Anxiety Wraps: How "Hugging it Out" Helps Your Dog
I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t anxious. So, when I spent a couple weeks stressed out to the MAX, I figured hey, I’m a grown person. I can handle it.
But the stress ate up my insides and turned me into a livewire, thrashing through the days, raw and exposed. It was all I could do to focus on the main tasks I knew HAD to be handled.
Now, imagine feeling that way as a dog. They can’t say things like, I don’t like what’s happening here, please make this stop, or I need a minute. They can’t ask us why something’s happening.
Instead, they show us their distress: excess barking, panting at rest, pacing, destroying their crate or your furniture, drooling, and even aggression.
Hug it out
I had a panic attack near the end of those two weeks. At one point my husband stepped up and hugged me out of nowhere. At first, I didn’t want him near. Any touch at all was the last thing I wanted.
But then, something happened.
Bit by bit, my body gave up the fight. Until he wrapped me up I hadn’t realized how much tension I was carrying. It was easier to breathe. The knot in my stomach released.
My first thought was, thank God. My second thought? Where have I seen this before?
Well, I saw it on season 5, episode 14 of Grey’s Anatomy... but that’s not where the concept originated. You can see the confusion on the faces of surgeons Christina Yang and Miranda Bailey as they oblige Dr. Dixon’s odd request for “constant, deep, tight pressure across large areas of my body... tight, tight-tight-tight.”
Mary McDonnell’s character lives with high-functioning Asperger’s Syndrome. It takes her a minute, but she tells them about squeeze chutes being used to calm cattle before branding. Once they understood, they spend several minutes happily holding their colleague after a rough situation.
Temple Grandin tried doing this to herself as a child with blankets and couch cushions — before ever knowing it was a thing. When she visited a relative’s farm, she watched how fast the cows calmed down under the applied pressure of the chute. The deep pressure suppresses overstimulated nerves so that the cattle could relax.
Connecting the dots led her to building a “Hug Box,” which she still uses to this day! Programs around the U.S. that started using Grandin’s Hug Boxes have noticed calming effects in both kids and adults with autism.
And I can tell you that as my husband held on to the hug I initially didn’t want, the application of pressure helps ease anxiety and panic, too.
Stress and anxiety disorders are not the same as autism by any means, but it’s no surprise that calming wraps have become prevalent in helping dogs during instances that trigger fear or stress. The “Squeeze Machine” concept has proven its worth in both cases. When used regularly, it can significantly reduce the effects of stress — in both humans and dogs.
But did you know a calming wrap can do even more? Here’s what I found out after some research.
The benefits: increase the good and decrease the bad
There are other physical and emotional aspects that an anxiety vest can help your dog improve upon, as well as the more common, negative effects that can be reduced!
I’ll start with a calming wrap can improve:
- Coordination and body awareness: because a wrap helps calm your puppy or young dog, they become more aware of their body and relaxed in movements.
- Illness, injury, and surgery recovery: by keeping your dog calm and swaddled in an anxiety wrap, they’ll be less apt to hinder recovery through distress or chewing at surgical sites or a raw paw.
- Self-confidence: clearly, a dog who is less anxious and can handle both stimulus and strangers is a CONFIDENT dog!
- Socability and friendliness: a calming wrap can be used when new people are coming over to your house, or you have to bring your pup to the vet or groomer.
And here’s what a calming wrap can reduce:
- Fear of fireworks, thunder, or loud noises: you guessed it — these are the most common reasons people get anxiety vests for their dogs.
- Car rides: if your dog gets sick in the car because of fear and anxiety, putting a calming wrap on them 20 minutes prior can make the trip easier.
- Hyperactivity and behavioral problems: just like self-confidence, a dog who is less anxious and more focused and aware, will be more receptive to training and positive reinforcement to overcome obstacles.
- Separation anxiety: if your dog hates it when you leave your house, wearing a calming wrap in his crate will ease some of their stress. Here’s an extra tip from me, which is something I’ve done with my dog’s crate pillow: bury the wrap in your personal clothes pile before you know you have to leave!
Does any of this sound like something your dog struggles with? If so, an anxiety vest will be a vital tool in helping them live their best life! But first, you’ve got to get them used to wearing one.
Help your dog learn to love their anxiety vest
Much like introducing them to a new harness or that their crate is a happy place, you’ll need to be consistent. Take your time — especially if you’re using a calming wrap because your dog is fearful.
Begin by laying the wrap on the floor during a time of day that’s uneventful and relaxed. Let them sniff at it while offering them their favorite, high-value treats. Don’t be shy with those — or the praise!
Once you know they’re comfortable with its presence, it’s time to have them try it on. Just like before, choose low-key, pleasant times during their day, and keep the treats and praise coming.
This is an example of desensitization and counter-conditioning, or DSCC, which has been shown to be a powerful tool in helping fearful or reactive dogs overcome barriers. Instead of forcing the outcome you want for your dog, you’re capturing their positive reactions naturally.
With patience, your dog will soon associate the anxiety vest with a free-for-all of tasty snacks and admiration from their favorite human!
Track their progress!
Once your dog is completely comfortable wearing their anxiety wrap, make a chart of the trigger, the behavior, and your dog’s reactions:
- Fireworks → Anxiety and fear → Barking, pacing, tearing up crate
- Visitors → Fear → Whining, barking, cowering, potty accidents
If your dog’s stressors happen daily, then wait a week before looking at your list or chart. If they’re afraid of thunderstorms or fireworks, the tracking might take a little longer — but you can test things out by playing a movie with these sounds if you want to prepare for the real thing.
There’s no data claiming anxiety wraps for dogs will eliminate 100% of their fear or anxiety, but as you check your list each week, you’ll be shocked at how many positive changes you’ll see!
Remember that patience is key, and every dog is different. Your best friend might need to have their anxiety wrap for every storm they encounter in their life, or you might be able to phase it out over time.
But, hey — if a hug is all it takes to start feeling better... why deny that?
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