Training for a Relaxed and Calm Dog

Relaxation and meditation is known for having such health benefits as decreased heart and respiratory rates and decreasing anxiety.  Relaxation can also be taught to your dog as a conditioned response.    Just like Pavlov taught a dog to drool in response to the ringing of a bell, you can teach your dog to decrease his anxiety, and relax in times of stress.  This type of training can be essential for owners looking for ways to help treat dogs with behavior problems and anxiety disorders, and is also crucial for any good training program.

Often, I think we unknowingly condition our dogs to get excited as a response to most exciting things that go on in our world.  Our dogs are unknowingly conditioned to get overly excited when people come over to visit, when we take them out on a leash, when we come home; almost everything we do in some ways encourages our dogs to get excited.

Let me explain; when people come over it is normal for most dogs to get excited the inherent problem therein lies when we allow them to be rewarded for this behavior, we pet them, we allow our company to pet them or we shriek at them to get down and get off of people; therefore giving them attention for their poor behavior.  After a few visits, this excitement, which has previously been rewarded, gets to be the custom and your dog thinks he must show this behavior in order to be interacted with; i.e. a conditioned response to exciting stimulus.

I once worked with a client who allowed his dog to bark and scream and pull him toward the beach each time they arrived.  When the dog was a puppy, he thought it was cute, but he didn’t realize he was conditioning the barking and screaming and pulling as a response to being at the beach.  The dog thought this was a part of a ritual he had to perform to get to the beach.  We had to regress and teach this dog calming techniques and teach him that only when he was calm was he allow access to walks and play on the beach.  They had to drive to and away from the beach several times before the dog realized that he would only be rewarded while he was calm.

Relaxation must be taught as a response to exciting stimulus, and can even be used to help focus dogs with mild aggression problems.  (Dogs with severe aggression problems should seek the advice of a Veterinary Behaviorist before trying any training program.)  Do not pet or reward your dog if he is showing signs of stress, teach him to be calm.

Take your dog to a quiet room, one that is free of distractions.  Next take a treat in each hand and show them both to your dog, then bring them up toward your eyes.  Your dog should look from one treat to another and back and forth until finally in a moment of frustration he looks directly into your pupils.  As his eyes look into yours tell him what he is doing by saying “Watch” in a calm tone.  Dogs often mirror our behavior, in order to teach your dog to be calm you must show the same attributes.  After a few brief seconds of holding your gaze, praise and give your dog the treat.  If your dog is tense, do NOT reward!  If he is showing signs of stress stop this lesson and try again later.   Do not reprimand him, just discontinue the session.

Your dog MUST be relaxed!!  Relaxation is the purpose of this exercise.  Your dog’s posture should be malleable and tranquil, if he is stiff, trembling or shivering then try again later.  His pupils should be small in size not large and hard.

Continue this until he is readily looking into your eyes.  Once you think your dog has mastered this command, take the treats away from your eyes and take them out at arm’s length out to each side.  If your dog is still staring deep into your eyes and not looking at your hands your dog has mastered the command.  If your dog is still watching the treats in your hands, he is not yet ready.

If you are having trouble getting your dog to relax, try this exercise just after your dog has taken a nap and is already relaxed, or when he is tired, just prior to a nap.

Once your dog is looking at you in a peaceful manner, hold the treat behind your back and give the “watch” command.  Wait until eye contact is made then reward.  If your dog can do this with no problem, wait to reward until he holds your gaze for a longer period of time.  Every time you change the difficulty level expect some failures and just back up a few steps in training if needed.  DO NOT get frustrated, this does not encourage relaxation, simply back up and praise him for something that is easier for him to achieve.

Practice on and off throughout the day at random times.  Just remember not to reward your dog for any signs of stress i.e. panting, whining, crying, pacing or trembling.  Extend this until he can stare into your eyes for 15 to 20 seconds.

