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How to Calm an Anxious Dog: 12 Vet-Approved Recommendations

Elizabeth Gray

By Elizabeth Gray

Chihuahua dog scared

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

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If you often find yourself staring blankly at your dog while humming Taylor Swift’s catchy bop “You Need to Calm Down” under your breath, this article is for you. Whether your pup is riddled with anxiety or bursting with excited energy, sometimes you just need them to dial it back just a little. Here are 12 great ideas for how to calm an anxious dog.

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The Top 12 Tips on How to Calm an Anxious Dog

1. Know the Signs

Best for: Generalized anxiety or stress behavior
Supplies needed: Only your eyes to observe

Knowing how to calm dogs down starts with recognizing the signs of fear and anxiety they display. It’s generally easier to help your dog relax if you can catch them early in the reaction time. Fearful or anxious dogs may display body language that indicates their feelings, such as shaking or cowering.

Other common but harder-to-catch signs of fear include heavy panting, yawning, and lip-licking. As your dog becomes increasingly anxious, getting them into a positive headspace can be more challenging.

2. Soothe With Style

American Kennel Club AKC Anxiety Vest for Dogs

Best for: Specific anxiety triggers, like thunderstorms
Supplies needed: Anxiety vest

One idea to help your dog calm down is to dress them in an anxiety vest designed to ease the fear in dogs. Many people are probably familiar with these items as a way to calm dogs dealing with thunderstorm anxiety.

The calming clothes fit tightly around the dog’s chest and body. The constant gentle pressure helps release endorphins that increase feelings of happiness. Anxiety vests won’t work for every dog, but they may be worth a try to help your pup calm down.

3. Give Them Some Alone Time

Best for: Anxiety, stress, hyperactive behavior
Supplies needed: Crate or other quiet, safe location

If your dog is especially overwhelmed or overstimulated by a situation, one way to help them calm down is to give them some space and alone time. Anxious dogs are often soothed by retreating to a safe place, such as their crate, where they can relax.

Overstimulated dogs may also benefit from time in a controlled environment like a crate. For example, if you have friends over and your dog tends to get overly wild and excited meeting new people, place the pup in their crate or another quiet space to help them settle down.

4. Drown Out the Noise

Best for: Noise-related fears, separation anxiety
Supplies needed: White noise machine, classical music, television, radio

Many sources of anxiety are noise related, such as storms or fireworks. One way to help your dog calm down is to counteract those sounds with a more soothing one. Classical music or a white noise machine are both excellent options.

These sounds can also help calm a dog that doesn’t like being left home alone. Dogs dealing with separation anxiety could also benefit from the sound of human voices, so try leaving the television or a radio playing while you’re gone.

dachshund dog burrowing under the blanket
Image Credit: SM-BG, Shutterstock

5. Comfort With Touch

Best for: Generalized and specific anxiety or stress behavior
Supplies needed: Love and affection

In the past, some pet parents recommended that owners not attempt to comfort their anxious or frightened dogs. The reasoning was that this attention would reinforce the dog’s behavior rather than help stop it.

However, this theory is now considered outdated. Physical contact, such as cuddling, petting, or even a doggy massage, are all great ways to help your dog calm down. Massage and petting can even help release endorphins, much like an anxiety vest. Reassuring your dog with your presence and touch can help them feel more secure and relaxed.

6. Surround With Calming Scent

Best for: Generalized anxiety or stress behavior, separation anxiety
Supplies needed: Dog-pheromone products

Another way to help your dog calm down is to use a soothing scent to help them relax. Many products containing dog pheromones are available, including sprays, collars, and plug-in diffusers. These pheromones mimic those released by a mother dog during nursing and trigger a calming sensation even in adult canines.

