One of the solutions most often chosen to calm active dogs is sports! We say to ourselves: “I’m going to make the dog spend all the energy so that they will be calmer afterwards.” To our surprise, the dog comes home, panting but ready to destroy chairs in the kitchen or to run after the cat! The problem is not doing sports with your dog but using physical activity as the only source of calm for our canine friends. With increasing physical exercise, your dog will build up stamina and require more activity daily. The minimum requirement for any dog is one hour of physical exercise. Just subdivide the walks or playtime into shorter sessions.
The other question to ask is whether all of our dog’s needs are being met. Of course, there are basic needs like having a roof, space to move, food, and fresh water available, but dogs are unique beings who have other needs that are specific to their breed. Here are some examples:
General dog needs:
Specific needs of certain breeds:
Working with humans
These are very theoretical examples, and every dog is different, but it gives an idea! Normally, you don’t have a flock of sheep available for your sheepdog, but make sure to compensate with more chewing and mental stimulation or chasing games.
It’s about finding what your dog likes and needs daily and making it available to them or compensating with another calming activity. Chewing is often the key to a quiet dog, as it fills the need to chew, and the action itself releases endorphins and allows the dog to relax. Make sure you have a supply of bully sticks and sturdy toys filled with food on hand. The trick with hollow stuff toys is freezing them so that they last longer. I guarantee you a calm dog after this activity!
Tip 3 – Reward calmness
We often tend to notice the behaviors that we don’t like in our dog but fail to acknowledge the pleasant ones. Get into the habit of rewarding what you like, so your dog is more likely to repeat the behavior (positive reinforcement).
Here’s a challenge for you:
1. Write down three calm behaviors that you like about your dog, for example: when your dog lies down on their bed, when the dog settles down in the living room next to you or when the cat passes by undisturbed by your dog;
2. Place small jars of treats on the shelves in different strategic places of the house;
3. Tell your family members to observe the dog during the day and give the dog a treat whenever they see the dog behaving well.
4. Every day, praise at least 5 behaviors that you like in your dog. This way, your dog will learn what makes you happy.
Tip 4 – Get to know your dog
Every exciting or frightening event increases the level of cortisol in your dog’s blood, which is the stress hormone. This is not a bad thing, except when the stress level is constantly high, and the dog never gets a chance to calm down. If we take the example of a dog who has slept little, who played ball for 1 hour, who had a car trip and a visit to the veterinarian on the same day, there is a good chance that the dog will be in a bad mood or do bad things at the end of the day, because they reached their daily stress limit and the nervous system is overflooded! It is often an accumulation of these exciting events that can lead to bad decisions from your dog, like barking, destroying, or running into zoomies.
A good tip to help the dog deal with these energy fluctuations is to make a list with 2 columns and write it down:
• Anything that is exciting the dog (increases cortisol levels)
• Anything that calms the dog (decreases cortisol levels)
Ensure your dog does enough on the calm activity list on a single day to lower their overall cortisol levels. A good bet that “running” or “chasing the ball” will be on the exciting list if you have an energetic dog. So try to go 2 or 3 days without doing such activities and focus on the other activities: chewing, decompression walks, mental stimulation, etc. After those few days, it’s time to reintroduce exciting activities into your daily routine, but make sure a calm one follows it. For example, after playing fetch, give the dog a stuffed chew toy!
There may not yet be a magic wand to calm your dog instantly. Still, several tips can be of great help: providing physical exercise, meeting your dog’s needs, rewarding calmness, and alternating between exciting and calm activities on the same day.