So how do we teach relaxation to our pets? Is it possible? Absolutely! It is not only possible but can be enjoyable and possibly essential to your pet’s well-being. Here is a technique that can be quickly and easily implemented.
Teach a Relax command: Relax is an easy task to teach your dog and can often be accomplished in just a couple of short sessions. It is typically taught to our patients in association with another stationary task such as Sit or Down to more easily facilitate the relaxation. Identify the situation (time and location) that works best for your pet.
To begin to teach your pet Relax, ask her for a stationary command (such as Sit or Down). Begin speaking to your pet in a soft voice until you see your pet relax, repeating a cue word such as Relax over and over. You may see your pet relax her face, her body and start breathing more slowly – and even lie down. When you recognize that your pet is relaxed, immediately communicate that this state is what you want with a reward (such as a favorite treat or a good dog word). If you are touching your dog during this training, be sure you are using long, slow strokes on her body instead of pats or scratches. Think about your own breathing and calmness during this time as well. Take slow, deep breaths as you engage with your pet. Over time, your dog may learn to respond to the Relax command by…relaxing!
Of course, always take an opportunity to reward relaxed behaviors when they occur naturally. We often spend a significant amount of time paying attention to undesirable behaviors (and potentially accidentally rewarding them with attention). Instead, be prepared with a stash of treats that can be given when you spontaneously see your pet engaged in a relaxed behavior.
Get started and have some relaxation time with your pet!
Beth Strickler MS DVM DACVB