There are many reasons a dog could be scared of a sound or experience. Maybe they were traumatized by abuse by their previous owner. Maybe they were left outside during a storm. Maybe they have never been exposed to a vacuum cleaner.
Whatever the reasoning, there are proven, research-backed ways calm your dog when they get scared or nervous. These techniques don't require medication, so they are safe for any dog regardless of age or condition.
Techniques to Calm a Scared Dog
Our dogs are like our children, and the last thing we want is for them to be scared. Use these methods to console your dog, and eventually help them learn to cope with whatever they are scared of.
Anxiety jackets, also known as thunder shirts, have been proven to reduce anxiety. Owners use them during thunderstorms, because many dogs are scared of the loud booming sounds. The jacket is tight because compression makes the dog feel safe.
It's a natural way to calm your dog without the use of medicine. Research looked at the difference in anxiety levels between Labrador Retrievers when they were wearing the jacket vs not. Loud sounds were played to stimulate what the Labs would hear during a storm.
This experiment proved that anxiety jackets do help, because there 34% decrease in median anxiety score. The dogs went through the test multiple times to confirm the scores.
Thunder jackets are a great way to reduce stress in your dog because your dog can be comforted even if you are ot there. For example if you know there is going to be a storm during the day when you are at work, you can put your dog in the jacket before you leave.
It's also good for older dogs, or those who may be at a higher risk for experiencing side effects of anxiety medications. Finally, you don't have to worry about refilling a prescription: you'll always have a surefire way to calm your dog down.
Physical touch isn't just relaxing for humans. Oxytocin, aka the "love hormone", is also released in dogs when they get cuddled by their owners.
A technique called TTouch is used by professionals when training guide dogs because it makes them relaxed, thus more receptive to commands from their trainer. TTouch is a gentle approach to relaxation.
There are several different touches Doctor Linda Tellington-Jones developed, and each one focuses on a specific part of the body.
Working on touch is also important for when your dog gets groomed. For example, touching your dog's paws early in their life will get them used to the feeling so they are relaxed when getting their nails clipped.
You can also use touch as a way to distract your dog is there is a sudden noise you did not prepare for. You can lightly tap on their head so they focus on you instead of the sound.
Play Relaxing Music
There are two reasons music can reduce stress in your dog. The first is that it is relaxing, soft music like classical music is soothing and can mask harsh, loud sounds like a vacuum or thunder. Rock music caused dogs to bark, while classical made the dogs noticeably calmer.
The second is that your dog will begin to associate the music with you, their owner and safeguard, even if you are not at home. If you start by playing this music when you are with your dog, they will eventually begin to connect. your calming presence with the music.
Again, this is a great way to calm your dog even when you're not at home. Play music if you know you have to leave your dog alone in a stressful situation.
Put Your Dog in a Confined Space
If doesn't matter the size of your dog: they find comfort in hiding in a confined space, they will ball up and stay there. This is true for my 5 lb chihuahua and my 75 lb black lab during storms and fireworks, except the chihuahua hides underneath our cabinets in the laundry room while our lab hides in the corner of a closet in the middle of the house.
Either way, the message is clear. They both seek confined spaces when they feel safe. If you want to train your dog to do this in a specific spot, you can place them in a designated area like their cage.
Training them to go to a specific spot is safer because they won't try to crawl underneath a space that is dangerous. For example, the cabinet my chihuahua crawled under was right next to the washer and drier.
We were worried she would crawl close enough and hurt herself, so we blocked off that area during storms and directed her to her cage instead. Now she associates her cage as a safe spot, and we have better piece of mind because we know exactly where she will be when she is stressed.
If your dog loves playing with their ball almost as much as they love dinner time, a great way to take their attention away from whatever is scaring them is to play. Even if you are confined to an indoor space because of a storm outside, your dog will be happy for the distraction.
This method could also help them associate their fear with something they love, like their favorite toy or ball, and decrease how scared they are.
The next time your dog is anxious, try out one of these methods to see the difference it makes. Your dog will be very thankful that you are helping them stay safe and cope with their fear.