How to Calm a Dog Down: 9 Methods That Work

Learn to read the signs and help your dog destress with these behavioral techniques.

Published February 7, 2023
Woman stroking her pet dog

If you feel like your dog is always on edge and ready to go, you're not alone. Dogs feel stress and anxiety in the same way that people do, so it can be hard to tell if your dog is just grumpy or if they're anxious about something. It's important to recognize signs of stress because they don't go away on their own. Dealing with a dog who is hyped up, amped out, and generally overexcited can be a challenge on its own. If left unchecked, this type of behavior can escalate into something dangerous for both humans and pets alike. Find out how to calm your dog down with these methods.

Read the Signs Your Dog Is Stressed

There are many causes of stress in dogs. Some are obvious, such as being left alone or having a new pet added to the family. Others may be less obvious, such as an owner's change of schedule or rearranging the house. Stress can affect your dog in many ways. It may manifest itself as sudden changes in behavior, such as barking or destructive chewing. It may also cause physical symptoms, such as diarrhea, vomiting, and excessive panting.

Here are some signs that your dog is stressed:

  • Barking or whining when left alone
  • Destructive chewing or digging
  • Excessive panting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Trembling
  • Hiding
  • Lip licking
  • Frequent yawning

1. Learn and Avoid Triggers

A trigger is the stimulus that causes your dog to lose their calm. They might act excited, run around and freak out, or they may act nervous, stressed out, or anxious. Some of these triggers are environmental and situational, while others are physical. Most dogs have at least one or two triggers.

For example, some dogs may have a strong reaction to yellow objects that cause them anxiety because they make them think about bees. Another common trigger for many dogs is thunderstorms, since they're loud noises that can be unpredictable and make them fear what's coming next. Other common triggers are when strangers come into the house or when the dog is left alone while the owner is in another room.

Figure out what's triggering your dog, and avoid these signals until you have the behavior under control. Remember, reaching a state of calm with your dog is a process. Start by reducing their exposure to things that upset their world.

2. Get Some Exercise

Exercise is good for your dog's body, mind, and soul, especially when it comes to relieving stress. It gives your dog a chance to get out of the house and get some fresh air and sunshine. This helps with mental health by getting them off their feet and away from any potential triggers that could cause them to become stressed out.

Exercise is a great way to reduce stress, and it's especially important for dogs who suffer from anxiety and other behavioral problems. Exercise helps to increase blood flow and the production of endorphins in the brain, which can ease anxiety, depression, and other psychological issues. A well-exercised dog will display a more even temperament and lower levels of excitement.

Exercise also improves cognitive function by increasing oxygen uptake in the brain. This increased oxygen flow causes the release of chemicals called neurotransmitters, which make learning easier. In fact, studies have shown that exercise can improve mental function even among those with canine cognitive dysfunction and other forms of cognitive impairment.

3. The Power of Touch and Massage

Petting your dog, cuddling with them, and providing physical contact can help calm them down. Like people, dogs feel soothed when they're being petted and loved. However, be careful about petting your dog when they're acting excited.

Dogs take physical touch as a reward. If they're acting up, and you start petting them, they learn that when they're excited and amped up, they get their reward.

Instead, wait for them to calm down, and then give them a soothing rub down. Keep them close and teach them that it pays to stay calm.

4. Consider Pheromone Sprays, Collars, and Diffusers

Dogs communicate with pheromones, and commercial products exist to harness this power to help calm your dog down. Pheromones can help with separation anxiety, loud noises, and other things that upset your dog. Products that deliver these chemicals in the form of sprays, diffusers, and collars can work for many dogs to increase calm and help keep them in a serene state.

Not all dogs respond, so you'll have to try out different options to see what works for your dog. Even with pheromones, you will likely need to address the underlying cause of your dog's stress. Use pheromone products in conjunction with training and exercise to help increase your dog's calm.

5. Try Essential Oils

Many essential oils are safe for dogs, but it's important to consider the size of your dog and the age and weight of your canine before using any essential oil. Essential oils are extracted from plants and contain their therapeutic properties. They are concentrated liquids that can be diluted in water or another carrier oil, such as coconut oil.

