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. Currently I am working with the Absolute Dogs Team to become a ProTrainer. Their view is that Calm is essential.
“Calmness s a concept that cant 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 dogs 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.
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.
In busy homes a crate cover may help Jo Pritchard (Paws boutique Tamworth) specialises in products to help with creating calm have a look at her beautiful Crate covers
Time out – rest , 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” .
“Ditch the Bowl” use the majority or even all their dry food allowance (or an alternative for fresh fed dogs) for the games and activities, working for your fun is satisfying and tiring.
Exercise and fitness – manange both the high arousal, fun and fast activities with the managed calm fitness Lola Loves the balance board or even an empty box !
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 or reactivity most days either professionally or out an about. I often suggest trying one of a range of interventions wither 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.
Crystal therapy –some dogs are amazing at being clear about the crystals they need and wearing them as an attachment to a banadana or cage attached to the collar can really help.
Jo at Paws Boutique is currently developing a Bandana to carry a crystal safely or a piece of muslin with a Bach remedy or a self selected essence. We are working with her – watch this space
I also work alongside Niki at the Norfolk Apothecary and her AniScentia range. The products are mostly Organic and all self sourced and she creates each product personally using her skills as a Master Herbalist and Aromologist/aromatherapist as well as many years experience as an Animal Therapist.
I have tried all 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.
In the UK this week temperatures have plummeted from the average for the time of year at around 7C to daytime of -3+ C and a wind chill of -10C+ with a significant snowfall for many and where there is less, pavements are bitterly cold.
Not much fun for us, schools are closed due to the injury risk (A&E really does not need the extra work) . Children are thoroughly wrapped up and a limited time given on their outdoor play at home. We would not take out our very young children and are urged to check on our old people. We have been urged to bring in our outdoor pets such as roaming cats and rabbits etc.
For the young and the majority of our dogs this is the first time in around 10 years most have experienced this weather.
So for our dogs especially, those lovely pets we snuggle at night in our centrally heated homes, this is quite a temperature shock. Their feet are not prepared for this level of biting icy cold – this is where they sweat where there are many nerves to help them make sense and stay away from danger, as our hands and feet are.
So when I see and hear of dogs who are just not prepared for this unwilling, not of choice, trudging through the snow, shivering or picking feet comically, with unhappy disengaged companions my heart goes to them, just “because it is walk time” often early morning or late afternoon.
My dog (above) chooses on these days what we will do. On the whole he rushes out pees and poos has a roll around and a little bounce (he is after all a snow dog by DNA, not used to the temperature but still has a love of the white stuff locked away) then he rushes in a gets warm, snoozing on his sofa until the next pee break or I get the toys out.
Yesterday we had an enforced walk out, we could not stay at home to keep a tradeperson and he safe. It was cold but not too cold and as you see not much ice or snow. He rolled and bounced for around 10-15 mins , then slowed down, we came home then, he rested the rest of the day until tea time when he asked for some games. It took him hours to recover, he has arthritis. He will not “go for a walk ” until he and I feel it is comfortable for him. He will go out and engage in the environment, he will have plenty of exercise and fun and tiring activity. All in the comfort of my home, where he is medically comfortable.
Like wise my health puppy will get to choose what she does and how long for, she likes the snow and we play with her for as long as she chooses or we feel is ok for her delicate paws. Then for her, some training time interspersed with games and fun and rest, learning to calm.
So what do we do instead? The list is endless and these are some ideas, this is not exhaustive , these are some of their favourites:
chase with a toy , or fetch the rolling ball, waiting until released (3-2-1 … GOOOO) is our current skill to be learned.
boundary games (again self control) being rewarded for choosing to stay on the bed or go on and wait to be released, all fun and games. A new skill is waiting for their turn to be released for a game by name.
tricks, our favourites: spin, leg weaves, 2 paws or balance any 2 or 3- using different places and textures (both great for body condition).
Noise box -get the recycling ready – boxes, card tubes, plastic bottles, paper, add some biscuits into any of them put into a large box or tray sprinkle in some more (or better still grated cheese or another fun food) and make a cuppa and let them exercise themselves! This is a great way to feed biscuit/kibble fed dogs their breakfast.
Snuffle mats or treat search –snuffle mats are fleece covered mats (or use a loopy bathroom mat or towel) with a sprinkling of fun foods, breakfast or left over bits of human meat or grated veg. Treat search, hide it let them find it.
Practice our basics sit, down, stand, leave, wait, walk by my side, leash on and off, release words for play. What words do they know FIRST TIME/ INSTANTLY? They all need reminders. Practice Stay from room to room until called. How long can they stay ? How far? can you make it longer, further? What vocabulary does your dog know?
Behaviour chains put together tricks (above) and commands and wait times in basics. This is one of our favourites .
OUR two favourites? The Orientation Game – Use a handful of their food allowance or some favourite but healthy food. sit on the floor or on a low chair settee. throw out one piece, they chase then as they look back throw another and repeat, they soon learn to look back to you for what happen next. This has transformed our Loose Lead Walking and Recall. Proximity chase a similar one but on the move… drop a bit and run as they catch you, drop and run, repeat … play this is in the snow too for a quick exercise !
It is worth noting that research and science is showing that 15 mins a day games as above is worth an hour of traditional “tiring out”. Also remember to intersperse different levels of play so they don’t get too hyper, adding in calm time and massage or stroking.
It needs engagement between the participants and deepens relationships, impacting on Loose lead walking and Recall – the issues trainers like us get as the primary request for help.
How do I have time to do this? In short sharp sessions, 10 bits of food at a time, no more than 5 mins mostly 3 mins. choosing from the list to play not everything! Mixing up fun and furious with calm and quiet and having time off, as well as massage and TTouch. This is the time it takes to boil the kettle for your hot chocolate, or boil up your soup!
Have fun, stay safe and put your companions needs up there first, rather than an increasingly outdated view of canine exercise. For more information or help or just to share your fun please visit @peacefulpawstherapy Facebook page or message me.
I am qualified and accredited to The Institute of Modern Dog Trainers. I have been accredited as an Absolute Dogs Pro Trainer, specialising in a Concept ad Games Based approach to learning. I am delighted to become a Dog Training College (DTC) approved Instructor.
I am also a Qualified Therapeutic Practitioner in Animal Healing, Animal Reiki and Bach Flower Remedies. Working as a therapist with all animals and specialising in support for Dogs and their Guardians with a range of emotional and positive method training needs.
Concept/Games based Learning is a brand new way of looking at canine learning and interaction. We look at the needs of the dog and its owner in terms of supporting “concepts” to be learned or improved. This is brain based learning, dog centred. It is particularly suitable for whole family engagement. the concepts are worked upon using 3 minute games (the optimum time for learning to be embedded) followed by calm (Have a look at my blog on the importance of calm ( Calm Dogs are Happy and Healthy Dogs – Something you dream of ?) and processing time. the games are fun and transferable and transportable.
For further information about the journey to this point please look a the Blogs attached below.