Tag Archives: calming

Just be

What ever happened to doing nothing?

I can’t remember what I used to do when there was any sort of lull in the action before I had a smartphone.
Anything other than constant stimulation and I am reaching for my iPhone…


The movie Bolt struck a cord when I saw it a few years ago.

It’s about a canine star of a TV show, Bolt, who plays a dog with super-powers saving his person Penny from the Green Eyed Man, week in, week out.
Except, that nobody told Bolt it was just a work of fiction and that he isn’t really a super-dog.


When the cameras stop rolling Bolt is kept in a permanent state of readiness, to fend off attacks by his enemies.

What about pet dogs? 

We certainly invest lots in teaching them to do lots of stuff, to increase their responsiveness, to build their love of learning and interaction.
And we put lots of energy into keeping them active, getting them moving, in the hope that a tired dog is a good dog (but is it?).

When do they get to just be?

‘Just being’ doesn’t necessarily come easily

Pretty much every type of dog was developed for some sort of job and in modern pet-dom most dogs are unemployed.

Our efforts in guiding dogs from wild to pet, whether intentional or not, selected for characteristics such as wariness, reactivity, inquisitiveness, attachment and activity.

Our pets’ lives, just like our’s, continue to become more and more sedentary with us substituting real-life pursuits for those that are easier to participate from a seated position – even sport is a less serious outlet for pretty serious behaviour.

Without outlets for our behaviour, it is channelled somewhere else – I have a Smartphone but what do our dogs have?

Would we know a dog ‘just being’ if we saw one?

It can be tricky to spot a calm, chilled out dog.

With great access to knowledge you might think we have a better handle on canine signalling, but unfortunately our awareness (or lack thereof) is affected by popular media’s interpretation of “calmness”.

Shutdown is not the same as calmness

A dog who is overwhelmed by a situation and can’t use behaviour to escape something they find unpleasant, will often show signs of ‘shutting down’.

This happens because the dog is unable to escape and his requests for relief have gone unheard/unanswered. This is typified by a very still dog – the absence of behaviour is not calmness.

Shut down dogs interact minimally with their environment, their body may be still and tense, if they are moving their posture may be low slung, they will often be frozen, you may see them yawn, lick their lips, and squint and blink (outside of normal contexts for these behaviours).

Eileen Anderson’s clip gives you a run down of some examples, mistaken for calmness:


Calmness myths and mistakes:

  • The absence of behaviour is not calmness (nor ideal)
  • Stillness because there’s no way out, ain’t calmness
  • Stillness through restraint ain’t calmness
  • Lying down through uncomfortable handling or contact ain’t calmness
  • Compliance because they can’t escape ain’t calmness
  • Compliance due to the application of training equipment or techniques (that the individual finds aversive) ain’t calmness
  • “Settling” due to exhaustion, ain’t calmness (is a tired dog, a good dog?)
  • Less behaviour is not necessarily better than more behaviour
If you want less behaviour, maybe the one in the middle ain’t for you…

What does a ‘just being’ dog look like?

A chilled dog is loose, breathing deeply, he may still be monitoring the environment but not really on his tip-toes, he may still be responsive but not in an overly enthusiastic way – but the biggest difference?

The chilled out, calm, ‘just being’ dog is choosing to chill, be calm and be.

Back to Eileen Anderson for her ying to the yang clip:


Teaching a dog to just be

Start by helping your dog to learn that settling, and being calm is excellent!
Check out Week 2 training games from our Train Your Dog Month here.

From ‘excited-by-everything’ to just-be

This dog needs help coming down from the highs, and to better control his swings from up to down.

  • play games with rules:


  • make play training and training play


  • play jazz up/settle down


From ‘let’s go go go’ to just-be

This dog needs help learning that they don’t need to be ‘on’ all the time – good things happen when you’re doing nothing too.

Both in training sessions, and in life, mark and reward doing nothing – even if it’s only a split second – the more you reinforce nothing, the less frantic behaviour you will see.

