There are two tiers to dog relaxation.
1) Is your dog capable of relaxing while you are ignoring him? If you are using the computer or cooking dinner, does your dog just hang out? Or is he poking you with a toy, staring at you, or nudging you for pets?
2) Is your dog capable of relaxing while you are looking at him? Or does the faintest breath of your attention turn your otherwise relaxed dog into a behavior offering machine? “She’s watching me! She must want me to sit! No, down! No, roll over! Where’s my ball?!”
The problem with a dog who always prefers to be moving is that they will try to turn calming behaviors into action behaviors. These dogs can be trained to a great sit or down stay, but it’s like a border collie and the start line of an agility trial–it’s a job. If you want the dog to actually, you know, chill out, you have to work it a little differently.
I didn’t really recognize how much Silas was this way, because he isn’t the quivering with energy type. He’s never frantic. We went through puppy class with a labradoodle who literally was not capable of keeping all four feet on the ground. Even sitting, she was paddling her little fluffy feet and wagging her whole body. Silas isn’t like that. He’s just on the move all the time, unless he’s asleep, usually trying to get human attention in one way or another.
The good thing is that relaxation can be taught.
We started with a two pronged approach. I picked up all the toys. All of them. I was down to leaving out just one or two anyway, but for a few weeks I put them all away. Play time is not all the time. I also started giving him a Kong around 5:30, which is about an hour into Silas’s evening busy time. Frozen solid, they take around thirty minutes for him to eat.
Now, with half an hour of the evening free of toy-poking, my husband and I decided on the amount of play that we thought was reasonable. I give Silas a puzzle toy and do some training during the day, then usually do two more short play/training sessions in the evening. My husband plays with him pretty hard right as he comes in from work, then once more later in the evening. Outside of that, we ignored his poking and rewarded him for going to his crate or his bed. (For the record, the training/play mix is incredibly important for us. There are times when I can tell Silas just really wants to work rather than play, as weird as that sounds.)
In two weeks or less we had a really dramatic turnaround. Now that Silas knows what to do with himself he’s happy to do it. The bonus for us is that the overtired, overstimulated deterioration of his behavior as the evening goes on is pretty much gone. He’s still busy, but much less obnoxiously so.
I’m filing this one into my “Why didn’t people tell me this when he was a puppy?” file.