Some dogs seem to be pretty chill naturally. They don’t get too worked up about many things and are generally easy for their owners to manage.
But other dogs are pretty high-strung and often exhibit behavioral challenges, reactivity, and generally make life tough on their people.
Fortunately, there are some ways to help teach your dog to relax. We’ll share some of the best strategies — and explain some of the reasons your dog may be amped up all the time — below.
Can Calm Behavior Be Taught?
Contrary to what some may believe, you can help teach your dog to be calm.
Dogs often learn to exhibit the behaviors we reward, so by providing positive reinforcement during those times your doggo is calm, you can help encourage him to do so more often.
Conversely, without proper guidance, pet parents may unintentionally encourage intense or hyperactive behavior from their dogs.
Dogs can also be taught to settle down and relax when cued to do so – just like any other skill they can learn. You can also help realign your dog’s default energetic state to a more relaxed one.
Now, that doesn’t mean you’re going to transform your bouncing beagle or high-octane heeler into a couch potato. But you can teach just about any dog to relax for brief periods of time.
How to Teach Dogs to Relax: 4 Soothing Strategies
There are multiple ways to teach your furry friend to settle down, and we’ll discuss a few of the best ones below.
Just remember that every dog is different, so one strategy may work better than the other, or your pooch may respond best to integrating multiple strategies into his everyday routine.
1. Teach a “Relax” Cue
You can help your dog learn when to settle down by creating a cue that lets him know it is time to lay down and chill out.
Start by keeping your dog on a long lead in a relaxed scenario, such as while hanging out inside or in the backyard – not while you’re at the dog park with lots of other four-footers.
At this point, you’ll simply want to ignore him until he lays down and relaxes. Most dogs will sit or lie down within a couple of minutes (out of boredom, if nothing else).
When your dog lays down, give him some (calm) praise and a treat or two. Repeat this process a few times while introducing a cue word like “relax” or “settle.”
Once your dog gets the hang of it, begin to test out this command in increasingly stressful situations. With a bit of practice and patience, he should learn to relax after being cued to do so.
Learning this cue can take a lot of training and practice, but it’s definitely worth it.
2. Reward Your Dog For Voluntarily Exhibiting Calm Behavior
One of the best ways to encourage your dog’s calmness is to praise him when he exhibits calm behavior on his own.
So, whenever you catch your dog at ease, lying down, or minding his own business throughout the day, reward him with treats and (calm) praise. You can also start to associate a calming cue, as discussed in the previous section, when he’s exhibiting these behaviors.
This obviously means you’ll need to keep treats at the ready, so you may want to consider picking up a treat pouch to make this more convenient. At the very least, you’ll probably want various small containers of treats placed throughout the house so that you can reward that calm behavior as soon as you see it!
3. Have Your Dog Go To His Settle Spot
You can also teach your dog go lie down in a calm, safe spot — such as his bed or crate — when you want him to relax. Many dogs like hanging out in their crate anyway, and it can naturally trigger your pup to chill out and relax.
Begin by placing treats in your dog’s den and asking him to “go relax” or “go sleep.” Once your dog has gone into his crate after hearing the command, ask him to come out again.
Repeat this process – and continue to provide positive reinforcement when he does the right thing – until your dog has the hang of it.
Next, you’ll want to ask your dog to go into his crate or bed without placing a treat inside. When your dog goes into the desired space and relaxes, reward him with praise and a treat.
Continue this process until your dog knows that “go relax” means he should settle down in his safe space.
Many owners also choose to connect the “go relax” or “settle” cue with a mat or towel that can be taken to various locations. This is generally referred to as mat training. Once your dog has mastered the settle cue at home, you can work on using the cue when out at cafes or restaurant patios.
The outdoors can be very stimulating to dogs, but if you’ve worked on mat training enough indoors, when you take out your dog’s mat at a busy cafe, it’s a signal to the dog that their only job right now is to plop down and chill out – not fixate on all the action happening around them!
Once your dog has mastered basic mat training, you can start using programs like Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol, where you’ll ask your dog to stay settled while you perform an increasingly distracting chain of behaviors and movements, like jumping up and down, clapping, and leaving the room.
4. Teach Your Dog an Alternative Activity
Sometimes, our dogs simply don’t know what to do when faced with a stressful situation, and this can cause them to act out. But by teaching your dog something he can do in these situations, you can help him relax.