  • make sure to put behaviours on stimulus control – this means that the dog learns to offer behaviours when you cue them only, rather than as soon as he thinks there might be a reward or he thinks it might be time to work


  • teach calm-focus exercises rather than laser-focus-on-the-task activities

Week 4 of our Train Your Dog Month program

  • make doing-nothing your new job


  • take a break/breath



Hanging out

When we might only have limited time with a dog, whether that be because we are visiting, working long hours or the dog is in a rescue/kennel environment, of course we want to make the most of our time together.

But, a dog who hasn’t been getting too much human attention will be pretty wound up and anticipatory waiting for it. Sometimes, it’s better just to hang out with them – this gives them the opportunity to calm down, bond and be.


Just be…a dog

Don’t forget, that before the dog can just be, he must have an outlet to just be a dog too.


Training Game 4.3

Go be a dog!

We can’t expect our dog to be focused all the time – it’s important that we also make sure our dog gets to be a dog and have fun too!

Rather than just ending a training session or a focus exercise and ignoring your dog, give them something else to do and encourage them to enjoy off-time too.

Today’s Games

Time Allowance:
Practice for 2-4 minute sessions and then take a break. Have a few sessions today.

Try fitting  each short session into your routine; for example, while you wait for the kettle to boil, during the ad break of your TV show or while you wait for the computer to start up.

Family Participation:
Kids are often great dog trainers. Teach each child how to play this game safely.

If your dog is mouthy,  jumpy or likely to get over-excited it might be best for you to get the behaviours established and then bring in the kids to help with practice.
Always supervise child-dog interactions and make sure children learn to leave the dog alone when eating his rewards.

Top Tip for Today’s Training Game:
Establish this exercise with your dog searching for food and then begin to transfer it to sniffing doggie areas.
This way you will always be able to give your dog some time-off to sniff, no matter where you are.

You will need:

  • Training Mix
  • toys or other high value rewards
  • leash, collar, things for walkies

Go Sniff!

Teach your dog to search and sniff on cue:


It’s a great idea to work on this exercise because:
  • dogs gotta sniff
  • dog love to sniff
  • sniffing provides great exercise
  • having sniffing on cue allows your dog to get his sniffing-jollies when it best suits
  • you can divert your dog’s attention before he gets distracted or upset
  • you can reward your dog with the opportunity to sniff
  • you can provide your dog with a bit of relief after excitement
  • and you can let your dog go be a dog!



That wasn’t a tough one at all, but we’re back with more challenges tomorrow!

Training Game 2.3

Parking Your Pup


Parking is a great tool that can be used in lots of situations. This clip from Learning About Dogs shows some of the applications of parking:

We are going to use parking with our dog’s calm-mat to help with calming and managing your dog’s behaviour in potentially exciting situations.

Today’s Games

Time Allowance:
Practice for 1-2 minute sessions and then take a break. Have a few  sessions today.

Try fitting  each short session into your routine; for example, while you wait for the kettle to boil, during the ad break of your TV show or while you wait for the computer to start up.

You might settle your dog for a long period too – and that’s great!

Family Participation:
It’s better for adults to practice today’s games as it is not safe for children to stand on the lead to restrain a dog.

Top Tip for Today’s Training Game:
Use the Jazz up/Settle down game to give your dog the opportunity for a little crazy before you expect your dog to settle down while you are busy or occupied.

You will need:

  • Training Mix
  • your dog’s calm-mat
  • leash, collar/harness
  • Kong toys – stuffed or lined

Beginner Level Games:

Park your pup:

  • have your dog on a lead attached to a flat collar or harness
  • give your dog a chew or lined Kong toy to work on (if it’s too exciting and your dog can’t settle first, hold his collar or harness with one hand)
  • hold the lead with one hand and allow the slack of the lead to pool on the floor
  • stand on the lead at the point where it is taut to your hand, but there is slack to your dog

Use your dog’s calm-mat for this one and practice in different rooms of the house.

