Dog Relaxation

We've all seen (and maybe owned!) dogs that can't seem to relax - always on the go, seemingly hard wired to be constantly in need of something to do. Dogs like this are masters at attention seeking and apart from driving their owners crazy through constantly being on the heels, can also start to become destructive. Lack of exercise is often the first thing people think of to help this, and in some cases, increasing exercise will help. But occasionally, dogs are in need of other, mental stimulation, and even more frequently, they need to be able to learn to relax. Dogs can become over stimulated, particularly as puppies, and just like young children, spiral themselves into a frenzy when actually they just need to chill out and sleep.

So, if your dog is getting plenty of outdoor running, take a step back and see what is actually going on here. Is your dog genuinely not over tired and just in need of something to do?  Rather than reaching for the lead again, don't underestimate how much energy can be used up in short training sessions, playing tug or ball games with your dog and giving him puzzles to work out. Toys that dispense food when nudged, rolled or opened are brilliant for using excess energy and giving you 5 minutes to do something else. Check out the range of toys available from Nina Ottoson, Company of Animals and Kong for good quality, long lasting toys that will engage your dogs brain. You can also make your own - put treats in a toilet roll and fold over the ends. Use an empty squash bottle or plastic milk carton (remove the lid and the plastic closure ring on the neck first) and put treats in that. Your dog will make a lot of noise and maybe mess, but he will love working out how to get at the food and use up some of that excess energy to boot.

If this is still not helping, your dog needs some help learning how to relax. Teaching the 'Settle' cue helps your dog learn to relax 'on command' and can be particularly useful when out and about with your dog and you need calm controlled behaviour in a cafe or pub for example, or when you just want to watch the TV in peace,

To teach it, you will need, a comfy chair, your dogs bed, his lead and some tasty treats. Sit in the comfy chair and place your dogs bed by your feet and to the side. Put his lead on and put the middle of the lead under your foot closest to the dog. This prevents the dog getting up and walking away. Encourage your dog to lie down and when he does, give him a treat (drop it on the mat between his feet) and reward in a calm voice.  If he gets up, ask him to lie down again and reward him when he does. If he stays there, drop treats every few seconds to reward, but try not to look at him directly or say anything other than 'good dog' in a quiet calm voice. Slowly reduce the frequency of treats. Practice for a few minutes a few times a day, and each time, if the dog is lying quietly, reduce the frequency of the food reward and increase the time you sit there, until he is only getting a treat every few minutes. Try to drop the rewards on the mat when he is looking away from you, or has his head on the mat. As you progress, add a cue word as you ask him to lie down - 'settle down' or 'time to sleep' are good ones. Don't reward any whining or attempts to get your attention. just Ignore these completely.  Each time you have finished working the settle, don't forget to release the dog - thrown some treats a way away and say 'all done!' or 'off you go!' so the dog knows he has stopped working.

Go slowly, practice often, and soon your dog will be lying quietly by your side on cue. You can then progress to moving away from the dog and encouraging him to stay put.

Being able to relax is a must for any very active or anxious dog - put the time in now and reap the benefits of a less stressed dog. 


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