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How can I help my dog relax?

Every dog has a different personality and some have a hard time relaxing. Some dogs can't relax because they are anxious or fearful. Others can't relax because they are full of energy. In either case, relaxation is a skill you can teach your dog.


There are 4 things we should look to promote as much as possible to help our dogs maintain a healthy emotional state and take the opportunity to relax. These may be things that help your reactive dog bring their baseline stress levels down or keep your busy dog from looking for mischief.


Sniffing

Sniffing is an instinctual behaviour for dogs, deeply ingrained in their evolutionary history as hunters and scavengers. Allowing dogs to engage in natural behaviours like sniffing can promote a sense of fulfilment and well-being, reducing stress levels. It allows dogs to explore and gather information about their environment through scent. This sensory stimulation can be mentally enriching and engaging for dogs, helping to distract them from sources of stress or anxiety. 


Sniffing can also have a calming effect on dogs by triggering the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters that promote feelings of relaxation and contentment. Engaging in sniffing activities may help dogs feel more at ease and less stressed, particularly in unfamiliar or challenging environments.


Licking

Licking is a self-soothing behaviour that dogs may engage in to alleviate stress or anxiety. It can have a calming effect on dogs by releasing endorphins, which promote feelings of relaxation and comfort. It is thought this stems from the nursing and grooming interactions they will have had with their mother and the social bonding and affection that licking can provide.


Sometimes this licking can be directed onto themselves in signs of chronic stress. Excessive licking, particularly when it becomes compulsive or obsessive can lead to skin irritation, hair loss, and other health issues, so it's essential to monitor and address excessive licking patterns.


Chewing

Chewing is a natural behaviour that dogs use to alleviate stress and anxiety. Similar to how humans might engage in activities like doodling or fidgeting when feeling stressed, dogs often turn to chewing as a way to self-soothe. 


Chewing helps dogs release tension and pent-up energy. It provides an outlet for them to channel their stress in a constructive manner, which can prevent the development of destructive behaviours like excessive barking, pacing, or aggression. Chewing can induce a state of physical relaxation in dogs. Much like with licking, the repetitive motion of chewing and the act of gnawing on an object can have a calming effect on their nervous system, reducing feelings of tension and promoting relaxation. It also triggers the release of endorphins which are natural chemicals in the brain that promote feelings of pleasure and well-being.


It's essential to note that while chewing can be an effective stress-relief mechanism for many dogs, it's crucial to provide them with appropriate chew toys or treats and supervise their chewing activities to ensure their safety.


Sleeping

A dog that needs constant stimulation, activity and attention is likely not a dog with a balanced state of mind. Dogs need a great deal more sleep than humans so it isn’t unusual to see your dog sleeping when they’ve got nothing else to do. A healthy dog should have a good balance of time spent doing activities and time spent resting and sleeping. 


Sleeping helps a dog’s brain development, memory, learning capacity, mood and immune system. They can better exhibit better problem-solving skills, retain information and display resilience and concentration in training. Young dogs, larger dogs and old dogs are more likely to need sleep due to the amount of energy exerted exercising, moving, growing and developing.


Sniffing, licking, and chewing shouldn't be taken for granted; they are integral to your dog's mental health. These activities provide dogs with important sensory stimulation, promote relaxation, and serve as powerful stress relievers. The release of neurotransmitters that induce feelings of pleasure, calmness, and happiness is vital for your dog's emotional state, confidence and well-being. Incorporating opportunities for sniffing, licking, and chewing into a dog's daily routine can contribute to a happier and more fulfilled life.


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