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How to Calm a Scared Dog

By Jane Williams
 

Overview

Dogs may become scared for many reasons, some of which are rational and some not. Thunderstorms and fireworks are two frequent causes of fright among dogs, but others include meeting strangers, separation from their owners and even confronting unfamiliar objects or animals. Signs of fright can range from sudden flight to physical reactions such as shaking, whimpering and urination. Sudden behavior changes may indicate a medical problem. Take your dog to your veterinarian for a complete checkup if he begins acting fearful for no apparent reason.

Step 1

Identify what has frightened your dog. While some dogs have anxious personalities, your dog is not likely to be scared for no reason at all. If possible, remove the cause of the fright or remove your dog from its vicinity. Once the source of the fear is gone, you can calm your dog more easily.

Step 2

Calm yourself. Your dog is sensitive to your emotions; if you are upset, aggravated or annoyed with him, you won't be able to help his emotional state. Understand that fear is a completely involuntary reaction; the dog is not trying to anger you. Take a deep breath, count to ten, and recognize that the dog's fright makes him vulnerable. He needs you to be calm and to help him feel safe. Speak to him quietly, and reassure him.

Step 3

Create a safe place for your dog. Fear triggers a dog's fight-or-flight reflex, and any dog will flee if he can, if the fright level is high enough. Give your dog a place where he can feel safe and can calm himself when he is anxious or frightened. Cover a dog crate with a large blanket, and place soft blankets and familiar chew toys inside. Create a comfortable bed at the bottom of a closet or in a corner of a quiet bedroom. Teach your dog to retreat to this place when he's scared, and let him calm down on his own.

Step 4

Employ calming scents. Aromatherapy utilizes the natural mood-altering benefits of certain scents to produce a calm, relaxed feeling. Use a few drops of lavender oil in a diffuser to encourage your dog to relax, or place a few drops on a cotton ball and place it out of his reach near his safe place. Retail products such as Rescue Remedy and Comfort Zone use these same calming scents and synthetic dog pheromones to promote natural calmness.

Step 5

Apply gentle pressure to your dog's body. Your touch can encourage a calming feeling. Petting the dog gently or wrapping a towel around him can help calm him. The Thundershirt wraps around your dog's upper body like a shirt to apply gentle pressure. This constant hug-like pressure helps calm him and promotes relaxation.

Step 6

Desensitize the dog. One way to encourage calm is to desensitize your dog over time to the thing he fears. Familiarize the dog with the thing he fears gradually, and move on only when he no longer shows signs of fear. For example, if he's afraid of thunderstorms, buy a CD with sounds of storms and play it at a low volume while he does a familiar activity, such as eating or playing. Gradually increase the volume and employ calming techniques when he shows fear. Continue until the dog can tolerate the sounds at normal volume.
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