How to Calm Down a Dog

When you bring your perfect new puppy home you anticipate some sleepless nights and general havoc for a short while but you hope it will settle as your pup gets older. Some breeds are considered more 'hyperactive', such as Labradors and Spaniels. Larger breed dogs have a bigger impact on their surroundings when bouncing around than a terrier. While you can expect your pup to start to settle down around 6-months of age, every dog is unique so this isn't a hard and fast rule. I get asked this question regularly in the clinic and the most consistent positive response I've found in my experience is having some training tricks up your sleeve.

Some dogs are easily stimulated and can remain over-excited after the actual stimulus has passed, so the first step is to determine the inciting cause of this hyperactivity. This may be when the doorbell rings or even just getting a little too excited at playtime. When this occurs you need to take control of your pup and the situation immediately, this may include physically restraining your pup to ensure he doesn't hurt anyone or himself. Ensure your pup is wearing a suitable harness or collar and leash (training for this can start as soon as you bring your pup home) and now reduce the excitement by firstly removing the stimulus if possible, though I appreciate this is not always possible.



If you can't remove the stimulus then the next best thing is to take your pet out of the situation; if you're both outdoors then stop what you were doing, don't speak to your pet, just briskly start walking up and down with your pup on the leash. During this phase, it's important that you don't engage with your over-excited, bouncy pet and continue until he begins to relax as you walk along together. This calming, repetitive movement will help you to regain control. Indoors, you can use 'time-out' similar to helping settle down over-stimulated children. Stop whatever play is happening at that moment and place your pet in a crate or a room by himself for a few minutes. This will allow you both some time to calm down and diffuse the situation, it's important to wait until your pup is quiet before having him rejoin you.

Many of us, myself included, sometimes contribute to our pets hyper-excitable behavior in the way we interact. How many times have you come home to your excited pup and made a fuss over them with a high pitched voice and then had them become overwhelmingly excited? More times than I'd like to admit in my case, but this is due to humans and dogs misinterpreting each other's behavior. So, identifying our own contribution is half the battle in these situations, because now we can set to altering how we interact with our dogs.

 

Some tips to help calm your pet

1) Voice

Keep your voice quiet and calm and encourage everyone in the house to do the same when interacting with your dog, particularly at times they find exciting. Don't shout or make high-pitched noises as your dog will interpret these as further stimulation and can lose control.

 

2) Calm

No pup will be calm 100% of the time, but equally all pups will have some periods where they are relaxed and calmly laying at your feet. Don't forget to reward these times! Positive reinforcement teaches our pups that they will receive a reward (such as a CBD treat or a cuddle) when they behave a certain way so don't forget to praise your pup when he behaves well. Rewards don't always have to be food treats, it may be a gentle pat on the head and a kind word and soon your pup will behave in such a way that gains him a closer bond with you.

 

3) Physical games

Avoid physically roughhousing with your pup, especially if they're a large breed as this will also lead to hyper-excitation and may lead to your pup engaging in biting or nipping from excitement. These may seem cute when your pup is small, but remember this could really hurt someone as they grow, getting body-slammed by a Great Dane isn't everyone's cup of tea.


4) Activities and Distraction

Distracting your pup with a toy once they have become over-excited is counter-productive as they will interpret this as praise for their hyperactive behavior, but if you know something is coming that will set your pup into overdrive then you can pre-empt this by distracting them with a game or a toy or even give them a command and reward their good behavior.


All dogs need some exercise and young, growing pups need even more. Long hikes may work to physically tire your dog out, but won't necessarily provide enough mental stimulation for them. Dogs are a social species, like ourselves, and need some engagement with humans daily and this doesn't have to just be walks, training and mentally stimulating games also contribute to this valuable bonding time with our pets.

Try puzzle toys, fetching and training games all help to meet your pups cerebral exercise needs while strengthening your bond and teaching him to focus on you. If your pup doesn't enjoy playing fetch, that's ok, every dog is unique so you can take him on regular adventures where you let his nose lead you both. This will satisfy your pups prey drive and stimulate their brain while also getting you both some great fresh air.


5) Treat rewards

Some pups are more food-oriented than others and if you want to use some treat rewards for your pup these calming treats (insert link) from KarmaPets are a great option with a claim of calming 99% of dog-related anxieties. These treats are designed to be given before or during a stressful event such as traveling or if you have guests arriving. These chewy treats are hemp and valerian root infused which help to calm your pup without causing drowsiness. While these treats are primarily directed more toward helping pets with anxieties, they can be a helping hand for special situations where your pup may be particularly overwhelmed.

There are also a number of other products aimed at helping to calm pets, similar to KarmaPets Calming Treats (insert link?) these will help with anxiety but won't really have an effect on hyper-excitable pets. You may have heard of DAP (dog appeasement pheromone) which is one of these products that are best used for nervous or stressful pups and situations but won't have a significant impact on your pup's excitability. In my experience, training and modifying our own behavior will help your pup remain calm and relaxed in the face of these stimuli.