4 Suggestions to Help Your Dog Settle Down

One of the most common questions I hear from dog training students is, “How can I get my dog to relax and calm down?”

Dogs love to go for walks, play ball, chase a toy and have fun with us, but unfortunately in too many situations the dog is still ready to go when the dog owner wants to quit. However, you can teach your dog to relax.

Teach the Basic Obedience Exercises

Teaching your dog the basic obedience exercises—sit, down, stay, walk on a leash nicely, come and watch me—are more than simply having your dog repeat these when you ask him to do them. What training does is help the two of you learn how to communicate with each other. Your dog learns to look to you for guidance. You learn how to motivate your dog to build cooperation while your dog learns how much fun it is to work with you. These are important skills, especially when you ask your dog to calm himself even when he’d rather be bouncing around and having fun.

If you’ve done some training previously and can train your dog yourself, that’s great; otherwise, enroll in a training class.

Reward any Calm Moments

Teaching your dog the basic obedience exercises—especially sit, down and stay—begins to teach your dog to control himself. You are asking him to perform these exercises, but when your dog cooperates, he is calming himself for those moments and that’s a great start.

While you’re teaching these exercises, you can also reward other calm moments in your life with your dog. The reward will depend on the training method you’re using, so that might be a click and treat, verbal praise or another reward. Just make sure that your dog understands the reward and make sure your reward doesn’t cause your dog to increase his activity level at that moment. Don’t ruin the calm.

Don’t Reward Hyper Moments

It’s also important that you don’t reward those moments when your dog is bouncing off the walls and spinning in circles. Keep in mind that your dog will repeat actions that are rewarding. With my dog Bones, looking at him and talking to him, especially when I’m smiling, is a reward. For other dogs the reward might need to be a treat, a ball, actions from you or simply your attention. Just make sure the reward doesn’t create too much excitement, otherwise it’s counter productive.

If your dog is overly active, you may need to create a calm moment out of the chaos. Go to wherever the dog treats are stored and take a few. It’s best if he sees you do this. Then make sure your dog sees you, sees the treat and then stands still. Wait. When he realizes you aren’t going to chase him, yell at him or otherwise react to his shenanigans, he’s going to look to you to see what’s changed. When he comes to you and sits, praise him quietly and give him a treat. Reward his calm.

Feel free to adapt this technique for other moments where your dog loses his calm. Obviously you cannot ask your dog to be calm all the time; not only is it impossible, but you wouldn’t want to change who he is. But when he becomes over-stimulated in situations and places when you’d prefer that he’d be calmer, you can adapt this technique to the situation. If he is too stimulated in the veterinary clinic waiting room, for example, bring some extra good treats with you and ask him to sit in front of you and focus on you. Smile at him, and praise and reward him for the calm.

Create a Special Spot

Each of my dogs has a special spot in the living room and in my home office where they are supposed to lie down and relax. They understand the request, “Go to your spot,” and know when they get there to relax. I could ask my dogs to lie down and stay anywhere, but they might not relax while doing a down stay. However, with an established spot that is associated with relaxation, the calm comes more easily.

I use a throw rug for each dog’s spot. I ask the dog to lie down on the rug, praise and reward him. I’ll ask him to lie down on the rug and give him something to chew or a belly rub. I want him to know good things happen when he lies down on the rug.

Then I’ll teach him to go to the spot. To teach, “Go to your spot,” I use a handful of good treats. When just a step or two away from the throw rug, I let a dog sniff the treat and then as I say, “Go to your spot,” I toss the treat on the rug. When the dog has at least one paw on the rug, he is praised and gets another treat. Gradually, over several training sessions, I’ll reward him when two paws are on the rug, or all four. Then I’ll reward him when he goes to the rug and lies down. Finally, I’ll ask him to go to his rug from several steps away or all the way across the room. Vary the direction, the distance, and other variables.

Keep the training fun. Vary the treats to reward him for going to the rug to keep his interest high. Use different rewards for him for lying down on his spot, all while maintaining calm and without creating too much excitement.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika, CDT, CABC

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer and Certified Animal Behavior Consultant as well as the founder and co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in northern San Diego county. Liz is also the founder of Love on a Leash therapy dogs; her dog, Bones, goes on visits on a regular basis. A prolific writer, Liz is also the author of more than 80 books. Many of her works have been nominated or won awards from a variety of organizations, including Dog Writers Association of America, San Diego Book Awards, the ASPCA, and others. Liz shares her home with three English Shepherds: Bones, Hero, and Seven, as well as one confident and bossy orange tabby cat, Kirk. To relax from work, or to take work on the road, Liz and her crew travel the West and PNW in their RV. If you see an RV on the road named "Travelin' Dogs", honk and say hi!

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