We work hard learning strategies to help our dogs feel safer in the world through training games and management. We watch their body language, alert for signs of tension so we can intervene before they react to their environment. We know our dogs can also read tension in our body language and leash grip. Because our tension can increase theirs, we try to remain relaxed while working with our dogs.
But vague directions like “relax!” or “calm down!” often fail since they don’t address the physicality of stress. When we experience tension, we often forget to breathe and stop feeling grounded in our bodies, making relaxation difficult. Instead, you can try these simple steps: take a breath and think about the soles of your feet. That breath and that thought will put you right back in your body, at least for a moment.
To develop this relaxation routine, start practicing in lower stress situations so that when you need it most, the habit will be there. Find specific times of the day to breathe and think about the soles of your feet—for example, when you first get up, when you harness your dog, when you step outside, while you brush your teeth. Then you’ll practice in more stressful or distracting situations like while turning a corner with your dog or picking up poop.
We cannot prevent our dogs from reacting 100% of the time. But if we can breathe and remain grounded, we can help our dogs shake off their reactions sooner.