3 Easy Ways to Teach Your Dog to Calm Down
Maybe your dog gets himself all worked up after a play session, playfully nips and barks to get attention, or does flips while you’re trying to attach the leash. Overly excited behavior can take many forms. The solution is not to punish the excitement, but rather to teach the dog to perform a polite behavior instead of the excited one. Here are three ways to give your dog a path to relaxation.
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Say “Please” for Everything You Want
Your dog’s way of saying “please” is the almighty Sit. Teach your dog that, whenever he wants something, he has to sit for it. This requires him to control his impulses, even when he is excited or frustrated. To get started, make a list of all the things your dog wants from you on a daily basis. We call these “life rewards.” Some items may include getting:
- the leash put on,
- the door opened to go outside,
- a game of fetch or tug,
- meals, and
- permission on the couch or bed with you.
Whenever you’re ready to give your dog one of these life rewards, you’ll ask him to sit, just once, and wait for him to put his rear on the ground.
What if he doesn’t sit on the first request? No sit, no reward. You’ll turn away, take a few deep breaths, and turn back to your dog to ask again. The moment he sits for the leash, meal, or other life reward, immediately give it to him. Good dog! For your dog to learn to be truly polite in all situations, you will implement this strategy for everything your dog wants, every time.
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The Place cue means “go to your mat and stay there until I release you.” If your dog tends to engage in jumping on people, door-dashing, getting underfoot, or countersurfing, Place can keep your dog out of harm’s way. See it in action here. In my home, I use this cue when:
- I’m cooking,
- we’re eating at the table,
- my not-so-dog-friendly guests are visiting, and
- I open the door for visitors or deliveries.
To teach the basic level of Place, choose a mat, bed, or towel for your dog to lie on. Follow this training sequence:
- Say “place” and point or lure your dog onto the mat.
- Once all four paws are on the mat, ask him to lie down.
- While he’s lying on the mat, you’ll pause for three seconds, then drop a treat on the mat between his paws. Repeat this sequence of pausing and treating.
- After several treats, say “okay” and release him from the mat.
- As your dog gets better at this, you will increase the pauses between treats. This will build your dog’s ability to control his impulses and stay on the mat for longer periods of time.
Protocol for Relaxation
Dr. Karen Overall has created a practical plan for teaching your dog to remain calm even when you walk away, answer the door, or do a number of other exciting activities. And it’s free to read or download!
The Protocol for Relaxation is a 15-day program, though you can go at your dog’s pace. It lays out very specific instructions for how to build your dog’s impulse control even for long durations, at long distances, and in the presence of distractions. Dr. Overall wrote it so that anyone, not just experienced trainers, can implement the protocol.
Learning to chill is one of the most important life skills a dog can acquire. It’s important to put in the time to teach your dog the polite way to interact with everything and everyone in his daily life.
Kate Naito, CPDT-KA, is a dog trainer at Doggie Academy in Brooklyn, NY, and author of the training book, "BKLN Manners." She draws upon her experience as an educator and dog trainer to apply positive training techniques to a challenging urban environment. Kate is a rescue advocate drawn to special-needs dogs and currently has two Chihuahua mixes, Batman and Beans.
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