Helping to Soothe Anxiety in Small Breed Dogs

Small but Mighty (and Misunderstood)!

Little dogs are great companions and loved very much by their owners, but many struggle to cope in the big wide world, and can have reputations for being yappy, flighty and even a bit bitey!

However, they aren’t being naughty – usually this behaviour comes from them lacking in confidence and having anxious personalities.  And although their families often have the very best of intentions by over-indulging them and treating them more like ‘babies’ than dogs, this often backfires to make them even more stressed.

Common issues with small and toy breeds are barking at other dogs, being very attached to their owners, struggling when left alone and attention seeking.  These all come from a place of anxiety, so how can we help them?

Treat them like dogs, not babies

Firstly, it is important to recognise that they might be tiny, cute and fluffy, but they are still dogs and it is vital we treat them as such.  You wouldn’t carry a Labrador around in a handbag, so don’t do it to a Chihuahua! It can be really confusing for them because they know they are dogs and want to act like one, sniffing and running and interacting with other pups and people. If we restrict this and don’t let them socialise, it can be really confusing and they can start to believe the world is a scary place and that they can’t cope without us.

Little dogs need training, too!

They also need to be trained just as much as larger breeds.  Our dogs gain huge amounts of satisfaction and self confidence from being able to understand and complete commands, and training will also deepen the relationship and understanding between you and your dog. And although their legs are only little, they have plenty of energy!  If we don’t ensure our small dogs get a chance to burn this off every day, they can often struggle to relax and can become frustrated, which can lead to them being a bit grumpy and uptight!  It is vital they have a good walk everyday and ideally a chance to run off the lead.

Little dogs often have very close relationships with their owners, which is wonderful but can be problematic if you need to leave them.  Separation anxiety is a common issue and it can be very distressing, for them and us, if they cry, bark and howl when alone. Sometimes this comes out as destructive behaviour or toileting in the house, which often results in punishment and frustration and only serves to make our dogs even more upset.

Boost their confidence 

It is vital we give our pets the confidence to be on their own.  This can be achieved by ensuring they are left regularly from a young age, having a safe space they can retreat to, (covered beds or crates are ideal for this because they are so enclosed and cosy) and giving them something to keep them busy, like a puzzle toy or treat ball.

Sometimes, though, little dogs with anxious brains can benefit from some extra help to soothe their nerves and help get them into a better mindset to cope with life.  This can be in the form of pheromone collars or plug-ins, dietary supplements and professional training and behavioural help. For the latter I would always recommend finding your closest APBC registered behaviourist.  Your vet will also be able to help with medication but for most dogs, this is only needed at stressful times of year, like fireworks night, or at the beginning of a process to help their stress levels.

Consider dietary changes

Dietary supplements are an interesting option and worth looking into if you have a pet with a fretful nature.  These come in many forms; tablets, capsules, powders and are also added to some complete kibble foods. They are often based around milk proteins, which can have a calming effect on the brain.  They work best when they are fed over a long period of time so considering a diet with them added in is a good idea. It means you don’t have to remember a daily tablet and it is often more economical in the long term!

Building self-confidence, instilling good training, treating them like dogs (not babies!) and considering supplements to soothe their anxieties will all help our little dogs to enjoy life and learn to love the big wide world as much as it loves them!


Thanks to our friends at Hill’s Science Plan for providing us with this blog.