How to Keep an Active Dog Quiet and Calm

My heart goes out to those of you who are surviving the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. I hope this information might help in some small way.

I am picturing that, on top of everything else, you cannot walk your dog or let him run around. Maybe you are even in an emergency shelter with him or her.

There are things you can do to provide your dog outlets for his energy. And it might help you, too, as extended crate rest or downtime is stressful for the people as well (not to mention the mile-long waits for gasoline you may be experiencing.)

This is similar to advice I give folks whose dogs have just had surgery or who need to stay calm during heartworm treatment. I know what it’s like to hear the dreaded words from the veterinarian: “Keep her quiet for the next three weeks. Short on-leash potty trips to the yard and back only, no walks, running or jumping on furniture.” I have heard those words and then stood there in that surreal space thinking something between, “Uh, that’s impossible,” and “Bwahh-haaaa-haaa!”

Then I snap out of it, because I know one of the best kept secrets of dog training: mental exercise can be just as, if not more, energy-expending than physical exercise. Choose from any or all of these:

  1. Instead of using a bowl for meals, feed your dog her regular rations out of a food-dispensing toy (like Kong or Busy Buddy). Mix in a dab of peanut butter so it takes 15 minutes or more for her to work and strategize to forage for her dinner. Dogs were made for this! (Read how to stuff a Kong.) No Kong? No problem! Use a large, empty water bottle and cut some holes into it (please supervise to prevent ingesting plastic). To prevent the toy from bouncing around like gangbusters, tie it to the crate or the leg of your cot. Rotate the toys every few days so they retain their novelty.
  2. Teach and play “find it” games (just hide the food or play the shell game) with meals or treats. Need instructions? Just ask in the comment section below and I will post them!
  3. If you have access to long-lasting chew toys like marrow bones, bully sticks, or dehydrated sweet potatoes (Sam’s Yams are one brand), make those part of your dog’s routine while you are filling out paperwork, contacting loved ones, dealing with insurance companies or catching up on sleep.
  4. Teach your dog to relax on cue. You can use a dog bed, a blanket or even a washcloth as your dog’s spot. This is a great skill in the midst of a chaotic environment and is very practical to use once you get home. Need instructions? Let me know!
  5. This sounds silly, but it’s seriously important: teach your dog tricks. This is a great way to get immersed in the moment with your dog, appreciate her, let her make you laugh, and provide a crucial outlet for her brains and body. I am talking shake, crawl, high five, roll over, back up, take a bow, walk through my legs as I walk, sit pretty, balance dog biscuit on your nose, walk under a chair or between the rungs of a ladder placed on the ground. Depending on your situation (or whether your dog is post-surgery) teach her to help with household chores (like turn off lights, pick up the paper and bring it in, get the laundry out of the dryer, shut cabinet doors). If you’re at a shelter, teach her to hand you her dish or food puzzle when she’s finished eating or hand you your socks at the end of the day. Maybe there will be some wagging and smiling.
  6. Doggie massage is a great way to relieve stress and connect with your dog. It should be very light. Follow these tips or try T-touch.
  7. If you have access to a Thundershirt or CEVA brand Adaptil Collar, those can be a great help. You can get a similar effect by wrapping your dog in a tight t-shirt or ace bandage. There is often a calming effect from such swaddling.

Please get in touch here at the blog, Facebook or Twitter if you need further suggestions or are facing challenges this week that might have a training solution. I will do my best to help.

4 thoughts on “How to Keep an Active Dog Quiet and Calm

  1. My 50 lbs 2 1/2 yr old lab is having ACL surgery Thursday (to be followed by the other knee at a later time) – hes used to being out all day with a wireless fence. Loves to swim and chase birds. Is NOT interested in chew toys and is allergic to peanut butter. He does like to chew drift wood. I may be breaking my rule of no sticks in house. Don’t want to lock him in a room while we are at work or put him in his crate, afraid he will injure self pawing to get out. Any help is appreciated.

  2. Thank you for your question, Karan. Many of us have been in the same boat, and fortunately many of the suggestions here really work.

