How To Calm Your Dog When She’s Just Gone Crazy

I looked down and had only one question: Who stole my polite, well-trained dog? And why did they leave this hell-spawned doppelgänger in her place?

I had to find a way to calm my dog. She had apparently gone crazy. Time to play nose work games to calm my dog.

Honey the golden retriever on Marineland beach.

No one will believe I would ever go crazy. Where’s the photographic evidence?

I Thought It Was A Good Idea

We decided to spend December in Beaufort, North Carolina while my husband met some work deadlines.

Downtown waterfront in Beaufort, NC.

The downtown Beaufort waterfront. Click the image to learn more about the picture and photographer.

Warmer than Maryland, Beaufort was a nice small town. And I enjoyed Christmas shopping, watching the fishermen working at the docks, and visiting the maritime museum.

Fishing boat on dock in Beaufort, NC.

One of the local fishermen getting fuel at the Homer Smith Docks in Beaufort, NC.

Honey liked playing with the terrier who lived a few slips down, D.O.G. (Yes, that’s really his name.) And greeting the many dog-loving people who hang around boats and docks.

I was looking forward to attending the Christmas festival that would be set up on the courthouse lawn, a few blocks from where we were docked.

According to the flyers, the festival would have craftspeople, vendors from the weekly farmer’s market, entertainment, and food.

We planned to walk over with Honey. I packed her dinner and bowl so we could feed her at the same time we were eating.

Sounds like a great plan, right?

But then my dog went crazy.

The Day My Dog Turned Crazy

Since she was a puppy, Honey has attended fairs, festivals, and events. She knows how to ignore other dogs, doesn’t mind crowds, and is very polite.

Honey the golden retriever puppy watches her first parade.

So this is a parade. When do I get to march?

Until this day.

As we approached the festival grounds, Honey started pulling. She became very excited and had trouble walking calmly by my side near the craft tents. We saw a small dog on leash and Honey went insane.

Why was she acting like an untrained puppy? And more importantly, how would we calm her down before ruining our nice day?

How To Calm A Crazy Dog

My first thought was that Honey needed to run off a little energy.

We took her to an empty area of the lawn and tried to interest her in playing. But she was too distracted and hyper to even enjoy a game of bitey face with my husband (someday I promise you I’ll get video; it’s hilarious).

Honey the golden retriever gets scratched by Mike on the beach.

Um, I think you uploaded the wrong picture. This is definitely not bitey face. It’s more like scratchy butt.

Okay, exercise didn’t work. Maybe she’s hyperactive because she’s hungry and all the food smells are too exciting.

I took out Honey’s bowl and fed her.

Thirteen seconds later, her food was gone and she was still acting like a crazy puppy. We tried walking by the vendors again but it was a complete disaster.

We were on the brink of going back to the boat when I had an idea. We’d play nose work games to tire her out.

Work The Brain To Calm The Dog

I handed Honey’s leash to my husband and asked him to distract her enough so she wouldn’t see what I was doing.

 I then took the stinky, soft treats I had packed in my treat bag and placed them carefully—on the ground, on the seat of the picnic bench, and nestled into the roots of a large oak tree.

I then told Mike to bring Honey over.

I said to her, “Honey, find it.”

Hearing her normal cue for nose work games, Honey got to work. She put her head down to the ground and started sniffing for whatever I had hidden for her.

It was amazing to watch.

The slight breeze would send her sniffing away from the table. But as the scent faded, Honey knew she was going in the wrong direction. She shifted her attention closer to the first hidden treat and finally narrowed in to find it.

After she had eaten the first treat, Honey looked at me expectantly. I told her again, “Find it.” And Honey got to work.

This time she quickly realized the scent was not coming from the ground. She lifted her head and started sniffing the picnic bench.

Finally, success. And another treat.

Honey the golden retriever sniffs out treats.

I can find treats in a box. I can find treats in your sox. I sniff out dog treats on the dock. I sniff out dogs treats around the clock.

We repeated the game until Honey had found every one of the treats I had hidden.

I gave her a drink and we returned to check out the vendor’s displays accompanied by the calm and focused dog I had loved for more than six years.

The crazy dog was gone. All because she got a chance to tire out her brain.

