Teaching your dog how to relax and be happy on their own is really important. This behaviour makes it easier for you to take them to a pub or café, have friends round, or even just so you can get things done at home.
We can do this by using a blanket or bed and some tasty treats. The way to teach this, is by forming a positive and calm association with the blanket. Dogs learn really well through association, if your dog is rewarded for being calm and relaxed on the blanket, eventually this behaviour will come naturally. After enough practice your dog will choose to go and relax on the blanket when they see it.
What you need to teach your dog how to relax is:
A Kong filled with a tasty wet food – like peanut butter or dog food
Blanket or dog bed (choose something easily portable that you can bring with you to pubs/cafes etc.)
Practice each of the following steps a few times before you move onto the next one. If your dog struggles at any stage, simply go backwards to the point where your dog was successful.
Step 1 – Build a Positive Association
Place the blanket somewhere with minimal distractions, such as in your living room by the sofa
Put your dog on their lead and walk over to the sofa and sit down
Place a Kong filled with some tasty wet food on the blanket
Without your dog seeing you, continuously drop tiny bite sized treats on to the blanket
Try not to give them attention, or ask them to do anything
Keep training sessions short, practice for around 5/10 minutes at a time
The aim of this step is to show your dog that the blanket is a wonderful place to be, if they go on the blanket amazing things happen! That’s all we want them to learn for now.
Step 2 – Reduce the Rewards
Repeat step 1 – but don’t use the Kong this time
Sneakily drop tasty treats onto the blanket in the same place by your dog’s head – after a while you should see them naturally sit or lie down because it’s easier for them to eat the treats.
Continue dropping treats every time they are lying down and appear relaxed and calm
For step 2, the aim is to guide your dogs into a relaxed position. By dropping treats in front of them while they are lying down or sitting, this behaviour is being positively reinforced.
Step 3 – Reward only Relaxed Behaviour
As before, walk over to the sofa and sit down with the blanket by your feet
Without your dog seeing you, drop a few initial treats onto the blanket
Start to only reward more and more relaxed behaviours, leaving a longer duration of time between rewards.
For step 3, the aim is to reward your dog for being relaxed for longer and longer periods of time. You might actually start to see that your dog becomes super relaxed and sleepy!
Step 4 – Increase Distractions
This step is about adding distractions. Only move on to this when your dog is really chilled and calm on the blanket for a considerable duration with minimal treats. A few distractions may include:
Turning the TV on
Asking a friend to walk through the room
Opening a bag of crisps
Allowing other people or pets to be in the room
After enough practice, you should start to see relaxed and calm behaviour happening on the blanket even when there are distractions. When you are at this stage, try practicing this around the house e.g. by the dinner table, work desk, outside in the garden. Also try this with and without the lead. But keep in mind for each new environment you may have to go back a step, as new environments make it harder for dogs to focus.
Solutions to Common Issues
"My dog keeps jumping on the sofa"
If your dog is has ever been allowed to go on the sofa, then don’t use the sofa to teach this because it will make it confusing for them. Use an office chair or something that is more difficult to jump on to practice with instead!
"My dog keeps trying to get my attention"
The best and most effective thing to do is to teach your dog that the blanket is the most amazing and rewarding place to be. If they jump up at you, ignore them but scatter treats on their blanket. Ignore all attempts of getting your attention, pawing, whining, barking. Remember that pushing them down and shouting is still attention, and dogs prefer this to being ignored.
"My dog isn’t interested in the treats"
First of all, increase the value of your treats with something like chicken or sausage. If your dog isn’t interested in the Kong, try something different like a licky mat, puzzle toy or snuffle mat. Most dogs are food motivated, and the challenge of a puzzle will keep them occupied and distracted, but if this still doesn’t work, you might need to experiment with a few toys, bones or chews and see what your dog loves the most.
"My dog won’t relax"
If your dog is too excited and energetic, they might need to go for a walk first. When dogs have built up energy inside them it makes it difficult for them to focus. Try going for a walk and letting them sniff everything, this will tire them out and should make it easier for them to relax.