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Happy April, everyone!
If you’ve been following our podcast, you know that we’ve been talking about teaching our pets relaxation skills. It’s a skill that’s so important, that it even has its own category in Canine Enrichment for the Real World. Both Episode 4 and Episode 5 focus on what relaxation really is, how to help our pets learn these skills, and some of our favorite approaches to teaching relaxation.
There are tons of ways to help your pets with their relaxation skills, so this month, for our monthly training challenge, we challenge you to create a relaxing environment for your pet.
So what does a relaxing environment look like?
Why thank you for asking, that’s a great question, and I would love to tell you. The catch is, that, like so many answers in the behavior world, “it depends.”
There are a lot of factors that go into what a living being finds relaxing, and let’s explore those a bit!
How does your pet’s species typically sleep?
The first step to understanding what your pet might find comforting and relaxing is to understand what that looks like for your pet’s species. Different species will need different things. For a dog, being stuck on a tree limb is going to require active muscle engagement, balancing, and full-body awareness. For a bird, laying on the ground may be stressful, in the wild, which would expose them to predators, and put them in a vulnerable spot.
So, ask yourself, do I know how [insert your pet’s species] typically sleeps?
Is it up high or down low? Is it in something, under something? What time of day do they typically sleep? Do I really know, or is this based on something that I’ve been hearing all my life that I should fact check?
What does your pet look like when they are relaxing?
The next element of this is to know what relaxation looks like on your pet’s species, and on your pet. In the Enrichment for the Real World Episode #5, Allie and Emily discuss how stillness doesn’t mean relaxed.
I can be perfectly still on a rollercoaster, and you better believe I am not feeling relaxed! Relaxation is about the body moving through the stress response cycle, physiological changes like heart rate, respiration, and the like.
So, ask yourself, do I know what my pet looks like while they are relaxing?
What are their eyes doing? Are they blinking slowly, or are their eyelids looking droopy? How deep and slow are their breaths? How do they position their body? How much muscle tension do they have in their back, neck, and/or shoulders?
Where or what does your pet currently use to relax?
Now, sometimes, we are starting from scratch on this (like Dr. Pachel and Emily discussed in Episode 4), but you may find that your pet has already given you some information on what they find relaxing. And, keep in mind, these can be locations or activities!
You may start to see a pattern to what your pet finds relaxing. When we know what relaxation looks like, we can let them tell us what they need to have a relaxing environment.
Where do you see signs of relaxation? When do you see signs of relaxation? Do they gravitate to the same spot to sleep? Do they prefer a wood floor over a dog bed? Do they sleep under or behind something? Do they spend a lot of time next to a fan, heater, or searching out a sunspot? Do they rest more after certain activities like a sniff walk, shredding a destructible toy, licking on a lick-mat, or using a flirt pole? Do they seek out a dark, quiet place?
So, ask yourself, what are some things that help my pet relax?
Is there a type of bed that you see more relaxation on? For example, a cot might get a different response than a plush bed. Is there a time of day when you see the most signs of relaxation?
Are there activities that you do with your pet that either get or are followed by an increase in signs of relaxation?
And what does that all mean for me?
You’re ready to start building your pet a relaxing environment!
Create a spot where your pet can start relaxing more often. Take the information you collected and build your pet’s ideal relaxation station. In this spot, you can try providing them with some of those activities you identified that elicit an increase in signs of relaxation. You can practice mat work or relaxation protocols to help your pet learn to relax in this location.
- Build your pet’s ideal relaxation station! This might be a dark, quiet room with a cozy dog bed, or it might be a high shelf in your office for your cat. After you’ve observed their behavior, take their preferences into account, so that you’re starting from a place of success.
- Continue to teach your pet to relax here, whether that’s with opportunities to engage with activities that help them relax during or after the fact.
- If you want to practice some of those Relaxation Protocols that were mentioned in the podcast episodes, awesome! We have another blog that looks specifically at that.
- P.S. if you are in Pro Campus already, you can find the Pet Harmony Relaxation Protocol in your account under “Pro Campus Weekly Recordings”, “Training Challenges”, “Relaxation Protocol”. You’ll find a video that shares how to execute our Relaxation Protocol, how to teach it to clients, and a handout that you can use with your clients!
- Tag us on Facebook or Instagram @petharmonytraining, so we can see your pet’s relaxation station!