When I first adopted Aspen, my Lab/Pointer mix, I wondered if I would ever again see the days of relaxing on my sofa after a long day at work, sleeping past 7:30am and feeling like my shoes/remotes/toilet paper rolls/ pens were safe from the mouth of a slobbery lab. She was full of jumping, bouncing, whining, running and any other high-energy activity you can think of. When you have a dog like this, you can burn yourself out trying to provide them with enough exercise. No matter what you do – multiple daily park trips, running, or day care – nothing seems to be enough to tire your pup out. Sound familiar? Well, the answer is that it is not all about the physical exercise…Sometimes what your dog really needs is to learn how to chill.
Producing a chill dog that will relax when you relax and play when you play is a skill. Not all dogs come hard-wired with the ability to self regulate their emotions. In particular, many dogs find it difficult to control excitement when it creeps up on them, unless they are taught to do so.
At The Peaceful Dog, we have 3 techniques for teaching dogs to chill out:
- Practice and reward low key, chilled out behavior
- Food Projects
- Adequate Exercise
Technique 1: Reinforce Low Key Behaviors
Exercise #1: Use “The Magic Carpet” to teach the behavior “Settle”
- Purchase a special training mat or blanket, your “Magic Carpet”
- You will keep this blanket in the closet when you are not training
- Take your dog for a long walk or exercise activity
- Come home and get a bowl of their food
- Take out your “Magic Carpet” and sit down on the sofa with the food in a bowl on your lap or on an end table
- Lie the blanket at your feet
- Encourage your dog to come lie down on the “Magic Carpet” by luring him on the blanket with a treat. You may want to keep your dog’s leash on the first few times you practice this exercise to prevent him from walking away or jumping around too much. The leash should give him approximately 6 feet to work with.
- When he gets his whole body on the blanket, calmly praise him and give him a treat
- Take a deep breath, relax your body and lean back into the sofa
- In the beginning, every few seconds, calmly say “Goooood Boy!” or “Niccccce Job!” and deliver a treat between your dogs paws on the mat slowly and quietly
- Make sure you are very slow and calm with all your body gestures
- Gradually increase the duration between treats from every couple of seconds to 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 30 seconds etc.
- If your dog gets off the mat, ignore him and stop all treats
- When he comes back over and gets on the mat, calmly praise him and give him a cookie between his feet on the mat
Exercise #2: Capture the Calm — It’s All in What You Teach
As dog owners, we tend to spend a significant amount of time engaging in highly energetic activities with our pups. Whether our daily bonding activities include playing fetch or running through the park, we tend to feel like we need to be in constant motion when we are giving our pups attention. While these activities are, no doubt, essential to our relationship, we also need down-time together if we want a balanced dog — a dog who wants to go to the park to play fetch for a couple of hours in the afternoon and wants to spend the night curled up on the couch watching TV with you. However, we often find that the concept of down-time doesn’t come naturally to some dogs, and it is actually something that they must learn over time.
Following these easy steps below from The Peaceful Dog will help your dog learn that they can be rewarded for being calm too:
- For one week observe your dog
- Give yourself a one-week period in which you focus solely on trying to reward your dog when he/she exhibits a calm behavior voluntarily (Yes, even the most energetic dogs have their moments!). This will require that you always have easy access to treats (either in your pockets or in open containers around the house). Each time your dog lies down on his own, calmly praise him and maybe give him a slow gentle pat on the back
- Each time your dog approaches you, and sits on his own without you having to ask, smile and tell him “Good Job.” Maybe even pop him a cookie if you have one handy.
- If your dog gets excited around meal time, ignore all his usual crazy behavior, and capture and reward a few seconds of calm behavior. Some examples of calm behavior might include 4-feet-on-the-floor (instead of jumping or dancing), absence of barking, or a sit.
Exercise #3: Institute Nap Time
- Invite your dog on the sofa or into your bed
- Cuddle them and, if they enjoy petting, give them a light massage on their shoulder blades
- Take a nap or watch a movie with your dog by your side. Not across the room or on a dog bed, but next to you.
- Breath slowly, pet them with long, calm strokes.
- Believe it or not your breathing and touch and can rev a dog up or calm them down. Its all in your energy.
Video Demonstration: Coming soon
Technique 2: Food Puzzles
Food Puzzles are toys that can dispense your dog’s daily meals. Instead of letting them gulp down their food in 20 seconds, slow down the process and make it a game. Food Puzzle Toys are like crossword puzzle for dogs because they require focus, problem solving and can be quite tiring.
Some of our favorite puzzle toys at The Peaceful Dog are:
- JW Amaze A Ball: http://www.amazon.com/JW-Pet-Company-Puzzler-Medium/dp/B00106VC32
- Twist and Treat: https://www.premier.com/store/Products.aspx?cid=3&pid=34
- Kong: http://www.chewy.com/dog/kong-classic-dog-toy/dp/38414
If you want to learn more how to use Food Puzzles check out our video on Food Projects for Dogs: Coming soon!
Technique 3: Make sure your young dog receives Adequate Exercise
Don’t completely ditch the physical exercise as you are teaching your dog to chill. A young adult dog, basically under the age of 3, should have at least 2 one-hour outdoor play sessions a day. This often means running with you in the morning, off leash hours in Central park, a doggy play date, or a visit to the dog park. Walking casually around the neighborhood is good for bonding and enrichment but it doesn’t count as exercise. Exercise means you dog is moving quickly, panting and breathing moderate to fast. Just as window shopping along Madison Avenue doesn’t count as a trip to the gym, a walk around the neighborhood doesn’t replace a 3 mile run in Central Park.