Chill Out! How To Teach Your Dog To Calm Down
December 06, 2019
- Ensure adequate physical and mental stimulation.
This may seem like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many over-exuberant dogs are simply not getting enough exercise. If you have a young athletic dog, a 30 minute walk around the block is not going to cut it. The majority of young dogs need at least a solid hour of good exercise daily, ideally off leash. If your dog has good social skills and you feel confident navigating them, dog parks can be great places to exercise your dog off leash. Dog isn’t so friendly with others or not a dog park fan? There are no shortages of parks, fields, and other green spaces in Toronto that are dog friendly. Use a long line where leash laws are in effect or if your dog needs work on their recall.
Don’t forget about exercising that brain as well. Mental stimulation is just as important as the physical kind for frantic fidos, if not more so. Lucky for us, it’s never been easier to work your dog’s brain. With a huge assortment of puzzle toys available, it can be as easy as filling up a toy with kibble or wet food and letting your dog figure it out. Make sure you rotate toys to keep up the challenge! Training is also an excellent way to get your dog’s brain going, and it has the added benefit of creating a well mannered pup.
- Ensure they are getting proper rest.
On the flip side, we also need to ensure our dogs are getting the rest they need. Dogs need about 12 - 14 hours of sleep daily. That number increases for puppies and for older dogs, who need more rest time to recuperate. The reason that dogs seem to need so much more sleep than we do is that the amount of sleep they spend in the REM stage (that is the deepest stage of sleep that is thought to play a vital role in rest and recovery) is only 10%, compared to our 25%. Humans also take longer to enter REM sleep, and as a result we sleep for one long stretch of time. Dogs can enter REM much faster, but are also much lighter sleepers, jolting awake at the sound of the mailbox or a dog down the street. This means to get proper rest, your dog should be napping for at least 3 - 5 hours every day, in addition to sleeping through the night. No one makes good decisions when they’re sleep deprived, and that includes our dogs.
- Capture the calm.
Even the most energetic dogs have their moments of calm. It may be brief, but it’s there! Take the opportunity to reward those small moments, and slowly you’ll start to see more of them. Capturing is an excellent way to let you dog know you like their behaviour. To capture a behaviour, simply say your dog’s marker word when they’re doing something you like (most people use the word ‘yes’) and reward with a treat. A treat reward is better than a toy in this situation, as we don’t want to rile the dog up with a game. Deliver the treat on the ground in front of your dog to keep them calm. Your dog may get up and look expectant; just ignore them until they settle again.
- Doggie Yoga a.k.a Mat work.
One of the best ways to help your dog to chill out is to teach them to relax on cue. To help do this, most trainers recommend the aid of a comfy mat. This mat, over time, becomes a place of relaxation and eventually a cue itself to calm down. The most common way to do mat work is to shape relaxation behaviours. Shaping (marking and rewarding small steps towards an end goal) relaxation behaviours on the mat (such as laying down, laying down on their side, putting their head down, stretching out, or even closing their eyes) soon turns the mat into a relaxation station. A mat is used because it’s easy to transport, making it easy to bring the cue to relax along with you to different environments. The more your dog practices being calm, the easier it will come to them, whether or not the mat is available.
- Let them sniff!
I can’t stress the importance of letting your dog sniff enough. Where we perceive the world primarily through sight, dogs perceive their world primarily through scent. As Alexandra Horowitz writes in ‘Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know’, “a dog’s universe is a stratum of complex odours. The world of scents is at least as rich as the world of sights.” “To pull a dog away from ardent sniffing is the same for him as being yanked away from a scene just as soon as you turn your eyes to it.” To allow natural behaviour is a key component in animal welfare. A recent study has shown that sniffing also lowers pulse rate; the more intense the sniffing, the more pulse rates were lowered. Realistically, we can’t trail behind our dogs while they follow a scent every which way all the time. What we can do is to do our best to allow time for at least one walk a day solely dedicated to allowing your dog to sniff. All dogs can benefit from this decompression time, but especially dogs that tend to be over the top or anxious.
Finally, I’d like to end off by saying that as long as you and your dog are both happy and living well together, there is nothing wrong with having a high energy, excitable dog. Often times these are just young (but not always) happy dogs that are excited about the world. The purpose of these tips isn’t to dampen their enthusiasm or spirit, but to provide some guidance on how you can both be successful together without driving each other crazy. Accept and enjoy your animated friend, and with luck some of that curious, carefree attitude that embodies what it means to be a dog will rub off on you too.
Everything You Need to Know About How Dogs Sleep, sleephelp.org
How Many Hours Do Dogs Sleep Each Day?, sleep.org
Inside Of A Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, Alexandra Horowitz, 2009
Dog Walks, Sniffing, Shaking, and Pulse Rate, Karen B. London, thebark.com