Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.
Tension, nervousness, and hyperactivity—these are issues with dogs as well as with people. Anyone who has been blessed with a nervous little Chihuahua or a hyperactive Boxer might even say that that the problem is even more severe with dogs. When dogs get tense, they start doing things like licking their front leg down past the hair, down past the flesh, and right to the bone. Nervousness and hyperactivity lead to holes in the yard, holes in your couch, and holes in the drywall.
So how do I get my dog to relax?
1. Comfort Food
This is a lot different than what would make me feel good. When I get tense, I like to buy a large dark chocolate bar, a juicy pineapple, or bring home some really good ice cream. My dog doesn’t want or need any of that. Her idea of comfort food is a raw chicken foot, some beef fat trimmings, or the ultimate—a nice beef knuckle bone that has been left out on the butcher´s counter a few days. Your dog may be different and may have other types of comfort food. You just need to play around and find out just what she needs to mellow out.
(Do not overdo this. Just like with people, too much comfort food leads to obesity.)
If your dog is nervous and suffering from separation anxiety, one method that may help is to give her some comfort food before you leave the house. Her stomach will be full and she will be more likely to sleep. This does not work with all dogs, as some will even refuse their favorites when nervous.
2. Good Music
I´ve had some talks with my dog on the subject and our tastes in music do not really match. I like to listen to country, blues, or alternative rock. My dog likes that slow piano music like they pipe into the animal shelters to calm the dogs.
Take a few minutes and find out what your dog likes before it comes time to help her.
According to the website Throughadogsear.com, research projects have shown that 70% of anxiety behavior is reduced with pyschoacoustically designed music. Purchasing one of these dog friendly CDs may not be the answer for all dogs, but it certainly seems to help a lot of them.
3. A Nice Massage
Canine massage therapists are availble in many large urban areas now. If you cannot find one, ask a vet that deals with senior dogs suffering from arthritis.
Years ago I bought the Tellington touch book and learned the technique to help out some of my overstressed canine patients. Whearas acupressure and acupuncture are more likely to help dogs with musculoskeletal problems, touch was designed to help nervous and tense dogs. Does it help them relax?
I think so, as do my dogs. One of my dogs really takes advantage of this—you need to try it on a really tense dog and see how much it helps.
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4. A Walk on the Beach
A long walk anywhere, actually.
This is really the ultimate way to calm any dog down. Any dog that walks far enough is going to be tired, and any tired dog is going to relax and fall asleep. Even a mellow dog needs at least one 30-minute walk a day, and if you can walk your dog three times a day, she will thank you for it.
A hyper dog with a loaded backpack, of course, will tire out that much sooner, and reward you when you arrive home.
In my opinion, the beach provides an excellent location to practice meditation, but you do not need to live on the beach to provide your dog with long walks. Alexandra Horowitz, in her excellent book Inside of a Dog, recommends dogs be taken on an occasional “smell walk.” This is a great idea if you have a geriatric Golden Retriever, not so good if you have a young Jack Russel terrier that you want to sleep before Leno is over.
Get out and walk your dog. Both of you will benefit from it.
Even if you have mastered all of these techniques and practice them every day, do not be disappointed if your dog still does not relax. Some dog breeds are just born “on edge” and nothing but a few valium are going to work. Maybe you can get some acepromazine from your regular vet.
Give all these methods a try first, though. Who knows?
© 2012 Dr Mark
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on May 20, 2016:
Walker--I am sorry to hear about your Boxer. The only thing I might suggest is spending more time walking him, without the puppy. Hopefully in time he will grow to accept the new dog, as most of them do. If not, there may be no option but to rehome the new dog if you want your Boxer to act normally. Give it a few months though and see how he is doing as the puppy gets older.
Walker on May 20, 2016:
Hi, I have a four year old Boxer usually very cheerful. We move not long ago and have lots of playroom outside now. So, we decided to get a puppy. Well, it turns out out puppy is completely crazy and so far training resistent. The real problem though is that my older baby is becoming depressive. We tried everything including separating them for extra tlc.. Vet check up was clear but my baby doesn't want to do anything anymore. I even flew my son back from college for a weekend, they are best buds..no results, my doggy acknowledged and layed back down. Running out of options
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on January 17, 2013:
Thunderstorms are a real nightmare, since unlike fireworks, classical counterconditioning does not work. Try more exercise, since if she is like any Jack Russell mix she probably has excess energy and needs to be really, really tired to sleep through the storm. Let me know how things are going with her!
Better Yourself from North Carolina on January 17, 2013:
Great info! One of our dogs, a Jack Russel/Chihuahua mix, has so much anxiety especially during thunderstorms. Really just any loud sound can spark her anxiety and can also cause a seizure which she is on meds for. We have had a really hard time finding solutions to help calm her down so in certain situations I think the techniques above will be helpful. Another great hub, Thanks!
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on December 27, 2012:
An Aussie/Border Collie mix? He must keep you in good shape, walking. My dog ate her comfort food (raw chicken feet) for dinner this evening so her belly is full and she is napping; I am going to have to drag her out for our walk on the beach after midnight.
Dawn Ross on December 27, 2012:
I got an Aussie/Border Collie mix earlier this year and expected a handful. But he's actually rather calm. We do play and walk a lot. And he has lots of interactive toys to play with. This might be where your comfort food comes into effect. Get one of those dog toys where your dog has to work at getting the food. This could distract them hours!
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on December 21, 2012:
But don't try to feed your husband any raw chicken feet, holdmycoffee. Most humans put up a fuss if they find them on their plate!
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on December 21, 2012:
Hi Michelle I hope these work for your active little Westie!
holdmycoffee on December 21, 2012:
Good ideas - which will work for dogs or husbands. Massage, comfort food, a nice walk... even I'll take these.
Michelle Liew from Singapore on December 20, 2012:
Will look into these this holiday, Mark. Thanks for posting this, and I'll pass it on.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on December 20, 2012:
I think acute pancreatitis is more of an issue in fat little dogs that are not used to eating raw. I mentioned in the article that all dogs are different; a Miniature Schnauzer could not do this, a APBT could. WD40? If that is what it takes to make chicken feet palatable, I think I will stick to my chocolate bar.
I hope you and your family are enjoying a great holiday season!
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on December 19, 2012:
Thanks Peggy it sounds like your little dog has the comfort food option mastered! Who knows about the music though, right?
Thanks for reading and voting.
Bob Bamberg on December 18, 2012:
Another great hub, Doc. I like the way you present options and advise folks that they may or may not work. So many articles purport to be THE answer...yours is most refreshing.
I don't believe in writing negative comments in the comment stream, but if I did, I'd probably wag my finger [index finger, that is :) ] at the suggestion of treating with beef fat trimmings. I know they'd eat it in the wild, but if a wolf was alone in the woods and suffered acute pancreatitis, would anybody hear him?
I also appreciate the touches of humor you add to your hubs. It makes science even more interesting.
Being a little stressed about the holidays, I tried a couple of raw chicken feet but they didn't calm me down. They go down kind of hard so folks might want to wash em down with a shot of WD40.
Voted up, useful and interesting.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 18, 2012:
This was fun to read especially because of all the cute photos you used. Our dog gets lots of petting / massaging and gets a short walk (he refuses to go further!) most days. Treats...yes he gets those also. Fortunately he likes our kind of music which tends towards the classical. Haven't heard him complain yet. Ha! Up and useful votes.