How to Help Your Dog Relax
Have you ever wanted your puppy or rambunctious dog to just settle down and relax more? There are several types of dogs who generally fall into this category. The highly aroused and easily excitable dog is a common source of frustration. Likewise, the anxious neurotic dog or puppy can be an equal challenge for most pet parents. Whatever type of puppy or dog you have, learning how to help your dog relax is crucial to maintaining sanity and order around the house.
Create a Relaxing Environment for your dog
I mention this first as it is the most important consideration for your dog when learning how to help your dog relax. We can talk about solutions all day long but if the environment is too much for them to handle their behavior will show it. Have you ever thought about what it felt like the last time you stepped in for a nice relaxing massage? Or do you remember what going to the library was like? Both of these examples have very distinct environments and while you probably can’t recreate these exactly in your home, it would be wise to consider the changes to your dogs home environment to help them choose to relax more.
Reduce or Add Noise
Some dogs are very sound sensitive. Other dogs who are simply bored or under stimulated will bark and react to many seemingly innocuous noises from the outside world. To minimize this:
- Consider Adding soft classical music in the room you want your dog to relax in. Try to find something with piano at about 60 beats per minute. The same as the average human heart rate.
You can find these sounds on spotify, youtube, or itunes and play them at home. These sounds help your dog focus less on distracting noises from the outside world.
- Shut Windows and Doors if possible.
Many of us enjoy the outside world but if your dog is prone to barking and sensitive to noisy distractions it may be worth doing this for 30 days to see if their behavior improves.
Give them a quiet place to sleep in the daytime
Your dog’s sleep requirement is twice as much as yours. Puppies can sleep from 18-20 hours a day and adult dogs may need around 16 hours of sleep per day to be their best selves. Puppies can be increasingly nippy or aggressive if they get too little sleep. It may be necessary to give your puppy dedicated time outs in a pen or crate for an hour or two at a time to make sure no one in the family disturbs them. Some breeds like beagles find it challenging to settle and often need assistance from their owners to routinely takes breaks in a crate or pen.
An overstimulated puppy can get into trouble and make mistakes. Older dogs need the same care but will often self regulate as long as they have quiet, dark spot to retire to. For those dog parents working from home, I suggest not allowing your puppy to sit right by your leg while you work. This close proximity can inadvertently wake your dog if you have to frequently get up yourself for food or to use the bathroom.
Add calming scents and smells
- Aromatherapy is a simple way to help your dogs relax at home.
There are several safe and effective essential oils and pheromones you can add to the environment or directly to your pooch.
I personally enjoy lavender, bergamot, and clary sage around my home but here is an extensive list of calming essential oils with recipes for making your own blends. These can be diffused or added behind the dog’s ears and on top of their head or added to bedding or a bandana. I suggest using a calming scent to pair with your scent which can be diffused in your home while you are away. This may help with separation anxiety concerns later.
Close windows or block views to the exciting outside world.
How would you feel if you spent the whole day at home from behind a window looking at your friends passing by without the ability to join. You might feel pretty frustrated. If you were a dog you might bark and scratch at a window to get their attention. This is a pretty common set of circumstances in the dog world. Many dog owners feel it is good to give their dogs a view but as behavior consultant I see it as the antecedent to the problem behavior. If this is you, I suggest reducing the view your dog has from inside the home, reducing the likely hood of frustration.
If you are looking for a way to do this without sacrificing your view and warming sunlight, check out these easy to install and remove window dressings.
Increase Environmental Enrichment
The last piece of the puzzle is to add appropriate activities for your dogs to engage with when they are at home. There is almost no limit to how to achieve this. It is always a topic of conversation when I am called for a consultation. Most people seem to have 3-5 old toys for their dogs to play with when they aren’t available to pay attention to their dogs. This simply isn’t enough for most dogs.
If you have a young puppy I suggest tripling that number and increasing the variety of the items. Some that crinkle, some that hide food, some that roll or have different textures and some to just destroy.
Dogs around 5-9 months of age are looking to use their new teeth, stronger muscles and growing brains so don’t let up on appropriate chewing items. This is when the harder item bones or chews should be used. Don’t leave anything your pet can choke on though. This is also the time to keep up mental stimulation. I suggest feeding the majority of their meals from some interactive feeder or from you while you are training them.
5 ways to help your dog relax using their food
- Put their food in a towel or left over Amazon Box.
Simply take a cup of their kibble or treats and wad it up in a large towel and toss it in a crate or on their bed. They will love sniffing out the food. Likewise, when you have extra deliveries, hide food and treats in the paper in the box and leave it for them to explore and find. This is one of my dog’s favorites. Image
- Get a snuffle bowl or mat.
This is the best thing for dogs since Bully Sticks. Snuffle Bowls are all the rage and a very easy way to add value to your pet’s day. This is like tossing your dog’s food into grass, which forces them to use their sense of smell to find the food. In fact, if you have a yard you can just use it.
- Snoop interactive dog toy
This is another favorite of my clients. You can put almost any dog treat in these and keep your dog busy trying to get them out. The snoop is easily cleanable and comes in two sizes for small to large pets.
- ZogoFlex Toppl Toy
This is like an open face Kong toy. If you don’t have a kong I suggest that toy too. The ZogoFlex Toppl is easier to stuff with soft sticky foods like wet dog food, raw meat, peanut butter, yogurt and foods with similar consistencies. Freeze a few and doll them out throughout the day for your dog while you help them relax.
- Licki Mats
Licking and Chewing are natural solutions for anxiety. Silicone lick mats are easy ways to add your favorite soft food spreads too. Some have suction cups to attach to a wall or floor to keep your pet in one spot while they slowly lick the time away. Add nut butter, yogurt, wet or raw dog food or even pureed vegetables.
