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Positive, Practical Dog Training for the Real World

Your Weekly Training Tip

April 11, 2010

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Communicating Calm Through Touch

Most of us don't tend to think much about how we touch our dogs. It's simply something we do while playing, training, or just hanging out, and the quality of touch generally varies with our mood, and our attitude - not our dog's. But touch, thoughtfully applied, can have a profoud effect on our dogs' moods and stress levels and because of that, the effectiveness of our of training. While "calm" is just one emotional state we might want to foster in our dogs, it is a very useful one. A calm dog is a more thoughtful dog - composed, and able to take life's little challenges in stride. Even (maybe especially) high-energy, high-intensity working dogs are better off for having the ability to be calm when required.

To use touch to promote calm in your dog, the key is to use slow, gentle strokes, rather than the typical quick pats. How slow is slow? Try this - as you stroke your dog, imagine that your hands have the ability to actually slow your dog's breathing and heart rate. Pay attention to how your dog responds to your touch. When your touch is acting to calm, you should be able to feel her body, heart, and breathing relax and get in synch with yours.

  • Slow, light finger or thumb strokes on the dog's head and forehead are wonderful for physically praising any stationary position (for instance, Stays). This touch promotes calm and encourages the dog to remain still. Heavier, faster, "whole hand" pats are more likely to encourage activity and movement - not what you want when you need for your dog to stay put!
  • Whole hand, light to medium pressure, slow strokes on the chest and shoulders will help calm and steady the dog who is either over-excited ("busting out of her skin", wanting to go see and do everthing at once), as well as the dog who is nervous and uncomfortable (wanting to get out of the situation if at all possible). Use this kind of touch to reward whatever level of self-control your dog is capable of in that situation: a simple Sit, rewarded with a quiet voice and calming, massage-like strokes is an effective way to help your dog gain composure in difficult situations.

Give this a try, and see how different types of touch affect your dog. It's enjoyable for both of you, and a nice tool to add to your training toolbox!


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.