Dog Training

Help a Dog Relax

March 28, 2024

How can we help a dog relax? What kind of activities promote real rest and relaxation for a dog? Often the “rest” we give our dogs is counterproductive in helping them have a calm state of mind. We discuss how to help our dogs achieve something to truly rejuvenate and have a happier, more fulfilled life.

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Help a dog relax, Episode 77: Doggie R&R

How can we help a dog relax? What kind of activities promote real rest and relaxation for a dog? Often the “rest” we give our dogs is counterproductive in helping them have a calm state of mind. We discuss how to help our dogs achieve something to truly rejuvenate and have a happier, more fulfilled life.

Dog Relaxing on a Placemat | Helping a dog relax | Cornerstone Dog Training

The Man and His Saw

As the story goes, there was a man cutting down a tree with a saw. The tree was huge. It was a big job. He was cutting and cutting, giving it his all when a traveler walked by and asked, “What are you doing?”

The man replied, “Can’t you see? I’m cutting down this tree. It’s a big job and I better get back to it.”

Man Cutting a Tree | The Habit of Sharpening the Saw through rest and relaxation | Cornerstone Dog Training

The traveler stopped him and said, “Your blade doesn’t seem to be cutting well for all the effort you’re putting in. How long have you been working at it?”

“A solid four hours, but I’m making some progress through. See? I’m about 1/3 of the way through.”

Concerned, the traveler again pointed out that his saw did not seem to be working well. “Have you thought about sharpening your saw?”, the traveller asked.

With a roll of his eyes, the man scoffed, “I don’t have time to sharpen my saw! I have a lot of work to do here. It will slow me down.”

When in fact, we know that’s exactly what the man needed, to slow down and take the time to sharpen his saw. If he continued to work and work with a dull saw, the job would wear him to the ground. At best, the tree would finally come down but the man would be worn and spent, unable to do much more. Or perhaps the tree never comes down at all and the sad dull blade is left to rust half way through the trunk.

All he needed was the willingness to see the bigger picture, stop and take a moment to sharpen his saw.

What Activities Sharpen Our Saw?

So what are the rest and relaxation things that actually help us feel rejuvenated? What are the activities you personally do that, in the end, help you feel sharper and more alive?

We’ll come back to that question for you, but for now just realize that what is rejuvenating and relaxing for you may not be the same for your dog.

What Activities are NOT Rejuvenating for Dogs?

For dogs, with rest and relaxation, sometimes we think all they need is to be let loose in the backyard or being allowed to roam the house. Afterall, that might be exactly what would rejuvanate us as humans.

We may also think that if we give our dogs all the food and toys they could possibly want and THEN they’ll be happier.

But it rarely works that way for a dog!

The Free-Feeding Trap

When you free-feed a dog, for example, which is where you leave food out all day for them to eat whenever they wish, it goes against their nature as dogs. It can also take away their motivation to think and work. Not to mention, the increased chance of having food agression because they see that food as belonging to them, bestowed by the food gods, and no one else can come near.

So free feeding is one of those things that we think would be a blessing to our dogs, but really it can be harmful to their mental health (as well as physical health if your dog is one of those over eaters). Free feeding does not help a dog relax.

Backyard Free Time Is Not Help a Dog Relax

Understandably, we think that sending our dogs out to the backyard for free time would help them relax. But in a dog’s mind, that is giving them a larger area to have to “manage.” For a lot of dogs it’s super anxiety-inducing because they think they need to be in charge of all of this, and they’re not ready for that level of freedom and responsibility.

It’s not restful.

It’s like if you went on vacation for a week and on the first day, your boss messages you that there’s a big project needing done by the end of the week. So now the rest of the week, your body may be on “vacation,” but your mind really is not. It’s not really restful or relaxing.

Laser-Pointer Playtime Does Not Help a Dog Relax

When we play with our dogs for rest and relaxation, we want our dogs to be able to have a win and feel like they accomplished something. Instead of playtime just being all over crazy and out of control.

Sometimes people pull out a laser pointer, for example, and have their dog chase the laser. We are not fans of this! It may seem like an easy, and often amusing, way to give your dog exercise. And yet, your dog is never going to catch that laser. And so it ends up being a frustration for dogs that builds up over and over again. It’s missing the piece of being actually rejuvanating.

Day Care Equals Adrenaline High and is Not Relaxing

Dog owners often think that sending their dog to day care with other dogs would be good rest and relaxation for their dogs. Afterall, an afternoon spent with your friends can be refueling. But often for dogs, depending on the day care situation, it’s like being on a roller coaster all day. The adrenaline is high all throughout the day, and it’s far from recharging.

It’s exhausting.

Positive, Rejuvenating Activities to Help Your Dog Relax

Tug or Fetch

Graphic of dog playing fetch | Help a dog relax | Cornerstone Dog Training

Better options for playtime would be things like tug or fetch. There’s positive interaction with you and throughout the game your dog is feeling successful. We want to give them lots of wins and before they’re all worn out, you take the toy and it’s “yours,” ready for another play session later, that’s some positive rest and relaxation for your dog. It’s fulfilling to a dog.

CRATE Time Can Help a Dog Relax

Relaxed dog in a crate | Help a Dog Relax | Cornerstone Dog Training

Real rest for our dogs can be found using a crate. It’s simple. They don’t even need toys in there. They just need a safe, smaller space that is free from distractions. A space where they can truly decompress and feel rejuvenated.

Training Time Can Help a Dog Relax

Dogs in training | Help a Dog Relax | Cornerstone Dog Training

Another fulfilling activity for your dog is training. It can be hard at first, but as they start to get what you’re working on it becomes fun for the dog. Training is a great way to build your relationship while also giving your dog something to focus on and help them feel successful. After a training session, then give them crate time to process and relax. Ah! Feels so good to a dog.

So What About You? What’s Relaxing and Rejuvenating to You?

Think of this for yourself. What truly rejuvanates you?

Sometimes it’s sleep. If you’re in need of sleep, you know how absolutely delicious it feels to get a good night’s rest! It’s so good to find a comfortable space, free of distractions, and get some solid sleep. It’s definitely rejuvenating.

Or perhaps your mind just needs space to disconnect. A long, quiet bath may do the trick. Or a walk by yourself…without your airpods.

Then at times the rejuvenation we need comes from learning a new skill or creating something just for the sake of creating. Music, art, and sports can all be great rejuvanating pastimes. Although Lorelei and some of our kids take music quite seriously, there are also times they each “relax at the piano,” playing pieces just for the fun of it.

For more on the habit of sharpening the saw, check out this blog from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Make the Time to Sharpen the Saw for Yourself

What are your go-to rest and relaxation activities? It’s different for everyone. (Sidenote: it’s likely NOT scrolling the news or social media. Those activities are an easy diversion, but they often leave our minds spinning, feeling far from rejuvenated or fulfilled. Believe me, I keep trying.)

Now make time for those activities. Rest and relaxation is a part of every good life. Make the time to sharpen your saw.

Do the Same to Help Your Dog Relax and Sharpen Their Saw

Then do the same for your dog. Give them time to have focused play or training and then time in the crate to process and relax…and sleep. Now that’s the good life!

Podcast Show Notes

2:43 What actually allows our dog to rest?

3:47 An open backyard is not restful. There is a ton of space for the dog to “take care of the situation.”

5:33 Daycare is not rest. They are on an adrenaline high.

6:00 Kennel or Crate is an actual place for the dog to go to relax and do nothing.

7:27 When we learn a new skill it sharpens us.

8:27 Help your dog learn a new skill, then let them rest on it!

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