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By Chewy Studios

Victoria SchadeBehavior / Stress & Anxiety

Creating a Zen Space for Your Dog to Alleviate Anxiety

My dogs, Millie and Olive, are scared of thunder and fireworks. Unfortunately, my neighbors love to find any reason to break out the pyrotechnics, so I frequently have to help my dogs through their nervous reactions. The best solution I’ve found to alleviate my dogs’ anxiety is to create their own doggy Zen spaces.

Dogs who feel stressed or overwhelmed might react in several ways. There’s the well-known “fight or flight” response. Or a stressed dog may display appeasement behaviors, known as “calming signals,” such as yawning and lip licking. Or your dog might even shut down completely and become so afraid that she won’t respond when you try to interact with her. As our pups’ advocates, it’s our responsibility to help reduce the stressors in our best friends’ lives.

There are various ways to decrease stress in dogs, but sometimes all they need is the perfect space to relax in. If your dog has anxiety, you can create a special Zen space built to her preferences to help calm her down.

4 Types of Zen Spaces to Help Calm Your Dog

The most important part of creating a Zen space for your dog is to recognize what she finds comforting. You might think that hanging on the couch next to you is the best way for your dog to weather a storm, but she might prefer to hunker down in an enclosed “safe space” where she can be alone.

When my dogs got stressed, I watched what they did to self-soothe. This helped me determine what space they needed for de-stressing.

Below are four Zen spaces you can create in your home to help your dog feel safe. The one that would work best for your dog will depend on her preferences.

Cozy Crate Corner

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By Chewy Studios

If your dog considered her crate a place of refuge back in the day, then consider reintroducing it as a stress-free cozy corner for when life gets overwhelming. This space also is ideal for any dog who willingly naps in her crate.

What You Need

How to Create the Cozy Crate Corner

Place the crate in a quiet part of your house that isn’t too far removed from the action. (The garage or seldom-visited basement aren’t good options.) Then, cover the crate with a blanket that you’ve used a few times to surround your pooch with your scent. Place an extra-cozy bed inside that feels like a hug. If your dog still gnaws on contraband, make sure that nearby blankets or bedding can’t become chewing targets.

Muffle any scary sounds with a white noise machine plugged in near the crate. Draw the blinds, dim the lights and, before you know it, your dog probably will drift off into a puppy-like slumber!

When she’s not sleeping, give your pup something to focus on while hanging out in her cozy crate, like a Bones & Chews jumbo bully stick.

If it’s been a while since your dog has been crated, give her time to reacclimate to the crate before you designate it as her “chill zone.” Keep the door open so your dog can go in and out whenever needed.

Closet of Tranquility

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By Chewy Studios

This space is a good fit for dogs who enjoy a den-like environment. If your pup burrows under the bed covers or crawls under the couch when she feels nervous, a special corner in the closet might be exactly what she needs.

My dog Millie used to deal with thunder or fireworks by slipping under a coffee table that had just 6 inches of clearance beneath it. Now that Millie’s older (and chubbier), it’s no longer an option for her.

Her next spot became my husband’s walk-in closet. Whenever the booming started, she would go straight to his closet and burrow in a corner next to the dirty laundry. I followed her lead and decided to turn the messy spot into her “closet of tranquility.”

What You Need

  • A dog bed, like the P.L.A.Y lounge dog bed (This is what I have for Millie)
  • A speaker
  • An audio adapter
  • Chewy's Zen Dog Playlist (See below)

How to Create the Closet of Tranquility

It’s best for the closet to be away from windows, because when the lights are off, it should feel den-like. Plus, your dog won’t be able to see scary flashes of lightning.

All great Zen zones need a bed. I selected one that fits perfectly in our closet space, while also taking Millie’s preferences into account—she likes a bed with a bolster where she can rest her chin. I wedged the bed in the corner of the closet between my husband’s fragrant dirty laundry and his pile of shoes.

Although some thunder cracks are hard to drown out, playing a curated soundtrack near your dog’s spot can help mask the noise. A study of shelter dogs discovered that the dogs were less stressed listening to soft rock and reggae in the shelter. So, when the thunder gets going, play Chewy's Zen Dog Playlist for a collection of soft rock classics and easy-listening reggae.

Fortified Fort

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By Chewy Studios

This space might be an ideal fit for rescue or foster dogs who just came home and are nervous about their new environment. Having somewhere to hide that’s still close to new friends can help smooth the transition.

Remember how fun it was to build forts when you were little? And remember how it felt like you were in a different world even though you were right next to the couch? Creating a canine-focused fort can make your dog feel the same way!

What You Need

  • An oversized blanket or sheet
  • A dog bed
  • A dog toy

How to Create the Fortified Fort

Like human forts, the primary component of a dog fort is an oversized blanket or sheet. It’s crucial for a dog fort to be stable, so pick a spot that’s unlikely to collapse on top of your pup.

For smaller dogs, draping a blanket over a coffee table or end table is a simple way to create this space. Larger dogs might enjoy a blanket draped between the couch and an adjacent chair. The blanket should hang low and surround your dog, but make sure you leave an obvious exit that doesn’t require your pet to move the blanket to get in or out.

Next, fit a comfortable dog bed inside the tent and give your dog something to chew, like the West Paw zogoflex dog toy.

 A Room Without a View

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By Chewy Studios

This space is ideal for a dog who no longer needs to be crated, but might patrol the windows when you’re not around and bark out a warning to anyone she sees near the house. It might seem like your dog enjoys keeping tabs on the neighborhood when you’re not home, but many dogs appreciate the opportunity to clock out and relax when alone. Creating a special hangout room for your pooch that doesn’t provide a view of the outdoors can take the pressure off and can encourage her to camp out when you’re not around.

What You Need

How to Create the Room Without a View

You can use a powder room, a laundry room or any space that doesn’t give your dog a window view. Instead of shutting the door on your pup, keep it open and use a dog gate to keep her contained inside.

Set up the room with a comfy bed and plug in a white noise machine. Before you leave, set your dog up with a busy toy—like the Planet Dog artichoke dog toy, which can be stuffed with treats—to keep your pooch occupied until she falls asleep. Just make sure you don’t leave your pet unsupervised with any chew or toy that could present a choking hazard.

I also recommend giving your pup a 30 minutes before you go to promote a balanced mood.

Give your dog time to get comfortable in this space before leaving her home alone for an extended period of time. You can start off by putting her in this space and going on a quick errand.

While a Zen space can help ease stress in dogs, keep in mind that some stress responses, like severe separation anxiety or thunderstorm phobia, might need the support of a veterinary behaviorist who can prescribe medication and behavioral protocols. Speak with your vet if you’ve noticed changes in your dog’s behavior or if you suspect she has a behavior problem.

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By: Victoria Schade
Victoria Schade has been a dog trainer and writer for over seventeen years. Her dog duties have included working on Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl as the lead animal wrangler, appearing on two seasons of the Animal Planet show Faithful Friends, creating dog training content and appearing in videos for a variety of sources, and writing two dog training books, Bonding With Your Dog and Secrets of a Dog Trainer. You can keep up with Victoria, Millie, the Smooth Brussels Griffon and Olive, the mixed breed dog, on her blog www.VictoriaSchade.com, on Twitter @VictoriaSchade or on Instagram, @LifeontheLeash. 

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