I had the chance recently to get a good example of what not to do with a nervous dog. I was able to get a very clear picture of how much our energy effects dogs.
I was doing a observation at a facility that works with finding homes for dogs. The individual was explain that when dogs are in a shelter type situation that there are under a lot of stress and are very nervous (which I agree). She then when on to bring a dog out of one of the kennels to use as her demonstration on how to work on socialization. Upon her entering the kennel her whole voice tone, body language and energy changed. She went from speaking in a normal calm voice to a high pitched, high energy tone that could have competed with a hyper child. Sadly, this made the dog she was handling even more stress out.
I was dumb founded by this type of logic, but sadly, this idea of thinking is very common. We think that its best for a dog if we woo koo and high pitch talk him into comfort. That in my humble opinion is the worse thing that we can do for a dog in that state of mind. It brings no comfort to the dog, and in my experience seeing this only agitates the dog even more. Consider your tone of voice as a tool. In the moment a dog is fearful or upset the last thing you want to do is speak words of comfort to them. A dog can not in that moment understand that your trying to comfort, and trying to make better. All the dog can understand is you are saying, “its ok to be in that state of mind.” Stop it! This will only nurture and encourage your dog to continue in that fearful state. In the same way in dog training that we use our “happy voice” in approval to a good job that our dog has done that same tone is also used when someone tries to comfort a fearful dog. Why give approval for a negative state of mind?
So what’s the best thing to do in that moment? Nothing. If you are in a public place with your dog and your dog is spooked by a strange sound or strange object let them have that moment of fear, and let them work through it on their own and if necessary without any emotion or any drama casually walk your dog away from the area. By you projecting a silent confidence this alone is very clear to the dog and they will read your confidence.
Dogs are strong creatures and if you as their leader are doing your part to lay a secure foundation of trust for your dog your dog in that brief moment of fear will have confidence in knowing that you keep them safe. It is our job as their pack leaders to make sure they are safe, and make sure we are raising them to be secure and confident in any situation.