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We would do anything for our pets, which is why it can be so heartbreaking to watch them struggle with stress and fear. We might know that the thunder will pass, the fireworks are no danger, or a vet visit is for their own good—but they don’t. Cue sad whines, shaky limbs, and a whole host of other fear responses.
In trying to help your pet, you may have seen “dog calming collars” in your search. But what are they, exactly, and do they really work?
What are dog calming collars?
Ever lit a candle or put on your favorite hand lotion to give yourself a little aromatherapy? Dog collars work a bit like that—except, instead of purely scent-based treatments, they also include a chemical called pheromones.
“Pheromones essentially work like hormones outside the body by exerting a chemical influence on another living organism,” says Joseph Turk, D.V.M., a veterinarian in Palm Harbor, Florida.
For pets who experience fear or anxiety around certain stimuli, like loud noises or veterinary visits, pheromones seem to help dogs feel more safe and secure.
Before you consider investing in a calming collar, it’s important to first recognize what stress or anxiety looks like in your pet.
What anxiety looks like in dogs
Much like humans, dogs of all breeds can experience anxiety. While sometimes the cause is clear, like hiding or shaking during thunderstorms or whining during separation, it’s not always so easy to spot. The AKC lists several common symptoms of dog anxiety:
- Urinating or defecating in the house
- Destructive behavior
- Excessive barking
- Repetitive or compulsive behaviors
When it comes to treating dog anxiety, there are several methods. Training dogs to focus on their owner rather than the object of their anxiety—say, another dog—is one method. Desensitization—exposing a dog in small increments to what causes them anxiety, all while giving them a positive reward—is another method.
In the case of severe anxiety, your veterinarian may recommend medication for your pet. These could be daily medications or situation-specific ones like if you know there will be a fireworks display over the weekend.
Regardless, if you’re concerned about your pet’s level of fear or anxiety, it’s worth discussing with their veterinarian.
Dog calming collars are often an alternative for people who don’t want to use medication for their pet. Many dog owners also use dog calming collars in addition to medication prescribed by their veterinarian and behavior training.
How do dog calming collars work?
As mentioned, dog calming collars contain pheromones, a chemical that animals and insects naturally release into their environment. Dogs inhale these pheromones to feel their effects. Diffusers are a popular way of systematically providing pheromones to dogs. (Not to be confused with essential oil diffusers, which need to be screened carefully—some essential oils are toxic to pets.)
There’s still a lot to learn about pheromones, but they seem to be used for a whole host of reasons in the animal kingdom, from communication to attracting a mate. Scientists are pretty sure that they’re species-specific and may change based on circumstance.
The pheromones dog calming collars work with is often called “dog-appeasing pheromone” or DAP. “This pheromone is released as mother dogs nurse their puppies very early in life,” says Dr. Turk. “As such, it appears to aid in relaxation for some dogs.”
They’re so relaxing that pheromones seem to help ease anxiety in some dogs. One study found that dogs who were exposed to pheromones were noticeably less anxious in a veterinary hospital. Another studied beagles and found they were less nervous during simulated thunderstorms.
What to know about dog calming collars
Dog calming collars appear to be effective for some dogs and veterinarians are on board. “I’ve seen success with calming pheromone collars and diffusers in dog patients exhibiting anxiety (firework, thunderstorm, separation, etc.), inappropriate urination/defecation, aggressive tendencies, and more,” says Patrick Mahaney, V.M.D., a veterinarian in Los Angeles.
But like any treatment, calming collars don’t always work for every pet. “Sometimes we have good results with these collars, and sometimes there can be little to no difference noted,” Dr. Turk says. He adds that it could be related to the severity of the dog’s anxiety, but it’s hard to know for sure.
That was the case for dog owner Rachel. “I tried to use a dog calming collar with my rescue dog, Wilma,” she says. “Her anxiety in public places or on walks was literally unmanageable. I took her to so many training classes and used positive reinforcement every day of her life and used a collar in addition to that. Nothing helped.”
But one benefit of these collars is that there don’t seem to be any side effects. “The only negative consequence I’ve ever observed was a dog who ate one of the collars and had gastrointestinal issues,” Dr. Turk explains.
If you do decide to try a dog calming collar, keeping track of your pet’s behavior can be helpful in determining if it’s helpful. “I recommend owners create a treatment log/journal by noting the dog’s response (improved, worsened, no change, etc.) on a calendar for ongoing reference in tracking progress,” says Dr. Mahaney. In addition, Dr. Turk recommends filming your dog—since cameras are so readily available on our phones—to try to provide some objective evidence for you and your vet, too.
Popular dog calming collars
If you’re interested in trying a dog calming collar for your pet, these are the brands people turn to most often.
Fitting up to a 23” neck, the collar lasts for 30 days and is recommended for thunder, fireworks, and social events.
Helpful Review: “We desperately needed to find something to help our foster dog with his separation anxiety. He absolutely hates when we leave and barks and barks in his crate. I decided to order a pack of these collars to try. They seem to make him feel a little more calm and they smell great! I was really impressed that they seemed to make a difference. They are the perfect size for the dog, a 70lb. Labrador, and I didn’t need to cut it down at all, as to leave it loose for easier removal. Would definitely recommend these to anyone with a nervous/anxious dog as something to try.”
Recommended for loud noises, training, kennel time and socialization, it’s also safe to use with flea and tick topical medications.
Helpful Review: “Seemed to work very well for my anxiety ridden dog. We’ve tried the Thunder Shirt without any luck and I was close to giving up any hope of haing a dog that wasn’t so fearful. He takes daily medication that didn’t seem to work to well. Coupled with this collar though, he seems like a much happier dog. I will absolutely buy it again.”
Made by the same brand as the ThunderShirt, this collar can be useful for stress chewing, problem barking, and separation anxiety. The collar is body heat activated so you won’t waste pheromones when your pet isn’t wearing it.
Helpful Review: “I have this Thunder collar and I definitely recommend it! The only reason I did not give 5 stars is because I also have two DAP diffusers (another brand) which also help so I cannot tell how much is from the collar. The label says this collar has 5% DAP which is more than the diffusers so it must help a lot. Plus the collar is with her on walks. My girl has general anxiety and reactivity, she was picked up as a stray then spent 5 months in a shelter/kenneled with a rescue before I got her. The DAP products seem to help her a lot with calming down and adjusting to a new place.”