Teaching your Dog to Relax

A very under rated skill we want our dogs to know is how to relax. When you are hanging out on the couch you don’t want your dog to be constantly trying to get you to play and running around the house. Even active dogs should be able to relax for most of the day.

A lot of dogs are able to relax when they are at home but it is also good to teach your dog to relax any places. If you take them to visit your family, you want them to relax. If you go to the park and have a picnic, you want them to relax. If we take them to relax at a dog event, like a agility event, we need to teach them how. This can often be one of the most difficult skills we teach our dogs.

Meet their needs

The first thing we need to do to get our dog to relax is to meet their needs. If I keep a dog crated for 23 hours of the day and then try to make it relax for an hour, it is not going to go well. Our dogs need exercise and enrichment, especially the active dogs. If my dog has gotten zero exercise all week they aren’t going to be able to settle and relax.

Some activities are better to do than others. Hikes, sniffaris, and other sniffing games are my favorite forms of enrichment to give to an overactive dog. This hikes and sniffaries allow our dogs to get out into nature and be a dog. I put my dogs on a long leash or if we are in a safe area, off leash and let them sniff and explore. Sniffing is very calming and requires a lot of mental effort so dogs get tired even if they aren’t running around a lot. It is also good for dogs of all ages and even if they have a disability.

If we only exercise our dogs adrenalin intense activities like fetch often our dogs struggle settling after because now they are full of adrenalin and are more revved up. Many people see huge differences once they stop playing fetch with their dog. Their dogs started sleeping and resting in their home more. You can try this by not playing fetch with your dog for a month. If you notice an improvement it was likely too much. Once they are relaxing better you can then start adding fetch back in if you just enjoy it. Try only playing it once a week for no more than 5 minutes.

Make inside a relaxing area

Hopefully your dog will learn to relax any where but often our homes where we live is the most important place for your pup to relax. Make it a rule that only relaxing things can happen there. No fetch or other ruff play. Keep those games for outside or maybe one room of your house. If you dog is the type to continuously bring you a toy and try to get you to play then do the follow. If you dog brings you a toy, pick it up and say “Not now” and then put the toy out of their reach. If they keep bringing you a toys just keep doing it. You can also put away most of their toys, expect chew toys, but I like for my dogs to relax even around toys so leaving them out sometimes will teach them to relax even if there are toys.

If you dog is struggling to settle give them a calm activity to do such as a chew toy, a frozen food toy, lick mat, or snuffle mat. I want my bedroom to be a calm place where the dogs sleep at night so the dog get chew toys, usually benebones, in the evening while we are settling down for the night. You don’t constantly need to be giving your dog activities but we can use them to help transition from a more exciting activities like running around your yard.

Relax on Place

A skill that can help dogs relax is relaxing on a bed or in an open crate. I teach all of my dogs to relax on a towel as well so I can bring it anywhere and help them relax in a new location.

First you will need to teach your dog to go to the bed. Then once you are doing that you can teach them to stay. One of the best protocols to teach your pup to stay is called the relaxation protocol by Karen Overall. This helps teach your pup to just relax and stay on their bed no matter what is going on.

When working on calm behaviors make sure to give treats in a calm manner. Don’t toss them if you are working on relaxing, instead place them the bed or deliver the treat to your pup’s mouth.

If you need help with teaching your dog to relax, reach out to us here for lessons tailored to your dog.

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