It goes without saying that, here at Snoozer, we love our dogs – so we know how heart breaking it can be to have a nervous dog on your hands. You wish you could speak their language to let them know that there’s nothing to be afraid of, but you just can’t! It can be extremely frustrating, and hard to know what to do.
Firstly, you need to identify the origin of your dog’s nervousness. If they’re a nervous breed (like a greyhound or a poodle) then that nervousness will have come from their parents, so it’s really important that you tackle their anxiety as a puppy. They’ll need to attend proper puppy training classes and be socialised regularly, exposing them to unfamiliar situations as early as you can. We’ve got lots of blogs about owning and raising a puppy coming soon, so make sure you check back for more information.
However, some dogs develop their nervous tendencies later in life. It can be hard to know what will spook your pooch, but really it could’ve been anything! From fireworks to arguments to unfamiliar situations, it’s difficult to prevent a dog from becoming nervous – and it’s important not to blame yourself.
If possible, do try and avoid any situations that you know will upset your dog. This isn’t always feasible, however, and if you’ve adopted a nervous dog it’s even harder to know where their anxiety stems from. So don’t despair – if you can’t keep your dog away from every upsetting situation, there’s still plenty you can do to calm them down and cheer them up.
First things first, you need to make sure that they trust you. Work hard to establish a solid relationship with your dog. Make sure you’re spending quality time with them (just the two of you), speaking to them a lot (so that they recognise your voice) and discipline them properly so that they know who’s boss. This is the foundation of everything else – without it, your dog will not believe that you are the one who’ll keep them safe.
2. Don’t fuss.
When we see our beloved dogs in distress, it’s natural to want to fuss over them and reassure them using the same techniques we’d use with other people. Unfortunately, what we see as sympathetic coos or tones of voice actually send the signal to our dog that there is something to worry about – which in turns worries them more.
Dogs are very emotionally intelligent and will respond to the signals you put out, so the best thing to do when your dog is becoming anxious is to remain calm. Speak in your normal, conversational voice and carry on as normal. It might go against your instinct, but it’s actually the best thing you can do.
3. Reward good responses.
Hopefully, if your dog has been nervous in the same kind of situation on a few occasions and you’ve managed to remain calm and appear unfazed, your dog should begin to follow suit. When they do, it’s important to reward them. Again, you don’t want to make too much of a fuss, as this will cause heightened emotion that can be counterproductive, but a heartfelt ‘Good boy!’ in your usual voice and a quick stroke will send the right signals.
4. Create a Safe Place.
We all need our “space” and dogs are no different. Consider creating a place that you dog can call their own. Whether a crate, a nook, or a familiar place for their bed, your dog will always know they have their own comfortable place.
For dogs that like to burrow and nest, our line of Cozy Cave® Dog Beds can provide the perfect safe, warm, and comfortable place to help reduce nervousness and anxiety.
5. Speak to a professional.
If you’ve exhausted all options and the problem has persisted, it’s best to consider talking to a professional – your usual vet being the best place to start. They’ll be able to refer you to either a behaviour modification trainer, or a veterinary behaviourist, who’ll be able to identify patterns in your dog’s nervous behaviour and – hopefully – work to resolve them. If your dog’s nervousness causes them to be aggressive, we’d recommend skipping straight ahead to this step.
It’s important to remember that your dog needs you more than anything when they’re feeling nervous, so your calming behaviour and appropriate responses will make a huge difference.