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.