Is a Tired Dog a REALLY a Good Dog?
Updated: Jan 26, 2021
I am sure you have heard it said, " A tired dog is a good dog"
Maybe you have even heard it in response to a behavioral issue you are having with your own dog. Physical exercise is the 'go to' solution for many with dogs who display over-excited and maybe even reactive behaviors.
Don't get me wrong. I think exercise is super important.
But so is calmness, which is what a lot of us are really after, but never actually teach our dogs. I know what you're thinking, I really do. Yes, we have to teach our dogs to do nothing.
It is all about balance. We do need to exercise our dogs, but we also need to provide enrichment and rest.
Most of us feel pretty confident about the exercise part. Walks, hikes, runs, playing fetch, running along side a bike, dog playdates, and much, much more. Just make sure the activity is something your dog actually enjoys and is appropriate for their life stage.
Enrichment provides mental stimulation and can come in the form of training something new, puzzle toys, snuffle mats or scatter feeding, playing games, nose work, finding objects... really there are so many options here. Have fun together! Bored dogs can be destructive and hyperactive; enrichment helps not only by reducing the negative behaviors associated with boredom but also by enabling your dog to adapt more easily to stress (see the studies here and here). Here is an enrichment ebook that I created for you :)
Finally, teaching a dog to relax and be calm is a very important skill that most dog owners miss. Stress happens- whether it comes from positive or negative sources- and chilling out helps dogs 'empty their stress bucket'.
Dogs should spend much of their time in this calm state (combining sleep and rest) and when they don't they can be like that toddler who really needed a nap but missed it!
So how do we help set our dogs up for success in regard to calmness? There are three main ways that are easy to work into your life with a little intentionality.
The first one, rest, is the most obvious. Give your dog a spot that is theirs- a bed, crate, or quiet area- where they can just chill. It is amazing how just having their own spot can help encourage rest and calm anxious dogs. With dogs or puppies that are over exuberant or just need close supervision, you will likely need to limit their choices at some points in the day by using a crate, pen, or gated off area (after the confinement area has been conditioned as a positive place).
Another way you can help grow the amount of time your dog spends in rest is by using passive calming activities. I know that sounds fancy, but it really isn't. These are just activities that keep them in a calm state while they are doing them. A stuffed Kong (maybe even frozen), long lasting chew, scatter feeding, or a puzzle toy are all great activities as long as your dog finds them calming! If there is a time of day when your dog/puppy tends to get a little wild, giving them a passive calming activity just before that will help avoid it all together!
The final way is rewarding calmness when we see it! It is so easy to get in the habit of fussing at your dog when they are behaving in a way that your not happy with and totally missing out on letting them know when we are thrilled with their choice. I know, you don't want to disturb them or , worse, make them excited! But, keep in mind that your dog is more likely to repeat behavior that is rewarded. So use part of their daily ration of food to reward calmness. Just be chill yourself, put one piece of food down on the ground or bed in front of them, and tell them that they are good, and walk away. When you are first starting out with this, your dog might get up. No worries, you still rewarded the behavior you wanted. Ignore them and they will settle again. If they do stay in the relaxed state you initially rewarded them for...yay... you might want to place one more piece of food down to indicate, "Well done, that is what I wanted".... all very calmly, of course!
Now there are other ways to grow calmness, but these three will get you started especially if you rotate through all three throughout the time you spend with your dog.
So, is a tired dog a good dog? That can really go either way. Balance that exercise out with enrichment and calmness for the win!