Now that you have a better understanding of how everyday life can be stressful and therefore impact your dog’s behavior, you’re likely anxious to get started on real calmness.
This is where the fun stuff begins. Here are some of my favorite Calming Games and one Amazing Strategy.
No Rules Boundary is the start of having a place to be calm, a place your dog identifies as her own, a place where only good things happen and calmness is cool. This is a wonderful starter game for the youngest of puppies or dogs brand new to your home. This is where Boundary Games begin. With more than a dozen games in this series, I’ve designed a Boundary Game Workshop. Boundaries build amazing calmness and perfect manners. I highly recommend them for all dogs.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a fantastic starter Calmness game. It plays on your dogs interest in the animated delivery of food. Interestingly, dogs find both the animation and the food rewarding so this game offers a double reward. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles builds incredible patience and a level of stillness. If you have a busy dog, you know how rare (and blissful) that can be. Stillness slows the body so the brain can follow, and that's your double reward.
Mouse is a clever game that creates the excitement of the hunt in a safe and enticing way. When we harness this in our dogs, we work on far more than calmness. It's a great example of how the games teach many things at the same time, but today, we employ Mouse for Calmness. This game may not be for very young puppies. They first need to have awareness of their environment for this game to do its magic, and it can be extremely stimulating for some dogs. In that case, it’s not a starter game, but certainly one to add as your dog begins to gain true calmness as a way of life.
Food Fiddling is designed to add a anticipation to your dog’s life. Remember that everything pays into the Stress Bucket, good and bad so when anticipation goes up, the stress increases and good choices become harder. The key here is learning how it feels to be calm when faced with something exciting. This game falls into the animation category. It’s not just about the food. It’s the experience, and dogs learn through experience. This is a good one. When we pair an engaging experience with food, the dog is more interested and more likely to absorb the lesson.
Ninja Rewards are about using all those every day knocks, bangs, movements, and squeaks to teach our dog that life is busy, noisy, and most of it is to be ignored. As the name implies, it works best when you play the part of a stealthy ninja. Can you deliver a reward so casually, the dog thinks good things are raining down? I can teach you to do just that.
Last but certainly not least, my absolute favorite Calmness Strategy …
Figure Eight creates a meditative state of mind that almost magically lowers brain activity and pulls the plug on the bottom of the bucket. Figure Eight gets the dog moving smoothly so new information can get in to the brain. This one takes some practice, and introduces a whole new area of understanding called the Movement Paradigm. Sound interesting? It should. Movement is often the key that unlocks the wonderful in your dog, but we’ll save that for another time.
In case you missed it, here it is. Tasha playing Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Mouse.
I still play all of these games several times a month years after first playing them with Tasha. In fact, we played two of them this morning. When you start to interact with your dog by playing Games, it becomes a way of life, a fun and rewarding way of life, and isn’t that why you have a dog?
I hope you’re enjoying the RosyDogs 6 Days to Calmness Journey. It’s time to take your first real step toward a happier and healthier future.
Your dog can’t be separated from their bucket. You must help them learn to work with it, or better still help them modify their bucket.
This exercise gives you the power to become Your Dog’s Voice. Knowledge is power and the start of real and lasting change.
(please read Calmness Episodes 1-4 before proceeding to this exercise)
Imagine your dog’s bucket.
Remember, both good and bad things fill the bucket.
If you’re having trouble deciding what fills the bucket, how many of these apply?
Buckets are incredibly important. Some people can see the bucket clearly at this point, others need a little help. How did you do? Either way, it often takes a trained eye to see the flashing neon sign over a bucket about to overflow.
Warning signs may include
These are some the most common and easiest to notice.
How many have you seen in your dog in the last few days?
The good news is I can teach you strategies and games that you can put into immediate action to prevent an overflow, and more importantly, they keep the stress level well within the safety zone. These are simple and quick things you can do without preparation or special tools. They go everywhere you do.
Tomorrow, I show you to some of my favorites.
You really don’t want to miss this.
Let’s take a closer look at those stress buckets. Buckets are simple things. To change how much a bucket can hold you either get a bigger bucket, or poke a bigger hole in the bottom. As a professional dog trainer it’s my job to know which will most help your dog. First, I determine how long it actually takes your dog to relax after one of the those overflow events.
Does he ever relax? Hmmm. That’s a clue, one that tells me your dog needs Calmness more than anything else in his life right now. Or ...
It might be that your dog has a tiny bucket with a huge hole. These are the dogs that when something happens, they overreact and by the time you catch your breath, the dog is chilled out. Stress went in and instantly left. Tiny bucket. Huge Hole.