Humans often use aromatherapy in the form of essential oils to help them relax. You should use caution with essential oils around pets, as many are toxic, and oil diffusers can be especially problematic. If you’re interested in using essential oils to help calm your dog, check with your veterinarian first.

close up dog nose
Image Credit: LUM3N, Pixabay

7. Socialize to Help Prevent It

Best for: Generalized anxiety or stress behavior
Supplies needed: Treats, leash, other people

You can help decrease the chances that your dog will be anxious and afraid by socializing them, especially as puppies. Early socialization helps a dog learn how to relate and react to new situations appropriately and confidently.

They are less likely to develop separation anxiety because they feel secure enough to know their owners will return. Well-socialized dogs are more likely to stay calm and polite in unfamiliar situations. While socialization is essential for puppies, adult dogs can also benefit, especially those with unknown history before adoption.

8. Ignore the Behavior

Best for: Hyperactive behavior
Supplies needed: Patience

Much like a human toddler, dogs will often get overly excited as a way to get attention from their owners. Responding to this excitement, even to correct bad behavior, counts as a reinforcing behavior in the dog’s mind.

For example, if you push your dog off when they jump on you, the dog is likely to interpret this as a play behavior and be inspired to continue. Instead, help calm your dog down by completely ignoring them until they stop behaving excitedly or inappropriately. Once your pup has settled, interact with them calmly and positively. This allows your dog to connect the dots between their calm behavior and attention from you.

Image Credit: Milica Nistoran, Shutterstock

9. Sweat It Out

Best for: Anxiety, stress, hyperactive behavior
Supplies needed: Leash, toys, some energy of your own

Okay, dogs don’t sweat very much, but getting your dog plenty of exercise is a great way to help them calm down. Hyperactive dogs are more likely to behave at home if they are given an outlet for their energy.

Anxious dogs often express their emotions by way of nervous energy, which can also be helped by exercise. Walking or playing with your dog also strengthens your mutual bond, which can help your dog feel more confident overall.

10. Keep Them Occupied

Best for: Separation anxiety, specific anxiety or stress triggers
Supplies needed: Treats, toys, and other distractions

Keeping your dog distracted and occupied is another excellent way to help them calm down. If your dog has separation anxiety, leave them with plenty of safe toys and chew objects to keep them busy while they’re on their own. If you see some of those early signs of anxiety we discussed earlier, try redirecting your dog with treats or a favorite toy to help them calm down.

This strategy can also work for a reactive dog that gets overly excited or loud when they see another dog or person on a walk. Use training and the opportunity to reinforce a non-compatible behavior such as “lie down” or “fetch” to distract your dog and keep them relaxed until the exciting individual passes by.

australian shepherd dog playing fetch with a toy
Photo Credit: JoshuaMartinTX, Shutterstock

11. Change the Narrative

Best for: Specific fears and anxieties
Supplies needed: Treats and patience

Help your dog calm down by working to change how they react to its anxiety triggers. Generally, this strategy requires a lot of patience and rewards as you work on desensitizing your dog to specific situations that are causing them fear.

Your eventual goal is to change your dog’s negative association with whatever causes their fear to a positive one. For example, if your dog is afraid of car rides, you can teach them to associate cars with something delicious instead of scary.

12. Consider Medications

Best for: Generalized and specific anxiety or stress behavior
Supplies needed: Prescription or holistic anxiety medications or supplements

If your dog’s anxiety or fear is severe, you may need to turn to medications to help calm them down. If you prefer natural or holistic remedies, look for a veterinarian specializing in that type of medicine.

If not, ask your regular vet about a prescription for one of the several anti-anxiety or behavioral modifying medications available. Generally, you’ll still need to pair other strategies to help your dog calm down, even if they are taking medication.

pet owner giving pill medication to dog
Photo Credit: Jus_Ol, Shutterstock

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Anxiety, stress, and hyperactivity are common in many dogs and can be frustrating to cope with, especially when they result in destructive behaviors like chewing and barking. Don’t let bad blood form between you and your dog (or you and your neighbors) due to unwanted behaviors. These great tips on how to help calm dogs down can make life easier for everyone.

Featured Photo Credit: Mylene2401, Pixabay

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