Teaching our dogs to chill out can be quite a challenge, and how do we know if it's really working? Can you teach "relaxation"? Can you teach an emotion? Relaxation is a state and just like with people, we can learn to slow our minds and slow our bodies, lowering our heart rate and relaxing our muscles. We can't teach dogs to feel an emotion, but perhaps we can help them recover from stressful incidents and slow down when they're overly excited.
Prerequisites for this exercise are "Elevator", and "down". We will not use a clicker for this exercise as it will be too stimulating for them. A simple, quiet verbal marker like "yes" or "good" will do.
Start with the elevator game and gradually work toward a down position. When they're in a down position, you can either cue them or lure them into a settle (over onto one hip). Sit with them either in a chair or on the floor or couch beside them. Try to take deep breaths yourself - think yoga class or meditation!
Watch your dog. Mark and feed (slowly) any sign of relaxation or de-arousal:
- slowed breathing
- a still tail
- relaxed muscles
- lowered head
Some dogs cannot handle this for very long (dogs who are higher energy or higher anxiety). Start small - 60 seconds and then give them a break. Work your way up over time. We've had clients work through this and their dogs have put themselves to sleep working through this exercise!