Ways to Relax a Nervous Dog
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All dogs have their own character and personality. Some are bold, others are shy. Some are comfortable in all situations, others become nervous easily. Nervousness and stress can lead to behavioral problems and even affect their physical health. Finding ways to help a dog feel calm when anxious is very important to both improve their quality of life and reduce any possible health risks. Unfortunately, it is not always easy. Our approach to calming down a dog will determine its effectiveness as many guardians deal improperly with canine anxiety.
At AnimalWised, we provide 5 ways to relax a nervous dog. We show you the right relaxation protocol for dogs and let you know what you can do to ensure a calm dog who is free from anxiety.
Symptoms of nervousness in dogs
When a dog is very nervous, it shows it through easily recognizable gestures and attitudes. The problem appears when nervousness begins to affect the health of your canine. Most dogs are very resilient, but continued exposure to stressors will have adverse effects on behavior and physiological condition.
An excited dog will not stop still for a second. They will run, jump and wag its tail violently. When this is temporary or due to an obvious stimulus (e.g. when we show them their lead for a walk), it is often a healthy expression of dog behavior. If the dog is overly nervous, this state of excitement can be prolonged and does not require obvious stimuli to occur.
Nervous dogs will respond poorly to stimuli, situations and environments which otherwise provide no danger. For example, it is understandable for a dog to be nervous around a bear, but they should not be nervous when resting in their home. Nervousness in dogs can lead to overdependence on guardians, escape attempts, shaking and even becoming aggressive.
A dog's physical health can also deteriorated. For example, if the state of nervousness does not improve, they can lose their appetite or suffer hair loss. This is why it is so important to know some tricks to relax a very nervous dog and help them improve their happiness and well-being.
Relaxation protocol for dogs
The following ways to relax a nervous dog are part of the relaxation protocol. This is a part of canine education which helps the dog feel calm in various situations. It is not the same as obedience training and does not require a clicker. Instead, it is a general approach which requires us to consider the entire context.
Not only do we need to look at the dog's behavior, but we need to consider our intervention in their lives. We need to ensure we provide the correct environment, behave appropriately to the dog, ensure their basic needs are met and we do not create any cause of stress either directly or indirectly.
In the following ways to calm a nervous dogs, we can see how our own responsibility of care plays an important part. One basic aspect of this protocol is respecting the animal's welfare. Take a look at the five freedoms of animal welfare to see a little background information.
1. Offer long, quality walks
A dog is often nervous due to having too much accumulated energy. One practical way of helping our dog burn this energy is to take them for longer walks. However, duration is not the only factor we need to consider. We also need to ensure the dog's needs are being met in terms of appropriate exercise, social interaction and support during a walk. There are certain things many guardians do wrong when walking their dog.
We should allow the dog to sniff trees, mark territory and explore as much as their safety will allow. If we try to pull the dog back too much or prevent them from enacting basic canine behaviors, it can add to existing feelings of stress and anxiety.
Throughout their walk, you will need to reassure the dog while still allowing them to be active. Avoid overexcitement or creating any anxiety such as playing loud music in the car or being rough. If the dog responds well, you can play some games, but only if it does not cause anxiety. The best is to opt for obedience exercises, agility training or taking them for a jog. You will need to allow opportunity for them to relieve themselves and they will also need appropriate socialization where possible.
2. Watch your attitude
Your own emotional state will be reflected in the dog, so you must remain calm. Breathe easily and only use a soft voice whenever possible. You will need to avoid punishment, especially when they are in a state of excitement. Instead of punishment, you should reward clam attitudes with treats and reassurance. This is important both in the home and outside. Even words of encouragement and positive body positions can be sufficient reassurance.
3. Avoid very active games at home
When you are at home, it is better to play quiet games. This will help the dog to better understand the home is a relaxed space. Activities that involve jumping and running will be saved for when we are in the park. This means they should reduce their excitement and better express themselves in healthy ways.
Do not forget that the kong is an excellent tool to treat a dog's anxiety when inside the home. It is a food vending toy that, makes it difficult for a dog to eat food quickly. This will keep them entertained for a long time. In particular, it is excellent for fighting separation anxiety. This is because we can leave it in the home when we leave and occupy the dog when we are not there. Find out how to stuff a kong toy to learn more.
General environmental enrichment for dogs is an important part of the relaxation protocol. If you have inappropriate stimuli in the home, it will be an uphill battle helping them to relax.
4. Pet the dog
When the dog is behaving well, use the opportunity to instigate a petting session. Start slowly at the head and work your way down the rest of their body. Physical contact is essential for the dog as they are a sociable and affectionate animal. As well as relaxing them, petting enhances your emotional bond, so do not hesitate and spend a little more time with your dog friend.
Improving our bond is a way of helping both dog and guardian. You can take a look at our related article to learn more about the benefits of petting dogs.
5. Contact a professional
If you have tried all these ways to relax a nervous dog and they are still anxious, it may be time to contact a professional. There are various people and services which can help, but it will depend on the needs of your individual dog. Here we show you who you can contact if you need help relaxing a nervous dog:
- Veterinarian: since there are various reasons a dog is stressed, the vet will be able to offer advice from a medical point of view. They can diagnose any health problem which may be related to their anxiety and instigate treatment, as well as advise on behavioral issues.
- Canine educator or dog trainer: their main function is to achieve a harmonious homelife with a dog and their human family. They usually focus on obedience. If a dog does not follow instructions when nervous, using a professional is particularly helpful.
- Ethologist: these are qualified veterinarians who are trained in ethology, the branch of zoology which studies animal behavior. These are the ones you will want to contact when the dog has a serious case of anxiety or when immediate intervention is required.
We hope these tips to help relax a dog have been useful. Since it is also important to look at the context of their anxiety, our articles on why a dog is scared all of a sudden and why a dog is scared of the dark may provide some more specific help.
If you want to read similar articles to Ways to Relax a Nervous Dog, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.