Being Calm is a much overlooked emotional state for our modern dogs. We have hurried lives ourselves often and this can impact upon them. They can have a quiet , but often not always calm , day and then everyone comes home, it is noisy or busy , anxieties of our day are shed in a cuppa or a glass of wine as we relax, we may walk the dog to relax ourselves and give them the exercise they need but are we engaging? Are we watching for THEIR needs on the walk? Often I see walkers on phones or for a 20 mins not engaging once with their dog.
For an anxious or unsettled dog, or a dog with medical issues, being naturally calm is not their default.
As for Puppies!! Well we all know what happens when they don’t get enough calm time. They become demanding, shouting, attention seeking and bitey. This can soon become a learned way, develop a behaviour to access attention or “feel better” and sometimes develop into a dog for whom THIS is a default.
So What can we do ? How can we get this? Just a few images of how my dogs are encouraged to get some rest in between fun (and that is the key).
I am privileged to be working with a range of colleagues to support dogs to gain this calmness. As an Absolute Dogs ProDog Trainer I really love their approach to creating Calm.
Some quotes from their Calm Protocols:
“Calmness a concept that can’t be overrated”
“Arousal levels is made up of lots of little exciting, anxiety inducing or worrying events until their [stress] bucket is full”. [and their behaviour becomes “Hyper” or over the top]
“Teaching Calm default, a calm existence, a generally calm way of being keeps the [stress] bucket empty”
[by using a calm protocol, having more happy fun events than excitable ones and complementary support] “When something arousing/challenging happens the bucket doesn’t overflow – it tops up a bit because the dog’s brain has learned to calm to empty it”
(Quotes from Tom Mitchell from the Absolute Dogs Programme.)
So how do we know if our dogs arousal (excitement, anxious) bucket is overflowing or close to doing so?
What are the signs? Do you recognise any of these?
Lunging and barking Destructive Barking at the slightest thing
separation anxiety Not listening (or hearing) what you say mouthing or biting
attention seeking with any of the other behaviours, not giving up
humping – toys, people, cushions, air … zoomies not eating
What can we do?
There are 3 types of calm according to the Absolute Dogs Team.
Passive calming – using snuffle mats, Kongs , Treat Balls, scent puzzles
Encouraging Calm (we call it “settle”) catch them genuinely settled and offer a little treat or a calm touch eventually adding a cue helps to get them settled in an environment they find arousing. I love to add music to this time, adding a sensory memory that can be invoked. This is a great way to help calm whilst you are absent or during the night or in another room. Our favourites are Islands by Ludovico Einaudi , The Essence Deva by Premal, The Music Within by Sat Darshan Singh, Anand Bliss Snatam Kaur.
Creating a set of uninterrupted spaces – different specific rooms or beds creates a Calmness Protocol a default multisensory quiet place.
Rest Perhaps the most important of the “Calmness Triad”. A crate, or bed, a safe place. No play here, no interruptions, a place to choose to sleep. Dogs need lots of sleep to process learning and the myriad of sensory inputs during their day. Children need to respect this place and we as adults can use this for the dog to take time away from children or busy homes.
How do you create these calm places?
Calm dog only zones
Rest Times – boundary games (see Absolute Dogs Ebook). Value the time in these places, short at first then extend until it becomes a choice, like Tilly above.
Game on- Game off – have fun to tire the mind, managed arousal, fun, but use a start and stop cue… “1…2…3…GOOOO ” and finish with a calming stroke ” all done” .
Exercise and fitness – manage both the high arousal, fun and fast activities with the managed calm fitness Lola Loves the balance board or even an empty box! But remember a tired dog is not necessarily a calm dog and exercise will not tire many dogs!
What about the over-aroused, anxious or dog with reactive behaviours? How else can we help?
As an Animal Therapist and Integrated Trainer I see the signs above of over-arousal, frustration or reactivity most days either professionally or out an about. I often suggest trying one of a range of interventions whether commercially available or as one of my modalities.
For information here are some ideas:
For a whole range of information about the following and some shared posts on a range of Canine wellness and therapies have a look at our partner FB page
Bach Flower Therapies for dogs with historical trauma or a general anxiety or fear, these gentle therapeutic essences can be combined into a personalised recipe to enable the body and soul to work with the needs, I have seen amazing results , have a look on the FB page for Bailies story ...and Genghis below – you can see his peace.
Reiki Especially combined with Bach and energy balancing can help manage the calm in over anxious dogs.
Botanical Self Selection – also known as Zoopharmacognosy. This is very powerful to give the dog some choice about the herbs and aromatics they wish to choose for their specific needs. Every session I take part in is a joy to see and then the calm from the animal after is a joy to see. Look at Genghis just relaxing into Jasmine and Valerian.
Offering and finding what they would like is vital …
Below Genghis is Working with Tracy from Calm Creatures
Commercially available Products
I also work alongside Sarah at Feed the Good Wolf and her AniScentia range.
I have tried many of these anxiety and calming products with great success for my own and clients dogs.
My Animal Matters – Rachel Windsor Knott Is also another brilliant source of not only Self Selection information but very high quality products. Aimed at both Therpaists and especially interested Pet owners her shop and website and FB pages are a great source of information.
Finally … If you would like some help to support calm in your puppy or your older dog. Please ask, we can offer:
Training and Games
Remember – Calm Dogs are Happy and Healthy Dogs