There are times when our dogs can become over-excited, display hectic behaviours or become distressed. This can happen at any time and we need to able to communicate with them to help them calm down.
The good news is there are communication "signals" you can use to help calm your dog and get him to understand that his high-drive behaviour has to stop. You can use your body, not your voice to deliver this message.
Dogs use these same body postures to communicate with other dogs.
Turning your head to one side away from your dog-
this movement instantly says "you're too hectic, settle down". One dog will offer this behaviour to another if their approach was too fast or too direct. It's also used to say "you're too over-bearing, I'm not comfortable". So we can use this technique when approaching a dog who is not comfortable with our presence, or when our dog is the assertive one and we need to say "chill-out and slow down a bit". Turning your head away means you no longer make direct eye contact with the dog.
Turning side-on or turning your back to the dog -
this movement is similar to turning your head, it's just a more definite statement of your feelings. You can complete this movement while standing or sitting down. You'll see dogs turning away from another dog when the play gets too rough or one dog starts to get too aggressive. We often see this gesture in our own dogs when we display anger towards them, they turn away. It's also a very good technique for calming a nervous or aggressive dog if you have to approach that dog.
as strange as it may seem, yawning is a particularly effective signal from one dog to another to "calm down". I've used this gesture along with head-turning to settle a frightened dog and teach the dog that I was a trustworthy stranger. It was quite staggering to see the dog's reaction !
Licking the nose -
a dog will lick it's nose constantly as a calming signal if it's uncomfortable with the current situation. I can't get my tongue to reach my nose, but I've certainly had success with 'my version' of nose licking when dealing with a hectic young dog.
by standing/sitting absolutely still and allowing your dog to see that nothing stimulating is going to happen, this may help to settle your dog. A passive dog will 'freeze' in the presence of another active dog to say "I'm not a problem, you'll get nothing from me".
Slow movement and slow walking -
movements that get slower and slower have a strong calming effect between dogs - it sends a passive message. We've all seen a dog's reaction to their owner who calls them using an angry tone of voice.......the dog comes towards the owner using slow movements and usually making quite a curved line of approach. The dog is coming slowly to calm the owner down. So, slow movements and slow walking-approach will help calm an active dog or reassure a worried dog.
a rapid or direct approach towards a dog is seen as impolite or assertive behaviour. So, an approach that is more curved is less challenging and more calming. If a dog is giving you calming signals (head turning, licking, sniffing the ground, dropping direct eye contact) then you should respond by offering curved approach behaviour.
Lying down or kneeling down -
lying down on your stomach is a very powerful calming signal. A social dog will use this technique to reassure a less-confident dog that it's ok to come forward for a 'meet & greet' session. Even puppies will use this technique to say to their littermates "I need a time-out". I use this technique to build confidence in a worried dog and I also use it as a secondary calming signal when dealing with a hectic dog. (I don't lie down or squat down until I can get the hectic dog to settle down by using other techniques - I'm not interested in being jumped-on by an over excited dog).
These are some of the more straight-forward communication techniques you can use to help settle a hectic dog or provide re-assurance to a worried dog. After you've got a more settled reaction from the dog, then you can use a VERY calm voice and VERY slow, firm hand stroking to re-inforce the calm behaviour.
Recently, several clients have highly recommended a natural liquid product that has significantly improved their dogs' calmness particularly in response to thunder and fireworks.
It's manufactured by Natural Animal Solutions and is called "CALM". Its ingredients are skullcap, withania, chamomile and astragalus. It's available off the internet for about $30.00 for a 100ml bottle. Very little is used in each daily dosage. It may be worth investigating as an additional assistance for your 'body calming' sessions.