Time and time again, I have seen dogs that seem to be out of control. Some are just balls of energy, while others are very anxious or fearful.
Pet parents to both of these kinds of dogs will often struggle. And, they ask themselves how they can effectively help their dog calm down.
If this is a question you have been asking yourself, don’t worry. I’ve got you covered!
A tired dog is a well-behaved dog
The first solution I am providing you is simply exercising your dog more. I am always reminding dog owners that a tired dog is a well-behaved dog.
This just means that dogs are much less likely to lash out due to anxiety or get out of control due to excitement as easily when they’re tired.
Being underexercised is a very common issue I see in very energetic breeds like Boxers and Huskies. Often these breeds need to get excess energy out to reduce their excitement outbursts.
I am also going to let you in on a little dog training secret. Exercising your dog more often than usual is beneficial before planned stressful events such as vet visits, long car rides, and, let’s face it, the 4th of July.
This is because dogs are often too tired to react extremely negatively to the things that make them anxious. While this isn’t the fix for every dog, it is easy for dog owners to try and is definitely worth your while.
Give your dog a comfy “chill out” space
Sometimes things make dogs a little bit anxious or overstimulated, and it is in these moments that giving them a place to cool off can really help.
This chill-out space can be a nice quiet room with a comfortable area for them to relax. Crates can also be a great option for dogs that are comfortable in them.
My dog absolutely loves her crate, and I use it as a place for her to rest when she gets a bit overstimulated during playtime.
Playing things like classical music or white noise can help calm a dog down even further. There are even some soothing products like thunder shirts that calm dogs down through deep pressure. Think of how babies calm down and fall asleep after being swaddled.
There are even calming pheromones you can purchase. These pheromones mimic the scent of mother dogs when they are resting with their puppies.
Though it may seem weird, this can also really help dogs relax when they are feeling anxious or stressed out.
Some dog owners also find CBD products to be effective in calming their dogs down as well. This can also be a decent option, but I always recommend consulting with your vet before giving your dog any over-the-counter medications like these just to be extra safe.
Got a reactive dog on your hands? Not to worry!
Sometimes dogs will bark, lunge, and do some other crazy things when they are reactive. Most of the time a reactive dog is a dog that is so afraid of something they feel they need to keep them away by barking and growling.
It is not totally uncommon for dogs to be reactive towards certain types of people, other dogs, and sometimes even inanimate objects.
The good news is that desensitization training can help reduce, and eventually remedy, this problem. To put it simply, you will give your dog a ton of positive reinforcement for not reacting to the thing they are afraid of during desensitization training.
Think of it this way. Let’s say you have a coworker you hate. They are so mean and nasty to you that you dread seeing them every day, and you want to yell at them and tell them to go away whenever you see them.
But, one day, someone else hands you a 100-dollar bill as soon as they enter the room. They do this every day for a week, and suddenly the nasty coworker’s presence doesn’t seem too bad.
Well, this is desensitization training! Think of the treats as 100-dollar bills and their trigger as that awful (hopefully hypothetical!) coworker.
You are going to want to start desensitizing your dog at a distance first. Pick a distance that is too far away for your dog to react.
When your dog notices their trigger but doesn’t do anything about it, you can then give them a super high-value reward.
Here is a video showing the first step of this process.
Imagine the green bucket is the object that my dog is afraid of. We began at a distance, and my dog looked at the bucket.
Since she remained calm and gave no reaction, she was rewarded with praise and a treat. You are going to go through this same process with your dog in exactly the same way.
At this point in the training, my dog is making the first associations between treats and the green bucket. Setting up a foundation that will allow us to get closer to the bucket slowly over time.
Over time you can slowly start getting closer to the trigger yourself. Work at specific distances for as long as you did during the first step.
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If your dog ever gets overwhelmed in the process, you need to go back to the previous distance and do some more practice.
Practice makes perfect, especially for something like this. Eventually, you can do this with your dog without any issues!
As you can see in this video, we are much closer to the green bucket here.
She looked at the bucket and even touched it with her nose without any negative reaction. This is ultimately what you want the result of all your hard work to look like.
One more thing about dogs with extreme levels of anxiety
It is important to mention that extreme anxiety in dogs is complex, and it can sometimes be difficult to treat without a very specific and tailored treatment plan.
So, it is not uncommon for dogs with a lot of anxiety to need some further help in the form of prescribed anti-anxiety medication and specialized training.
This is particularly true for those who need to work on reactivity training with their dog. This is an often tricky and painstakingly slow process for dogs with extreme reactivity and fear.
So, you should never feel bad if you need some extra help from a qualified dog trainer or animal behaviorist.