How to put your scaredy cat and fraidy dog at ease.


Your dog should totally dress up as the Cowardly Lion for Halloween...if only the doorbell, trick-or-treaters or even just the random empty candy wrapper on the sidewalk didn’t seem to cast an evil spell on him, rendering him a quivery, shivery, lip-licking mess. House pets, just like humans, can get scared and stressed-out for all different reasons. “Some animals are afraid of specific things, like thunderstorms, startling sounds, strangers, being left alone, or exposure to novel places or experiences,” says Kristen Collins, vice president of the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center. “If pets don’t receive socialization to other animals, people and experiences during their early months in life, they’re more likely to develop fearful responses in adulthood.” 

And, no, rescue pets aren’t more likely to be fearful, she says. (How many times have your gazed into your rescue’s soulful eyes and wished he could tell you his origin story?!) Of course you want to alleviate their distress and discomfort, often manifested by shaking, hiding, peeing (or worse), howling or pacing—so Collins suggests the following.

 3 Ways to Chill Out

ID the Trigger

“Knowing the cause of the trauma is helpful,” Collins says, so you can use counterconditioning techniques. “Treats help pets form new good associations,” she says. With a dog, you also want to establish a set routine and schedule, Collins explains, “because dogs rely on predictability to feel comfortable in their world.” And be sure to have safe hiding spots—a cat perch, a crate. “It helps your fearful pet feel more at ease.”

Hire a Pro 

Sometimes your pet’s fear—as well as its many triggers—will be a puzzle you can’t figure out, so you may want to call in a professional behaviorist. (Get recommendations from your vet or rescue.) A behaviorist can help decode the fear and figure out a calming technique that will work for your animal. 

Visit the Vet 

“If fear develops out of nowhere, get your dog or cat to the vet,” Collins advises. “Medical causes may result in new fearful or anxious behavior.” And, in any case, if your pet shows “extremely fearful behavior, a vet’s involvement may prove wise, as many anti-anxiety medications can speed along recovery.” Yes, your little peanut may need a prescription for chill pills, and he’ll love you all the more for it.