Calmness, a key to resolving misbehavior

April 17, 2021

Calmness training is a foundation skill most people misunderstand and under-appreciated. They come into training thinking I need to teach my dog to sit, lay down, come when called, not pull on the leash, not jump on people, and be friendly. 

But what I know through working with dogs I have rescued with severe behavior issues and working with 1000s of clients dogs is the reality is if your dog is not calm, it can’t do any of those things.

Teaching behaviors will not address the emotional state of excitability. A lack of calmness is the root cause of most misbehavior. Calmness training is the root.

We have realized calmness is the foundation of all successful training.

For years, dog trainers have advocated, “exercise your dog more if it is misbehaving.”

 They have said, “A tired dog is a Good Dog.” And that could be 1 part of the equation. Yes, we should give our dogs adequate exercise. But exercise is only a solution until the dog feels refreshed. Once it has rested, it is back to misbehaving. Whereas when you teach your dog to default to a state of calmness, you can get that whether your dog has been exercised or not. You can get it at home and in public. You can get it when you have company and when you take your dog on outings.

Also, because dogs that practice calmness are not stressed out all of the time, they are healthier. You know the toll stress takes on your health. Well, the same is true for your dog.  

Calmness is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself and your dog.

When it comes to misbehavior, I see the full spectrum of issues. I work with dogs with super high emotional reactions and work and dogs who need a little help. But the common element is they all have a lack of calmness.

There is a degree of arousal, high intensity that should not be there. 

Calmness is the solution to all the misbehaviors you have with your dog.

Calmness replaces the emotion of excitability and fear, and anxiety. A dog that is calm is a dog that is making great choices.

Try these strategies to practice calmness

A deep  massage
Using a Thunder shirt
Calm, slow stroking
Food Toys, that cause your dog to lick or chew
Safe, long-lasting chews
Rewarding your dog when it is just chilling out
Teaching your dog to relax in its crate, on a bed, or mat

In the comments section, tell me what confuses or frustrates you when it comes to your dog’s inability to be calm.  Under what circumstances, does your dog struggle to be calm?  And what have your tried to resolve excitability issues?

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Mary Savage on April 18, 2021, 6:46 AM
Dallas is extremely fearful when meeting new people. He shakes all over and won’t make eye contact. Too stressed to eat treats. He does better if the person sits but is still very stressed. It takes 5 or 6 times meeting someone before he is comfortable with them.

Debbie Schaefer of The Well-Mannered Dog
 replied on Sunday, April 18, 9:56 AM
Yes, and that is super hard, but you have him in the correct program.  Through our Changing Dog Emotions Program, you will learn how to change those emotional associations.  In the meantime, the prevention strategies you got in Saturday’s e-mail will make it so he is not practicing this emotion and minimize it becoming a habit.

EmmaPam Ebert on April 18, 2021, 8:57 AM
Since Kate would react when she saw another dog, Emma has picked up that behavior- why do they choose to emulate the undesired behavior instead of the Kate choosing to copy Emma?! Kate has been rehomed to a farm where she is happy & im working on getting Emma back to reacting calmly when she meets another dog on a hike. I’m getting her to sit & catch treats as the other dog is approaching. It seems to be helping

Debbie Schaefer of The Well-Mannered Dog replied on Sunday, April 18, 9:56 AM
I’m sorry that you had to rehome Kate, that must have been a super hard decision.  In answer to your question, it is a survival mechanism.  If someone is yelling danger, you take heed.  Otherwise, you perish.  But the super good news is Emma has a history of other dogs being a great thing, a wonderful experience, so you can get back to that state.

More Comments

Sharayah Barron April 19, 2021, 9:28 PM
Bucks is really calm on leash unless something surprises him, like if there’s a dog pulling at us or barking it’s almost impossible to get his attention. I’ve started doing my best to just completely walk the other way and giving treats. But when it’s a motorcycle coming upon us I’m not sure what to do (he usually reacts to these things by tucking his tail and pulling backward and barks, if it’s a dog he pulls towards them if they are further away. If they are close he pulls away)

Debbie Schaefer of The Well-Mannered Dog replied on Monday, April 20, 6:23 AM
Sharayah this is a super common problem.  They are in a state of panic and the chemicals of Dopamine and Norepinephrine have been depleted from their brain so they can not think or learn in this state.  The runaway is great for most circumstances. But sometimes you get trapped and there is no place to go.  Sometimes, there is something you can hide behind so they can not see the scary thing.  But if it is something that makes noise, they will still hear it.  The best thing you can do under those circumstances is to have a short grip on the leash and see if they can eat and do your Fast Food game. If they can’t, eat, you are just looking to get out of the situation any way you can.

BaxterChuck Summers April 22, 2021, 3:55 PM
Baxter is starting to be much more calm. He still struggles when meeting people. It is hard to get him to settle and even harder to get people to listen to how they should greet him. Why are people harder to train than dogs?

Debbie Schaefer of The Well-Mannered Dog replied on Monday, Friday 23, 6:52 AM
That is terrific!  1 step at a time.  When it comes to teaching a dog to jump, I find instead of giving other people instructions on how to greet, that keeping the control in my hands is more successful.  I start by making sure my dog can be calm leash distance from them and then I play my “Make Friends” Game.  All the other person has to do is stay there and possibly put out their hand.  I think it is the human ego that makes them harder to train.  Ha!


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Author – Debbie Schaefer

Debbie has been successfully teaching dog lovers how to rambunctious, rude, disobedient dogs into Well-Mannered companions since 1987.

That means there are few bad behaviors Debbie can’t tame or troublesome pups Debbie can’t help turn into well-mannered dogs.

With training, your dog can be a great companion, a fun part of your life.