So what is an owner of an energetic dog to do? The answer is simple, teach them how to relax. Since we know that behavior that is reinforced get repeated we can do just that. Catch your dog when they are doing nothing. That's right, reward the nothing. This is such a hard concept to grasp because we humans are so obsessed with pointing out the wrong. Think about it, what do you want your dog to do a vast majority of the time? Most answer that they want their dog to lay in their bed or in other words, do nothing.
Dogs that seem to have endless energy are the ones who are not getting enough restful sleep. Dogs need to sleep about half the day away and puppies need almost 20 hours! That frantic energy that seems to turn your darling into a hell beast is the same as a toddler screaming that they aren't tired. Self soothing through crates and tethers can help your puppy or dog learn their natural rhythm and therefore become more relaxed and less hyper.
In addition to rewarding the nothing the following behavior can be taught using a mat. This is how many service dogs are trained to relax in public places. This is also perfect for families with new babies as the dog can do settle time while your little one does tummy time.
I tell my puppy clients that if they only teach their puppy one thing it should be this:
Settle on Mat: This will allow us to start to capture calmness. We will start by building up a doggy magnet to our selected mat. This mat can be anything, a dog bed or a bath mat it doesn’t matter but the mat should be the same for this exercise. We will start by creating a “doggy magnet” and we will see the dog start to gravitate toward the mat whenever it is presented. Then we will be able to put it to a verbal cue for later use with the door/visitors and other high energy situations.
Step one: Set up the space. We want a mat and a chair set up in a space with no other easily accessible things that might attract your dog’s attention. Have something to occupy your hands/attention such as a book/laptop/tablet and a handful of tasty treats.
Step Two: Bring your dog to the space on leash and simply sit down and wait. As soon as they step a paw onto the mat, drop a treat on the mat. We are not using a marker word as usually it implies excitement and action while this is quite the opposite. Reward if the dog STAYS on the mat with another dropped treat.
· If he attempts to “mug” your treats simply ignore him, which is why you have something else to occupy yourself.
Step Three: After a couple dropped treats for being on the mat now wait for either a sit or a down, reward with a dropped treat. Now that your dog has offered the sit/lay down do not drop treats for just being on the mat. If he stays in his sit/down drop another treat preferably between his paws.
Step Four: Once the dog is lying down continue to drop treats until your handful is gone. If he gets up just wait for him to lie back down and then continue to drop treats. Once your handful is gone use and end cue such as, “All done”, get up, unleash, pick up the mat, and continue with your daily activities.
Step Five: Once your dog has the hang of lying down on the mat every time it is around we can start to reward calm behaviors instead of just dropping treats. A list of calm behaviors
· Slinging hips to one side
· Deep breaths/sighs/Yawning
· Squinty eyes/blinking/Staring at a fixed point
· Head down
· Relaxed ears
Tips and tricks: Try not to reward the same behavior again and again, smart dogs will try and offer those in particular and that is NOT calmness (it's cleverness). Start with the same amount of treats every time and slowly start to raise the amount of time before the next treats, you should be lengthening every session slowly.