In Phoebe’s weekly Fun Class at Dog on the Couch our first exercise after the group walk is called the “Jolly Up & Settle Down”. This is a great exercise for all dogs, but especially for reactive and hyperactive dogs as it’s an important lesson they learn over and over that teaches them to quickly focus, relax and put attention on you when in an excitable state.
So What is it?
This is a simple exercise where you begin by getting the dog excited through jumping around, playing and being generally silly for a few seconds, you then abruptly stop play and tell the dog to go “down”. The dog must then lie down on its side in a totally calm and relaxed state as you gently rub their tummies and speak very softly and soothingly.
At first when Phoebe did this she was all too aware of the other dogs around her in a heightened state of excitement, but she soon realised that they weren’t at all interested in her, so soon she came to love it. She now plays it with abandon and quickly calms when told to.
How does it help Reactive Dogs?
Though both Phoebe and I were loving this activity, I was curious as to why our Trainer said it’s so good to practice. From what I’ve learned, the reason for this is because it teaches reactive and hyperactive dogs to quickly reach a calmed state from hyper-excitement. Phoebe has total focus on me when we are out, and she has now learned through these weekly exercises that even when she’s excitable and around other dogs, if I tell her to be calm and lie down, she has enough trust and experience to listen to me knowing that the only thing that will happen is that she will get a lovely tummy rub and then soon we’ll carry on to the next fun activity.
Do you recommend this for other owners of reactive and/or hyperactive dogs?
Yes. What’s key though, is lots of practice in a controlled environment where the nervous dog is guaranteed to always be safe when they relax. You should also be assured that your dog will have full attention on you when you play this, as a dog that is in a heightened state of play and excitement may be easily distracted and if there are any fear/aggression issues with dogs nearby adrenaline could kick in and a dangerous situation could develop if you don’t have your dogs’ full attention. To get your dog to get to a “down” you may need to use a treat lure initially, but soon the love of the game and the ensuing calming belly rub will become a reward on its own.
Phoebe and Cooper’s Effectiveness Summary:
Issue Addressed: Reactivity, Hyperactivity, Stress, Obedience
Tool(s) Used: Just you and your dog having fun, with occasional treats in the beginning
Cost: Low. Free!
Ease of Implementation: Easy. But as with all training exercises this may take a while to perfect. The motto Practice! Practice! Practice! applies here
Effectiveness Rating: 5/5. This exercise is both fun, and extremely useful at the same time. On walks where I can see a potential threat coming I can distract her by getting her to a calm down within seconds, and while I do this we can slowly turn around and walk the other way without her ever knowing that a potentially true threat was en route. I feel a lot more confident with Phoebe knowing that she can go from full throttle to zero in a matter of seconds without feeling uncomfortable or threatened.
Do you have any tips for calming a reactive or hyperactive dog? Do you think this is something worth practicing?