Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Best Way to Soothe an Agitated Dog

By Suzanne Alicie

While most humans are accustomed to loud noises or crowds of people, dogs can sometimes get pretty agitated. During the summer there are plenty of noises and events that can frighten dogs. Fireworks on the 4th of July, family cookouts, neighborhood gatherings and thunderstorms are just a few of the things which can upset your dog. Some dogs are even scared of water; the things that can frighten and agitate your dog are varied and depend on the personality of the dog and his environment.

Each dog reacts differently when scared, nervous or feeling crowded. Some dogs may get vocal with barking or growling when they feel agitated, while others may retreat when they are frightened. Even well mannered dogs have been known to have potty accidents when they get agitated, or to snap at people when they feel crowded and cornered. Responsible pet owners always try to keep their dog from feeling fear, but there are some things that even the most dedicated doggy mom can’t do anything about.

Our dog Bear is terrified of thunder. She hears it long before we do and begins rounding up the family. She pants and does rounds of the house trying to make sure we are all where we need to be. As the thunder gets closer she begins searching for a safe place. For a dog as big as Bear, it’s amazing that she can squeeze into some really small places when there’s a thunderstorm. She will go under the bed, try to get into the bottom shelf on a bookshelf or the tiniest cubby underneath the desk. She shivers and shakes and pants until I sometimes worry about her having a stroke or a heart attack. Her response to thunder or fireworks seems quite similar to a human having a panic attack. She doesn’t focus on any one thing, and will often roll her eyes in fear.

When she is in this sort of state, most of the family will just leave her alone for fear that she may snap at us if we crowd her. But a lot of times I will sit in the floor near where she is and try to coax her out just a little bit to sit with me. Depending upon just how scared she is, sometimes she’ll come out momentarily for a CANIDAE TidNips™ treat, but always retreats back to her hiding spot.

Because dogs are all so different, you may find that your dog becomes your shadow when he gets scared or that he bristles and doesn’t want anyone to touch him. The best way to calm an agitated dog is to read the cues that the dog is giving you. Always speak in a calm voice and talk to the dog, but if he’s snapping or growling it’s best to keep your distance and allow the dog to work through it alone. No matter how much we love our animals, nature speaks to them and works through them to allow them to soothe and calm themselves. We can lend a calming presence and try to alleviate the problem that is causing the agitation, but once a dog is frightened it can take a while for the calm to settle in.

If you know that your dog is frightened of loud noises like fireworks, try placing the dog in a room with a radio playing to drown out the booms. Thunder is a bit different because it is an elemental thing that dogs not only hear, they feel it and can smell the changes in the air. Take your cue from your dog and you’ll be able to help them through the fear without making the situation worse.

Photo by Nathan Laurell

Read more articles by Suzanne Alicie


  1. I have two dogs that are terrifie of thunder and lightning. They don't agitated though and just hide until it is over. I leave them alone and the find a place to hide. I think it is best to leave them alone. I have tried to console them but they want none of that. They just want it over with.

  2. Phantom is bothered by the approach of thunderstorms, but not the actual storm. He is usually best left alone. Ciara went through a brief period of being afraid of thunderstorms, but we gave her tasty treats with each boom. Seems to have helped a lot as she doesn't seem bothered now. Lightning has a lot of fears, but since he seems to working his way through them, we think it is mostly puppy related. But Mom is working hard on his fears so he won't carry them into adulthood.

    Nice post. Hugs to Bear.

    Woos ~ Phantom, Thunder, Ciara, and Lightning

  3. You're so right - it really depends on the dog and the situation. Argos is terrified of thunder storms, and no amount of consolation is going to... well.. console him. It is best just to open his crate and let him go inside to wait it out. And yet he WILL allow me to console him on other, lesser fears, like piece of plastic blowing in the wind, etc.


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