Once your dog is 95% reliable with the command in an environment without distractions, take him to a room with a few distractions (like windows or your kids playing).  When he has mastered (95% reliable) in a room with minor distractions, take him outside to the backyard and work until he has mastered the command in that environment.  As he masters the command in a multitude of environments you can continue to increase the level of difficulty while still expecting some failure or learning events, just back up in your training as these occur.  Remember don’t get frustrated, this is a normal step when learning any new behavior.

When your dog can stare into your eyes reliably with a multitude of distractions, you can begin using this command for all kinds of situations:

  • When you have a dog that is fearful or mildly aggressive
  • In situations when you are unsure how your dog will react
  • To bring your dog’s focus and attention back to you before you give a command or after a distraction is added
  • And even when preparing for competition obedience

Eye contact is the foundation to good obedience, and it is a great way to strengthen the bond between you and your canine companion.

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Comments

  1. sue and hal glazer says:

    This was one of the most informative articles I have read. I am practicing all that was said and I am sure I will be very successful at teaching my Australian shepard what he needs to know to calm him down.

    Great article.

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  2. Judy Cinzio says:

    Dear Chet,

    I love having your emails, and I read everything, and watch the little videos. I learn something every time, some things I forget (I am almost 70 years old, well that’s a good convenient excuse anyway). My dog is now 1 year old and doing fairly well at most things. I haven’t done this programme that you’ve just sent, but will start on it tomorrow.

    Bug (my,dog) is not really food oriented. I have found one thing that she likes only. For her normal food, I have to encourage her, and she comes and has some and then maybe an hour later she might pick at it again. By night fall she has usually finished. The patty/burger that she loves, I use for rewards.

    My only problem that I realize that I’m having is when we go for a walk on the road, she wants to run way from trucks, buses 4wd station wagons cars with trailers, and horse floats, then as they are half way past she wants to attack them, growl and carry on. No food will tempt her to do otherwise, she just has one aim in mind. If I take her in the car long or short trips, she has to charge the window in the back seat every time a larger than normal car goes by.

    Anyway,please don’t stop sending, I enjoy every thing you send. I probably take a longer time to get into the way of carrying the things out, but gradually, I suddenly see her responding. It’s good.

    Again thank you,

    Judy.

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  3. Mary Lou says:

    Hi Chet,

    Thank YOU so much! I just read what you sent in regards to keeping my dog fixated and looking into my eyes. I haven’t tried it yet but, I can see how that would work. At least that’s my HOPE! LOL He has learned everything that I’ve gotten so far from you in the Training Program. So, I’m almost certain that I can also train him to do this also. I’ll keep you posted …

    Thanking YOU once again,
    Mary Lou

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  4. Bill says:

    I have always been taught not to look into a dogs eyes as it sees it as a challenge and they don’t like it. Nice to get a new slant on it

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  5. Linda says:

    Chet

    I am very excited to try this. I will let you know how it goes with my boy.

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  6. Lilly says:

    Ummmmmmmmm… what happens if it doesn’t work I mean like If he just wont do it. By he I mean the dog.

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    JC Reply:

    … just give the TV remote back to him.

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    Lilly Reply:

    lol.

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    Anna Reply:

    Lilly he will do it eventually, it is only a matter of time, really, every dog will look in your eyes because he will try to know what you want from him, it is only about your patience. 😉

    [Reply]

    Lilly Reply:

    O.K Thanx Anna!

    [Reply]

  7. Gina says:

    We have a problem with our dogs barking outside whenever they hear other dogs barking or when someone approaches our privacy fencing.
    One neighbor has called animal control on us 5 times during the summer months yet it is THEIR DOGS that are starting the barking frenzy.

    Will this training help us to keep our dogs under control when they are outside and stop them from barking? They bark for 3 or 4 minutes and our one neighbor who has 5 barking dogs reports us right after they bring their dogs inside the house. They are harrassing us constantly and we would like to try the above method to keep our dogs from responding to all the other dogs around us. Our houses are close together, and we feel that when other dogs bark, they are just being DOGS.