Nose Work is Tiring Work

I’m no scientist. So I can’t tell you what’s happening in Honey’s brain when she’s sniffing for treats.

What I do know is that Nose Work focuses her brain.

It’s difficult. It’s tiring. And Honey loves it!

I have also brought out Honey’s clicker and done basic trick training to help her focus, most notably when she got scared during a thunderstorm.

But learning new tricks with the clicker arouses Honey. When she finishes searching for treats using only her nose, Honey is mellow, relaxed, and calm.

Honey the golden retriever practices nose work at home.

I’m hot on the trail of some treats.

Honey and I started playing Nose Work games when we took a class at our local shelter back in Ithaca, NY.

We have not progressed to pairing food rewards with scents like they do in competitions. For us, it’s just a fun game. 

If you’d like to know how I taught Honey to sniff out treats (and toys) when I tell her to find it, check out my Nose Work tutorials to get you started.

Emma, Bailie, and Madison over at MY GBGV Life are all competing or learning to compete in Nose Work and Tracking. If you think you’d enjoy this fun sport with your dogs, check out the archive of all their posts on Nose Work and Tracking, especially the description of Madison’s first Nose Work class with video.

I encourage you to think about exploring Nose Work with your dog, whether you want a fun game to play at home or would like to compete in a new dog sport.

A close up of Honey the Golden retriever's nose.

Are you going to reach my brain through my nose?

But you should definitely consider it if you have a crazy dog. Because sometimes the only way to connect with a dog’s brain is through her nose.

How to calm your dog (when she's just gone crazy)

Photo credit: Thanks to rjones0856 for allowing his photo of downtown Beaufort to be used under a Creative Common license.

Your Turn: Does your dog ever get crazy? How do you manage?

We’re joining the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop hosted by Tenacious Little TerrierTravels with Barley and Wag ‘n Woof Pets. Click the links below to see some great posts on Calming & Impulse Control.



  1. Thank you for the mention. We all just love nose work, and it wears us all out every time we do it. It’s a great sport to let dogs do what dogs do, and we use our brains which can really wear us out. If you compete it teaches us patience too as there is so much waiting involved before searches. Tracking is awesome too and gets some physical exercise involved, but NW is so practical as it can be done pretty much any time any place as you did in the park!

    • I’m very thankful you’ve shared so much about Nose Work and Tracking on your blog. I’ve referred people over to it every time they wrote asking when I was going to finish my introductory tutorials. 🙂

      And yes, it’s great to see dogs do what they’re good at.

  2. That was great thinking! Luke loves nose work, but we’d taken a bit of a break from it while working on other things. Maybe it’s time to bring it back as a tool to keep him calmer overall. Perhaps that will also help with our reactive dog training!

  3. Our reactive dog trainer actually taught noseworks as one of the classes in the reactive dog sequence, which is how we got started in it. Barley is so focused when I tell her to find it that she usually ignores everything else when she hears find it. We usually take our scent kit on trips with us, but I think one of the best parts is that you don’t really need anything other than treats to play! That was such smart thinking on your part! I’m glad you got the lovable, calm Honey back!

    • Nose Work is such a great activity for reactive dogs. It was one of the main reasons our SPCA offered the classes.

      Glad you and Barley have found it so fun too.

  4. Nose work is fantastic because almost any dog can do it! It’s especially great for shy or fearful dogs and can help bring them out of their shell. I use it with the rehab dogs I work with and almost every one catches on eventually.

    • One of the dogs in Honey’s class was newly adopted from the shelter and very shy. Her people were heartbroken to see her frightened of everything.

      During her first search, her tail remained between her hind legs. But as time went on, she became more and more confident.

      It was beautiful to watch.

      Great to hear you have found it such a helpful tool too.

  5. Nose work is such a great idea for centering and focusing a “crazy” pup. I’ve been meaning to introduce it to you dogs in a more formal way. Will definitely check out your tutorials! Thanks!

    • Since you went through a big time of crate rest with Roxie, you should also know it’s a great way to exercise your pups when they’re not supposed to be too active. I bet your pups would love it!

  6. Several things make Jimmy crazy and they all involve fast movement. Seeing a border collie do agility flips a switch in Jimmy’s brain and he becomes the fun police. Kids on skateboards is another. He tries to bite the board, not the kid. (Interestingly, bicycles do not trigger anything.)