More often, it’s the bucket that needs to grow. These are the stressed out and continually overreacting dogs. There’s simply no room in that teeny tiny bucket. Stress goes in and bounces right back out the top. Life is messy. Things happen. Good and bad things. These dogs need a bigger bucket to hold the normal stress of life. They need a Bigger Bucket.
Some dogs can't avoid daily stress. The easiest of these dogs to visualize are the dogs that live with small children or other pets. Their bucket may be huge, but the hole is painfully small. By choosing the right Games, we can bore out that hole to make it bigger allowing all that stress to flow out at a faster pace thus giving your dog a way to deal with everday life. They need a Bigger Hole.
As smart dog owners, we have control over both the size of the bucket and the hole at the bottom. Just knowing that helps, doesn’t it? But wait. There's more we can do.
We also have control over how much goes into the bucket. You’re the human. You make most of the decisions about what your dog does throughout the day. Remember that everything that happens is adding to the bucket. So what would happen if we reduced the number of things the dog is exposed to? The bucket wouldn’t fill as fast, right? Less In = Less Stress.
When we consider this part of the bucket, we can, by managing our dog's day differently match the hole in the bottom to what goes in at the top. Effectively, the bucket level stays constant while the dogs metabolism processes the stress at a constant rate. Stress In = Stress Out.
Let’s look at that in a real life situation many of you can relate to. Let’s say you have a toddler. When the baby first came home, the baby wasn’t a bucket filling machine, but not that she’s walking, oh boy, stress is pouring into your dog’s bucket like a lucky slot machine at Vegas. At this point, your dog needs a break. As little as half an hour in a quiet room can do wonders.
To be clear, I am NOT talking about banishing the dog to the back room. Just 30 minutes in the other room to allow the stress level to stabilize while your toddler crashes about the living room can help. It's not a cure, but it helps when you're in the moment.
Lots of Stress In = Higher Potential for Overflow.
For your dog to reach his full potential, he needs real life skills. To get there, we make adjustments to all 3 aspects of the bucket. Size, Hole, and Input. Getting started is as simple as making a single change.
Keep reading for Step Number 1 toward helping your dog find Calmness.
This is where RosyDogs training loops back to Quiet Time at the shelter. It’s time away from all the stress surrounding the dog. It’s permission to relax and let go. It’s guided chill time. Needed chill time. At the shelter, we work to provide a few minutes of relaxation, but as a professional dog trainer with advanced knowledge of how stress affects dogs, I know how to help your dog get there faster and to reach a deeper level of relaxation while reshaping his brain to naturally understand how to get there on his own in the future.
Dogs don’t always recognize that they need distance from a stressful situation. At first, your stressed dog will need your guidance just like the shelter dogs, and once he understands, he will start to crave it. He knows that he needs it, and he will find a calm place to be when toddler takes center stage. It takes practice and skill AND it’s very doable for every dog.
Here’s your next FREE STRATEGY, and it’s one you can employ while watching a movie. Massage.
Where does your dog like to be rubbed. How much pressure? What speed seems to calm him? The key is to keep pressure and speed just under the level that excites your dog while you gradually slow the speed of your movement. Perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to breathe.
Slowing your breath like you would during yoga or meditation really helps. Your energy feeds the dog. Keep your energy slightly lower, and the dog is likely to follow you down into calmness. It can be difficult in the moment, but I use it all the time with shelter dogs, and I train new volunteers to use their energy in the same way. Think of it as reading a bedtime story to a young child. Your energy may be up and engaging at first, but as the pages turn, you soften and slow.
If you’re having trouble finding the right technique, pop me an email. Let’s get this right and the calmness that follows will come easier.
Working with and ultimately changing the bucket helps dogs live a healthier and happier life. It also keeps you and your family sane. Dogs that rarely find Calmness are difficult to live with, but know that your dog can learn to love relaxation.
Put simply, this is why I take the time to explain calmness in this blog series. At RosyDogs I work to keep dogs in loving homes where they belong. Here’s to massage. A rewarding way to stay together.
The Calmness Story continues tomorrow.
What can you do when your 70 pound lab is ears deep in your dad’s privates only to charge at your mother to pummel her with his paws as “Your Precious little Bailey” nearly knocks Mom to the ground only to then turn his embarrassing behavior toward your best friend and her new sweater.
I’ve just described an over-exited dog. Bailey’s brain is hyperactive and his body is responding. He's making poor decisions. This dog needs to learn, then love, and then master Calmness, but that’s not possible when your guests at standing there with an out of control dog. It’s time for a strategy that will get you through the visit while you make definite plans to start working on true Calmness the very next day.
