Calming Care Can Help Performance Dogs Displaying Anxious Behaviors


Returning to the show kennel where his litter was whelped in January 2016 after living as a house dog for two and a half years was stressful for a Flat-Coated Retriever named “Cole.” Accustomed to being one of two dogs at the home of co-breeder and co-owner Leanne Selof of Romeoville, Illinois, Cole thrived on lots of attention and a laid-back lifestyle.

“Cole’s adjustment to kennel life was challenging,” says professional handler and co-owner Angela Lloyd of Amissville, Virginia, whose kennel the show-bred Flat-Coat returned. “Separation took a toll on him. He barked constantly and couldn’t relax.

I tried exercising him more and giving him extra attention, but nothing seemed to help.”     

Despite being anxious in the kennel, Cole quickly finished his Champion and Grand Champion titles, becoming GCH Windy Hill Unforgettable. Bred by the Windy Hill Flat-Coated Retriever team of Dr. Robert and Sonja Rickert of Morristown, New Jersey,  Selof, and Mark Bettis of Minneapolis, Cole has some of the breed’s top winners behind him.

His maternal great-grandsire, “Zeus” (CH Flatford Zeus The Major God JH WCX HOF), is the winningest Flat-Coat in breed history. A Hall of Fame sire, Zeus produced progeny known for their happy temperaments and easygoing ways. In 2014, Cole’s dam, “Macy” (BIS/BISS GCH Windy Hill Dance to the Music SH), won the Flat-Coated Retriever Society of America National Specialty and Best of Breed at the Westminster Kennel Club show. His sire, “Romeo” (GCH Caci’s Jack In The Box), is a Swedish outcross chosen for his outstanding conformation and outgoing, confident temperament.

Eager to find a way to manage Cole’s anxious behavior, Lloyd welcomed the opportunity to take part in a six-week trial of Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Supplements Calming Care, a probiotic supplement introduced in January 2019. Calming Care contains a strain of beneficial bacteria, Bifidobacterium longum (BL999), that helps dogs cope with external stressors and maintain calm behavior. Today’s Breeder sponsored the trial to gather feedback on how Calming Care helps show and sporting dogs on the circuit.   

“After using Calming Care, Cole stopped barking as much and he began relaxing,” Lloyd says. “When a dog comes from a home environment to a kennel, it can be stressful. Every little bit helps. Calming Care definitely helped Cole.”

All dogs experience situations that can trigger anxious behaviors. Separation, strangers or unfamiliar people, changes in routine or location, and loud noises such as fireworks and thunder are examples. Handlers and trainers who travel the circuit with several dogs have little time to manage those that are unable to adapt and acclimate to a performance schedule. Thus, chronic anxious behaviors can bench a promising show or sporting dog as much for the effect of the behaviors on the individual dog as for the effect on other dogs that are part of the team.

To better understand the impact of anxious behaviors, Purina recently conducted a survey of 826 U.S. dog owners whose dogs visited the veterinarian in the last 12 months.1 The findings revealed that these behaviors can be quite common, with 62 percent of dog owners surveyed reporting that they have regularly seen anxious behaviors in their dogs.

“Anxiety is a chronic state of worry about the potential of something bad happening even when no clear threat is imminent,” says Purina Research Scientist Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD, an animal behaviorist. “Signs of anxious behavior in dogs include hypervigilance or an inability to settle. Dogs that bark excessively or jump, pace and spin in the kennel, for example, could be exhibiting this behavior. Other signs are panting when not hot, repeated yawning, lip licking or smacking, body shaking, urinating or defecating, and even aggression.

“Short-term stress is a normal and healthy response to new or startling things, as it helps a dog learn and gain the skills needed to cope with stressors and respond to change,” explains Dr. McGowan. “But chronic stress can be harmful because it can affect a dog’s physical, mental and social health.” “For a dog with an underlying anxious temperament, Calming Care can help them to get into a better mental state to allow them to be more receptive to training and behavior modification,” notes Dr. McGowan.  

Professional retriever trainer Josh Conrad of Oakdale, California, understands how stress can affect young dogs he is developing for retriever field trials. During the first four months with him, they learn retriever basics. They acclimate to living in a kennel, riding in a truck to the training grounds, learning how to run drills and tests, handling corrections, and becoming familiar with a new routine. 

One promising Labrador Retriever on his string, “Annie” (Bayside’s Hard Knock Life), now 17 months old, quickly became a “pen runner,” meaning she ran for hours in the kennel at night. “She would run lap after lap and get all worked up,” Conrad says. “The excitement caused her to defecate in the kennel, and then she would run through the excrement. She lost weight, and the running made her feet sore. She also barked incessantly in the kennel and the truck.”

Trying to figure out the best way to handle Annie’s behavior, Conrad was open to trying Calming Care with her. He noticed a change in her behavior. “It was like ‘Wow,’” he says. “She stopped running in her pen at night. Part of the change may have been because she was growing up, becoming more mature, but I think it’s a credit to Calming Care.”

