Holistic Ways to Calm a Nervous Dog
We ask our dogs to be fine in a lot of unnatural environments – from busy urban sidewalks to homes full of loud, unexpected noises, people of all ages and even other animals. Some dogs have temperaments that seem to take everything in stride, others do not. And while you cannot change a dog’s natural temperament completely and permanently, there are things you can do to help your nervous dog be calm and relaxed.
There are also things you should not do to help these nervous dogs. Here are two very common ways people try to calm their dog that not only do not work, they may have the opposite effect.
Do not try to force your dog into the situation. For some reason, humans think that if they force a scared dog to experience something, the dog will see it is “okay” and they will be fine with whatever it was that was scaring them from then on. There is no science-based evidence that dogs think through things like this. And antidotal evidence suggests that the opposite happens. Prime example is when people do not pay attention to a dog’s body language that says “I’ve had enough” when they are trying to pet them. Person keeps reaching toward the dog and petting and eventually, dog has enough and bites out of fear. At that point, the dog basically is saying, “you didn’t respect any of my other cues that said I am uncomfortable, so I felt I had no choice but to bite.”
A lot of dog bites could be avoided if people realized that a dog that is showing signs of fear should be left alone and not pressed.
Do not try to reassure your dog. A lot of people will pet their dog and tell them “it’s okay,” much like we do our children when they are scared of something, such as a storm. However, science is unsure about the affect this has on dogs. It could be that it does nothing, it could calm them down, but it could also reinforce their behaviour, since that is also how you reward your dog for doing something right. Since scientists are unsure, it makes sense to take the “better safe than sorry approach” and not comfort your dog when he is nervous.
So, What Should You do to Calm a Nervous Dog?
First of all, it’s important to realize that you need to treat your whole dog when it comes to fear or anxiety. Just like people, these are traits that reside within our brains and are causing chemical reactions in our body. You can’t just train it out of them. The best results comes from a holistic approach, treating the dog from the inside out. Here are some good things to do, that when used together, can help make your dog more relaxed.
#1 – Supplements
The first thing I would try is these. Magnesium, B-Complex. These two are quite common deficiencies in humans and dogs and are known to help decrease stress, anxiety and help relax the muscles. Amino acids L-Tryptophan and GABA are known to help humans decrease anxiety and improve mood because they help you sleep much better and are needed to make serotonin the hormone that makes us feel happy. Either one is worth a try for your dog as well.
There are quite a few herbals that work internally and externally to make your dog more calm and relaxed. Rosemary, which we put in our Stay Loyal formulas, is one of them. A few others include lavender (you can put lavender oil on a dog’s collar or bed), chamomile and lemon balm. Just remember your dog’s nose is much more sensitive than yours so dilute oils and use sparingly. Ask your vet about dosage amounts for any supplement you are feeding.
#2 – Play Classical Music
Studies have shown that playing classical music can calm dogs down, just like it does humans. There are even special musical compilations made just for dogs that use notes that are appealing to their sensitive ears and are great for helping create a calm environment.
#3 – Be Calm Yourself
Dogs pick up on our own energy. If you are nervous about a situation, don’t take your dog there, it will just make their anxiety worse. Work on being quiet and calm when you are handling your nervous dog, to help him feel relaxed. Take deep breaths and don’t move fast or in big gestures. Getting low and sitting with your dog can help too.
#4 – Be Consistent
Dogs like routine. Nervous dogs will be even more nervous if you keep changing the rules on them. Am I allowed on the couch or not? Do they care if I pull on the leash or not? Keep your rules the same will help a nervous dog relax and be comfortable in your home.
#5 – TT Touch or Massage
People love massage because it relaxes us. It does the same thing for dogs. Both of these techniques have been proven to help dogs relax and trust us in hard situations. You can look up how to do TT Touch on their website or find a clinic near you.
#6 – Let Your Dog Control the Situation
When you are helping a scared dog conquer their fear, you need to let them tell you when they are comfortable. If your dog doesn’t want to go forward, don’t force them. If they take a step toward the scary object, as an example, reward them by letting them retreat. When a dog feels like they are in control, they will be more confident. This also helps them not bite – many dogs fear bite when they cannot escape. If you let them know they can, they will be less likely to resort to biting.
#7 – Use An Anxiety Wrap
While these may not work on all dogs, they are useful for some. They seem especially effective for dogs who are nervous in cars and get sick because of it. I knew a sheltie that was fearful in the car and would throw up. She wore one for a while, she stopped throwing up and no longer needs the wrap. They can work for all sort of situations, from thunderstorms to everyday anxiety. Be sure to follow the directions and do not leave on your dog for extended periods of time.
#8 – Give your dog a cave
Dogs love caves and by getting a small dog crate or one of those bed caves your scared dog will have a small environment away from everyone and everything that it can control and feel safe in. If you get a dog crate you can leave the door open or take it off. The dog crate works as a great cave because it can double as a transport crate that your dog is already familiar with. The familiar crate, size and smells will reduce stress while traveling.
#9 – Work with a Trainer
The last piece of the puzzle is working with someone who has experience with nervous and anxious dogs. Not only do they have expertise, but they make a great support system and can also help you set up situations where you may need another person that is shy-dog savvy.
Using all of these together can make a big difference in the life of a nervous dog – whether they are scared of loud noises, other dogs, people, objects, or all of the above. It will also keep the people interacting with your dog safer. Most importantly, your dog will feel better about life and will gain confidence to face his fears