How I Use ASMR to Calm My Anxious Dog

ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response. Might it help your anxious pup, too?

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ASMR. For all the popularity it’s gained in recent years, there are still numerous people who have no idea what it is — or what those four letters actually stand for. I casually polled a few neighborhood pet parents and got some interesting responses, including “Anyone Seen My Rawhide,” “Actively Save More Rescues,” “Animals Stained My Rug,” and “Adopted Stray Mutts RULE!”

Just for the record, none of those are even remotely close. But all of you (and you know who you are) earn a couple of canine-loving bonus points for creativity.

Unfortunately, once I asked the same folks if they had ever “experienced” ASMR, the answers stopped abruptly. This query was mainly met with dubious stares, most people later admitting that they’d envisioned some sketchy substance or similarly sinister shenanigans. But in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. The official definition ASMR is actually quite inoffensive — and it’s helped me discover a powerful anxiety breakthrough for Maizy, my sweet but ever-edgy rescue pup.

ASMR actually stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It’s a fairly common phenomenon that many people experience without even realizing it. Ever felt a calming, tingly sensation across your scalp, ears, or down the back of your neck? Does having your hair washed at a salon make you feel drowsy or de-stressed? These are all manifestations of ASMR — a deeply tranquil, almost meditative/hypnotic state. It doesn’t require pharmaceuticals, and it can be “triggered” by various everyday sounds and experiences. People who do not experience ASMR tend to find these triggers monotonous, silly, and/or mind-numbingly dull. Said triggers can include ambient sounds like fingernails tapping a desk, hushed voices, quietly crackling flames, shoes clicking across the floor, and even for some people, crinkly packaging material. See? Like I was saying.

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Steve Novella is a neuroscientist who explains that a phenomenon like ASMR is somewhat akin to migraine headaches. “We know they exist as a syndrome,” he says, “primarily because many different people report the same constellation of symptoms and natural history.” For all you doubters, that means it’s difficult to observationally “demonstrate” ASMR; yet so many people report such consistent information that it’s also pretty difficult to dismiss.

Case in point, the current ASMR community is absolutely huge. That means you’ll find a ton of free ASMR content across YouTube and Reddit — unusual yet innocuous audio and video that features everything from whispered cookie-baking classes to softly spoken recitations of Russian term papers. This content attracts thousands of daily subscribers — many of whom struggle with insomnia, job stress, low-grade anxiety, panic attacks, and the like.

Which leads us to my lovable puppy mill mutt, Maizy. I’ve watched her struggle with deep-rooted, nearly incapacitating anxiety over the years. A local insomnia specialist alerted me to ASMR, and I began to wonder if certain pets might be susceptible as well.

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Sweet Maizy. (Photo courtesy of Marybeth Bittel)

As a test, I pulled up some of the free, inoffensive video/audio content this doctor sometimes recommends to help lull patients to sleep. I mainly stuck with videos from reputable “ASMR-tists” like The WaterWhispers and ASMRNovastar. I began to play these during events Maizy would normally consider stressful: loud storms, and having company in the house (see Maizy’s personalized ASMR playlist, below).

As Maizy sat in her comfy-and-familiar dog bed, I played each video back-to-back and turned up the audio. However, I didn’t change any other variables in the room. For example, Maizy hadn’t taken any type of drowse-inducing antihistamine for her allergies, and she wasn’t wearing a calming ThunderShirt. Regardless, two rather incredible things happened every time: 1) Maizy was lulled to sleep less than 15 minutes into the video sequence; and 2) her feisty brother Grant flopped down next to her and took a snooze as well.

Fascinated, I began playing this same audio progression twice a day — once in the morning, once toward early evening. This is normally “active time” for both dogs. During a three-week interval, I watched and recorded responses while the audio was playing. I also compared these responses to general behavior monitored throughout the day.

I knew something was up when both canines conked out each and every time the audio played. Both pups slept so soundly that they actually twitched and snored; and Grant was so out of it that once, our neighbor’s Labradoodle romped right past the window and provoked not a single perturbed peep.

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Sweet Maizy, snoozing to her ASMR audio. (Photo by Marybeth Bittel)

I want to be clear that I’m not presenting these findings as any sort of indisputable scientific evidence. But I have begun playing ASMR audio whenever I need to help our dogs remain calm and quiet — and it appears to have a consistent effect. I’ll sometimes also use a lavender candle to disperse a calming scent throughout the room. To date, this combined approach is one of the easiest, cheapest ways I’ve found to help both dogs remain unruffled.

Have you ever tried ASMR with your dogs? If you’d like to investigate, I’ve included the links to Maizy’s “ASMR playlist” below. Remember, an especially nice bonus is that ASMR content is currently free. That means you don’t have much to lose by sampling the inoffensive, relaxation-focused work of some reputable “ASMRtists.” And you might just discover an effective new canine calming technique!

Maizy’s Anxiety-Easing ASMR Playlist:

Marybeth Bittel

Marybeth Bittel

Marybeth lives in the Midwest with her wonderful husband, and her rescue dogs Grant and Maizy — all of them Heinz 57 mixed-breed types. A freelance writer and marketing consultant, she’s been rehabilitating severely abused rescues for over two decades. She’s currently working toward specialized certifications in animal nutrition counseling. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her family Instagram feed.

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