Is there a way to make my dog less nervous?

Dr. Barchas! I have a Toy Fox Terrier that I rescued from a puppy mill seven years ago. Her name is Gracie and she is...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Feb 7th 2008


Dr. Barchas!

I have a Toy Fox Terrier that I rescued from a
puppy mill seven years ago. Her name is Gracie and
she is sweet as pie. The problem that I seem to be
having with her is that she still get nervous and
shakes and she barks a lot. She never barked
when I first got her. What are some solutions to
help her get out of this?

Joyce
St. Louis, Missouri

I have three suggestions.

First, try to keep Gracie’s life as stable and comfortable as possible. Nervousness and anxiety sometimes stem from insecurity. Focus on providing a reliable, loving home environment. I have a hunch that you are already doing this, which means this suggestion may not be that useful.

There is a chance that my second suggestion won’t be much better than the first. Dogs often display the same emotions as the people they live with. Nervous people tend to have nervous dogs. Based on your letter, you don’t strike me as especially nervous. Nonetheless, when Gracie is trembling and barking, I recommend that you remain as calm and tranquil as possible.

My final suggestion may be the most helpful. Try not to reward Gracie for acting nervous. Human instinct is to soothe, calm, and pay attention to someone we love when they are upset. This can reinforce the behavior if Gracie comes learns that acting nervous leads to attention from mom. To break this cycle, ignore Gracie when she acts nervous, and pay attention to her when she calms down.

And what if none of these suggestions work? Unfortunately, nervousness in dogs is often innate. Terriers, especially, are known for having a lot of personality. This means that the barking and trembling may simply be something that Gracie has grown into. It could be hard to eliminate. As long as she isn’t hurting herself, it probably isn’t anything to be worried about.