Calming your dog

Being around a calm well-mannered dog is a pleasure and yet managing a dog that is over excitable and unruly is at best tiring, and is often also frustrating and can be embarrassing.

There are some things to consider and address before starting to teach your dog to be calm

  • Is he having his food in an enriched way?
  • Is he having his needs to chew met- dogs of all ages need to chew not just puppies?
  • Does he have enough company?
  • Is he having enough mental stimulation?
  • Does he have somewhere safe and comfortable to rest?
  • Is he fit, healthy and pain-free? It’s surprisingly common for pain to cause a dog to react in an unruly way.
  • Is he is getting the right amount /type of exercise for his breed, and his age? Searching and seeking exercise often helps – Some breeds are much more active that others, and with some the type of exercise they have really affects how relaxed they are at home.  Very active breeds that were bred to hunt, herd, and search will find learning to relax easier if their exercise includes lots of searching and less of the more hyper chasing games. Being reactive and chasing a lot causes dogs to be more ramped when they get home and takes them longer to calm down, while dogs who engage in searching will have used their brain a bit more for that exercise activity so will be more mentally tired as well as physically exercised.

Having a look at the points above, often making some adjustments will help you be successful with teaching your dog to be calm.

Not all dogs find it easy to relax and many need help to learn being calm. By rewarding your dog for being calm, your dog will start to choose to relax and will actually enjoy being calm.

The key to increasing the time your dog spends being relaxed is to catch him being calm and then reinforce it with food. Most dogs will find food a little stimulating so this training is not done as a set session, more that you capture and reward the behaviour when he happens to be calm and relaxed.

Training a default calm behaviour

You don’t at any point need to tell him to lie down, or be calm, it’s much more effective if he learns to make the choice to lie down on his own without any guidance from the trainer, this way he realises in a few repetitions that this is a rewarding and enjoyable behaviour.

When you see him relaxed approach him bend down, give him a treat and tell him he’s a good boy. You should be getting the food to his mouth before he has started to get up. It’s important that you get the timing right, we want to be rewarding the laying calmly not the getting up because you bent over him, or because he thinks, or knows you’ve got food. If he gets up or you think he knows you’ve got food just walk away and wait till he settles again. This may be a few minutes especially if he is thinking about the food you have.

It’s very helpful to have a dog that always lays down calmly when you are doing things like working on your computer, cooking dinner, on the phone, or when you stop to talk to someone and he’s in on the lead.

Start at home with the lead on, sit on a chair and wait for the dog to lay down, the first time may take a while but eventually he will settle and as soon as that happens give a treat, as you want him to stay in position you can give another treat or two. Get up and move to break up the exercise by getting him to walk, and then repeat it. You can do this in other rooms of the house and with you standing still and holding the lead. Once his default response to you stopping while holding the lead is to lay down and relax you are ready to practice this outside too. Do a few sessions in the garden or just outside the door, you need somewhere quiet to begin with, once he’s got a default down when you stop while holding the lead in these areas you can extend his learning to areas with a few distractions.

Once he’s learnt that being calm is rewarding you will see him being calmer in other environments too.  At first this training might seem a bit boring but having a dog that’s calm and relaxed in new and varied environments will be a joy to live with and many fellow dog owners will envy you.

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