Teaching Your Dog to Relax
So many dogs are constantly wound up! It’s like the gas pedal is always pushed full to the floor, their energy never seems to decrease!
Sometimes we just want our dogs to relax, nap, and hang out with us.
But why can’t they?
Because a lot of time, they are left at home for hours on end; you may have been working for 8 hours, but your pup was probably sleeping! When you come home your dog is ready and refreshed for an evening of play and fun with you.
However, you are sometimes tired and you don’t have the energy to devote to your canine companion.
When our dogs choose to be naughty when we get home (to at least have some kind of reaction or interaction from us) our anger only builds their reactivity and then inability to settle down and settle in!
We often, also, come home and get our dogs revved up and excited to see us! They run around like chickens with their heads cut off while they greet us and we greet them. They learn to get over excited when we come home and when they see us.
Dogs are easily conditioned and I believe they often mirror our behavior. So for owners who come home clapping their hands and vigorously patting and petting their dogs; they are sometimes unknowingly conditioning wild and excited behavior.
Owners who come home and to some extent ignore their dog, teach their dog’s that it is not the act of “coming home” that is exciting it is being home and spending time together that they desire. I believe that quality time should include exercise and excitement to some degree (depending on the reactivity level of your dog) but mostly your relationship should be built on calm and relaxing principles.
By reactivity level I mean the willingness to mirror your excitement, someone else’s excitement, or another dog’s excitement level. My dogs for example are very reactive and therefore easily excitable. I very rarely get them SUPER excited because then they become difficult to handle. I do get mildly excited when they do something correct, but I keep my celebrations to a low roar; just enough to keep them motivated and let them know what I like. If I jumped up and down and clapped my hands and ran around I might get a set of teeth on my tushy.
If, however, I had a very difficult to motivate, sleepy, Bassett Hound; I might have to get more excited and animated in order to teach him or play with him. This kind of dog usually has a very low reactivity. And, some of these dogs don’t need to be taught relaxation strategies!
Most of us have dogs somewhere in between!
First recognize that dogs mirror your behavior. Even if you are angry, you will probably be leading your dog down the road of more excitability and reactivity. Always be calm when you deal with your dog, no matter how frustrating he is!
Belgian Malinois (my breed of choice right now) are known for being reactive and excitable and I use to take my guys to a well-known German Shepherd Schutzhund Club in my area. At first everyone was quite leery and unhappy to see me arrive with my dogs because of stereotypes. But I am such a calm and quiet person, they quickly realized my dogs mirrored my behavior and were also quite calm and manageable!
Relaxation and a calm response is something I teach my dogs at my house. If you have not read; “Training for a Relaxed and Calm Dog” please do so as this basic technique of teaching your dog calm eye contact is one of the first steps in getting your dog to calm down.
I also believe in teaching your dog to relax with calm significant massage.
What You Need
- Your Dog
- A Quiet Environment
- Your Hands
- Maybe a Leash (at first)
Calm means you are not going to try and attempt this in your living room with the kids flying in and out of the door.
It also means that you are going to do this at a time that is conducive to relaxation. For example I would not do this right after you get home and your dog is happy to see you. Let your dog go out and exercise a little first. Feed him his dinner and wait until he begins to settle in a bit.
Recognize that your dog does actually need exercise and the ability to expend some of his energy. No relaxation exercise is an excuse for real exercise, only a way to eventually teach your dog to relax on command and eventually in stressful situations. Do not have unrealistic expectations; make sure your dog is getting what he needs!
Go to your bedroom, the bathroom, or anywhere that you can have some quiet time. At first 2 to 5 minutes is going to seem like a long time, but eventually you want to extend the time you are utilizing canine massage. This might seem odd to your dog at first, but he will learn to love it (however do not do this if your dog shows any signs of aggression or you do not know him well)!
Begin at one end of your dog. At my house, it depends on what my dog wants. I have one dog that automatically likes his rump rubbed and another who likes to put his head in my lap. Beginning at one end, will help you slowly and meticulously work your way toward the other.
I gently rub in calm, slow, circular motions, using my palms and thumbs very tenderly. Do not rub or massage quickly, quick strokes can cause excitement.
Massage soft tissue but do not involve joints or joint manipulation leave that to veterinary or massage experts so that you don’t inadvertently injure your dog!
My dogs love having their ears and feet and everything in between massaged; however if I had a dog that didn’t like his feet touched, I would avoid his feet during this exercise because I am working toward relaxation not confrontation!
Again do not push a dog you do not know or one that is showing any signs of aggression.
At first you may need a leash to keep your dog in one basic spot, but soon he will learn how much fun this really is. Sometimes I even put on some good, soothing tunes to enjoy together.
This may be a struggle at first. If you have a one year old wild Lab, or Jack Russell, it may take time for him to learn to settle down and enjoy the massage. Don’t give up, continue the massage and don’t allow yourself to become frustrated. Your frustration will only ruin the mood and the whole relaxation exercise!
Once your dog has learned to relax with some consistency and is looking forward to your sessions, you may begin massaging him in more distracted environments. He must be taught to calm himself no matter where he is or what is going on, but this takes time and diligence on your part.
There is a very well-known dog obedience class that takes severely dog aggressive dogs and teaches their owners about relaxation principles and massage. Eventually the dogs are all brought into a room together, first partitioned so they cannot see one another during the massage and eventually these techniques help to calm them so that they can be controlled together.
These techniques can also be vital to fearful and even phobic dogs because it helps to break the cycle of fear and the dog can learn to calm himself on command when he feels secure.
Canine massage can be AMAZINGat teaching calming skills. But like any type of training you must train (or massage) in more and more excitable
environments. Eventually, wouldn’t it be nice to calm your dog at his vet visit with just a little massage work? But first he must learn at home!
Other Benefits of Massage
- It promotes healthy circulation
- Immune System Support
- Respiratory Support
- Digestive Support
- Calms nerves
- Promotes a healthy coat by redistributing oils throughout the skin and coat
So grab your dog and head off to a quiet room so that you can keep your dog healthy, build a great bond and teach him to be calm and relax himself no matter where he is!
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.