NOTE: This article is meant as a supplement to The Post-Pandemic World and The First Steps to Transitioning Your Dog Back to “Normal”
As dog owners, we strive to make our beloved pets feel comfortable and safe, especially when at home. However, there are certain stressful situations for dogs including thunderstorms, strangers coming over, fireworks, children playing nearby and being left alone. Creating a safe space for your dog to retreat to when feeling stressed, fearful or anxious can help them cope and gain confidence. (Haven’t set up a safe space for your pup yet? See “How To Create A Safe Space For Your Dog” to learn how!) Training them to remain relaxed on a mat or similarly designated space for at least 2 minutes can also be helpful, especially to assist additional training and keeping separation anxiety at bay. We recommend creating a Training Plan with progression levels specific to your dog’s needs, but the below steps are the starting blocks to your plan for a relaxed pup:
1. Cut up a bunch of treats into tiny pieces to prepare to do a ton of reps. If your dog doesn’t show interest in the food, get something of higher value. If your dog gets too excited by the food, use something lower value to keep your dog mellow.
2. Place a mat (towels, blankets and dog beds work great too!), preferably from their safe space so they already feel a calming connection to it, in the area you would like your dog to remain relaxed. This can be anywhere helpful, for example: outside of the kitchen so they aren’t underfoot when you are cooking, next to the table so they don’t beg during meals, a few feet away from the door if you’re working on separation anxiety, etc…
3. Create a zen vibe for your dog by making sure the house is quiet, speaking in a soft voice and gently handing treats down close to the mat or directly on the mat to form your dog into a relaxed, lying down position.
*If your dog is not comfortable lying down, you can do the training with them sitting or standing on the mat. Make sure to still gently place the treat down by or on the mat. Eventually they will decide to take a load off*
4. Once your dog is lying down comfortably, give them a treat by putting it directly by or on the mat.
5. Try not to pet, cuddle, scratch etc. your dog while training. Just do the current step in the plan, calmly give them a treat and then do the next rep.
6. Perform at least 5 reps of each step of your training plan (Reference the provided Training Plan for a Relaxed Dog for next steps). How often they perform the desired behavior will determine whether you move onto the next step, revert back to a previous step or remain with the current one. Reference the below chart to see what is appropriate!
NOTE: You should limit your training sessions to 5-15 minutes, with 1-3 sessions a day. If your dog is fidgety, doesn’t look relaxed any longer, or keeps getting up it is time to stop the current training session.
EXPERT TIP: During other parts of the day, if you notice your dog calmly resting somewhere, gently drop a treat to reinforce the calm behavior.
Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day. Getting your dog to remain relaxed is a process and each dog will have their own speed of completion. Once you can do Step 8 with a relaxed pup consistently, you can proceed to additional Training Plans to meet your dog’s goals.
Did you find this helpful or have an additional tip to add? Leave a comment!
Written and Contributed by: Jenna Gotch, Owner and Julia Nadovich, General Manager