The Goods

Who Would Buy This Thing: Dog Anxiety-Soother

It is … not proven to be an effective way to relieve anxiety, canine or otherwise.

Two dogs, one significantly larger than the other, wearing a harnesslike product
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by CalmerK9.

Dogs are descendants of wolves that we have made cuddly and floppy-eared, and forced to live in our homes. It is only logical then, that just like the humans who have brought them into this hell-world, some dogs now have full-blown anxiety too.

If your dog is anxious, what should you do about it? Hire a trainer, see a canine behaviorist, accept that your domesticated wolf is going to sometimes behave like an actual wolf? You could do any of those things. Or, as you might do in a moment of desperation to try to cool your own neurotic brain, you could impulse-buy something very expensive that keeps popping up on Instagram. A purported and pricey solution to dog anxiety that has been haunting my feed lately is called Calmer Canine.

It looks, at first glance, like a handle strapped to a dog’s head. See for yourself:

I guess at the right angle, it could look like a halo? Anyway, the device is specifically advertised to alleviate separation anxiety—excessive barking, couch tearing, other expressions of rage your dog might engage in when left at home alone. Here is how one uses the thing: A velcro neck strap secures the handle/halo behind the dog’s head. A separate vest thing straps to the middle of the dog. You attempt to keep these things on the dog for 15-minute sessions, twice a day, for several weeks. If this is not possible, you can hold the halo above the dog’s head for the length of the session. Either way, the pulsed electromagnetic field from this handle/halo/metal detector thing creates “a microcurrent signal which is invisible and sensation free” into Fido’s head.* So far, so good—that’s plausible physics. Here’s where things get iffy: “An anxious brain is out of balance,” explains the website, and this $229 device (or more, if your dog is large) supposedly restores it. It does not elaborate on how that happens, just that it occurs without chemicals (aka actual medicine).

A pulsed electromagnetic field doesn’t do much to solve anxiety, the human kind or the dog kind.* The evidence in support of Calmer Canine is about as sparse as you’d expect for a modern As Seen on TV type product. If you want to stop reading here, it is fair to say that the that amount of real evidence is effectively zero. There is some peer-reviewed research that’s been done on pulsed electromagnetic field devices in humans and dogs, but most of these have to do with their ability to relieve physical pain, and even there, the results are mixed. One recent study on whether such electromagnetic devices could work on depression concluded that they were no better than a sham treatment.

Assisi, the company that makes Calmer Canine, is more optimistic. In 2018, it conducted a pilot study with an unspecified number of dogs, no control group, and “results [that] were incredible.” I hardly need to enumerate the ways that this kind of in-house “research” project might be unscientific and self-serving, but even with full benefit of the doubt that it was well and honestly conducted, it’s entirely possible that dogs in the study just became more accustomed to being left alone over the course of several weeks. It’s also possible that there’s some version of a placebo effect happening here, in that humans perceive their dogs to be less anxious because they’re receiving treatment. A study being done “with the help of” veterinary researchers at North Carolina State is underway to double-check. Because after you’ve already outfitted dogs across America with expensive headgear is the correct time to figure out if it’s just plastic-and-Velcro junk or not!

A concession: I don’t know your weird and particular dog. Who really knows what’s going on inside their fuzzy li’l heads, or what the future of pet mental health research may uncover. Like human-focused wellness devices and potions, Calmer Canine traffics in a fear of modern medicine (dogs can get Xanax prescriptions for their anxiety, you know) as well as the vacuum of knowledge around … whatever this is. Most generously, Calmer Canine represents a multihundred-dollar gamble. Maybe you want to make your pup into an expensive handled/haloed space-creature-thing. But there are cheaper options that are just as likely to jolt your dog out of an existential loneliness funk. Why not try putting a season of The Good Place on as you leave the house? Pop philosophy is equally well-proven to work to relieve dogs’ anxiety. Of course, this is more likely to produce strange content for your dog’s Instagram. We’ll give it that.

Price: $229.

Who would buy this?: A twentysomething who lives alone in a luxury two-bedroom with a CBD habit, and a neurotic Maltipoo.

Correction, Jan. 13, 2020: This piece misstated that Calmer Canine uses a magnetic field; it actually uses a pulsed electromagnetic field. It also misstated that electrical currents haven’t been proved to relieve anxiety—actually, pulsed electromagnetic fields haven’t been proved to do so.