How to Calm a Dog

Two Methods:Calming Your DogPreventing Your Dog’s Anxiety

Ultimately, how you decide to calm your dog will depend on the situation. Strangers, thunder claps, firework booms, garbage trucks, trips to the veterinarian, and other animals can cause your dog to become scared, anxious, or excitable. Our instinct is to coddle and to hug, but there are better ways to handle the situation — ones that will teach your dog not to be afraid, anxious, or excitable. In order to calm a dog, you’ll need to interpret your dog’s behavior and take the time to understand what is causing your dog’s reaction.

Method 1
Calming Your Dog

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    Recognize the body language of an anxious dog. Dog body language is complex and can often be misread. There is no universal sign of anxiety or fear to look for because every dog reacts differently. It is not unusual for one fearful dog to act aggressive and another to run away and hide. Both dogs want to be safe, but they process the situation differently. Some common signs are:
    • Hunched body posture
    • Averted gaze/dilated pupils
    • Ears held down or slightly backwards
    • Furrowed brow
    • Whining
    • Shaking/shivering
    • Sweaty paws
    • Loss of bladder or bowel control[1]
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    Understand the cause of your dog’s behavior. Most of the time, this will be obvious. Your dog is clearly afraid of thunder, a specific person, a loud sound, or a particular space. Put yourself in your dog’s place. You know little of the world, but you see something formidable. How would you react? Have empathy for your friend.[2]
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    Minimize the source of anxiety. Take your dog into another room if a particular person is making it anxious. Close the blinds and turn up the music to mask the sound of thunder or fireworks. If your dog wants to turn tail and hide in its safe space, perhaps its crate, cover it with a light blanket, to help muffle the frightening sound. Again, the method you choose to employ to calm your dog all depends on what it is afraid of.[3]
    • You can create a safe space for your dog, by opening a door to a room away from the loud sounds or your can crate train it. In the latter case, your dog will come to find its crate to be the most comforting place of all.[4]
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    Distract your dog. You want to give your dog something else to focus on — something “positive” and even productive. Does your dog have a favorite toy or chew stick? If so, present your dog with it to distract it from the negative stimuli. Turn a stressful situation into a playful one. Eventually, your dog will associate whatever is causing them stress initially with a fun experience and then later on they won’t be so affected by the negative stimuli (i.e. strangers, thunder, the vet, or other animals).
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    Pet your dog. Every dog is different. Every dog enjoys different types of petting. Some like soft gentle strokes, while others like hardy pats and squeezes. One of the most common petting strategies is the gentle sweep of the back. Place the palm of your hand on the top of your dog's head and slowly follow your dog's spine to its hips. Do this repeatedly in order to calm your dog.[5]
    • However, be aware that petting your dog can be misread by the dog as being rewarded for feeling fearful. Counterintuitive as it sounds, petting the dog can inadvertently train him to be fearful in future. Judge the situation, but sometimes it is much better to ignore his fearful behavior which sends the message that there's nothing to worry about.
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    Use a Thundershirt.[6] These shirts are worn over the dog’s torso and apply pressure when the dog gets anxious. The dog interprets the pressure like a baby interprets swaddling. It is comforting for some dogs.[7]
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    Play classical music to your dog. Many dog owners and animal shelters quietly play classical music to soothe the dogs.

Method 2
Preventing Your Dog’s Anxiety

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    Train your dog. Many dog trainers believe that excessively anxious, excitable, or frightened dogs are the direct result of insufficient training. You must reinforce positive behavior when training your dog. Teach it to not get anxious at the vet, excitable at the dog park, or frightened by thunderstorms. Do this by offering an alternative task to focus on and then rewarding it when it completes the task successfully.[8]
    • For example, during a trip to the veterinarian’s office, if you dog gets overly anxious in the waiting room, tell it to “sit” or “lay down”. Really any basic command will do. Then reward your dog after they’ve successfully followed your command. This will reinforce the training and take your dog’s mind off of the stressful situation. In the future, your dog may even associate the waiting room of the vet with sitting and receiving a treat, not with being probed by a stranger.[9]
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    Mask your own reaction. Your dog thinks of you as a member of its pack. If he sees you anxious or fearful, he will adopt a similar emotional state. If you find yourself in an unsettling situation, don’t let it show. Take deep breaths and count them, exhaling slowly and deliberately.
    • For example, if you take your pet to the vet for an operation and you’re stressed about it, don’t let your dog see it. You want to always create a positive experience for your dog in these situations. Alternatively, if you shriek every time you hear a thunder clap, your dog will think there is something to fear. This will cause anxiety too.[10]
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    Use pheromone diffusers. Pheromones are chemical messengers given off by a dog’s mother during nursing to reassure her pups that they are safe and secure. Synthetic versions of this chemical, known as Dog Appeasing Pheromones (DAPs) are available for purchase as many pet superstores. Simply plug them into the wall or attach them to your dog’s collar and watch them calm your canine companion.[11]
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    Give your dog a zylkene supplement. Zylkene contains a protein extracted from milk that acts as a calming agent — like diazepam. This capsule is given twice daily and has been shown to calm dogs during thunderstorms, trips to the vet, or stays at the kennel.[12]
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    Talk to your veterinarian. He'll be able to advise you on what measures will work best - either behavioral or medical. If necessary, you can get a prescription for stronger medications. Only give these to your dogs if your vet prescribes them and do so according to the vet's instructions. Five types of medicines are usually used to treat behavior problems in dogs. These are benzodiazepines (BZs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).[13]


  • Studies have shown that spaying/neutering your dog will help to calm it down as well. The exact time to perform the operation (i.e. before or after a heat for female dogs) is still up for debate.[14]
  • Make sure you pet your dog and not hug it. Research has been done proving that around 83% of dogs show at least one sign of anxiety when being hugged.

Sources and Citations

  1. Canine Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians. Bonnie Beaver. Publisher: Saunders
  2. Canine Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians. Bonnie Beaver. Publisher: Saunders
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Article Info

Categories: Handling Dogs | Working with Dogs