Over the last few days we’ve been exploring Absolute Dogs’ Calmness Triad. We covered Rest and Passive Calming Activities, and today we will tackle the last section, the Calmness Protocol. But before we do its important that you’ve read all about Ditching the Bowl, because your dog’s daily food allowance is essential in implementing the Calmness Protocol. Remember, your dog’s food is a pot of value and we’re going to put that value to work.
All you have to do is look for moments when your dog is calm. For most dogs this begins as a moment of stillness, although catching them while they sleep is ideal. You take a piece of food and as calmly and uneventful as possible place it next to them. At first the reward may alert your dog, even before it’s delivered - that’s okay. The more you reward for calmness the less excited they will be when presented with the food and the more they will choose calm.
In time you will become a food delivery ninja and even the most excitable dogs and driven breeds will remain sleeping when it is placed next to them. When they wake up the food arrived as if by magic and becomes more reinforcement towards calm. As you implement the triad as a whole you will notice that your dogs sleep more, are more restful, and make better choices.
Calmness is truly the key to a happy household (especially a multi-dog one!). If you want to learn more about why calmness work or implementing the triad check our events page for our next monthly seminar. It will change the relationship you have with your dog.
Yesterday we chatted about Passive Calming Activities (PCAs) and how they are part of the Calmness Triad by Absolute Dogs. Today we wanted to talk about a specific type, stuffed toys or Kongs. While Kong is a brand name, there are many other toys that can be stuffed with food, one of our personal favorites is the Busy Buddy line.
Kongs may be one of the biggest things that made calmness possible in our home. Its how we transitioned dogs into gated communities, increased duration on bounderies, and allowed non-stressful time away from us. Kongs keep your dog occupied, which reduces stress and anxiety when you leave them. It allows them to self soothe and relax in your absence, but please, make sure you know your dog. Never leave a dog that will chew or destroy alone with any toys.
When I first suggest Kongs I often hear from clients that their dogs are disinterested in them. In reality, this is most often because their dog has a low tolerance of frustration. The food is too difficult for them to get out because it is packed tight or frozen so they give up rather than eating - no matter how delicious or tempting the reward is. In order to reduce frustration your dog's first Kongs should be easy to eat and filled with extra tasty goodies. Just think about how easy (and fast!) they gobble up kibble from a bowl. You'll want to think of the type of dispenser you use just as much as what you want to put inside it.
You don’t need a specific toy, just anything that will hold their food. Even household items such as folded toilet paper tubes or small boxes can be used, as long as you are prepared to clean up the shredded paper. Again, take into account how frustrated your dog gets by problem-solving. One of our favorite toys is the Busy Buddy Twist 'n Treat, easy to fill and you can adjust the opening as needed.
Once you have a dispenser you can decide what to fill it with. Something like the Twist 'n Treat pair great with some peanut butter (no xylitol!) or plain greek yogurt smeared on the inside. You can then add kibble, fruit, or meat for an instant reward while the peanut butter or yogurt will make the treat last longer which will build your dog's frustration tolerance.
Be creative! Switch up food and dispensers as your dog becomes more used to them. Once they are no longer frustrated, but excited by Kongs you can begin to freeze them for longer lasting treats. Blended fruit or broths can be a great choice. This will help with separation anxiety, increasing duration on boundaries, and foster rest. Often, once a dog has finished their Kong they are more than ready to take a nap. And that is a truly tired, happy dog.
Yesterday we chatted about the Rest part of the Calmness Triad by Absolute Dogs. Today I want to tackle the Passive Calming Activities (PCAs). I like to think of this section as a pacifier. Basically, a way to soothe our dogs just like you would human babies. Unlike humans though, it’s best if you can provide PCAs before your dog requires soothing. PCAs allow our dogs to decompress, relax, and destress. They are activities that use their natural senses, such as chewing, licking, or sniffing. PCAs provide endless enrichment for our dogs, working their brains and creating a truly tired and content dog.
Remember how we said a tired dog is a happy dog? Tired dogs should be tired because they were provided enriching activities not because they were exercised to exhaustion. When we over-exercise our dogs in an effort to tire them out we aren’t allowing them the opportunity to unwind. Instead we are adding more stress to a dog that can't relax. Another common side effect is creating a dog with greater stamina that needs to go farther and faster to meet the same requirements as before. In general, these dogs aren’t any happier than a dog that was given the chance to “scavenge” for a meal.
So what are PCAs? I tend to group them into two categories: Chewing and Licking or Sniffing and Hunting. The list below is by no means exhaustive, in fact PCA can be just about as creative as you want. There is an excellent group on Facebook called Beyond the Bowl that can help you get started with enrichment activities, even on a low budget.
Some of our personal favorite activities are Stuffed Kongs (and other non-Kong branded similar toys). As well as puzzle feeders, scatter feeding, and scent games. In general, my dogs have 2-3 PCA per day, which helps foster calmness, time alone, ditching the bowl, and ditching the routine. If you have a dog that is struggling with rest PCA can be the key to achieving it! They allow a dog to be occupied when you leave and often help them sleep after they are finished.