    I am sure it is his herding instinct run amok. Basically I just have to remove him from the stimulus as nothing gets through this level of arousal!

  7. Shadow has mellowed out A LOT since Callie got her angel wings. She rarely gets crazy any more without her older sister around to prod and provoke her. But she’s always been more mellow than Callie.

    Ducky, on the other hand, is a Tasmanian Devil at times. And at those times, I just take her out to the yard and let her wear herself out. If I don’t, she just starts barking her fool head off until I give in. Crazy dog. But once she’s spent all that energy, she flops down on a dog bed and goes to sleep for a while. Or chews on a toy.

    • Ducky sounds like a human toddler sometimes.

      Do you think she’s a little person in fur?

  8. I need to dig out our nosework kit and do some hides for him. I’ve been experimenting with various other scents and items (finding keys, money, a wisdom tooth(!)). I don’t think it tires him out but the sniffing work is good for his brain!

    • I’ve been experimenting with having Honey find toys using her nose. There are lots of creative ways to use Nose Work, eh?

  9. We do nose work quite a bit. Love the exercise it gives the brain! When I can’t walk the dogs, that is my go to for wearing them out. Will be using it quite a bit, while training the two packs to become one. 🙂

    Honey, go crazy? Never! 🙂

    • Your lucky pups. I get the feeling they’re going to experience all kinds of exciting things as you work to unite the packs.

      As for Honey, she’s fabulous and perfect 98% of the time. But she makes up for that 2% of the time. She is I-N-S-A-N-E!

  10. Never a truer statement than work the brain to calm the dog! So very true! Penny gets her puppy excitement on all the time, but she really just needs to WORK!

    • On days when we’re in a rough anchorage, I wouldn’t know what to do for Honey if it weren’t for nose work games.

      Penny is lucky to have someone willing to give her some fun jobs to do.

  11. How awesome that you were able to figure out what to do for Honey to calm her down. Nose Work sounds like fun. It reminds me of the Easter Egg Hunt I have with my cats every year. I hid treat-filled plastic eggs around the living room, and then they search for them. I haven’t trained them or anything, so it’s not the same as what you do with Honey, but it sure is fun to watch them search around the living room for the eggs!

    • The easter egg game with your cats sounds like so much fun!

      Honey and I will be cat-sitting my “nephew” Norman in July and I always look for ways to help him “hunt” for his food. I think Norman has some easter eggs in his future.

      Thanks for the idea!

  12. You are so patient. So many people would not know what to do and get angry with the dog. Just the thought of that kind of human behavious makes me shudder. Distraction and treats and a refocus really made a change didn’t they?

    Well done all of you. What a team. Know your family, work with your family!

    • I won’t pretend I wasn’t exasperated. But I knew that I was missing something, not Honey.

      Glad I figured it out.

      And yes, we all have to work together as a family. After all, our animal friends are patient with us every day.

  13. What an interesting and successful way to calm down Honey. I guess she was overstimulated by all of the smells?

    Did you know there was also a Beaufort in SC but it’s pronounced with a long U sound instead of the long O sound?

    • Yep, we’ve spent a lot of time in Beaufort, SC as well. They’re both on the Intracoastal Waterway.

      We’re very careful about how we pronounce them. Residents get really pissy when you call their town by the wrong name. 🙂

  14. Well that has not happened yet but at least now I am better prepared if it does!! I would have to use a toy for him to find since he isn’t food driven but … I shall keep this in mind.

    • Let’s hope it never does happen.

      Nose work, BTW, can be done with toys. There are competitions for dogs to pick out their human’s scent on an object among many.

  15. Awesome job with Honey! Nosework is an amazing sport and just amazing fun for dogs and people. I use this a lot with active dogs and fearful dogs. Way to go Honey!

    • The reason our shelter offered the classes in Nose Work was because of its usefulness for shy dogs. It’s an amazing tool.

  16. What an awesome post! You’re totally right, a tired dog is a calmer dog. I wish Yoda was more inclined to do nose work, but I think his sense of smell isn’t very good because his nose is so smooooooooshy. Perhaps we just need to try with a stinkier treat! Thanks for this post!

