Biofeedback; Teaching Your Dog to Relax with Your Touch
I run a few different kinds of dog training programs here with The Dog Training Secret.
One is our companion dog program which teaches more advanced obedience and working toward off leash goals.
One is on different types of aggression.
And, soon one will be on overcoming your dog’s fears.
And, I have learned through the years that teaching your dog to relax on command or simply with a small touch can be vital to your training program!
It can help your dog learn to relax his body, and reduce his heart rate before he gets scared or aggressive; and that is crucial for people that have dogs suffering from these problems.
In humans we call this Biofeedback.
The Mayo Clinic defines biofeedback as a technique you can use to control your body’s functions such as heart rate.
With biofeedback your connected to electrical sensors that help you receive information (feedback) about your body (bio). This feedback helps you focus on making subtle changes in your body, such as relaxing certain muscles, to achieve the results you want such as reducing pain (also something to think about with your dog!).
In essence biofeedback gives you the power to use your thought to control your body, often helping with a health condition or physical performance. Biofeedback is often a relaxation technique.
Or one that can help with stress.
We certainly can’t hook our dogs up to a heart rate monitor and teach them to reduce their heart rate. They simply don’t have the cognitive powers to make this effective, since we can’t explain or reason with them as to why this technique is important.
However, we CAN teach them to relax themselves with a touch and on command.
I Always Have That One Person
I always have that one person that takes one of my classes, and as I describe massage therapy and giving your dog a massage at night, tells me that they already massage their dogs.
But the problem is…
But the problem is; if you don’t put it on command or in control you can’t USE it to your benefit later.
Sometimes people have a hard time understanding a slightly abstract idea.
But let me try and help.
That would be like me trying to get you to teach your dog to lie down on command; and having you tell me that he lies down on his own every night to sleep.
Well, that may in fact be the case; the truth is that unless you get it on command and under your control you can’t ask him to do it at other times.
Make more sense now?
Let’s Get Started
So now that I have hopefully explained WHY you need to get this behavior under control and on command let’s move on to how you get started.
Begin by massaging your dog at a time that is conducive to his enjoying it.
Most people opt to do this at night right before bed.
Some people engage in this behavior first thing in the morning.
Either way you want your dog to already be somewhat relaxed, and/or in a state where you could assume he already has a lower heart rate.
Begin by massaging him in a circular fashion on his ears (some dogs won’t like this but most will). If he doesn’t want you touching his ears, find another easily accessible area like the top of his head or his shoulder blades.
Work your way down and around his body, circularly massaging, and deeply massaging his muscles. I want you to concentrate on doing this for 20 minutes or more.
Imagine that your dog is getting a deep tissue massage from your favorite masseuse. You want your dog to be in heaven. I want your dog to get somewhat addicted to this new training method.
Some dogs will have a difficult time accepting this kind of touch. Work slowly with them and find a slow type of massage that he likes. You may have to work up to 20 minutes and teaching him to enjoy it because not all dogs like touch for more on that click here. And if your dog has aggression issues toward you and doesn't always want to be touched PLEASE DON'T TRY THIS or you are liable to get severely bitten. Again not all dogs like to be petted.
Now do this for several weeks (unfortunately this is not a quick process, but it is one that is worth it!). Remember that conditioning behavior or starting a new habit takes time, even for us humans, it can take even more time for your K9 companion.
After your dog has become somewhat of an addict to his daily massage we can assume that we have conditioned him that this deep, circular massage, puts him into a state where his heart rate is lower and his muscles are relaxed.
I always begin with my dog’s ears, so that in times of higher stress I have conditioned them to begin to relax with just a slight circular touch to the ears.
Instead of being stressed, I want my dog’s body to take over when he feels that touch and begin to relax like he has done in weeks past.
This first touch becomes my “command” to let go and relax himself. Can you add a verbal command? Sure! But I prefer to let my hands do the work.
Now, it is time to teach him to relax when he is more stimulated or excited.
Don’t expect to give him a touch at the dog park and expect him to relax.
Instead find a time when he is wide awake and teach him to enjoy massage even when his body is less likely to be still.
I like to do this at first after my coffee in the morning. He has slept all night and he is awake with me; but he hasn’t been over stimulated yet.
It is harder for him to accept, but if he likes it he will learn that he can relax himself even when he is not tired.
Then it is time to add more and more stimulation.
I add massage times right after a walk or a run.
This teaches him that he can relax and enjoy a massage whenever it is offered and that it is not a behavior that is conditional on a certain time of day.
Only when you can see your dog relax with massage after a state of excitement can you then expect to add his trigger for aggression or fear to the mix!
So Give It a Try!
So give this a try! If you want a well behaved and a relaxed dog; train for it! Teach him that he can control his impulses and that he can control his body and his state of excitement.
I love to just reach down and circularly rub an ear and feel my dog’s whole body relax and watch his breathing slow and to see him become more calm.
Is it Easy?
No, no it’s not easy that is why you don’t see this method being used often. But it is well worth it if you train hard for it!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.