    Any suggestions, as we truly like to play outside with our dogs and how do they not get excited playing ball or frisbee?

    In a quandry in NY.

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    L.T Reply:

    I have the same neighbour problem. My 2 rotties only start when other dogs in the street (those little yappy things that never seem 2 stop) go off. I get all sorts of anonymous notes in the letterbox complaining about the barking (very deep, loud etc). I’ve tried Chets’ wait until they stop then go out & reward them or simply ignoring them butnothing seems to work. HELP!!!!

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    Barbara Reply:

    I’ve been mostly successful with the barking problem by thanking my dogs. I let them bark at things going on outside 3 times, then check to see what it is and thank them (for protecting the house). I just say than you, that’s enough. Usually they quit barking. But I must check to see what’s happening to get them to quit. Then they are satisfied that they have done a good job.

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  8. Leonie says:

    hi Chet,

    thank you so much for all the infomation you pass on, i find it very interesting and useful.
    i’m going to try the watch command tomorrow.

    [Reply]

  9. darlene says:

    Chet-really enjoy your tips on training and have used and passed them on to other animal friends.Animals are very smart-as an example for them to realize who is at your door and what will happen when they enter. If my parents visit, they are all excited-my parents always have a treat for them. But if it is anyone else-they go lie down…learned behaviour no doubt!

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  10. Debbie says:

    Your training suggestions have helped me tremondously. I rescued an adorable mini longhair dachshund about four months ago. I am his third owner and his female friend was attached by a coyotte. All that to say he has been through some trama. Rusty is so eager to please and has learned to walk nicely on a leash, sit, sit pretty (beg), down, shake and stay. We’re still working on “come.” He’s very social and loves people and to ride in the car. Your training has been so beneficial and I can’t thank you enough!

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  11. Sandy Brooks says:

    This lesson came at a perfect time. I recently adopted a small dog. She’s 2 yrs. and I’m her 4th home, so I’m still learning what issues we need to work on. When we walk on the beach, she gets over-excited no matter how far away other dogs might be, and many people don’t leash their dogs, so we’ve had a few ‘close encoounters’. Sometimes she’ll try to attack people, and other times she’s friendly. These calming exercises sound like just the right thing, so we’ll be working on them. I’ll post again & let you know how it’s going. Thanks!

    [Reply]

  12. Sherri Littrell says:

    I have learned so much, and am working with sadie, have a long way to go but thanks for the great training information. very encouraged.

    Thanks

    Sherri

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  13. Mike Ramirez says:

    Dear Chet…
    Yes, I do recognize the WATCH command which I combine with the heel command for competitions, but for this, and from my experiences. This can work better if taken to a higher level. Try polishing the dog ( once the dog can look into and hold the gaze into your eyes for at least 2 minutes, with his or her favorite TOY, weather it be a ball or a tug toy… ( This is why I like to play with my dog since their puppy hood, for me this is a LAW. In order to be able to build up high play drives, which I use to my advantage for all levels of obedience, tracking and at the very base of protection work… ( I do IPO… And I know you are against bite work with dogs… No hard feelings, OK? ) And I strongly believe in non compulsive methods for competitive dog training. This is why your emails are always welcome.
    Thanks again…

    MIKE…

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  14. Nelia says:

    Hi Chet,

    Thanks for all the e-mail that youa re sending me. It’s a great help. I have a big problem with Savannah. She is a 2 year old shar-pei/pit bull mixed. The only place I take her off leash is at the beach. she loves to play with other dogs but the problem is she jumps on them and if they don’t respond to her she growls and then she starts a fight. I end up putting her leash back and just finished our walk and go home. I feel sorry for her that she doesn’t get to play with other dogs bur she plays so rough. What shoudl I do to train her to play nice. It was my fault that she was not socialize well during her puppyhood.