    • I’d try it with Yoda. You might be surprised. The star pupil in Honey’s class was a pug. She ws amazing!

      And yes. smelly is good. We used salmon jerky.

  17. http://Kamira%20Gayle says

    Ah the power of the nose. Not only are dogs the best at hunting and tracking, it’s that same skill that helps to calm them down. Who knew? I’m learning something new everyday.

    • I strongly believe that animals (including humans) need to have meaningful work. And given out sensitive dog (and cat) noses are, it makes sense that sniffing and tracking would be meaning for them.

      So some of the calming may be due to tiredness. Perhaps some of it is due to having a meaningful job to do.

  18. Ah the power of the nose. Not only are dogs the best at tracking and hunting. Their ability to use their nose is the very same instrument to help ease and calm their nerves. Who knew?

  19. Great post thanks for teaching me something

  20. Great post! Do my dogs ever get crazy? Hmmm…five Siberian Huskies (four now, one passed a year ago), yep, crazy is in their DNA! Sometimes all at the same time! They actually get daily short bursts of craziness in between being such calm well-behaved dogs. (Unless a small critter crosses their path, then all bets are off!) They do love puzzle games and really enjoy “thinking” games, so I think they would really get into nose work. I love how it refocused Honey. I just Pinned this over on my “Bark About” board, too!

    • Yep, smart dogs like huskies definitely need work. For most dogs, nose work is a good activity when it’s cold and snowy outside.

      Of course, that’s probably when your pups most want to be outside. 🙂

  21. What a wonderful story! We love to attend festivals with our dogs too. Sometimes Echo will go crazy too! I found that having him do tricks calms him down. I guess it’s kind of the same idea as the nosework, the tricks make him think!

    • Tricks are also a great way to tire the brain. Unfortunately, they tire my brain too. I can never remember what tricks we’ve worked on when we need them. 🙂

  22. I am glad you figured out how to turn the day around. I think all of my dogs would enjoy nosework.

    • It’s such a cool sport because, unlike agility, there’s no advantage to being bigger.

      The star of Honey’s class was a pug!

  23. I know a lot of folks who have done nose work over the years…Cockers no less. It is a great idea to help divert a dog as well. It is nice to read your blog; I feel like I’ve been out of touch! Wags!

    • Thanks, Carol. I’ve been making the big adjustment to fitting blogging into live on a boat. But I’m glad to be back and keeping up more with everyone and their critters.

      We’ll be sailing to BlogPaws; if that isn’t integration, I don’t know what is. 🙂

  24. Arts and crafts fairs do that to me too! 🙂 I’ve heard so much about nose work that we’re going to incorporate it into Mookie’s schedule – he can spazz out, so hopefully this will help. Great post and it’s helpful to know others have experienced this as well and what can work in situations like this!

  25. It’s amazing how much energy dogs burn when they are working their brains. Great thinking to use nosework to tire Honey out and get her focused!
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  26. Well, my mom is not near as patient as you and probably would have just dragged me home. I’ve been know to be a bit crazy at things like this because of the food smells so it sounds like you had a great solution to the problem! I did nose work for a bit but we had to stop although mom knows that I’m really good at it. Hopefully we’ll do it again sometime. Love Dolly

    • I bet you are very good at nose work. Dachshunds seem to have amazing noses.

      I’ve learned something unexpected about doxies lately. They are VERY popular boat dogs. I never expected to meet so many on the boats we see while traveling.

  27. You’re so right about nose work being tiring. Even my own amateur games (hiding pieces of carrot around the house) are enough mental stimulation to wear Laika out for hours. And bitey face picture or not Honey is such a great model.

    • And a tired Laika means the hu-mom can get something done, amirite? 🙂

      As for Honey, she’s a terrible model who hates having her picture taken. The key was buying a better camera for catching her on the go when she’s less self-conscious.

  28. So cool you found a remedy. Sam fails at our ‘find it’ games along our walks. He just wants to read (and write) pee mails. With a nose as long as his, it’s staggeringly funny he can’t find a high value training treat at times. I have to tap it in front of it with my shoe and even then he sometimes needs help. [insert rolling eyes here] Sigh…my dog rides the short bus sometimes. 😉