There are many reasons a dog may tremble including illness and cold. The most common ones though are stress, anxiety, or fear. After ruling out physical causes such as disease and discomfort, you’ll need to try to figure out what is causing your dog’s anxiety.
Sometimes it is easy to discover while other times it may be something that takes trial and error. If you can remove the source of your dog’s distress, it is easiest immediate solution but it isn’t always possible.
If you cannot remove the problem, do not coddle your dog. You trying to reassure your dog, tells him he was correct to be frightened. Instead, behave normally. Sometimes ignoring the fear is enough and your dog will calm down quickly. If he does not, try redirecting his attention with something you know he enjoys such as a game or toy. Praise him heartily if he begins to play and forgets about his fear. Sometimes though you just have to ride it out the first time and do your best to determine what caused his reaction.
Once you know what he is afraid of, you will need to begin desensitizing him to it. If it is a sound, you may be able to find a sound effects recording or a DVD of noises meant for desensitizing dogs. You can begin by playing it at low levels while occupying your dog with fun activities. Gradually the sound can be increased over a period of months.
When the cause of fear is something like a stranger or another dog, a similar approach can be used. You can set it up using friends to assist or by going someplace with lots of people like the park. Again, start at a distance and work at distracting your dog with something pleasurable like a toy or game as soon as they begin to become agitated. Keep people at a distance until your dog is more interested in playing than in barking or reacting to the people. You can then begin very gradually bringing people closer. At each distance you will need to spend time until your dog becomes unworried about the presence of others.
Regardless of how you are desensitizing it is important to do it very gradually. Fears are not usually overcome quickly. If you run into a problem, take a step backwards and begin at a lower level of exposure again. Depending on the severity of the fear, this may not be possible initially. In cases like that, there are other options that may help the process. Your veterinarian can prescribe an anti-anxiety medication to calm your dog down enough that desensitizing can be effective. The medication should be used in conjunction with a training program designed to help the dog work through his fear.
There are also homeopathic options such as Bach Flower’s rescue remedy or D.A.P. (dog appeasing pheromone) collars. These work in the same way as the medication. They are meant to calm the dog down enough for training to be effective. The goal is to eventually be able to wean the dog off them although that isn’t always possible.
A more severe form of fear that usually requires professional help to deal with is separation anxiety. This is the result of the dog being afraid of being left alone. It can be mild but it can also be so severe that the dog destroys your home and injures himself trying to get to you. Although some breeds, such as weimaraners are more prone to it, any dog can develop it. It often happens in cases where a dog has had multiple owners or has spent time in a shelter. Unfortunately, most shelters do not have the manpower to spend long periods of time interacting with the dogs each day and this can be very traumatic for a dog used to lots of human companionship.
These dogs fear abandonment. Although desensitizing is used to treat separation anxiety, it is often done in very small steps and can very easily be set back.
Medication can be required and professional help is advisable.
Most fears can be handled by desensitizing your dog to the object, person or sound they are frightened of. In cases of serious fear, medication or homeopathic remedies may be necessary to calm your dog enough that they can be trained. Separation anxiety is a severe fear of abandonment that usually requires the help of an animal behaviorist and your veterinarian. It is more difficult to overcome. Regardless of the nature of the fear it is important that you always remain calm. Your dog takes his cues from you and will only become more agitated if you are upset or trying to reassure him.