    Will you please help me on how to rehabilitate both of us.

    Thanks so much,
    Nelia

    [Reply]

    Karen Reply:

    My dog too loves to play with other dogs but she can be overly friendly and annoying to them. I would love to get ideas on how she can play with other dogs without annoying them.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    Make sure to give her exercise first to tire her out. Dogs are much less inappropriate if they are tired.

    And, set rules. You wouldn’t allow your human child to hit or bite other kids right? I don’t allow my dogs to play unless they are appropriate. If they show inappropriate behaviors they leave immediately.

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  15. Sue says:

    I’ve been having trouble with my 6 year old australian shepherd mix. He’s afraid of thunder and will not go outside or go lay down. Has to be on me (100 lbs) all the time. I will try this method on him and hope it works. He was not afraid when younger but has started doing this since we lost our 13 yo Scottie last year. She was afraid of thunder, but we thought he didn’t learn it.

    [Reply]

  16. Leslie Ward says:

    Great write up Chet! My 1 yr old Maltese (Sir Charles) has finally started to want to learn more obedient tricks and I’ve used quite a bit of your advice with success and I thank you for that!

    I used the “clicker/treat” approach and it works well, and we no longer have to “treat” every time, except when he barks at every moving object! I’m learning all of the certain barks, ie; for attention, a new noise, another walking dog (sounds like I’m killing him!), and of course he doesn’t hear my commands being his bark is focused on the object and not me. I have tried the one where when he barks (when we are inside) I will get up, look at what he is barking at and tell him it’s okay, thank him and he’s usually fine. I say “usually” because if someone knocks on the door or we see a new dog (or even a person) while walking, he goes into a ballistic screeching! My first instinct is to pick him up, (as that would calm him down knowing that I am not in danger) but realize that all I’m really doing is praising him for barking! So we no longer do that and walk when we know others dogs and their owners are not around.

    I’ve seen of the “bark off” product via email:

    http://WWW.BUY-BARKOFF.COM

    Features:

    Inaudible to Human Ears
    Calms Your Dog
    No Wires or Cords
    Works Indoors or Outdoors
    Buy 1 Get 1 Free Now for only $10.00

    Do you think this would help, or is this yet ANOTHER waste of money?

    Your help in advising me and “Yappy” (Sir Charles) would be most appreciated!

    In anticipation and great thanks!

    Leslie

    [Reply]

  17. KATHY says:

    I am still waiting for my DVD’s I ordered and paid for on 5/17.2010

    [Reply]

  18. C.Sethu says:

    Hi! Chet,
    Your article on smeel trainbing is excellent. I have aquestion to you,if you may kindly advie me onthat.
    i have a GermanShepperd male dog about 1.5 yrs of age. He is vry inteeligent and smart,but he is too much playful and does not obey the commands but keep playing. Another thing when any one other thatn the family members come ,he starts barking till they leave the house. Wahtever I try he is so excited and keep barking and tries evento jump his cage. he has a long place enclosed sothat he can run around. Also when i take him out he just cannot tolerate other pets or evenbirds ,thesight or smell of themhe takes off.Can you please let me know what canbe done to tame him down and obey the commabnds.
    Sincerely Sethu.

    [Reply]

  19. Minette says:

    Mike,
    I have trained and work with police dogs and am familiar with IPO and the like and never used compulsion. I will undoubtedly use some more information on using drives to help with focus and obedience at some point, but wanted to give the novice owners a chance to begin teaching this important command!

    Minette

    [Reply]

  20. Janean Spees says:

    Hi, thank you very much for the post. You don’t know how this helped me.

    [Reply]

  21. norah says:

    How can I stop my 9week old pup from hanging on to my dressing gown

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    refocus on an appropriate toy, you must teach your pup appropriate behavior and what is acceptable and unacceptable to play with or mouth.