Having struggles introducing PCA? Tomorrow we'll tackle how to get started and choosing the right activity for your dog.
Today was a lazy day, a calm day some might say. Which is good, because we could all use a bit more calmness and relaxing in our lives. In fact, I manage my multi-dog household with calmness as a strong foundation. My goal is for my dogs to choose calm as a default behavior. If we aren’t playing or training, they should be resting. At its most basic concept, there are no bad choices when calm, only good ones. In the wild dogs spend most of their days resting to conserve energy and when our dogs do the same it means they can make better choices and perform better when working. Our days are based on Absolute Dog’s Calmness Triad: Passive Calming Activities, Calmness Protocol, and Rest. Each has its own importance, but today I want to talk about rest.
I’m seeing a lot of posts regarding two concerns for our dogs while we are all spending more time at home. The first is that they will suffer from separation related behaviors once the world returns back to work The second that they are struggling to cope with spending their entire day with the family, particularly when young children are in the home. In reality, both of these scenarios are based on the same issue, a lack of rest, true rest, where the dog spends time alone.
Dogs that can spend time apart from their families/owner have a chance to recharge and unwind, just like we do when we read a book or take a bath after a long day. By not giving our dogs a chance to relax we do them a true disservice. Dogs that can’t spend time alone don’t learn how to self soothe and can end up with separation related behaviors that can be mild (whining when their owner first leaves) or severe (tearing the entire house apart). While dogs that are not given space to rest can often seem to be unable to relax or even exhibit behaviors that seem aggressive, such as barking, nipping or lunging. When bites do occur they often seem to be “out of nowhere” when in reality that dog reached a breaking point from not being allowed time to rest.
The good news is, for most dogs, its fairly easy to allow them the opportunity to rest. However if your dog is already exhibiting seperation related behaviors it can be a bit more tricky. Another bonus, it’s easier to implement these changes while we are spending more time at home. Start by deciding where they can rest (ideally this is not in a single location - remember about Ditching the Routine!!), If they are crate trained it is an obvious choice, but you can also use a room, gated off area, exercise pen, or boundaries/place/bed if your dog has a strong foundation for staying comfortably in one place.
My dogs spend time alone at least twice per day. I like to give them a Kong or other stuffed toy when I leave them (know YOUR dog and if it is safe to leave them with a Kong unattended). This helps soothe them in my absence and often allows them to fall asleep after they have finished. For dogs that aren’t used to being alone, you can begin by just using a gate to separate you. Boundaries can be an excellent choice here, as you can teach them to lay on their bed while you are in the room before you leave it.
Aside from planned rest you can do little things throughout the day, such as not allowing them to follow you into the bathroom or leaving them outside the kitchen (behind a gate) while you prep meals or eat dinner. Take short walks, such as to the mailbox on your own, scatter feed in your backyard, leave them upstairs when you go downstairs to do laundry. Be creative, there are lots of opportunities to “leave” them throughout the day.
If your dog is distressed by your absence, you will need to reevaluate how you are introducing time apart. We’ll be exploring Passive Calming Activities tomorrow, which will help you be more creative in helping them adjust. Crying, whining, barking, and other behaviors are generally based on fear and allowing them to continue will not help your dog adjust to your leaving.
These days my dogs generally rest wherever they are on their own. However, when major life changes happen (guest spending the night or dad is suddenly home all day) they sometimes need me to step in and make sure they get that time. After all, they say a tired dog is a happy dog...and we’ll explore that tomorrow.
If you’re ready to start Ditching the Routine then its best to start with ditching something else - the bowl. Every morning we start the day with a pot of value, our dog’s daily food allowance. We can decide how to use that value, but too often we chose to put it in the bowl. Our dogs love their bowls, but we want them to find the value in our relationship. Instead of pouring their food away it becomes an almost endless currency (unless you have a tiny dog!) you can use to boost your relationship. Their food can be used for training, enrichment, or rewarding good choices.
When life throws us a curveball we feel uncomfortable, nervous, and sometimes, even scared. One of the things making life difficult around the world during this pandemic is uncertainty and the disruption to our daily routines. Humans go through life with routine, we get up, go to work, come home, and have regular activities. We know exactly when to do something and where something is. It has been proven that those with a routine lead a more productive lifestyle. But the more routine we have built into our lives the more uncomfortable we can feel when it’s disrupted. Often, that’s because strong routines can leave us unflexible and unable to adapt to change quickly.
Our dogs also have routines, ones that we have created for them. They know when breakfast (and dinner) is, when to get us out of bed, and when its time for a walk. Most even know Thursday evening means class or Monday afternoon means a visit to the retirement home. They may not be able to tell time, but they notice the little predictors leading up to an event that says “routine” for them. When you put on your shoes you are leaving, when you pick up the leash they get to go too. Something exciting happens whenever the doorbell rings, visitors mean even more excitement. We are often told dogs thrive in routine when in reality routine can create dogs that are more excitable and unable to cope with change. A common complaint is when the dog won’t let their owner sleep in on the weekend. In reality that early wake-up time is a routine we created.
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