So what do you do before Bailey shreds your friend’s sweater with his teeth and nails?
Well, this is going to take some planning on your part. First, you didn’t feed Bailey before your guests arrived. Instead, you still have all his daily food to utilize for in the situation emergency strategy. To be clear, it's not ideal, but you need an option right now.
Now, guests are exciting, and I’m betting that Bailey has practiced this over-excited behavior many times before so you will need to increase the value of the reward to stand a chance of reaching his over-excited canine brain. Dry kibble isn’t up to the task. You need something yummy. Have a bowl of treats perhaps mixed with some kibble near at hand, but don’t stop the preparation there because the treats will offer only a short term distraction. You’re going to need more.
Stuff a kong with something extra smelly and wonderful. You can use yogurt, peanut butter (no xylitol), dripping from cooked meats, cheese, scrambled egg, etc. Google Kong Recipes for ideas. Just know that dogs aren't all that picky. Mix it up and freeze it. As little as an hour in the freezer will increase the time Bailey needs to slurp out all that yummy. Remember, this is Bailey’s dinner so consider his normal food intake, but it’s ok to splurge every now and then. I encourage you to keep a couple frozen kongs at all times so they are ready when you need one.
Practical Calmness Tip #1. When your guests arrive, toss the enhanced kibble and treats on the floor away from your guests. If Bailey doesn’t notice, hold a few in your closed hand under his nose before tossing then on the floor. Don’t ask your guests to do this. Bailey is your dog, and you and others living in your home are his trainers. If Bailey still doesn’t turn his attention to the food, hold a few more right under his nose and toss them, but this time after tossing the treats, point with your finger while you say Hunt, Hunt, Hunt. Lead his nose directly to the food while happily saying Hunt. You may need to do this a few times to keep Bailey focused on the treats over your guests.
What’s happening here? You are engaging your dog’s super power. His nose. When a dog uses his nose, he engages with the world in a different way, a calming way. This is meant to be short distraction. Just a few tosses to focus Bailey's brain before employing a longer term distraction.
As soon as you see Bailey is head down and focused on the food, give him the kong.
Bailey now understands that you and your rewards have more to offer. He knows a good deal when he sees one. You are starting to win the struggle assuming your guests have disengaged from the dog. If your brother-in-law insists on playing tug with Bailey while you’re training him, this isn’t going to work.
So there you go. Emergency Calming Protocol for when you don’t have any other options. Bailey didn’t learn much here, but it should have helped you get through dinner. If you were to stop training at this point, the same pattern will happen time and again. The Emergency Calming Protocol does not reshape your dog's brain to better choices made from Calmness. For real life and lasting change you need games.
We continue the lesson in a few days.
At RosyDogs, I talk a lot about buckets. Every dog has one, and in the bucket the dog is carrying stress. Every bucket is a different size. It’s all tuned to the dog’s individual personality. Great Danes can have thimble size bucket while a tiny toy poodle may boast an Olympic pool size bucket.
Everything adds stress to the bucket. Good things like cuddles. Scary things like thunderstorms. Frustrating things like the squirrel teasing from an unreachable height. Exciting things like their human coming home. Everything adds to the bucket, and you know what happens when you keep filling a bucket. It overflows. We see that as an overreaction to something. Sometimes something very minor. When that bucket starts to overflow, it’s Boom Time, and almost anything can happen.
The important thing to remember when the bucket overflows is that dogs will do what makes them feel better even if only for an instant. Once they find something that helped them feel better, they do it again and again when the bucket overflows. What you see as excessive barking, or charging after the cat is really what your dog is using to feel better.
Dogs cope with their filling stress buckets in one of two ways. They’re either an Active Coper or a Passive Coper. Active Copers are easy to see. They’re the barkers, the lungers, the charging off after rabbit dogs while the passive Copers tend to fade into the background. They stare off into space, or go into sniffing mode that seems to block out the rest of the world.
Active Copers disperse stress faster and more efficiently. Studies have proven this time and again. Neither method is wrong. One’s just lower the stress faster. The larger point is we can help both types keep the bucket level so low it never overflows.
So what can we do? Well, we have 2 choices. We can either change our homes and lifestyle to accommodate the stressed out dog, or we can meet them somewhere in the middle by working to change the bucket to better match the lifestyle you all want to live. I think you’ll agree that meeting in the middle is best for everyone.
Tomorrow I introduce your first Practical Calming Tip, one to use In Case of Emergency because life gets crazy sometimes.
Rebecca Porter has been fascinated by dogs for decades, but it took a frantic mixed breed to send her on a journey into innovative and real life solutions in dog training.