    It sounds like your dog enjoys keeping busy. So your job will be to keep him busy in ways that don’t involve his back leg while it’s healing.

    That means keeping his brain busy so he doesn’t get bored (and then destructive or upset), and keeping his mouth busy so he has a positive outlet for his energy.

    Brain challenges include working his meals out of puzzles. If PB is no good, try cream cheez (or other similar gooey things until you find what works). Here is how to use a Kong It may seem goofy. Trust me, most people are amazed at what a big difference this can make.

    Get a few food dispensing toys (Kong, Barnacle, etc.) and rotate them each day so he doesn’t get bored. Your dog clearly loves to chew, so try different toys and chewables (see above) until you find his favorites. He’ll love it!

    Talk with your vet about what to stuff the toys with so he doesn’t become overweight or have an allergy problem. My guess is that “sticks” won’t be your veterinarian’s response, as chewing those indoors could result in the need for surgery of a different variety. It may have been fine so far, but I wouldn’t rely on that as a safe chew alternative in this case.

    Teach him tricks. You will be amazed how much rest he will be ready for if you do this daily. Choose tricks that you can work on with him resting his body in the crate while you work his mind from outside the crate. Like resting his chin between his paws, licking his lips, crossing one front paw over the other, and a nose touch. Here is how to teach any trick:

    What other tricks can you Very Fetching blog readers suggest to Karan?

    Finally, points 4 and 7 above are also really important. Get him an Adaptil collar and start today teaching him to relax on cue. This way he’ll be able to enjoy rest time outside of his crate under your supervision (once your vet okays that).

    Between now and Thursday (Holy speed training, Batgirl!), refresh his crate skills either with his crate, an x-pen, or a small, baby-gated room (find out from your vet what is required). Use the Safety Zone instructions (click on peace sign in the right margin of this page) to get started. Hire a qualified dog sitter or arrange with a friend or neighbor to sit with your dog until you work out his confinement during recovery. When you can, take him for rides in the car so he can experience the world’s sights and scents without straining his leg.

    If you are like most of us, your first response is, “Impossible! How will we get through this?!” But if you provide the above outlets, observe your veterinarian’s advice, and remember to be kind to yourself as you take this on, it will be over before you know it. And as a bonus, you just may end up with the best-trained dog on the block.

  3. I have a 6 month old 55 pound American bulldog which just had knee surgery. They said we are supposed to crate her for 8 weeks and then 5 minute walks? Not sure specifics but it’s been 8 weeks and just went to vet and Said knee not healing well need to keep her less active? I don’t know how else to do that. DONT they have some type of brace or something that we can use so that even though she is active it limits the amount of excursion she uses on that knee? Something? Anything?

    1. Thanks for your question, Yolanda. You’ve obviously made a big commitment to your dog by making the surgery possible and doing your best to help her rest afterwards. I hope the advice below helps, and that her knee troubles are soon behind her!

      Your dog’s recovery is a team effort and it may be that clearer instructions from your veterinarian would solve this. Sometimes veterinary clients are told, “keep him from jumping,” “no activity,” “crate rest only,” or “no getting up and down from the furniture,” but they are given little or no specific support in how to achieve this. My advice would be to ask your veterinarian for instructions on exactly how to change your dog’s home environment, routines or training in order to follow their advice, preferably in writing. Get a recommendation for a local trainer who can help you follow through at home.

      What does the vet mean by “a walk?” It could mean out on leash to potty and right back in, it could mean a brisk 5 minutes around the block (which may be too much after all). It’s worth a call to find out. Can you send the vet a short video clip of your dog coming out of her crate, being fed a meal, or heading out for the 5 min walk? Maybe there is a burst of energy that happens that the vet could help you identify aggravates the knee. And then advise you what training or management steps to take to prevent it.

      If there are veterinarians and veterinary staff reading this who support their clients with clear instructions: What resources do you point them to? Are there how-to links on your website for them to refer to? Do you show them in clinic how to use food puzzles, tethers, and training techniques to help set up for success? And is there a doggie brace to help immobilize a knee? Inquiring minds want to know!

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