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April 25, 2010

Go to Canine Behavior Services home pageLearning to Relax - More Tips on Encouraging Calm Focus in Your Dog

Last week I discussed using a hands-on approach to bringing about a calmer, more relaxed state in your dog, in "Communicating Calm Through Touch". This week, I want to continue that theme with several more "outside the obedience box" ideas on encouraging calm focus, particularly when away from home with your dog, in new, unfamiliar, or potentially stressful situations.

Do Tricks for Treats. One way I have always enjoyed helping dogs relax, in potentially overwhelming or anxiety-producing situations, is to practice fun tricks. Most of us enjoy tricks - we have fun teaching them, and unlike obedience, we do not take them overly seriously! Because with tricks our attitude is light and fun, so is our dogs'. Next time your dog is in one of those difficult situations, try practicing her repertoire of fun tricks. It's a wonderful way to set the stage for relaxation and enjoyment when you need a calm, focused dog.

Take Time for Play. Particularly for oral, toy-focused dogs, a good round of play can be just the thing to "take the edge off" in difficult situations. If your dog loves to play fetch with her ball, bumper, or Frisbee, this is a fantastic way to help her ignore stressful aspects of her environment, and focus on fun. I have seen a good game of fetch completely transform dogs from nervous, overwhelmed, and even aggressive to calm, focused, and indifferent to the things that worry them. If your dog is too busy or concerned at first to pay much attention to her favorite at-home toy, don't give up! Work on getting a little bit more toy focus each time you go to out somewhere new, and always try to quit before your dog's enthusiasm wanes, both at home and away. Before long, your dog's toy focus will begin to grow stronger than her concerns in new places.

Sit a Spell. One of my favorite things to do with young dogs, new dogs, and any dog who gets anxious or over-stimulated, is go to new places, and simply sit and relax with the dog. Bring a chair for yourself, a comfy rug, mat, or towel for your dog to lie on, and some extra-special good treats. You can give your dog a chew toy filled with something delicious, or you can practice being calm by rewarding relaxed behavior with quiet praise, touch, and treats. If your dog knows to lie down when asked, ask for that and reward all good responses. Otherwise, simply reward all "offered" calm behaviors such as sits, downs, stretches, and the like. Don't try to force the issue. Instead, encourage your dog to take initiative by rewarding her when she chooses calm, composed behavior. So, get out there - to the park, the dog show, or a quiet corner of the street fair - and invest an hour in helping your dog "learn to relax".

Try an Alternative Approach. There are a number of options when it comes to natural alternatives to reducing stress and improving focus. Companies such as Newton Labs and Homeo-Pet each make a number of over-the-counter, safe remedies that can help reduce stress and anxiety in dogs. My personal favorite non-traditional option, however, is the Bach flower remedies. These are very dilute infusions of various flowers that seem to be very effective at restoring emotional balance. They can be helpful for re-balancing many "off kilter" emotional states, and can be of great help for the dog that gets over-stimulated in new situations, or fearful and anxious, or overly alert and "guardy". You might find that one of these natural therapies gives your training efforts just the right nudge in the right direction! (Disclosure: While I have no monetary interest in the homeopathic companies mentioned above, I do sell Bach flower formulas for dogs through my website www.aldaronessences.com. However, it's not just a sales site - you can also go there to get lots more information on this subject near and dear to my heart!)


Enjoy the week ahead! And until next week, Happy Training!


Julie Cantrell BSc, CPDT-KA, CDBC
Canine Behavior Services



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Weekly Training Tips are Copyright 2010, Julie Cantrell BSc, CPDT-KA, CDBC, Canine Behavior Services. All rights reserved.