    [Reply]

  22. barbara says:

    Thank you for these tips on focus. I have taken my dogs through training to focus, but not this far. Just a focus with the treat by the eyes. Never occurred to me to move the treat down to my side or my back and be able to simply state focus or watch me. Thanks so much for extending my boundaries on this command.

    [Reply]

  23. Tamara says:

    My service dog-in-training is a social butterfly who thrives on getting attention, both human and canine, wherever we go – an undesirable trait for a service dog. I was in the process of training him to ignore two- and four-legged passers-by as best I could by putting him into a sit- or down-stay whenever anyone approached, and while he was obedient, he would often whine. I tried, sometimes unsuccessfully, to ignore the whining, which gradually became both worse and more general. He used to whine only when he needed to relieve himself, but that’s no longer a reliable predictor; he’s even had a couple of accidents in the halls of our (no-pets!) building. He whines when we’re waiting in lines, when he’s resting on a comfortable mat under the computer desk in the lobby, and even when my husband or I are holding and petting him (he’s a 16 lb., 2-yr.-old mini schnoodle). At one point I even abandoned service dog training and resigned myself to his only being a companion who provides emotional support, but he’s such a good dog otherwise that he was only retired for three days. PLEASE tell me what I can do to both lessen his compulsive friendliness and eliminate the whining – before my husband gets a German shepherd dog and instead of having a whiny little dog who pesters people and their dogs we have that AND a whiny BIG dog who pesters people!! : (

    [Reply]

  24. Suspicious says:

    These articles are excellent, but I’m suspicious as to who is actually writing them? After listening to Chet’s audio files and watching Chet’s videos, I would say that his language, tonality, choice of words, and sentence structure does not represent these articles which are well written, articulate, and succinct….hmmm, can someone say “Ghost Writer?”

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    I write them! Minette! And, it actually says who writes them at the top…most people just think I am Chet 😉 thank you for the compliments as I do try to write quality work!

    [Reply]

  25. Sara says:

    Hi, I have a staffy puppy that is very hyperactive. The moment I wake up she runs for a toy and wants to play. She is 6months now and desexed but the hyponess only s is just getting worse. The above technique is only a momentary fix how can I teach her to not be so hypo. She gets so excited when ppl come over that even if you try to give her the best treat in the world she ignores it. How can I get her attention and train her to stop jumping on ppl?

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    she needs lot of exercise!!! At 6 months she is just a baby, and needs good structured obedience and lots of exercise!

    [Reply]

  26. Erin says:

    No mater what I try my 10 week old female Jack Russell bites and nips and acts bat crap crazy. I don’t know what else to try!

    She chases and nips feet and nips and bites hands and chews and pulls your shoe strings. I have tried all your suggestions in your training over the past two weeks and nothing seems to help.

    [Reply]

    Minette Reply:

    how much “true” exercise are you giving her?

    Puppies should spend their time running and exercising, training, and napping!

    Check out our puppy programming and it will help you get a handle on training which will stimulate her mind and body!

    http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/PuppyProgramming

    [Reply]

  27. Sylvia says:

    Just reminding me to spend time training every day helps. I tend to go around doing my daily stuff, and expecting my dog who is a pound rescue, about two years old, to grow in his ability to mind me. He is an Akita/shepherd, and has some willful disobedience in him, but with just a little actual training time, he learns quickly. He is thrilled when he does something that pleases me.

    [Reply]

  28. rahja says:

    Unfortunately, my internet connection kept me from the webinar of Service Dog Secrets To A Calmer Dog, I am wondering if you will be offering that again any time soon and if so when? I have benefited from several of your programs and this one is truly one my biggest hurdles with my K9. Please drop me a date and time so that I might register or it again

    [Reply]

    Dana Reply:

    Here’s the link to register for the webinar:
    http://thedogtrainingsecret.com/service-dog-secrets

    If the current dates/times don’t work for you, please feel free to check back when you are able to see if we have added additional classes.

    [Reply]

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