Energetic dog with no 'off switch'? Try this trainer's top tips

Dog relaxing on woman who is pregnant
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s important to take the time to relax, and that goes for not only humans but for our furry friends, too. Even if your dog seems to have limitless energy, it’s still important that they can relax sometimes. 

And we have a role to play in helping our dogs to relax, too, with the best dog treats coming in handy! Juliana DeWillems, an expert trainer and the founder of JW Dog Training & Behavior, has offered some advice in a recent Instagram post, and it’s really made us think. As she puts it, someone telling you to “just relax” doesn’t actually help you relax – it’s up to us to work with our dogs to encourage and reinforce relaxation. 

“What does ‘relaxing’ even look like?” begins DeWillems – do calming treats for dogs work, for example? “Think about what observable behaviors you want to see from your dog when you think about them being relaxed. Also, think about what conditions those behaviors are most likely to occur under.”

DeWillems explains that there are certain behaviors she looks for in dogs when it comes to relaxing, as learning to read dog body language is invaluable. They include big sighs, closed eyes, a closed mouth rather than panting, lying on their side or lying on a hip, and putting their head down. 

She continues, “Spending a few minutes rewarding these behaviors at the end of a training session can help to calm a dog down after they get all excited and amped up for the training – because for most behaviors I want enthusiasm and activity … but not necessarily all the time.”

DeWillems explains that she spends a lot of time working on high-energy, exciting training exercises with the dog in her video, but that she likes to spend a little while at the end of every training session working on relaxation. She simply rewards behaviors like the ones listed above, while keeping a calm, relaxed demeanor herself too. 

However, she’ll also be “adding in subtle distractions like shifting my weight, changing my positioning, or nonchalantly taking a few steps away.” And, when rewarding relaxing behaviors, she doesn’t use her marker word but ensures that she delivers the treat calmly and casually so the dog is more likely to stay in the relaxed position. 

You can’t force a dog to relax. However, you can use reinforcement (here’s the science behind positive reinforcement for dogs for more info!) to boost the likelihood of behaviors associated with being relaxed occurring more under certain conditions. Why not give it a try, and see how you and your pup get on?

Adam England
Freelance Writer

Adam is a freelance journalist covering lifestyle, health, culture, and pets, and he has five years' experience in journalism. He's also spent the last few years studying towards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in journalism. While a cat person at heart, he's often visiting his parents' Golden Retriever, and when he's not writing about everything pets he's probably drinking coffee, visiting a cat cafe, or listening to live music.