How to Calm a Scared Dog

Providing praise and treats can distract a dog during fearful stimulation.

Providing praise and treats can distract a dog during fearful stimulation.

Dogs can fear the strangest things; while loud noises annoy some pets, others can be afraid of a person or even a smell. You can modify behavior with patience and time, and thankfully, there are also techniques available to calm your dog at the moment he is facing his fear.

Determine what is causing your dog to be fearful -- for example, an object, person, noise or smell. If your pet is afraid of multiple things, this could be a result of either prior experiences, such as abuse, or personality -- the dog is a "nervous" type. However, it's necessary to determine what you need to address in order to work with your fearful pet and achieve success.

Sooth your dog in mid-panic by providing a favorite treat or toy while talking calmly and petting him. Lead him back to his cage or crate -- a place of safety -- and allow him to lie down inside. Make this spot more private by covering it with a blanket or towel to provide additional security to your pet.

Reduce extreme anxiety in your dog by introducing a calming pheromone to the air, in either a spray or a room plug-in. Having this on hand before the dog becomes too fearful can ease his discomfort before it gets out of hand.

Place a leash or harness on your dog when he is calm again and introduce him to his fear in a small dose. For example, if your dog is afraid of the television, have him stand by the television while it is off or on low volume for a few minutes.

Use treats and praise to make it a positive experience for your dog; for example, as you are encouraging him, let him sniff around the television to find a few well-placed treats. Provide cuddling if he expresses a need for affection.

Help your dog lose his fear by increasing his exposure when he's relaxed. For example, turn the television on or increase the volume while you are praising him. Encourage him to investigate it. Have your dog perform commands, such as "sit" or "stand," during the stimulation so he remains focused on you and not the fear. Repeat the process in a day or so. The goal is for your dog to eventually be around what scares him, yet show little or no fear because he now feels safe.

Items you will need

  • Dog treats or toy
  • Crate or cage
  • Blanket or towel
  • Dog pheromones
  • Leash or harness

Tips

  • Some fearful stimuli -- such as storms -- may be hard to duplicate at home; in these situations, the desensitization activities need to occur during a storm, or use a recording of a storm to provide the stimulation.
  • Remain calm during the desensitization activities to help your dog remain calm.
  • Your dog may be soothed by soft, relaxing music or by having a few drops of lavender essential oil -- known for its calming properties -- placed on his collar and bedding.

Warnings

  • Never punish your dog for being fearful; not only can he not help how he feels, but punishment can increase the negative feelings associated with the original fear, exacerbating the situation.
  • A muzzle may be required to keep your dog from biting during stimulation, especially if he has bitten before.
  • Dogs with severe anxiety problems may be placed on medication by a veterinarian; speak with yours if you feel this may be necessary.
 

About the Author

Lori Lapierre holds a Bachelor of Arts and Science in public relations/communications. For 17 years, she worked for a Fortune 500 company before purchasing a business and starting a family. She is a regular freelancer for "Living Light News," an award-winning national publication. Her past writing experience includes school news reporting, church drama, in-house business articles and a self-published mystery, "Duty Free Murder."

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