Background Trials of psychological interventions for reducing agitation in people with dementia living at home have been unsuccessful. Aims To inform future interventions by identifying successful strategies of family carers with relatives with dementia and agitation living at home. Method Qualitative in-depth individual interviews were performed with 18 family carers. We used thematic analysis to identify emerging themes. Results Carers described initial surprise and then acceptance that agitation is a dementia symptom and learned to respond flexibly. Their strategies encompassed: prevention of agitation by familiar routine; reduction of agitation by addressing underlying causes and using distraction; prevention of escalation by risk enablement, not arguing; and control of their emotional responses by ensuring their relative's safety then walking away, carving out some time for themselves and using family and services for emotional and practical help. Conclusions These strategies can be manualised and tested in future randomised controlled trials for clinical effectiveness in reducing agitation in people with dementia living at home.