Relaxation training

I’ve put in hours and hours of work on Gummi to help him calm down around the house. It’s made a lot of difference for us and since it’s something I from time to time recommend to others I thought I’d write it down here. I assume you have already conditioned the clicker – if not you must do so first. You can learn more about that HERE.

On leash relaxation
I haven’t done very much of this, but it can be very helpful to do this in addition to the other two. Especially because here the puppy is «forced» to be passive while the other two will, at least initially, give you a puppy that FAKES relaxation. This is what you do: Put puppy on a leash, give puppy enough leash to lie down comfortably but not get up. Step on the leash and ignore puppy when he tries to get up, but feel free to give attention and praise and even treats when puppy lies down. If your puppy is strong like mine you might find that you need to have shoes on for sufficient friction against the floor (or they’ll just pull and get a longer leash).

Very relaxed puppy - but on leash!

On bed/in crate training
Get clicker and treats and puppy (on leash if necessary). Get out the bed(crate). When puppy looks at the bed – click and treat (C&T). Any interest in the bed = C&T but gradually increase the criteria so he has to approach the bed/touch the bed and so on. It can be helpful to toss the treats on the bed so he has to get on it to eat them. Soon you’ll only C&T for going onto the bed – now start rewarding sitting down/lying down on the bed. Once he’s lying down on the bed start C&T only when he’s resting his chin on the ground/his paw or he rolls onto his side and any other more relaxed positions. Gradually increase the time he has to lie down before he’s rewarded. If he moves from the bed before getting a treat but immediately goes back it’s good to C&T immediately. With a little training you’ll be able to do this while you’re watching TV (have the clicker and treats handy and watch the dog out of the corner of your eye).

I’ve done this with two dog beds, an area of the couch and the crate for Gummi + one area of the floor where the dog bed we’ve done the most training with used to be. He started offering laying down there even without the bed and I decided it was handy to reinforce that as well.

General relaxation
C&T for any relaxed behavior like lying down on the floor or outside on leash when you’re standing still for some reason. For example when I’m dicing chicken for dinner and Gummi lies down I’ll mark this (I use my marker word «good» that’s been taught in the same way as the clicker when I need both my hands like when I’m cooking, it’s a little less effective than the clicker but works well) and treat him. Either I’ll toss a bit of whatever I’m chopping or I’ll have treats handy. Generally I do both (but not at the same time). When we’re waiting for the train I’ll C&T him for laying down. When we’re on the train I’ll C&T him for laying down on the floor.. and so on.

Gummi faking relaxation - he's entirely focused on me but his eyes are hidden here. Also - notice his hind legs are rather stiff.

Now we’ve finally reached the point where I’ll sometimes forget he’s there as he’ll just lie down when I’m doing stuff in the kitchen! Took time – but SO worth it. Laying down is always his go-to response if he’s not sure what I want from him. He’s still mostly faking relaxation rather than actually relaxing. I don’t mind this – the important thing is that he lies down!!

More fake relaxation at the big dog show Dogs4All - right in front of him dogs are running around in the show ring. This is why I don't mind fake relaxation! 😉
All the relaxation training makes "down" his default behavior which is very handy when you're out and about.

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