What is the best tone and posture to use to calm a fearful dog?

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Some dogs may experience great amounts of fear during certain situations, from someone using the vacuuming to strangers entering the house. Thunderstorms, fireworks and other loud noises can do it, too.

Dogs who experience these fearful moments may hide, lash out at others or even soil the carpet. Of course, prevention is always preferable to treatment, so try to avoid placing her in stressful situations.

That’s not always possible, though, so you can use any one of these “calming signals:”

• Ignore the dog if possible. Admittedly, that’s a tough one, because we naturally want to comfort our dog when she’s distressed. Any attention–even “bad” attention such as scolding—just reinforces whatever behavior is occurring at the time and it can actually validate her feelings of fear!

Ignoring undesired behavior teaches the dog that she will not receive the attention she is seeking by behaving that way and she’ll most likely just accept it and lie down.

• Talk quietly and move slowly. The dog will pick up on your body language, so act in a confident and calm manner; dogs pick up on your feelings so if you’re scared she will be too. Avoid extravagant gestures or yelling or “baby talk” which will excite the dog even more.

• Give the dog calming signals. Yawning, looking at the dog sideways, and approaching in a wide semi-circle will present nonverbal cues that can help dogs relax.

• Redirect the dog to a more desirable behavior. If she’s sitting, she can’t jump on you. If she’s lying down, she can’t run in circles.

• Reward the dog heavily for calm behavior. Even if the dog is calm for a half-second, if you can praise her or give a treat during that time, reinforcing the calm behavior.

• Give the dog a timeout. This is one a lot of professional dog trainers use. Sometimes, a dog is so over-stimulated that the only option is to remove her from the situation. Put her in a crate or a dog-safe room for a few minutes, or take her to some other quiet place that has minimal distraction.

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