An agitated dog is not a happy dog. Your dog may become agitated for a variety of reasons. The trick to calming him is to figure out the cause before using gentle behavior modification techniques to help him overcome his agitation. Your own behavior is key to modifying his behavior.
Spot the Cause
Monitor your dog’s behavior and note the patterns to his agitation. For example, he may become agitated only when the doorbell rings, when other dogs visit the home or when he hears a specific sound or sees a specific object, like the vacuum cleaner.
Identify Patterns of Behavior
Note the physical and oral gestures he uses when agitated. These may include pacing, whining, curling his tail between his legs or howling. By knowing the signs, you are able to distinguish between agitation and less problematic moods, such as excitement and playfulness, which may initially look similar. For example, a dog may whine when he’s excited to see you.
Remove the Cause of Agitation
Prevention is often better than cure. So if a nonessential object is causing the agitation -- such as a wind chime, for example -- simply move it to a place where the dog can’t hear or see it.
Walk the dog regularly, especially on days when you expect he may become highly agitated. For example, the sound of fireworks can make dogs agitated, so if you expect fireworks to be going off at any point, make sure he’s well exercised beforehand. This means he’ll have less energy to put toward expressing his agitated behavior.
Neutralize the Trigger
Expose him to the agitating stimuli in a controlled manner. For example, purchase a sound effects CD containing the sound of fireworks and play it in the house. Start off at a low volume and gradually increase it. While the sounds are occurring, act as if nothing is different. Don’t stand and watch your dog or try to soothe him. Your dog looks to you, the pack leader, in times of stress. If he detects a change in your mood, this tells him to be concerned. If he hears the sound of fireworks or a doorbell and sees you aren’t taking any notice, he’ll learn to dismiss the sound.
Encourage Appropriate Behavior
Reward him for periods of calmness during exposure to the agitation stimuli. Give him a treat each time you turn up the volume of the trigger sound. At times when you can confidently expect he won’t be agitated, leash the dog and simply walk him around the house or garden. Call his name so he looks at you and give him verbal praise intermittently to reinforce this behavior. By introducing him to this distraction technique when all is calm, he won’t see it as unusual when you use it during periods of agitation.
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