One of the exercises we teach dogs at the shelter is the “relaxed down”. It’s a great way to teach dogs to relax in situations where they might normally be excited, stressed, or unsure of what to do.
To perform a relaxed down, the dog lays down with both hind legs to one side, as in the photo. He is rewarded whenever he displays “calming signals” such as sniffing, licking his lips, yawning, or resting his head. The ultimate goal of this exercise is for the dog to learn and practice the important skills involved in self-control.
At the shelter, dogs learn to do this exercise on mats. A dog associates his mat with doing relaxed downs and uses it as a target, telling him where to lay down. Once he has learned to do this in a quiet environment, his mat can be moved to a new room or area with new distractions, such as the lobby or in his kennel. Since his mat is there, he’ll be reminded of what he is being asked to do and where he should do it!
The relaxed down is a great exercise for you and your dog, too. Once learned, it can be very useful when company comes over, at the vet’s office, or just about any situation where you need your dog to relax. If you’re interested in learning more about this or other behavior modification exercises to help you and your dog, give the shelter a call and set up a private consultation with Lisa Corbett, our behaviorist.
Here is a video of two of our shelter dogs practicing the relaxed down on their mats.