Sometimes, it can feel like training your pup to feel less threatened by external stimuli is a real challenge. Anxiety can quickly creep into your dog’s life if they are met with situations they do not understand, such as strangers, fireworks and mailmen.
Fear not - your dog can learn to stay relaxed in all situations. Despite their sensitive hearing and sense of smell, your dog will be able to associate loud noises or unfamiliar human scents with more positive emotions. Or, at least not negative ones!
Follow the tips outlined in this article to give your pup the best chance of learning to stay calm and prevent anxiety at an early age.
Start by teaching your dog how to be calm in a normal situation.
Teach your dog calm behaviors such as laying down, staying in their bed or sitting quietly. It is important you begin by showing them these desired behaviors away from any aggravating stimuli. It is unlikely your pup will be in the right frame of mind to learn about calmness if they are already in a state of high alert!
The best way to teach your dog to stay calm is by feeding them their favorite treats as you get them to exhibit a calm action. This will help them associate acting calm with positive rewards.
Use positive reinforcement to help your dog make positive associations.
After you have trained your dog to act calmly on cue, slowly begin to introduce situations that usually provoke fear, tension or anxiety. This could be anything from meeting strangers, seeing other dogs or hearing loud noises. Introduce these stressors slowly and try to help your dog feel calm by triggering the calming behavior you have trained them to do.
Try to pick a short word that is easy for your dog to understand, like “sit”, “chill” or “focus”.
Show your dog what relaxing looks like.
Specific positions to try and train your dog to take up include laying on the ground, on their belly, with both hind legs tucked to the same side. Also, try to use treats to get them to lay their head on the ground.
These are relaxed positions that should help your dog feel like there is no imminent threat.
Do not shout or punish your dog when they bark.
If your dog barks, yelps or wails in the presence of a situation they find scary, do not attempt to subdue them by shouting back or punishing them at all.
First of all, your dog will understand your shouting as confirmation that they should be scared. They will believe that you are also panicking and are affirming the fact that there is something to be worried about.
Secondly, punishing your dog is never the right way to go about teaching them a new behavior. Doing this will only solidify their mental connection between this stimulus and negative consequences (in this case - punishment).
Positive reinforcement and treats are the name of the game when it comes to teaching your pup how to stay calm in stressful environments!