Teaching Your Dog To Be Calm

A few days ago, I met a beautiful husky with a ton of energy. Her family was walking her two to three hours a day. They’d tried playing fetch and tug to wear her out, and took her outside for regular “zoomie breaks.”

The issue? This young dog wouldn’t settle down inside.

We’ve all heard the adage “a tired dog is a good dog,” but what happens when your dog is impossible to wear out?

This is where training comes in.

Many dogs seem to come pre-programed with an “off” switch; some need a little help finding it.

Providing appropriate opportunities for exercise and stimulation is a fantastic first step, but the second part of the equation involves teaching our dogs to be calm.

We first have to think about what “being calm” looks like to us. If your dog is known for running around the house at full speed and tripping family members, it’s easy to think, “I wish Fido wouldn’t run around the house at full speed and trip family members.” Great! Now what do you want Fido to do instead of that?

Getting a dog to do something is far easier than stopping an unwanted behavior. Think of it as redirecting energy or attention into something else. Instead of stopping indoor zoomies and jumping up, we’re going to replace these behaviors with other activities.

There's a range of behaviors compatible with calmness we can capitalize on. Two of the easiest ones to work with are chewing on a toy and lying quietly in a bed. Most dogs with access to chew toys and dog beds choose to do these behaviors on their own accord throughout the day. Teaching a dog to automatically be calm around the house requires the trainer to notice these moments and make them as rewarding as possible. We want to show our dogs that laying around the house calmly gets attention, treats, praise, or belly rubs.

A lot of us think of good household manners as “doing nothing,” but to train calm behavior, we need to focus more on making calm behavior rewarding. This means we can no longer think of calmness as a “doing nothing” or a lack of behavior, but rather definable behaviors we can reinforce.

As we replace undesired behaviors with calmer, more acceptable ones our focus shifts from what our dogs are doing “wrong” to looking for what they’re doing “right.” We reinforce good decisions our dogs make, which requires us to notice good behavior, not just the things we don’t like.

So often, the wild, high-energy behavior we don’t want to see in our dogs gets far more attention than calm behaviors we deem acceptable. But what happens when we focus more on the behaviors we like instead of the ones we want to get rid of? For one, it makes us far more effective as trainers and pet parents. On top of that, though, it makes for a much more positive outlook on our relationship with our pups.

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