Dog Tricks for Stress Relief
The pandemic has had a major effect on the lives of many, myself included. And while I am very much an introvert, with my closest friends always having been my dogs, I’m still spending more time at home than usual. The disruption to my routine, and likewise the routine of my dogs, has caused some signs of stress to make an appearance in our lives.
One of the clearest, observable signs of stress that has crept into our home is restlessness. Restlessness is defined as the inability to rest or relax as a result of anxiety or boredom. So, how does one cure restlessness? Well, I don’t have all the answers but there is one solution that works wonders for me!
I’ve read many recommendations for curing restlessness and anxiety like taking short breaks from a busy day to tackle easy chores, setting aside time for exercise, meal prep, cooking, meditation, a call with a friend, the list goes on and on. Certainly, many of those ideas can be productive, easy to accomplish, daily tasks that can give you a break from work, the news, or mindlessly scrolling through social media. But since you are home with your dogs, why not do as I do? Set aside two 5-minute training sessions for your dog each day.
These short training sessions reduce my level of stress, allowing me to be more settled and thoughtful as I work. The added benefit is that these 5-minute sessions also allow my dog to settle more restfully throughout the workday. The reason this can work so well for them is that as they learn and receive food rewards, dopamine and serotonin are released in their body. Together these hormones act as mood stabilizers while also promoting healthy rest, and a good balance for both their physical and mental wellbeing. Make no mistake though, these hormones aren’t only working for your dog. Endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin can also be released when you accomplish a task, have fun, laugh, and spend time with loved ones.
There are 3 key elements to keeping your stress levels down with short dog training sessions.
- Plan your session in advance. Take some additional time before your training session to decide what you want to work on with your dog. Setting your criteria before you begin will allow your training to be clearer, which is especially important because the length of the training session will be short.
- Set your timer for 5 minutes. Your training session will fly by and you don’t want to lose track of time or overwork your dog. So set your timer and don’t reset it for another 5 minutes when you’ve finished. Trust me, it may be tempting to keep working on fun tricks with your dog but keep it short and sweet. This can help with learning retention and future training enthusiasm. If you and your dog had a blast, plan to do another 5-minute training session in a few hours!
- Keep your training fun. This sounds simple, but play is a life skill that requires practice. One of the easiest ways to begin building fun into your sessions is to practice a variety of food reward deliveries. The most common treat delivery is to simply hand your dog a treat. But oftentimes, the spice of treat delivery is food that can be chased! So instead of handing your dog every single treat, try gently rolling one treat across the room you’re working in. You might have to make your treat tosses short distance, to begin with, and even point out the treat after rolling it a few inches away, but once your dog catches on you’ll be able to roll a treat several feet away in any direction! If one out of every five treat deliveries were tossed away for your dog to chase after, you could see a burst of excitement from them as they come back to you for more training.
Now that you have a guideline for structuring your training sessions, it’s time to talk about dog tricks. Teaching your dog tricks is a fun, lighthearted way to engage with your dog and build their ability to focus and eagerly work with you. Tricks can be great to help your dog loosen up if they begin to feel anxious and can also be fabulous for determining their level of comfort in new environments and around new distractions.
Here is a practical example: Your dog is feeling anxious because the mail carrier just delivered a package, you get a treat and ask your dog to bow, then you throw the treat for them to chase. They bow, chase, and eat the treat, then shake off and begin to wag their tail at you.
In this scenario, performing the trick on cue and chasing their reward helped relieve the tension that was building in their body due to stress. Alternatively, as a way to determine your dog’s comfort you may ask them to bow after the mail carrier delivers a package. Say your dog looks at you but doesn’t bow, even though you have a treat they usually love. This is likely a sign that they are feeling too uncomfortable to perform a known behavior, even with a food reward available.
Tricks have many more benefits that I’ll talk about in a future blog post, but these are the two big reasons I think everyone should incorporate fun tricks into each training session with their dog, they can be so useful!
When considering the relationships we have with our canine companions, it’s easy to understand why teaching them tricks can be a great stress relief for us as well. We already think they’re the cutest creatures on the planet so if they can sit pretty, rollover, and spin in circles their cute factor just went up about 1 billion percent.
Working with your dog to teach them cute tricks, building your relationship, and sharing purposeful time together for an extra 5 minutes each day is sure to add value to your lives and reduce your restlessness and stress. It works for me and I hope that it works for you and your pup, too!
To learn more about some easy tricks to teach your dog, check out our videos:
See you next time, at Central Bark!
Carla is an Operations Field Representative for Central Bark and co-owns a dog training and behavior consulting business, Good Karma Canine. Carla has three dogs; Karma, a seven-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier Mix; Gypsy, a five-year-old Bull Terrier/Lab Mix; and Newt, a two-year-old Chihuahua.