How to Relax a Nervous Dogby Simon Foden
Your dog’s nervousness has a variety of probable causes, but dogs typically develop anxiety after exposure to a stimulus such as thunder, fireworks or separation. You can soothe your dog’s nervousness by adapting your behavior and altering the dog's perception of his environment. The aim is to make the dog associate the stimulus with positive feelings rather than negative ones. In cases of chronic and extreme anxiety, your veterinarian may prescribe medicine to treat the problem.
Finding the Cause
Monitor your dog’s daily behavior to identify the source of anxiety. If necessary, manufacture a situation to make your dog nervous. For example, play a recording of fireworks.
Note which scenarios and stimuli cause your dog to become anxious. If your dog exhibits a general nervous disposition, this may be linked to attention-seeking behavior rather than to genuine nervousness. Obedience training, plenty of exercise and spending quality time playing with him should help.
Expose your dog to the stimulus you think is causing the nervous behavior to confirm the source. For example, leave the room and listen for whining if you suspect separation anxiety. Pacing, whining, salivation and folding the ears back are all indicators of nervousness.
Relaxing the Dog
Introduce a distraction. Create a scenario that typically makes the dog exhibit nervous behavior. For example, get the vacuum cleaner out, or act like you’re about to leave the house by putting on your jacket and holding your keys. Before your dog has a chance to exhibit nervousness, throw him a ball or toy. This changes his focus.
Remove the stimulus that is causing anxiety, if applicable. Restore your dog’s environment to its previous state, one without the nervousness-inducing stimulus.
Stroke the dog slowly when he exhibits nervousness, allowing him to wander away if he pleases. By acting normal, you are demonstrating to your dog that there is no cause for alarm. Your dog looks to you for guidance. If you change your behavior when he becomes nervous, for example by pandering to him, he will associate your change in behavior with the stimulus that causes his nervousness.
Bring back the anxiety stimulus, and give the dog a food treat. If your dog has separation anxiety, give the treat, then leave. Your absence is the stimulus. Dogs learn by association. If you introduce a positive stimulus, such as a food treat, your dog will begin to link the stimulus with the positive feelings of receiving a treat. This process is called operant conditioning.
Remove the stimulus, and continue interacting normally with your dog. This reinforces the concept that the nervousness-inducing stimulus isn’t permanent. Repeat the process over a period of weeks in order to gradually neutralize whatever is causing the nervousness.
Items You Will Need
- Food treats
- Dog toys
- If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, leave a scarf or towel that has your scent on it with your dog while you are out. The presence of your scent is relaxing for your dog.
- If your dog becomes aggressive, or if the nervousness doesn't go away, consult a veterinarian to rule out any medical conditions that may be causing anxiety.
- Dog Digest: Dog Anxiety, Nervousness, and Behavioral Problems
- Veterinary News: Treating Anxiety Is Different Than 'Managing' the Problem
- University of Illinois; College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences; Dogs, Cats, and Automobiles
- Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction: Operant Conditioning Basics
- Border Collie image by Lee O'Dell from Fotolia.com