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Does your overly excited or sometimes-anxious dog equate being outside with high-energy, high-emotion activity?
If so, you're not alone. Many pet owners have the same experience. In this step-by-step guide I'll show you how to help your dog calm down when outside so you can enjoy going outside with your dog in a less frenzied spirit.
For most dogs, going outside is a super exciting and high energy time. When we go outside with our dog it tends to be to play an energetic game of fetch or go on a much-anticipated long walk. In other words, the best thing ever.
We don't want to take away your dog's "hooray, we're going outside!" feeling - we do want to give you and your dog another skill to chill out, reduce anxiety, and enjoy being outside.
If you & your dog are working on reactivity or other leash behaviors...
For many dogs who are reactive or aggressive, going outside can often be limited as we work on improving their behaviors/associations with the outdoor world (including other dogs, strange people, loud noises...). This means that when reactive dogs do go outside it can be even more likely those dogs experience anxiety or get over-excited. It can feel overwhelming. It's no wonder we often have a hyper dog as we head outside!
So what's a pet parent to do?
Let's talk about how to reduce your dog's anxiety and help your reactive dog or over-excited dog experience the world with a more neutral/calming energy. Let's remove those things that can cause dog anxiety outdoors. We want to encourage and reward your dog for settling in with you in a quiet spot where your pup can just watch the world go by without having to feel the need to interact with it.
First, some dog training basics:
2) Choose a low-traffic time to avoid overwhelming your dog
3) Find a spot that's not too hot or cold for your pup
4) Make sure your dog has had a good potty break before you head out
5) Calmly and confidently lead the way - your dog will look to you for guidance
Now let's get started!
How to help anxious dogs become calm dogs
Dogs who are anxious or tend to be reactive can find it hard to calm down when outside. If your dog is feeling overwhelmed by the world around them, here are some things you can do to help your dog's anxiety.
Take this as an opportunity to bond with your dog by just sitting outside and enjoying a calming time together. Going outside doesn't always have to mean playing a game of fetch, taking a long walk, or some other physical exercise! Just find a low-stress place to sit with your dog and enjoy each other!
First, without your dog, set up a blanket in a quiet place outside with plenty of fresh air and without lots of stimuli (think the opposite of dog parks) and have some dog treats handy and maybe even snacks for yourself! Once your quiet space is set up outside, bring your dog out to join you.
- Have your dog on leash so he or she can't run off. (But you might want to use an extra long line leash so your dog will have a chance to wander and sniff and return to you.)
- Pay your pup with his/her favorite dog treats for any calm behavior and hanging out on the blanket with you.
- It's equally important initially to pay your dog when he or she is wandering but looks toward you and makes eye contact with you. Not all dogs will connect and settle in the same way/same time frame (as with all behaviors!). Watch your dog for body language indicators and reward anything such as eye contact, instead of eyes darting around at all the exciting stimuli in the outside world. Immediately, give a quick "yes!" and then treat your dog on your mat or blanket.
(If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, this is another good opportunity to build positive associations with relaxing on a favorite blanket/mat. That way if you need to take your dog places with you until you've completed your separation anxiety training program, you'll have established the mat as a safe, calm place and it can be a helpful tool when you're in a public space with your dog. To teach your dog how to go to bed/mat, follow the step-by-step training guides here in the Manners Channel on Dogly.)
- At the same time, your dog doesn't have to be on the mat/blanket. Anytime your pup relaxes, sits, or lies down next to you on the grass/whatever, reward with treats your dog loves. (You might not always have a blanket with you when you're outside, and you want your dog to know how to relax anywhere with you.)
Be patient and give your dog time to adjust to this new activity. If your dog is really anxious, it might take some time for your pup to learn how to relax outside. Just like with any training activity, go at your dog's pace and make sure you're both comfortable.
If you get frustrated or if your dog seems to be getting more anxious and showing fear based reactions like barking at other pets, end the session on a good note and try again later. Every dog is different, so find a method that works best for your pup!
Watch me take you through it with my dog CJ
In the accompanying short video below, I show you how to start the process of teaching your dog that outside doesn't always mean high energy and excitement but can be a place to relax and reduce stress. Watch it and feel free to ask any questions in the Community discussion in the Manners Channel. Especially for a usually hyperactive dog or nervous dog at stressful times, this activity will give your dog a chance to take a break and be the center of your calm, easygoing attention.
You're also letting your dog know that he/she can trust you to help guide him/her through anything that's overwhelming - whether it's a new place, lots of people, or just too much sensory input for your dog to handle. This is an easy way to begin building a strong, trusting relationship with your dog while also teaching your dog how to relax and calm down in new or difficult situations.
See what works with your individual dog - and enjoy each other! Sometimes just sitting outside can be really fun for humans and dogs alike. Plus it's a great way to relax and bond with your dog!
Is your dog overly excited or anxious outside? Learn step-by-step methods to help your dog calm down and enjoy outdoor moments with reduced stress in this video.
Next up in the Manners Channel on Dogly
Hop over to the Manners Channel if you'd like to ask any of the Dogly Training Advocates who are all certified dog trainers a question in the Community discussion or start any of the step-by-step guides in Food Manners, Basic Manners, Public Manners or Holiday Manners.
And if you ever need more personalized training help, please reach out to work with me one-on-one here on Dogly!