How Do I Teach My Dog to Relax?

Marissa MartinoBehavior & Training Resources

One of my favorite tools when working with a new client is to teach their dog how to relax on a mat. There are so many benefits to this behavior:

  • It teaches your dog how to settle.
  • It provides an environmental cue (the mat) indicating to your dog how you’d like them to show up or be in that moment.
  • The mat can travel with you to new locations providing a relaxation spot for your dog.

Not many dogs know how to relax, especially when other distractions are around! My favorite tool to share with dog owners is the Relaxation Protocol by Dr. Karen Overall. It may seem long and detailed; however, most of my clients really enjoy it since it breaks the behavior into small, achievable steps! Before you can start her protocol, you need to teach your dog how to lie down on the mat. Below are the steps:

  1. The first step is to choose a mat that is novel to your dog. Please avoid choosing your dog’s bed since he / she lies on that throughout the day. Please also choose an easy, travel size mat such as a beach towel or even a kitchen towel. You shouldn’t be emotionally attached to the towel since it’s now owned by your dog!
  2. The second step is to shape your dog to orient towards the mat. Shaping is clicking and treating small approximations until you reach the final, desired behavior.  
  3. Place the mat down on the floor in between you and your dog.
  4. When your dog looks at the mat, click and treat! Deliver the treat away from the mat to reset the dog’s body each time.
  5. When your dog moves toward the mat, click and treat!
  6. When your dog places 1 paw on the mat, click and treat!
  7. When your dog places 2 paws on the mat, click and treat!
  8. Deliver the treat away from the mat to reset the dog’s body each time!

Once your dog is actively stepping onto the mat, make the game harder by waiting for new behaviors:

  1. All 4 paws on the mat.
  2. A sit on the mat.
  3. A down position on the mat.
  4. Start to click and treat these behaviors above and deliver the treat on the mat to create relevance and a positive association to the mat.
  5. The goal is to get the dog lying down on the mat with his hip rolled to the side with a relaxed body!
  6. This whole sequence might take several training sessions. Always end on a positive note and only train for several minutes at a time. Keep the mat away from your dog in between sessions.