to speak our language, you can train them to better communicate with you using these programmable communication buttons. Each one can be individually recorded with a different message, such as “walk”, “eat”, or “play.” Using positive reinforcement techniques, you can teach your dog to press the button that reflects their current desire. The key is consistency. “Make sure to stick to a regular and consistent training schedule,” says Sharma.


Providing your pup with a food-foraging activity that will help them focus

“Snuffle mats allow our dogs to use their noses to forage for food and treats, [and] this helps them calm down and focus,” says Nicole Ellis, CPDT-KA, trainer and pet lifestyle expert for Rover. She adds: “I haven't met a dog that doesn't love these!” This engaging snuffle mat is piled high with soft fleece features, including a large flower, squeaky carrots, and four cups of grass. Simply hide your dog’s kibble or treats among the “garden” flaps, and watch as they sniff out each piece, one by one. When not in use, the washable mat conveniently folds up to save space.


Exposing your pup to “scary” things and rewarding them with treats

“Grab your treat bag and stuff it with great treats,” says dog trainer and behavior specialist Steffanie van Twuijve. “Every time anything that your dog might be anxious about is in sight, start feeding treats — one after the other.” The result? Your pup “will learn that scary things in sight means good things happen...” Made out of heavy-duty cloth, this treat tote from ChuckIt! is great to have on hand during these fear-exposure training sessions. It has a clip that allows you to conveniently place it on your waistband, as well as a drawstring closure that you can open and close in a cinch. The discreetly designed pouch holds up to one cup of your dog’s favorite high-reward treats.


Adding consistency to your dog’s mealtimes with an automatic pet feeder

“Consistency also plays a big role in helping anxious dogs. It is essential that your pup knows what to expect from their routine and from you,” says Aaron Rice, Chicago-based dog trainer at Stayyy. One significant way you can enforce your dog’s schedule is by investing in an automatic pet feeder. Holding up to 16.9 cups of your dog’s dry food, the electronic gadget dispenses a pre-set amount of kibble into the bowl at regular intervals. You can schedule up to six feeding times a day, depending on your dog’s needs — the settings are easily customizable thanks to a button panel on the front. This way, your dog can expect their meals on time every day, whether you’re home or not.


Calming your dog with an aromatherapy spray

“Providing your pup with natural calming remedies can be beneficial,” Rice adds. “You can try calming treats, calming sprays, and even CBD oil.” That’s right — just like humans, dogs may respond well to a bit of soothing aromatherapy. This essential oil spray is scented with lavender and chamomile, both of which can help promote a calm mood. Just add a couple of spritzes to their coat — the natural formula also deodorizes and adds shine to their fur.


Minimizing stress with a multifunctional fetch & chew toy

Dog trainer and behavior counselor Jennifer Malawey suggests looking for dog products that can multitask — such as this rubber toy that serves more than one purpose during playtime. Shaped like a natural piece of wood, the waterproof toy functions as both a chew stick and an object you can toss during a game of fetch. “All of these activities contribute to your dog's mental, emotional, and physical well-being,” says Malawey. “Meeting all their needs goes a long way toward minimizing anxiety.”