Owned by Lowell and Betty Mason of Walnut Creek, California, who co-bred the litter with Les and Debbie Ziegler of Bayside Labradors in Red Bluff, California, Annie was sired by FC-AFC JJ of Redrock, a prominent male who finished second in 2018 for the Purina Outstanding Open Field Trial Retriever Award, and her dam is Bayside’s Blue Water Sprite SH, who made the National Derby list and is a qualified All-Age dog. Annie’s breeding supports her potential to become a star field trial retriever — providing she can handle the mental stress of training and competing.

Soon to start in derby stakes, Annie has quieted down significantly in the truck and also in the kennel. “She’s gone through a lot of training,” Conrad says. “My job is to figure out what works best for her — whether to back off or push her harder — and how to handle her in a constructive way. Calming Care is helping us, though it’s too soon to know if she’ll end up loving this game and earning a spot on the truck.”

Similarly, trainer Kim Trafton of Eshod Farm and Kennels in Wrightsville, Georgia, can relate to dogs that exhibit pen running. Her 4-year-old tricolor male English Cocker Spaniel, “Opie” (Eshod’s Magnum Opus), is a high-energy dog known for pacing nonstop in the kennel.

“Opie is wound tight about everything,” Trafton says. “He’s a funny little dog who lunges like a racehorse when you put him on a lead and then spins in every direction, creating a tangled mess. I thought, ‘OK, he needs more exercise to burn off the steam before we train.’ No matter what I did, he was always so worked up and would not settle down.”

Joining the Calming Care trial with Opie, Trafton saw noticeable changes on the probiotic supplement. “Calming Care has really helped him,” she says. “He’s become more focused and engaged in training. He will even sit still on lead without going crazy. Importantly, he has become calmer in the kennel.”

Although Trafton’s long-term goal is to prepare Opie for hunting tests, she wants to keep training fun to help him enjoy working. This summer, she plans to enter him in diving dog events to help build his confidence.               

Science Behind Calming Care

Research by Purina scientists to better understand the impact of a probiotic on dogs displaying anxious behaviors led to Calming Care. The beneficial probiotic strain, BL999, is believed to positively impact anxious behavior via the microbiota-gut-brain axis, a bidirectional communication system between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain.

To assess the impact of BL999 on dogs, Purina evaluated 24 Labrador Retrievers displaying anxious behaviors in a 17-week crossover study. In the first phase, dogs were fed a complete and balanced maintenance diet for six weeks, with 12 dogs being supplemented with BL999 and the other 12 with a placebo. After a three-week washout period when no supplements were fed, the dogs were reversed to receive the opposite protocol.

“We found a significant impact of BL999 on dogs displaying day-to-day anxious behaviors showing an improvement when supplemented with BL999 as compared to when they were supplemented with the placebo,” Dr. McGowan says. “This

included significant reductions in barking, jumping, spinning, and pacing.”

Dogs supplemented with BL999 showed increased exploratory behavior in a novel environment compared to when they were supplemented with the placebo. They also showed improvement in physiological factors, such as positive cardiac activity during stressful events.

“From both a behavioral and physiological standpoint, BL999 had a positive effect on dogs. We found that BL999 could serve as a useful tool in the development of management plans for dogs displaying anxious behaviors,” Dr. McGowan says.

For Cole, Annie and Opie, Calming Care helped lessen their problem behaviors. Their trainers are advocates for the probiotic supplement and are recommending Calming Care to others with dogs displaying similar behaviors.

“Based on this trial, I am recommending Calming Care

because there’s a chance it will help a dog,” Lloyd says. “Every little bit helps.” 

1 Revelation Research Online Survey (Aug. 15 to 19, 2018). A total of 826 nationally representative dog owners qualified and completed the survey. Qualified participants were men and women age 18 and older, owned one or more dogs (age 13 months or older), were household members most responsible for taking dog(s) to a veterinarian, and had taken the dog(s) to a veterinarian in the past 12 months.

The Calming Probiotic Effects of Calming Care

Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Supplements Calming Care contains a strain of beneficial bacteria, Bifidobacterium longum (BL999), which has been shown to help dogs maintain calm behavior. Calming Care helps dogs cope with external stressors such as separation, unfamiliar people, novel sounds, and changes in routine and location.

This probiotic supplement helps support dogs with anxious behaviors such as excessive barking, jumping, pacing, and spinning. During stressful situations, Calming Care helps dogs maintain positive cardiac activity, and it promotes a positive emotional state and healthy immune system in dogs.

If you have concerns about your dog’s behavior, you should talk to your veterinarian. Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Supplements Calming Care is available through veterinarians or may be ordered online at: or To learn more about Calming Care, visit:


All participants in the Calming Care Trial received 6 weeks worth of product from Pro Plan Veterinary Diets.