It’s even more helpful to pick an activity that is incompatible with the undesirable behavior. For example, If your dog starts running around the house and barking when the UPS van drives by, you may want to teach him to go lie down whenever he sees it, as he won’t be able to do both things simultaneously.
So, you’ll want to teach your doggo that he should do something like lie down on his bed or by your feet when he’s faced with a stimulating situation. You could also do things like teach him to sit down when greeting new people, rather than jumping around.
To help redirect your dog’s behavior, you’ll need to introduce the new behavior while your dog is experiencing the stimulus at a point “below his threshold” (the point at which your dog is still capable of listening and performing the desired behavior).
So, using our delivery driver example, you’ll want to teach him to go lie down on his bed (for example) when he hears the UPS truck pulling up.
Assuming your dog already knows a cue to go to his bed (or wherever you’d like him to go), you will need to keep a lookout for the delivery truck and try to spot it before Spot does. Cue him to go lie down, and then provide plenty of treats and praise.
Lather, rinse, and repeat until he’s reliably going to his bed when you cue him to do so. Over time, he’ll gradually begin to associate the delivery driver’s presence with his duty to go lie down and wait for praise or treats.
Ultimately, your dog will begin to associate this new, favorable behavior with what was previously a stressor.
Additional Tips for Promoting Calmness in Canines
Don’t forget that teaching your dog how to be calm can be a long process. You’ll need to be patient and consistent to help your hound reign in his endless energy, but here are some additional strategies that can help support serenity in Spot.
- Model the desired behavior. As pack animals, dogs naturally model the behavior of those around them. So, it’s important to stay physically and emotionally calm while guiding your furry friend through this process. So, try to remain patient, and speak in an even, soft tone when facing a trigger (something that upsets or stimulates your dog) appears.
- Use impulse control games. Impulse control games can be a bonding activity for you and your best buddy and most importantly, help your dog learn the value of patience. These games are fairly simple and only require some tasty treats, but with consistent practice, they can make a huge positive impact on your furry friend.
- Eliminate stressors. Do your part by creating an atmosphere of calm for your furry friend. For instance, if your dog is easily stressed out by the sight of neighbors beyond the window, it may be worth investing in some decorative decals or curtains to block your dog’s view.
- Use calming garments. There are a variety of garments – including Thundershirts and calming caps – that can help ease your dog’s anxieties while you’re retraining his default reactions. These items don’t work for all dogs, but they’re very helpful for many puppers.
- Provide lots of physical activity. It’s possible that your dog appears to have endless energy because he hasn’t been given the opportunity to exert it. Make sure your pooch is getting plenty of exercise. Consider incorporating activities like going to the dog park or other dog park alternative excursions to help meet your canine’s quota.
- Provide enrichment activities. Dogs can understandably be prone to boredom which can lead to anxiety and hyperactivity. So, make sure you provide your dog with plenty of enrichment activities to keep his brain happy. This could include incorporating tools like puzzle toys into your dog’s routine.
- Try a calming collar. Calming dog collars are infused with soothing scents like lavender and synthetic hormones designed to mimic the calming scent of mutt mothers. These collars last anywhere between a week to two months and help many dogs stay calm on a regular basis or throughout an adjustment period.
- Integrate calming supplements. Calming supplements for dogs with active ingredients like chamomile and CBD can help promote relaxation for Rover. These supplements usually come in the form of treats and are over-the-counter tools for occasionally easing your dog’s anxieties.
- Ask your veterinarian about medication. Dog behavior medications aren’t a substitute for training, exercise, and appropriate enrichment, but they may help some hounds along the way. Talk to your veterinarian to determine if your canine would be a good candidate for this type of assistance.
- Seek help from a behaviorist. When in doubt, seek out help from a certified dog behavior consultant. These professionals can help provide your pooch with a personalized training plan and guide your dog through the process based on his individual needs. Paying for an accredited behaviorist’s time can be expensive, but it’s definitely a worthy investment for the health and sanity of pets and pet parents alike.
- Start indoors. If you’re working towards getting your dog to relax while out in public, you’ll need to start in quiet, calm indoor spaces. Work up slowly to more challenging environments. Remember, the outdoors can be extremely stimulating for dogs, so be patient and progress at the dog’s pace.
Having an amped-up furry friend can be challenging for many reasons. Hopefully, these tips and training techniques will make it easier for you to calm your canine companion.
Does your dog struggle to relax? How do you help your dog put his best paw forward? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below!