Some dogs are naturally super mellow and calm, and some, like my dog, are not.If there’s anything remotely out of the ordinary—a sound off in the distance, a piece of garbage in front of our home, if the tone of my voice changes—he immediately perks up and investigates, hyper alert. Part of it is his protective nature (he’s a German Shepherd), part is that he’s had to deal with chronic itching his whole life—which would make anyone anxious—and part is that he’s just an enthusiastic fellow who wants to be involved. The long and short of it is, he gets anxious. As a result, he’s gone through quite a bit of training. One of his trainers, Certified Professional Dog Trainer Kate Connell, who runs Calmer Canines, actually specializes in calming dogs down. Out of all his training, her's was the most effective in working Guinness into a less anxious state. Connell offers the following tips to help calm your anxious dog.
Kate Connell, CPDT-KA, creator and owner of Calmer Canines
Treats, Treats, and More TreatsUse soft or lickable treats over hard ones because, “chewing, crunching, and chasing bouncing treats is exciting and will amp your dog up instead of calming them down,” she said. Try rehydrated finely ground dog foods, cottage cheese, or plain yogurt in a refillable camping squeeze tube. You can use shredded, baked, or boiled chicken, chopped string cheese, or sausage-like rolled dog foods for treats that need to be dropped on the ground.
Deep Breaths HelpDeep breathing can be calming for dogs too. Sit or stand in front of your dog in a relaxed posture with treats in your hand but hidden from view behind your back, said Connell. Take a slow, deep breath and blink softly. Wait for your dog to close his mouth and stop panting for even just a brief moment. When he does, say "yes" in a soft voice and calmly bring a treat to his mouth. Continue this until your dog has slowed his breathing. The ultimate goal is for your dog to take deep breaths that cause his nostrils to flare whenever you take a deep breath.
Have Him Rest His ChinPlace your right hand a few inches in front of your dog just below his chin height, with your palm up and gently curved, and your thumb pointed toward him, said Connell. With treats in your left hand, move it across your right palm so that your dog's nose follows the treats and his chin ends up over your right hand—though he may not be touching your right palm yet. Say "yes" as his chin moves over your palm and give him a treat. Over time, bring your left hand lower so that your dog will press his chin down into your right palm, then say "yes" and offer the treat. Gradually increase how long your dog is expected to hold his chin in place before you say "yes" and give the treat. Increase the time by 1/4- to 1/2-second increments. When he can comfortably hold his chin in place for 2-3 seconds, offer your palm without showing him treats, take a deep breath when he places his chin, then say "yes" and treat. If your dog knows the breathing exercise, he should take a deep breath as well.
Use "Find It" As a DistractionYou can use sniffing, which is naturally calming for dogs, treats and "find it" to get through some stressful situations. With a handful of treats at the ready, tell your dog to find it and then immediately sprinkle treats on the ground or grass in front of him, said Connell. If your dog is really nervous, he may need some encouragement from you. Try searching through the grass with him, pointing out treats and brushing your hands through the grass, for instance. This will keep him focused on the treat-finding rather than on the stressful or scary situation around him. It will also help him learn to associate the scary thing with something positive—treats. You can also do this one treat at a time while walking past something scary to keep your dog focused on you and the treats, she said. I’ve had particular success using this on my dog when he’s barking at something he hears outside the front door. He’s able to focus all that anxious energy on finding the treats.