Calming down is an important skill for any dog, but it is even more important to active dogs performing high intensity tasks such as agility, obedience, lure coursing and racing, you name it. Dogs that have to work and maintain high energy for long periods of time need to know how to relax when there is nothing to do. To many dogs this comes naturally, but sometimes a young, energetic dog has a tendency to maintain that tension when it's not really needed. Therefore I thought I could give out some tips I myself have found useful when trying to teach a young, dominant, high energy dog to calm down and relax.
If we forget the fact it's possible to affect the dog's energy level with stimulation, and just talk about genetics for a while, every dog has a tendency to fall in some energy level as a "factory setting". Some dogs are calmer and prefer less activities, some (in my experience most) enjoy active lifestyle to some extent but are able to handle calmer days too. Then there are those whirlwinds of pure energy wanting to be in hundred places the same time and never settling down. The latter are what we are talking about today - high energy dogs.
The importance of being able to calm down
When the cycle has started, it has a nasty habit of feeding itself. The stress builds up more stress, and the more the dog would need rest, the more it does things. This can often lead to misbehaving. The dog has no impulse control and it can "leak", meaning when it's feeling it can't let out all the steam it will snap, jump on people and even show aggression. During walks this may mean it jumps on the leash, pulls, tries to break free and mouths the handler.
As the behavior is often met in young dogs, a.k.a. teens, it's sometimes hard to see whether it's teen behavior or a symptom of being over heated. In a case like this it's usually best to start teaching calmness just as a precaution, as it's always beneficial for the dog to know how to calm down, even if it's not hyper.
Another thing to keep in mind is that high energy dogs tend to end up in homes where they are supposed to perform high energy tasks. They are "hobby dogs" that are supposed to do sports. In many cases these sports get the adrenaline flowing and the dog is hyped up. Training also requires serious exercise, and that can hype an energetic dog up as well. Some games like chase and tug-o-war for example are great ways to wake up the dog but if done with a dog that has a tendency to overheat, instead of tiring the dog up they may lead to even more uncontrolled behavior.
Calm dog is an easy dog to work with. No matter there needs to be some intensity when training, hyped dog can not concentrate and therefore it learns way slower than it's calmer counterpart.
Ways to calm down
Thinking is tiring. Everyone who has ever spent a long time in front of an impossible maths task knows that having to think hard wears you out fast. This is the same with dogs. There are lots of different games in pet shops that require the dog to think and plan in order to get the hidden treat. One can also make those at home by hiding treats in cardboard boxes or teaching the dog to find hidden treats by cue. Things like these help not only when the dog can't exercise but also when it needs to calm down after exercise, for example. With Ms. Dominance I have noticed she is very hyped and over the edge after a run, and spending a moment with a brain toy helps her mind to settle a bit.
Long, calm walks are in my mind one of the best way to calm a dog down and also teach it calmness. And when we talk about calm walks, I mean calm walks. There is a difference between an exercise and a walk. When one exercises one moves in a good phase and the dog rarely has time to stiff at things. Obviously this is a nice way to exercise, but when the dog needs to learn to be calm it's better to forget traveling distance and just concentrate in the moment. Let the dog sniff at things and look around. Let it learn that instead of going forward full speed sometimes it's better to just take one's time. Sniffing in general calms many dogs down as it's one of their main ways to experiment the world. Going through all those messages they get through their nose puts their mind in focus, therefore reducing the stress and helping the level of intensity slowly come lower.
No, it's not always easy to make a young dog walk calm. Ms. Dominance has a habit of leaking badly when she is hyped, and she ends up jumping on me, jumping on other dogs and launching around on her leash. In moments like this it's important to maintain calmness in anything you do. The higher the intensity of your response, the more it will agitate the dog. The best way it to make sure the dog stays in place. No matter some people are strict believer in non-physical training, I find it essential to stop the dog from jumping and instead make it stand calm between my legs until I can be sure it will no longer misbehave. Turning one's back and letting the dog jump on you or other people is dangerous if the dog is large, and it's also hyping up the dog.
Physical control is not the same thing as abuse. Hurting the dog or trying to make is submit by using too much force will also, you guessed it, hype the dog up. In a case of dominant, hard dog this can also lead to problems if the dog starts to mouth or jump too excessively.
In my own experience calmly spending time with the hyper dog helps it calm down, too. No matter these dogs need exercise and they can't just lay on sofa every day, making them have that moment of peace with you at one point of the day might actually be beneficial. Dogs are good at reading body language, so if the owner is calm and demands calm behavior from the dog, too, the dog is more prone to calm down and settle. Aloof breeds are more likely to ignore the calm owner and invent stuff to do by themselves, in which case one might need to prevent the dog from hyping itself up. One way is to provide the dog with a nice, hard thing to chew on. Chewing is another task well known to calm the dog down. Therefore bored dogs often chew on things, releasing their own stress and causing a major one to their owner.
How much is too much?
In general, I have found it very beneficial to have a calmer day after every three days or when I start to see that Ms. Dominance is starting to act uncontrolled. I also find it very important to make sure every day she gets moments of sleep and peace, whether or not she likes it. If you'd ask her, she'd be out running all the time. That, unfortunately, is not possible. Not only would it be too hard on her body, it would also lead to exhaustion and her ability to perform in tasks I want her to perform good in would reduce.
It's important to learn the limits of your dog as well as it's needs. In general, for a dog that is supposed to be a pet working excessively for hours a day is highly unneeded. A few good hours of exercise should do it to any pet dog. I have found out that my dogs seem to be at their calmest and happiest getting two to two and a half hours exercise a day, but they get along with less if some of it is more high intensity. Ms. Dominance is by far the most demanding one as Mr. Hyperactivity has calmed down with age. When he was younger the same rhythm seemed to fit him, too.
Also remember; when you have a pack of dogs, knowing individual needs is a must. Exercise is a good thing, but what is just barely enough to some dog might be a bit too much for an old dog or an injured dog or just in general a calm dog. Not every member of the pack needs to participate in every exercise. Remember to respect the fact dogs, as we, are individuals.
No matter if the dog is hyper or calm, the importance of being able to relax is not to be overlooked. We all need rest, even those who don't realize it.