Advanced Level Games

Park your Pup, on the road:

For your walkies, bring your mat and a frozen lined Kong toy. About halfway through, lay out your dog’s mat and see if he can lie on it.


Don’t worry if he’s not ready for that just yet!

Hold the Kong toy under one foot on your dog’s mat. Park your Pup with your other foot and allow your dog to work on their yummy treat.

This lapping action, taking some time and encouraging your dog to settle will help your dog to flip his off switch, even on an exciting adventure.

Maybe your dog can only work on their Kong for a few seconds or maybe he finds it difficult to be too interested in it at all – these are really likely at the start of your training program. So don’t worry too much – there are things we can do:

  • practice this in a really quiet spot
  • allow your dog to check the area out first and sniff every inch
  • use the absolute most amazingly yummy filling to line the Kong
  • practice toward the end of your walk, closer to home – if at the start this works best when you get back to your front door, or even inside the house that’s ok and is your starting point – work backwards from there

You can play this game at home too!

Try this game with your calm-mat to really test your training:

Jazz Up & Settle Down

This game teaches your dog to better control his excitement and allows him to practice bring himself down from that high. We are basically helping your dog install that ‘off’ switch.

  • using a toy, a game and an excited tone of voice get your dog all jazzed up – remember to use your cue for getting a game going
  • jazz up for a five count


  • immediately stop and lay out your dog’s mat
  • if he doesn’t lie on it, you may need to remind him by cueing or luring
  • you can use food rewards at the start of this game – reward your dog with one food reward after another
  • settle down for a ten count


  • get your dog all jazzed up again and repeat

As your dog improves with this exercise you should see him settle quicker – now you can begin to increase the length of each jazz up and each settle down period.

Always make sure that your dog is settled for at least twice as long as they are jazzed up.

Start and end each game with a settle down; having a longer settle down at the end.


Day 3 done – well done 🙂

TYDM 2016 Week 2

keep-calm-and-settle-down-58 Week 2 Keep Calm & Settle Down

Most types of dogs have been selectively bred to be curious and interested about the world around them.
Not surprising then that we need to actually teach them how to switch off, particularly as our pet dogs are unlikely to be carrying out the jobs for which they were originally selected.

Finding the ‘on’ switch for your dog is probably pretty easy – indeed, your dog can probably turn that one on himself without any problems! But finding the off-switch can be a little trickier – and at times, especially surrounding exciting events, may seem impossible.

When we describe a dog who is easy to live with, one of the attributes that has to be close to top of the list is a dog who settles himself, who can calm himself and who can easily swing between the on switch and the off switch.

Because ‘on’ can seem to be a default setting for many dogs, we need to put the effort into teaching the dog how to switch to ‘off’.

Remember, being ‘on’ can become addictive so we this can be a real challenge for some pets – no better time to get started on training than now!

What do I need for Week 2?

  • a new mat/towel/blanket – one your dog hasn’t had before
  • Training Mix
  • your dog’s collar and leash
  • Kong toys or similar for pacifying


Week 2 Training Games

    • up & down


    • settle & matwork


    • capturing calmness


    • Park Your Pup


    • massage


    • relaxation

What’s my dog learning?

  • I am learning to settle myself, even after excitement or activity and when my human is ignoring me.
  • I am learning to better tolerate frustration so can wait patiently
  • I am learning that I can’t have all the things I want when I want them
  • Chewing on my stuff helps me to calm, like a toddler sucking their thumb
  • When a human comes near me when I have something yummy, I am learning that good things happen and that I don’t need to guard
  • Learning to calm and settle myself can help to prevent serious behavioural and physical disorders
  • My human can have lots of peace and quiet while I settle quietly

There’s a lot to this relaxation-business…

You can download a more printer friendly, but abbreviated version of this week’s exercises here.