More Side Effects: Relaxation

Another weird choice for a Fit Dog Friday post, but bear with me, okay?

As the weather has gotten chillier, Nala has become an inexhaustible well of physical and mental energy. We’ve been walking and hiking and training and doing shaping sessions. We’ve done position changes as a conditioning exercise, shaped backing up and put it on cue, refined Nala’s pivoting skills and finally begun to teach her lovely, precise heeling. She’s spent lots of time out in the yard staring at and chasing squirrels while I shiver, sitting in the dirt and the overgrown grass, weirdly lush now that it is winter, and watch her hunt. We’ve played lots of tug and worked on fetch and Nala has gotten so good at her new nosework game that I need to figure out how to make it harder (suggestions welcome, by the way).

Meghan's iPhone pictures (all dogs) 1018But here’s the thing that I learned last year around this time: no amount of exercise and stimulation can actually exhaust a young german shepherd. Last year, Nala would spend half an hour chasing squirrels, then beg me to come inside. When we came in and I settled down in my chair, she would come to me, squeak, and then pull the blanket off of my lap to get me to play with her. In fact, every arousing activity we did together was like this–as soon as we stopped, Nala would barely catch her breath before she was pestering me for more entertainment.

Eventually, I connected the dots–instead of addressing the pestering behaviors themselves, I needed to help her figure out what to do with herself when the fun ended; I needed to teach her to calm herself down after exciting activities. So we did a Relaxation Protocol,* which I taught and rewarded with food, every time we came in from outside for a week or so.

Then Nala decided to put her own spin on that behavior, and it’s been an unshakeable ritual ever since.

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“I enjoyed that game we were just playing, so now it’s time for us to lay on the bed together while I beam at you!”

Whenever Nala does anything that she loves to do–plays with me outside, hunts squirrels, goes for a walk, trains with me, even eaten her breakfast–once she finishes, she comes up to me and bunts against my legs, beaming, until I ask her a question:

“Do you want to go and cuddle on the bed with me?”

At these words, she stops, eyes bright and ears high, turns, and runs toward the bedroom. Every few steps she pauses to look back at me as if to ask, “Are you coming?” Then she launches herself up onto the bed as I lay down and cuddles up against me. Some times, she lays there with me and smiles, soliciting pets for a while. Others, she curls up and goes to sleep. More often, she does both.

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A typical post-breakfast nap taken with her nose shoved into my armpit.

It’s obviously important to keep our dogs fit, healthy, fulfilled, and enriched. But I’m grateful that Nala and I have found such an easy, comfortable way to balance active fun with sweet, calm time together, too.

*I used Suzanne Clothier’s Really Real Relaxation Protocol, but there are plenty of ways to accomplish this. I’m planning a more detailed post on relaxation–stay tuned!

This is part of the Fit Dog Friday Blog Hop!

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15 thoughts on “More Side Effects: Relaxation

  1. Have you thought of taking nose work classes? Even the most hyper dogs are mentally worn out after a class, at least for a while. It may be something to try out. I don’t know if you have ever taken a class, but it is different from the “nose work” people do at home on their own. Lots of German Shepherds do the sport and excel at it.

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    1. I would love to! But I don’t think we have many classes locally, and I don’t know much about getting started. But I think Nala would love it, and be good at it to boot. It’s definitely on my aspirational online class list, though! I love reading about the work you guys do. Any tips for getting started?

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  2. Haha, great shot of her relaxing in your armpit 😉 I put a similar protocol into place for my boy Buzz. He could play fetch with his beloved ball literally all day long unless I we were to take breaks..snuggle breaks, of course!

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  3. Ha! Great job on training her to relax!

    As for the nose work, I don’t recall how you have been doing that with her. I usually put B in the bedroom, shut the door, then hide treats around the living room. Sometimes I use different sized boxes and place them all over and will hide the treat in one of them and have her find it. Once she gets the gist of it I can step it up and turn a box over or stack boxes on top of each other. I am guessing Nala will quickly excel at this if she hasn’t already. Maybe you can change it up by hiding a treat and a toy and have her find the right one first?

    Man, Nala is wicked smart and you are amazing for being able to keep up with her or at least one step ahead! Blueberry is smart, but she’s also elderly, so her I can handle. But Nala would make me feel like a moron
    pretty quickly. 😉

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  4. Relaxation work has been a big part of Barley’s training, too. But she never chooses to relax on her own–I always have to remind her to go to her mat or to curl up on loveseat–and she is only content with relaxing in either of those places for a few minutes at a time. She’s like Nala with the bed, though, if I tell her it’s time to go snuggle, she’ll hop up into the bed and say there all day if I want her to. We take a lot of naps this time of year 😉

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  5. What a wonderful girl Nala is! I, too, am experiencing the cold-weather reminder of just what sort of dog I have on my hands in Ruby. Our newest activity – flying disc on the long line – is by far the most stimulating, and Ruby has a hard time calming down afterward, even when she catches and cavorts until her tongue is hanging out. Going straight into an RP session is a great idea!

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