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.
Owner, Head Trainer