No pet parent wants to see their dog in distress, but sometimes animals become nervous or fearful, especially when faced with loud noises, new people or a events, such as Halloween. Because it can be difficult to calm a nervous dog, it’s vital to understand common triggers and learn how to calm a scared dog.
Why Dogs Become Fearful
Thunder, new people, loud voices, darkness and being alone are typical reasons dogs exhibit nervous behavior.
“Anxiety can also crop up because of a previous bad experience your dog may have endured,” says Stephanie Liff, DVM, a veterinarian at Pure Paws Veterinary Clinic in New York.
For example, there could have been a time when your dog was home alone during a rainstorm, so whenever it rains it brings him back to that frightening moment. Or, a dark room might remind him of his time in a crate or a cage before you brought him to his forever home.
Dogs also can sense a human’s anxiety, Dr. Liff says.
“If a pet owner acts fearful in certain settings, dogs can pick up on that and will often react with their own anxiety,” she says.
Puppies who weren’t properly introduced to people or socialized in groups of other dogs also may be prone to nervous or fearful tendencies.
How to Calm a Scared Dog
First off, speak with your veterinarian to find out the best treatment plan for your nervous dog. Depending on the severity of your dog’s anxiety, calming products might do the trick, you might be directed to dog training classes or your pet may need dog anxiety medication.
It never hurts to try simple solutions, like using a dog calming collar to help your four-legged friend relax. Adaptil’s calming dog collar releases a calming pheromone in response to your dog’s body heat and lasts for up to four weeks.
“Or pick a tight-fitting garment that mimics a swaddle to help with certain cases of anxiety,” Dr. Liff says.
ThunderShirt is a dog anxiety vest designed to hug your pup snugly during a storm or other upsetting episode. The washable fabric applies gentle pressure to relax your dog during stress-related events, such as vet visits, a trip out of town or a grooming session.
For dogs who get nervous around rain, help ease their fear by providing a refuge in a basement or quiet area, such as an internal bathroom without windows, Dr. Liff suggests.
You also can work on desensitizing your dog through repetition.
“Repeated short exposure to the situation that’s bothering your animal can help allay his anxiety,” Dr. Liff says.
For example, fear of a stranger on the street is likely associated with the protection of the owner from others, explains Dr. Liff. To train your dog to be calm during these encounters, let the person present a high-value dog treat to your pet. Or, conduct short, controlled meetings with new people and then work up to longer interactions. Talk with a dog trainer or behaviorist to develop a training plan that’s right for your dog.
And don’t underestimate the benefit of dog toys, like the KONG Classic dog toy. Chewing on a durable plaything can help relieve anxiety due to separation or another fear-inducing trigger.
Dealing with a nervous dog who starts to freak out at a party, during a storm or when noise from trick-or-treaters drifts in from the window can be annoying—and even upsetting. Whatever you do, remain calm and try not to get frustrated with the situation.
Never punish your pet or leave him in distress. Instead, try to comfort him on the couch or his dog beds by using a cozy blanket, like Frisco’s Sherpa dog blanket. This ultra-soft nap buddy is reversible and machine washable for any accidents.
Halloween is a spooky time of year; for dogs, it can be downright terrifying. If you know your pet’s triggers, you can practice ways to calm his fears and establish a treatment plan that works for your dog. With a little training, some patience and a lot of love, your dog will be on his way to living a happier, more peaceful life.
Jennifer Kelly Geddes is a New York City writer/editor and the mom of two teenage girls. She’s also the devoted owner of a rescue pup named Django, a temperamental Shepherd mix. Geddes has worked for Food & Wine, Parenting, Seventeen and Airbnb magazines and creates content for dozens of sites, including Care, Fisher-Price, the National Sleep Foundation and Realtor.