Do you want to help your dog relax? Does your dog have a hard time settling down in the house? Do they chew furniture, tear up the carpet, or pull the leaves off your house plants? Or do you have a dog who is nervous around loud noises like fireworks, thunder, or even the garbage truck outside? It may not seem like it, but in both scenarios these dogs have something in common. They are both experiencing states of high arousal.
For dogs, it can take days for their bodies to calm down after a particularly stressful situation. When we talk about stress here, it can be something exciting – a long game of chase with a friendly dog, or something scary – an ambulance passing right next to us during a walk. While these two scenarios may produce unique external responses from our pets, their bodies produce the same stress hormones in both situations. It can take a while for these hormones and your dog’s body to return to a balanced or relaxed state, and any extra stressors can throw that balance off returning your dog to that hyper-aware/high-arousal state. You can read about how to recognize stress and high arousal in your dog on our Instagram post here.
There are some ways to help your dog relax. Just like humans might enjoy emotionally regulating activities like yoga or meditation, you can help your dog by providing opportunities for them to practice decompression activities. Here are a few examples of activities you can start with!
1. Unstructured walks
Take a car ride or walk over to your nearest dog-friendly park (one where you can keep your distance from other dogs and stay on leash). Bring a long leash with you to give your dog some freedom to sniff around in a new spot they normally don’t visit too often. Exploring the new area and the simple act of sniffing can mentally stimulate your dog while simultaneously calming them down. If your dog is jumpy or skittish in new areas, this is not the right activity for them, but it might be a great fit for you if your dog loves long walks and sniffing every square inch of grass while you’re out and about. Keep in mind that this is an activity for your dog, not for yourself. Let them venture wherever they’d like, as long as it is safe.
2. Snuffle mat
A snuffle mat is an enrichment toy that encourages dogs to use their snout to push around and locate treats. The mat gives the dog’s nose a workout, since they need to locate the treats inside, and slows the dog down to where they need to think about how to get the treat out of the hiding spot. You can make your own snuffle mat at home by tying pieces of fabric together. Alternatively, you can use an old towel to hide treats in. Always remember to supervise your dog with their enrichment toys; make sure they are not ingesting pieces of the toy, and enjoy watching your dog have fun with something you put together for them!
Another relaxing behavior for dogs is the act of licking. A great way to treat your dog while giving them the opportunity to lick is creating pup-sicles! There are tons of recipes online, and you can experiment to see which flavors your dog loves most. Peanut butter, apple sauce, and Greek yogurt are some of the favorites in my household. You can use ice cube or popsicle molds and fill them with a mixture of water and your dog’s favorite treat or blended combinations of flavors they love.
If you need help coming up with more ideas to help your dog decompress, talk to your trainer, or call us today! 786-299-1552