A great exercise for nearly any dog – worried dogs learn how to settle, over-excited dogs learn how to calm themselves. I love to practice this in the vet waiting room, so pup learns that the vet’s office is a place to be calm as well. Start in one comfortable spot and then gradually expand the scenery.
It’s simple – using food that isn’t over exciting but can compete with the surroundings, lure the dog into a down position. We don’t ask for the behavior with a hand signal or verbal cue because we want a relaxed flop, not that sphinx-like obedience down. It can take a while the first time – the video here shows each of these dog’s very first time doing the exercise so you can see how long it takes a person very familiar with the exercise to get a new dog to participate. Keep in mind it also feels like forever when it’s only been a few minutes. Just be patient. Once they get it, they usually get it again quickly.
Once they’re down, just reward often enough that they stay down. If they stand back up, you don’t have to correct them or say anything, just calmly lure them back down and pay them when they’re there. Model the behavior you want to see. If you speak to them, do so quietly and calmly. Your body posture should be relaxed, even slouching, as well. Remember this isn’t a Jedi mind trick; don’t reward them for staring lovingly into your eyes or at the food in your hands, willing it to drop.
That’s it: 1. Get them in a down, and 2. Feed them there.
In time, you’ll see their breathing change, their muscle tension ease, and their energy subside. The more you practice, the more quickly you’ll see them able to relax, and they’ll even start to generalize the behavior into other stressful settings.
(this is based on Suzanne Clothier’s Really Real Relaxation Protocol)
For fun, this is a video of our friend Dorothy, the day she learned this exercise for the first time. Yes, that’s a bit of cheese by her nose…
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