Tag Archives: deep breathing

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 2.5

Shaping calmness


We are going to test your powers of observation with today’s plans and zoom in on calm and settle behaviour that we can teach.

What does your calm dog look like?

To shape calmness we will break down the image of your calm dog into little pieces and work on each piece at a time.

Soon you will be able to combine the pieces and have the full picture of a calm dog.

Start with your dog’s calm-mat and wait for your dog to lie on and settle on the mat. Reward as needed.

Watch your dog closely and note the sorts of behaviours you see when you capture calmness; these might be the ingredients in your calm-dog recipe:

  • lying over on one hip, on his side or frog legs
  • head down, resting
  • breathing deeply
  • eyes not watching anything particular or closed
  • ears relaxed and not orienting toward anything
  • feet relaxed so nails pointing straight out, rather than curled over
  • tail still and lying


Can you zoom in any closer? What other ingredients can you spot?

Today’s Games

Time Allowance:
Practice for 3-4 minute sessions and then take a break. Have a couple of sessions today.

Try fitting  each short session into your routine when the household is quiet, for example during the ad breaks of your TV show.

Family Participation:
Kids are often great dog trainers. Teach each child how to lure and deliver rewards 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:
Are you really getting into helping your dog self-calm and settle? Why not incorporate today’s exercises in to a more advanced program: Dr Overall’s Relaxation Protocol (an explanation here).

You will need:

  • Training Mix
  • your dog’s calm-mat


Beginners Level Game

Shaping calm on a mat

Wait for your dog to find his mat. For this exercise you are going to reward him on his mat throughout.

Reward him and wait for him to show some behaviour that is closer to one of the ingredients on your list.

Maybe he stops wagging his tail momentarily, maybe he relaxes his mouth a little, maybe he takes a deep breath – reward it.

The more observant you become the more you will see and reward so that your dog becomes better at becoming progressively calmer.

Your dog may drift off while you practice or you might like to end the session by sitting with your dog for a massage session.

Advanced Level Game

Deep breathing

Taking a deep breath is not only relaxing and relieving for us, but for our dogs too. If we feel a little overwhelmed we can consciously ask ourselves to breathe, to take a deep breath.

We can give our dogs this skill too by teaching them first to take a breath in, to deep breathe on cue and then teach him to take a deep breath in ever more exciting situations.


Settle your dog on his calm-mat and reward on his mat throughout practice.

  • hold a treat between your thumb and forefinger close to your face, away from your dog
  • slowly lower the treat toward your dog
  • watch your dog’s nose carefully – you are looking for a nostril flare, pinching at the side of his nose, closed mouth or keeping an eye on his chest to see it raise with inhalation
  • as soon as you see that, say YES! softly and immediately feed your dog the treat


  • when your dog is consistently breathing as you lower the treat, begin to fade this
  • take a deep sigh before you lower your hand
  • slowly lower an empty hand (as if the treat was still in there)
  • when your dog inhales, YES! and reward from your other hand


  • after some repetition, you will notice your dog taking deep breaths – YES! reward each one without prompting with the treat


  • build reliability in your sighing cue
  • take a deep breath (sigh), just before you think your dog will deep-breathe
  • as soon as he does, YES! and reward


Take a deep breath!

Another super useful training game down – yay!

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.