Does your dogs name and the word calm in the same sentence go hand in hand?, or do those two words together just seem like a pipe dream?
Through my work I am seeing more and more dogs who seem to be unable to calm or be calm; they become super excited really quickly, become so excited that they lose the ability to listen to their owners, incessantly jump on people, bark at their owners whilst the owners are busy doing something else… the list goes on.
In a nutshell if your dog seems to spend most of its waking hours in an excited emotional state, then your dog needs to LEARN to be calm.
Learning to be calm is not only a great skill to teach your dog, it is also a necessary one! If any species becomes over excited then it means that they are more likely to make silly mistakes; think about what happens when you give two 4-year-old boys light sabres… yep, chances of it ending in tears is pretty high!
So how do we teach our dogs to be calm? It’s quite simple really. We just need to make being calm just as rewarding as not being calm, and this all starts at home:
I like to teach all puppies this skill, however, any dog of any age can learn this*
I prefer to use food rewards when teaching the following as food rewards tend to calm the dog whereas toys and play tend to excite the dog, which is the exact opposite of what we are trying to achieve.
The ‘settle’ game – The aim of this game is to teach your dog to lay down when there is nothing else going on.
- Put the lead on your dog and sit down. Keep the lead loose. The lead is only attached to your dog to help them make good choices and stay near you.
- Do not say anything to your dog, but calmly reward them for being calm or offering any calm behaviour.
- Continue this over a few days until your dog begins to understand that it is being rewarded for being calm.
Walking – does your dog become excited as soon as the lead comes out? Calm behaviour starts in the home!
- Don’t excite your dog with words such as “walkies!” if you are aiming for a quiet walk!
- Devalue the dogs lead. If your dog becomes really excited when the lead comes out then change the association to the lead by;
- Putting your dog’s lead on when you are not planning on going for a walk. Put their lead on and give them something else to do instead, such as a Kong or food hunt or similar.
- Teach your dog to be calm at the front door. Play the settle game near the front door then add the lead once your dog understands the game.
- Allow your dog to sniff as much as it likes on walks! Remember that we see the world with our eyes whilst our dogs see the world with their noses. Sniffing is also mentally exhausting for your dog!
Jumping – I love this one, especially if the dog jumps on visitors! Why, because often it’s the visitors that need training rather than the dog 🙂
- Put a sign up on your front door explaining to visitors how you would like them to behave around your dog.
- Set your dog up to succeed by either putting them in another location with a rewarding activity to do, such as a Kong whilst the visitors arrive, or put them on lead.
- Look for calm interactions with the visitors and reward these.
Reward for good choices – As a society we tend to be more reactive than pro-active; we notice a dog who is doing something that we don’t like such as jumping, however often ignore a dog who is sitting quietly.
My challenge to you is to reward your dog at least 50 times per day for desirable behaviours that your dog voluntarily offers you. Remember that if you reward a behaviour it will increase in frequency!
ALERT!!! Some behaviours labelled as ‘excitement’ may actually reflect an individual who is not coping. Chewing, shredding, zooming, digging, pacing, other fidgeting behaviours and barking can all be performed as part of a coping strategy for dogs suffering anxiety. If you are unsure, Kalmpets can help.