Change how you walk your dog
Everyone has an opinion or preference on how they want to walk their dogs. Do you keep them by your side? Are you passing all the good smells or are you trying to tire your dog out on a walk by keeping a good pace? Whatever your style I will add these suggestions.
Let them sniff more
Most dogs are on a fact finding mission when outdoors. They are looking for interesting smells like pee and poo which may be gross to us but to them it is simply communication with each other. There is a lot we are missing in the smell department but dogs have an exquisite sense of smell and not to be allowed to explore the world is frustrating for many to say the least. In fact, I believe it is one of the most common reasons dogs pull on leash. They are simply getting ahead to get to smells they know they will be pulled away from shortly after. Relax, slow down and let them sniff more.
Add a longer leash
I am not suggesting a retractable leash but maybe a 10 foot leash that allows them more access to smells. I suggest this brand of long leash as it is easy to clean and very durable.
Pay less attention to your dog
This may be a tough sell for many dog owners. I can’t tell you how many times I find pet parents and their families paying too much attention to their dogs for no reason other than to serve themselves.
You can easily condition your dog to expect so much attention for simply being cute that they feel anxious or needy when you are ignoring them. These dogs who are given attention for everything can easily be trained to relax by adding attention and rewards for more specific behaviors, in specific places at specific times.
Consider paying more attention to your dog when they are quiet, sitting or laying down in a place you decided was appropriate. The new consistency in your behavior will surely help your dog understand what behaviors are preferred and where they are best performed.
Start with training your dog to lay down on a mat or bed. Provide most of the enrichment items in this area as well.
Learn the “Really Real Relaxation Protocol”
Since learning this simple relaxation technique, I have had more success in calming highly distracted and over stimulated dogs down than ever before.
It is simple and easy for any non trainer to learn. In fact it’s easier to learn if you aren’t already a dog trainer.
This technique was created by the amazing Suzanne Clothier who is highly admired in the dog behavior community. It is simple modeling what relaxation looks like with your dog and it works quickly. It is so easy it looks like you are doing nothing but hanging out with your dog. You can access the Really Real Relaxation protocol video for less than $25 on her website or you can see me demo it here on my Youtube channel with a highly excitable Golden Retriever.
Increase cardio exercise for your dog
A walk is nice but it doesn’t tire most dogs out unless you want to walk for quite some time.
20-30 minutes of light running or play will usually suffice for most pets. Consider your dog’s age and breed before you set out for a long run. A french bulldog or short snouted dog may physically need to rest more as they have a restricted airway and “long lows” (dachshunds, corgis, etc.) may be at risk for back injury if they jump too much.
Young adolescent dogs who are growing rapidly may not want a long run as growing pains are a real thing. Additionally, dogs with a thick double coat are susceptible to heat stroke and need shade and water to run and walk long distances.
All in all, try to find a way to increase your dog’s respiratory and heart rate for about 20-30 minutes a day while encouraging them to relax after. A game of fetch, or chase me can be a great game to play. Adding a flirt pole to tease your dog into chasing is another great idea.
If you don’t like to jog or run, consider biking or skateboarding with them. In some cases you can add a few pounds to a backpack to carry around on a walk. Just be mindful not to overburden your dog. If your dog puts on the breaks, consider that enough and try to adjust next time.
If at all possible, teach them to swim as this is one of the best and safest ways to to tire your dog out. Our friends at the Animal Wellness Center or OC have a large heated swimming pool for Orange County folks to bring their dogs to swim. Just 15 minutes of swimming can thoroughly tire many pets out.
Calming supplements for Dogs
After considering all of the above, there are still many safe and natural supplements available when considering how to help your dog relax.
All Paws Essentials Pet CBD
Our broad spectrum CBD is a great way to help your dogs relax. CBD naturally binds to 5HT1A receptors similar to traditional anxiety medication. CBD also binds to GABA receptors further increasing its anxiolytic effects.
All Paws Essentials has several formulas including our new Trinity Blend formula that includes CBDa and CBG for even more calming properties. Some people feel their delicious Underbites CBD treats are even more effective so you should try them out for yourselves.
Generally 1-2mg of CBD per pound of body weight twice a day is a great starting point.
This supplement is a great tool to help reduce levels of cortisol in humans and dogs. Cortisol is the most common stress hormone and daily dosing with this root extract can help reduce systemic cortisol levels. I recommend the purest form which is KSM-66 Ashwagandha. Veterinarians recommend 100-200mg per lb of body weight 2x a day with food.
This supplement should be given for 90 days with 2 weeks off in between.
This simple amino acid is safe to use alongside either of the supplements mentioned above. This supplement is easy to find at the grocery store and comes from the green tea plant. L-theanine is used to increase GABA naturally which is helpful for increasing relaxation in any human or dog. Veterinarians suggest 1mg per lb of body weight.
There are many pet supplements available that may contain several of these together. Before purchasing an all-in-one supplement you may want to try them individually as the dosages of each may not be enough for your pet.
One Final note:
This usually goes without saying but how we communicate with out dogs can affect their stress levels too. Avoid strong reprimands, physical corrections for bad behavior and yelling as they only create more tension and will surely affect your relationship with your dog. Your dog might be acting out because he is constantly being corrected for trying to understand what he is allowed to do. Corrections lead to frustration. Frustration leads to anxiety or aggression. Increase social play and teach your dogs known cues like sit, off, drop and come to avoid saying NO! so much. After all “no” doesn’t say what to do anyway.
Now that you have some new ideas on how to help your dog to relax, I encourage you to give it a try. Email us at info@allpawsessentials if you have any questions. We love to hear positive feedback from you too.
Be Well and Wag Tail!