How To Calm Down A Dog Who Totally Needs To Chill Out
Help him find his happy place ✌️
Does your dog get a little too excited when a new friend comes over — or a little too stressed during a storm?
Whether your dog is generally too anxious or hyperactive, or even just gets a bit too excited, you’ll probably want some tricks for when he needs to calm down.
To get your dog to chill out, The Dodo spoke with Irith Bloom, a certified professional dog trainer at The Sophisticated Dog in Los Angeles, who has some pretty useful tactics for settling down hyperactive or anxious dogs.
Why isn’t my dog calm?
“Sometimes dogs get anxious or overexcited for completely understandable reasons,” Bloom said.
For example, “a thunderstorm might be happening, or a person the dog really loves may be visiting for the first time in a while,” she added.
In other cases, though, your dog may have an over-the-top reaction to something because he was never trained properly, “and react[s] with anxiety or hyperactivity as a result.”
Some dogs are also just born to react that way (just like some people). “Unfortunately, some dogs are inherently prone to higher levels of anxiety and frustration,” Bloom said.
If you have a dog who becomes stressed or anxious in many different situations, you might want to call a certified behavior consultant or even a veterinary behaviorist to help. But here are some things to try at home in the meantime.
Tactics to calm your dog down
Whether your dog is anxious or hyperactive, or only gets reactive in special cases, he can benefit from these calming tactics you can try at home.
Use a dog appeasement pheromone (DAP)
“I’m a fan of DAP, which is sold under the trade name ‘Adaptil,’” Bloom said.
DAP replicates a mother dog’s pheromones (aka the chemical signals animals use to communicate with each other) to create a calming effect in dogs.
“DAP doesn’t work for every dog, but it does work for many, and it’s recommended by veterinary behaviorists since it’s safe and often helpful,” Bloom said.
It’s available as a plug-in diffuser, a collar or a spray. You can use the spray on bedding and other soft objects — just never spray DAP directly onto your dog.
Try a ThunderShirt
ThunderShirts are pressure vests you put on your dog when he’s hyperactive or feeling stressed.
“Like anything you might try for anxiety, it doesn't work for all dogs,” Bloom said. “But I’ve seen ThunderShirts help many anxious dogs, especially those on the fearful end.”
And for what it’s worth, it works great on some of The Dodo’s more anxious office dogs.
Give him calming supplements
Bloom recommends supplements with L-theanine to help keep dogs calm.
Many dog parents love this product because of how effective it is. In a study on the effectiveness of L-theanine on dogs during thunderstorms, it was found that 94 percent of the dogs tested were less stressed after taking the supplement.
But, as always, be careful when feeding your dog something new. “As with anything your dog takes orally or topically, there is a potential for side effects and drug interactions, so be sure to check with your veterinarian before you use it,” Bloom said.
Teach him to love his crate
When your dog loves his crate or mat, you can train him to go there on cue, particularly during situations that might be exciting or stressful for him.
To do this, you’ll need to teach him to love his crate or mat. Start by feeding your dog his meals in his crate or on the mat and keep dropping treats there often. And whenever you have a new toy or chew for your dog, place it in his crate or on his mat first — so he knows good things happen there.
“With enough practice, you can associate the mat or crate with feelings of relaxation, so that your dog actually feels calmer there,” Bloom said.
“You can then send your dog there to encourage relaxation in stressful situations — after a fair amount of practice in advance,” she added.
To train your dog to “go to his place” on command, start by rewarding your dog with treats every time he gets closer to his place. Once he’s on the mat or in the crate, lure him into a down position before giving him another treat. You’ll then want to add a release cue by tossing a treat off the mat or away from the crate and saying a release command, like “off.”
Keep repeating these steps, adding more time in between the behavior and the treats. Once your dog stays on the mat until hearing the release command, you can add in the verbal command instructing him to go to his place.
Training your dog to go to his place takes lots of practice and patience, so don’t be discouraged if your dog doesn’t get it right away!
If all else fails, throw food at the problem.
“You can distract many dogs from stressful situations by simply scattering treats on the ground, ideally at a distance from whatever is triggering the anxiety or excitement,” Bloom said.
If your dog is too stressed or excited to eat, the best thing to do is remove your dog from the situation as calmly and gently as possible.
Teach him to stop and think
A good way to keep your dog calm is to have him sit before giving him something he wants, which will teach him to slow down a bit in general.
For example, “teach your dog to sit before you throw a ball for fetch” or before putting a leash on him.
“The key is to find ways to get your dog to stop and think in situations that are exciting or stressful, rather than just react,” Bloom said.
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