The most common ways to use them include adding a few drops to bath water or applying them directly to the skin. Essential oils can also be utilized in aromatherapy. Aromatherapy for dogs is becoming more popular as more people recognize its benefits for their pets.

If you have a dog who just won't calm down, aromatherapy can help them feel more relaxed. It's also great for relieving pain from arthritis or other conditions that cause inflammation in your dog's joints and muscles.

6. Play Classical Music

Classical music can help to calm your dog, but not all classical music is created equal. You don't just want to pick any piece of classical music and play it for your pooch. You want something that's going to help them relax and unwind.

Classical music has been shown to reduce stress in humans, so it makes sense that it could do the same for our dogs. It's important to note that different genres of classical music may have different effects on your dog. Some dogs may respond better to one type than another, so experiment with different kinds of classical music until you find the right one for your pup.

7. Grab a Calming Vest

These products wrap your dog up and apply gentle pressure to provide a soothing sense of security. One product, called the Thundershirt, is a vest that uses gentle, constant pressure to calm dogs. It's like swaddling an infant, and has been proven to reduce the effects of fear and anxiety in the following ways:

  • Reduces stress-related behaviors such as barking, panting, shaking, digging, and chewing
  • Speeds up recovery from training or travel-related stress
  • Calms dogs in unfamiliar environments or during storms/fireworks displays

When your dog is feeling stressed or anxious for any reason, the calming vest wraps them in a layer of comforting support that helps them feel safe and secure. The fabric of the shirt gently pushes their nervous system into submission by turning on their parasympathetic nervous system, which is the part that calms them down so they can relax again.

8. Train Them to Stay Calm

Yes, you can train away stressful reactions with desensitization and counter conditioning. Desensitization is what it sounds like. You expose your dog to the stimulus that's driving them crazy, first at low levels, and later at higher levels. Counter conditioning is the next step, where you teach your dog to replace an unwanted reaction with a positive one.

  • Desensitize your dog with exposure to their trigger. For this to work, you have to start very slowly, with the smallest amount of exposure to the stimulus as possible.
  • Find their threshold. This is the point where the stimulus that normally causes a reaction doesn't upset your dog. Always do this training just at or below their threshold.
  • Build up exposure at your dog's threshold. Start with short sessions, and slowly increase the amount of time your dog is exposed to the stimulus.
  • Repeat this process at higher levels of exposure. Now, move to the next level of exposure, but always keep your dog below their threshold. If your dog goes past their threshold, move back a step.
  • Counter condition away their reaction. Once your dog is used to their trigger, slowly increase exposure and pair their calm or neutral reaction with rewards.
  • As soon as they see their trigger, treat them. Give them a high-value treat or toy, and shower them with praise. Keep up the positive reinforcement until the stimulus is gone.
  • Stop if they reactive negatively, and go back a step in the level of exposure.

Over time, your dog will learn that the thing they were excited about isn't a big deal. When you desensitize them to the sight of a strange dog, they start to have a neutral reaction. Then, when they see their trigger - the unfamiliar dog - and you treat them every time, they learn to associate strange dogs with lots of treats! Using this method, you can overcome exciting stimuli with positive training methods, but it takes time and persistence.

9. Talk to Your Vet About Calming Medications

All dogs are different. Some respond to the above solutions, while others still have a hard time calming down. If a dog is prone to anxiety, even with plenty of exercise, love, and attention, they may still need more help.

If you find that your dog just won't settle down, it may be time to talk to your veterinarian about anxiety medication for dogs. There are many options to consider, and your vet can help walk you through what will help your pup.

Use What Works

Like people, what works for one dog may not work for another. Determine what works best for your dog and concentrate on those remedies. You may also notice certain things that calm your dog more in different situations. For example, during thunderstorms, your dog may feel better with a Thundershirt. However, if there's a new guest in the house, they may feel calmer using essential oils. Go slow, keep yourself calm, and apply these methods. You'll find that with some time, your dog will transform into the calm companion of your dreams.

How to Calm a Dog Down: 9 Methods That Work