Close up on dog face

How to calm down a dog?

By BBC Maestro

We all experience stress and worry from time to time, so it’s not surprising that our sensitive and intelligent dogs do, too. Sometimes, our canine companions will become over-excited or anxious, and it’s our role as dog owners to help to soothe their fears and calm them down.

In this article, we’ll look at spotting the signs of stress in dogs, followed by how to calm down a dog using simple techniques. We even take on how to calm a puppy down, which as all pet owners know, can be a bit of a challenge.

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Why are dogs anxious?

There are many reasons why your dog could be anxious, from immediate issues (there’s noisy building work going on down the road) to past trauma. Dogs can experience a strong reaction to change, and these don’t have to be the big hitters like a house move or a new baby: a new carpet is enough to make the familiar, unfamiliar.

Dogs who didn’t have the best start in life are more prone to anxiety, partly because they weren’t correctly socialised. Working breeds become anxious if they’re not able to follow their instincts, so their owners have to make extra-sure there’s plenty of mental and physical stimulation for these pups.

And of course, the one most of us have heard of: separation anxiety. Dogs are pack animals, and can become extremely unsettled if they’re away from their pack, especially you.

What are the signs of dog anxiety?

It can be tricky to tell if a dog is excited or stressed, but when you know the signs to look out for, you’ll be able to spot an anxious dog.

That wonderful exuberance is one of the many things we love about dogs. However, how do we know if they’re excited or over-excited? A happy dog might still be running around all over the place, but their mind is balanced and they’re perfectly in control of their energy.  

A stressed or anxious dog may be doing something similar to their cheerful peer, but inside their minds, there’s not the same level of conscious thought. How do we know if our pet is anxious and in need of calming?

● Increased activity and attention seeking

● Hiding or worryingly, bolting

● Panting

● Not responding to their usual commands

● Changes in posture like low tails, ears back and a lowered body

● Drooling

● Vocalising, such as whining

We also need to think about the context: if there’s a sudden loud drilling noise coming from next door, it’s more likely that your pup is running around the house because they’re anxious, not excited.

Like us, most dogs have slightly different responses to stress. Knowing your dog’s signs and triggers can help you calm them down faster and more effectively.

6 tips to calm your dog

When your dog is in a state of high arousal, they need your help to calm down. Here’s how to get a dog to relax, using a few simple techniques.

  1. Take them to a place where they feel safe, such as a cosy corner at home or back to the car.
  2. If they’re used to using one, pop on their calming vest. You can buy these online or in larger pet shops. They work by applying consistent pressure to the body, which is really reassuring for an anxious dog.
  3. Try music therapy. Many dogs respond really well to relaxing classical music, played quietly.
  4. How about aromatherapy? It’s not just us humans who enjoy the relaxing scents of lavender or chamomile. You can also buy synthetic calming products from the vet.
  5. Conversely, let them run off any pent-up energy. If they’re stressed from lack of exercise, a good scamper (in a safe and ideally familiar spot) can really help.
  6. Happily, one of the best ways to calm down a dog doesn’t need skills or equipment: it’s simply, you.

You are the centre of your dog’s world, and your calm and reassuring presence can be everything they need. But can cuddling an anxious dog backfire by acknowledging their fears? Steve Mann counters this suggestion firmly. “That’s nonsense. You’re not going to reinforce fear by comforting an animal. If your dog needs you, be there for them,” he says in his BBC Maestro course.

Cuddling a dog to help them calm down? That’s an approach we can definitely get behind.

How to calm a puppy down

Believe it or not, it is possible to calm a puppy down with a few simple techniques. When it comes to excitement levels, puppies are a whole new ball game (often literally). There are just so many things for a young pup to encounter and explore.

All puppies get the zoomies sometimes (or “frenetic random activity periods”, to give them their proper name), which is perfectly normal. However, if you’re seeing a lot of zoomies, and if your pup seems tired or out of control, it’s time to start working out what the triggers could be.

Think about the “overs”. Like a human toddler, your puppy might be feeling overwhelmed, overtired or overstimulated, and also like a human toddler, has no idea how to manage these feelings.

Here are some tried-and-tested ways to calm your puppy.

  1. Reinforce positive behaviour by rewarding your puppy when they’re calm.
  2. Redirect their energy: how about a nice game of tug or fetch with a favourite toy instead of climbing up the furniture?
  3. Be calm yourself (and that’s easy for us to say: it’s not our television that’s under attack). Puppies really pick up on our moods, so the calmer we are, the more quickly they’ll relax, too.
  4. Keep up with the training. Learning eye contact to lower arousal is a great technique.

The good news is that puppyhood is the perfect time to train your dog to be less anxious about common canine stressors. You can also prevent separation anxiety developing by introducing routines and rituals that help your pup feel safe.

Steve Mann recommends techniques like counter-conditioning. To do this successfully, you’ll need to think about any possible triggers. Is there a pattern to your puppy’s arousal? If you can spot any triggers or patterns, it will be easier to counter them.

How to calm down a puppy at night

Settling your pup at bedtime can be a whole new challenge. Animal charity PDSA recommends establishing a night-time routine for your puppy, which they will find reassuring and will certainly make your life easier. This normally includes exercise followed by a calming period, a last trip to the toilet and a gentle time with cuddles and quiet chats.

While you’re all getting used to your new bedtime ritual, what are the best ways to calm down a puppy at night?

  1. Keep things as quiet and chilled-out as possible, and settle them with some gentle strokes and words. You could even sing quietly!
  2. Give them something to snuggle that reminds them of their mum or litter mates, such as a blanket with their scent.
  3. If they need comfort, always give it to them. Out of all our daily tasks, cuddling a puppy has to be one of the least onerous, even at three in the morning.
  4. Sleep with them at first, because suddenly being alone at night is really scary for a young pup. Because the puppy needs to get used to their permanent bedroom from the start, you’ll need to sleep wherever this will be. (This might mean you’re on a camp bed in the kitchen for a few nights, but you will thank yourself later for doing this properly.)

Do you want to learn how to calm down a dog, along with lots of other training tips and techniques? Take a look at Steve Mann’s online dog training course, which is filled with fascinating insights into our four-pawed friends.

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