Christmas Bites: Chill Out

Chill Out

Holiday celebrations can have everyone somewhat wound up and it can take a food coma to help with relaxation. For the most part, we will want our pets to chill out too, especially when the family are hanging out or eating, and this is of course made even more difficult given the activity and festivities.

You know what I am going to say….start practicing now!

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All is calm

So that they feel comfortable on the day, start practicing chilling out today. This can be easily supported by using some pacifying activities entertainment ideas.

Establish your dog’s safe zone – a comfortable place they can go, spend time, without anyone approaching or interacting. Easy to do by giving your dog a yummy stuffable or an irresistible chew there every day, and leaving the dog to it. (For more see here.)

This helps to reduce your dog’s intensity about all the yummy stuff all the humans have!

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Most dogs will benefit from some comfortable confinement during the celebrations, and all dogs will enjoy a break away from the action, even occasionally. (More on preparing for there here.)

To make sure that confinement is a viable option during your party or gathering, and that your dog will be comfortable there, start practicing now! Every day, prepare the most wonderful puzzle, stuffable or chew for your dog – with your dog’s absolute favourites. Give him his treat in confinement and let him out before he becomes upset.

A little bit of alone time, away from the action and social pressure, will benefit most dogs (and people!), while making it easier to maintain safety and reduce unwanted behaviour.

The key to this is practice, every day, so that when you need confinement, your pet will cope better, be more comfortable and you will be at ease.

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Calm Context

Dogs learn what emotional response to expect, and therefore, which behaviours will be required in a given context. That might include the room they’re in, the people or other animals present, the time of day, what’s just happened, what comes next, the activities that go on there, whether good things, scary things or neutral things happen or can be expected.

During our celebrations, we might expect our dog to be calm and chilled, so we need to set up contexts that allow that to happen. Of course, seasonal festivities are anything but calm so, you’ve guessed it, we need to start practicing now!

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Plan ahead

Think where you will like your dog to be calm and chilled out during the celebrations. That’s where we start practicing by setting up a Calm Context there.

  • practice at times that your dog might normally be calmer
  • the house is quiet, no comings and goings, nobody expected to come home or call in
  • all their needs are met – they have toileted, they have eaten, they have been exercised, they have had lots of attention, interaction and company
  • you can practice with them on lead, if you like, to help reduce their moving around and getting themselves excited again
  • make less exciting chew toys, chews or toys available to minimise excitement but to give him something to do should he need that

It’s important that you start setting up this calm idea for your dog – no more active or raucous play in that location from now on. Make this place about being chilled out.

And it’s best that your dog has access to this room, only when it’s easy for him to be calm and chilled out.

Set up for settling!

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While I don’t really like to use lots of treats for this particular exercise, that can be helpful to get you started and begin to build value in settling behaviour, for your dog:

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Park Your Pup!

Parking is a valuable exercise to practice, for both ends of the lead. This can help your dog learn to chill out in the house and when out and about, meaning you can take your dog lots of places.

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Parking is a particularly great for when you are eating or relaxing, and you want to help your dog relax, but also not have to pay them too much attention. This can help to prevent or reduce so-called begging behaviour at the dinner table too.

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This clip demonstrates the leash technique:

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Park your Pup with their lead on and with a delicious stuffable toy, chew or treat to work on. Hold the toy or chew under one foot, while you are sitting down, and the dog’s lead under your other foot. Give your dog just enough lead that they can comfortably lie down or turn, but not so much that they can jump up or get into mischief.

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Start practicing some Parking today! It’s great to practice this exercise as you might use it on the day. For example, Park your Pup while you are eating a meal or relaxing in front of the TV.

Every time you practice calmness and settling in your calm contexts, the easier it will be for your dog to do this, in these contexts, during the celebrations.

Make time for crazy too!

All this settling and being calm is fine, but is tricky for dogs, particularly at exciting times. Always thinking in rollercoasters, regularly interrupt your dog’s settling and calm-time with some fidget and crazy breaks.

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Help your dog to become familiar with this routine, by practicing settling and then crazy, settling and then crazy, ending with a little more settling. Not only will this prepare your dog for calmer, more settled behaviour in those Calm Contexts, but also help your dog develop better self-calming skills which will help him calm himself more efficiently after excitement.

But, you gotta start practicing now!