5 Calming Things You can Do to Help a Nervous Dog Relax
Apr 15, 2022 | Sophie's Circle
Whether you have a nervous dog in your home or you are hoping to adopt a dog who exhibits a high level of anxiety, the good news is there are some simple steps you can take to help him or her relax and enjoy life more. Use this checklist to make him or her feel comfortable and build a trusting bond that will stand the test of time.
1. Be Still
Slowing things down a bit and allowing a nervous dog to take his or her time to warm up to you and his or her surroundings is a critical part of making your dog feel comfortable and safe. This step seems simple enough on day 1 of bringing home your new four-legged friend. But, the truth is it’s harder to do than it seems on an ongoing basis when life gets in the way and brings school/work, after-school activities, the gym, and social events with it.
Then, add more than one individual in the home - each with his or her own busy schedule - and it’s easy to see how tricky it might be to slow down and remember to speak in a calm voice. However, if at all possible, this is an important step to take when helping a new dog in your home or one that has developed a nervous tendancy feel like he or she can trust you to not be upset, overly excited, or a threat in any form.
2. Sit Nearby
Another helpful tip if the dog is not showing signs of aggression is to sit on the floor near the dog yet not too close. This will allow the dog to come to you when he or she is ready instead of you invading his or her space. You can also keep fresh water, treats, or toys closer to you yet still in between the dog and your space so that he or she does not need to climb over you or go around you to access them. Each day, your dog will learn to trust coming to you more and more.
Three tips to make this trust-building exercise a smashing success are to: (1) never force the dog to come to you, (2) be consistent in a routine, and (3) practice patience. Just don’t blame us if one day you find you have a loving furbaby demanding to sit in your lap who comes before called and won’t leave.
3. Avoid Direct Eye Contact
If you’ve owned a dog before, you’ve probably heard of this one. In addition to slowing things down and not forcing your dog to come closer while remaining accessible, another key to providing a calming greeting and environment is to avoid direct eye contact. Dogs often associate direct eye contact with a threatening or dominating posture. Feel free to look at your dog when speaking in a calm, clear, and low voice (best to avoid high pitched or exciting tones), but it's probably best to use more of a general gaze instead of staring him or her down as if preparing for a dual at noon.
4. Offer a Safe & Familiar Space
You may love a lavender-scented pillow. Dogs will love to smell your familiar scent on an old t-shirt or towel while you are away from home or when they feel afraid. Please note dogs who are known to chew in your absence should only be given such items while be closely supervised. For best results, place the item(s) within a safe boundary such as a properly-sized kennel/crate or a gated area.
While in the space, be sure to let your dog have time to himself/herself without any pets or commands. This is his/her zen “me time”. Then, let everyone who enters or exits your dog’s safe space know to remain calm like it’s just another day while letting him or her in or out.
Again, always try to avoid high-pitched or excited noises and fast movements as well as body tone and demeanor that may indicate something unusual is happening. Safety note - dogs should never be left alone for more than six hours. If you plan to be gone for a longer span of time, check out the local pet sitters, doggy daycares, and boarding kennel options to see which is best for your canine companion and your budget.
5. Don’t Skimp on the Exercise
Last but never least, all dogs need exercise and training time with you to reduce stress and learn the rules while forming a closer bond. The rule of 20 typically works wonders, unless your dog has a higher energy level. For example, start your day before your dog eats breakfast with a 20-minute walk. Then, spend 20 minutes in the afternoon walking before your dog eats dinner. Finish the day after dinner with a quick training session to help him or her learn the rules as well as follow your commands and receive praise and treat rewards. Hint - nothing builds trust for most dogs like quality time with their favorite human(s) and enjoying their favorite tasty treats!
Now that you know some soothing tips for your nervous dog or to help introduce a new dog into your home, it’s time to check out our adoption page for a listing of sweet dogs waiting for their forever homes. With so many lovable faces, which one will you choose? We can’t wait to find out!