How to calm down a hysterical dog?
May 20, 2013 2:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm babysitting a friend's dog (female dog), and she's hysteric. She keeps crying by the door, trying to run away. What are the best ways to calm her down and make her feel more relaxed alone, away from her owner? Thanks MeFi.
posted by lipsum to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Long, long walk. Or a jog/run if you can. A walk will help her build trust with you while also letting her get rid of some of that anxious energy.
posted by Urban Winter at 3:09 AM on May 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think I learned a version of this from a Temple Grandin interview and it works to calm my own dog when she's hyper in any way: sit next to the dog. Put a hand on the dog's chest with gentle but firm pressure while calmly stroking the dog from her head down her back. The slight pressure on the chest is the main thing that works on my dog.
posted by third rail at 3:18 AM on May 20, 2013 [8 favorites]

Quite normal for a dog to pine for an absent owner. Pet, play, exercise.
posted by BenPens at 3:22 AM on May 20, 2013

Act calm and confident. Dogs are very sensitive and if you're doing a lot of comforting it might seem to validate the dog's suspicion that something is terrifically wrong. Try acting like things are perfectly right.

Also long walk and a raw marrow bone. But be careful about the walk if she's freaking out; you don't want her to run away from you.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:22 AM on May 20, 2013

Exercise. As many play events (including with food rewards) as possible. More exercise. Strict schedules. This time's for sleeping, this time's for awake, this time's for walk, this time's for eating. These things have two things in common: They give you and the dog something to do together, which builds a bond with you and gives you more confidence with the dog. They also tire the dog out, which means it's more likely to be asleep and less likely to be noting that it's owner is gone.
posted by SpecialK at 3:34 AM on May 20, 2013

Does she maybe want to hide out in a closet or some other little hidey hole?
posted by Specklet at 4:08 AM on May 20, 2013

Long walk. Got any state owned parks within a short driving distance? They usually have wonderful hiking trails. Head to one of those if available. Make sure the dog is on-leash and prepare to get pulled -- it's no big deal (helps when heading uphill).
posted by jms18 at 4:36 AM on May 20, 2013

The last time my in-laws left the dog with someone new the issue was that the dog was crate trained and was without her crate. This could be an issue with your friend's dog.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:02 AM on May 20, 2013

Poor baby. I've babysat dogs before who would get so upset over their 'parents' being gone that they wouldn't eat for many sitters; what helped the most with them was twofold: 1) plenty of exercise and playtime (as mentioned above), and 2) acting as if they were my dogs.

By that second one, I mean acting as if me being there was no big deal or anything that needed an unusual response from either me or the dog. Play with her but don't TOTALLY galumph all over her all the time; give her reassuring pets and attention but don't reinforce her fears with overmuch coddling; act as if the two of you are buddies but that you've got things covered and things are going according to plan ... Dogs really pick up on human emotions, so anything you can do to project a sense that you're supposed to be there and are taking care of her should help.

Additionally (although I'm not entirely sure if this is more of a comfort for the dog, or for me) when I leave my dog I like to give her something that smells like me - a nightshirt I've slept in, for instance - that can go in her bed as a sort of security blanket ... maybe you can check with your friend to see if she'd mind you putting something of hers in her dog's sleeping area?
posted by DingoMutt at 8:12 AM on May 20, 2013

Exercise is a good idea, but you'll want to make sure the dog cant run off. Do they have some sort of walking harness for the dog so it can't just slip its collar and leave you with a much bigger problem..

Calm reassuring contact is also good. Oddly enough, making wet mouth sounds, like lip smacking, while you are close to the dog can help too.
posted by Good Brain at 8:31 AM on May 20, 2013

Sit quietly on the floor at the dogs level. Yawn and do not make too much eye contact with the dog, these are ways to show a dog you are harmless but they also have a very relaxing effect on dogs as it's basically saying to the dog, nothing to worry about here. Lots of steady firm patting, along the back of the head and down the back and across the chest. Talk to it in a steady sing song soothing voice any sort of nonsense, its how you say it that matters.

I'd really be worried about taking the dog out for exercise, but throwing a ball around in the house or distracting it with treats and tricks would be good.

Thunder jackets work for all sorts of things not just fireworks.

If the dog is at the super stressed will go through a closed window level of stress go see a vet and see about something to relax the dog. I've seen a small dog with separation anxiety try to do this when he thought his owners had pulled up outside while off at a friends house for a week. He actually lept at the window, luckily it held and no one got hurt.

Do you have anything of the dogs owners with you, maybe put it in the dogs bed so it can smell them at least.

Try distracting the dog with a high value chew toy like a kong filled with PB etc.
posted by wwax at 10:08 AM on May 20, 2013

All good suggestions, also, relax yourself as much as possible. She will be picking up anything from you, such as nervous "poor doggy what do I do?!?!" and/or annoyance "god shut up dog!!" So try to think and project utter calm, almost boredom. Putting something on the TV and sitting and watching it, from time to time giving the dog a small treat and a smile, is a tactic I've used with success.
posted by The otter lady at 10:41 AM on May 20, 2013

How long has it been since the owners left?

FYI the dog may decide not to eat for a meal or two. Don't let that worry you. She will eventually eat when she gets hungry enough.
posted by radioamy at 12:24 PM on May 20, 2013

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