January 11, 2023

To better support your dog in stressful situations, you can teach him to relax like pressing a button.This gives him the opportunity to lower his stress level and be more responsive.

Does that sound familiar:

 Your dog has to go to the vet and you already know that this always stresses him out.

 Your dog is incredibly excited before every dog encounter, barks like crazy and pulls towards the other dogs on the leash.

 Your furry darling is actually rather fearful, but in dog encounters he seems rather aggressive.

Most of the undesirable behaviour of our furry noses is caused by too much arousal – whether through fear or excitement. Both are stress for the dog’s body.

And this can occur in a wide variety of situations, such as:

  • separation
  • car driving
  • New Years Eve
  • vet visits
  • restaurant visits
  • dog encounters
  • visitors at home
  • garbage truck
  • running and screaming kids..

How your dog reacts to this is, of course, very individual and depends on many different factors, such as – among others – his character, breed and the previous experiences he has had in such situations.

What is classical conditioning?

Think about what happens when you suddenly hear your favourite song or a pleasant smell (from your childhood, for example) wafts into your nose. A nice feeling (hopefully) and a memory will rise up in you immediately.

The principle is called classical conditioning and is exactly how you can help your dog to come out of excitement and into relaxation in challenging situations. The whole thing is not a conscious reaction of your dog, but works on an unconscious level. Your furry nose cannot consciously control the reaction.

Actually, you can use it in all situations where your dog reacts stressfully (fearfully or aggressively). Of course, it is not a miracle cure that will make him forget his fear completely or make him absolutely relaxed in all previous stressful situations.

But always remember:

A relaxed dog is more responsive and can therefore cope with challenges more calmly.

Options for relaxation

There are several ways to relax your dog, depending on what he likes and feels comfortable with.Because – just like us humans – our furry friends are also different.For example, some dogs don’t like to be petted, while others can’t get enough of it.

Entspannung durch Berührung

Relaxation through touch

The easiest relaxation you can do anytime and anywhere is to relax your dog with your touch.

Your goal is for your furry friend to combine challenging situations – for example, tense dog encounters, confrontation with game or fear-inducing situations – with relaxation.


Relaxation word

…helps your furry friend to lower his state of excitement for a short time.

A so-called behaviour interrupter that draws their attention to you and makes them more responsive in the short term. This is helpful during dog encounters, for example.


Relaxation scent

Link a scent with the emotion of relaxation in your furry friend.

Essential oils such as lavender, bergamot, camomile or jasmine can be used as a relaxing scent.


Relaxation music

Calm music has been proven to relax and lead to better thinking, and previously learnt things can be implemented more easily.

For example, turn on classical music and put your dog into a relaxed state. Or use a deep relaxation trainer that can play high-frequency sound waves that relax your furry friend.

Entspannungsdecke oder -handtuch

Relaxation blanket or towel

You create a positive association with a blanket or towel, so that your furry friend immediately enters a state of relaxation when he gets comfortable on it.

Instead of barking and growling, you can set up a relaxation blanket or towel to have your dog lying relaxed at your feet – for example in a restaurant.

You can train all of them individually or combine them (for example, music and scent). Start each of these relaxation methods in a low-stimulus environment (at home). Start with short repetitions, but several times a day. If this works well and your furry friend relaxes, you can practice it outside with little distraction. If this also works well, slowly increase the distractions outside. But always make sure that your furry friend really relaxes. Otherwise, take another step back in the training.Before you start to build up the relaxation training, I recommend that you observe your dog well and choose a time when he is completely relaxed (but not asleep).

Relaxation through touch

The easiest relaxation that you can use anytime and anywhere is to relax your dog through your touch. You can massage, stroke or brush slowly over the fur until your furry darling relaxes so much that he can be brought into a sideways position with minimal effort and continues to relax there.Did you know that the cuddle hormone oxytocin is responsible for the cosy feeling when your dog is stroked?! And that for your dog AND you.

Important: Find out where your dog likes to be touched and where not so much. 

Your goal is to get your dog to associatechallenging situations – such as tense dog encounters, confrontation with game or anxiety-provoking situations – withrelaxation.Keep in mind that some dogs don’t like to be touched. In this case, try one of the other relaxation techniques.

Relaxation word

…helps your furry friend to briefly lower his state of excitement.A so-called behaviour interrupter that draws his attention to you and makes him more responsive for a short time. This is helpful during dog encounters, for example. Remember: It is not a command, but works on an unconscious level. Your dog cannot consciously control the reaction.

Training set-up:

  • Find a cosy and quiet place where you can get really comfortable with your dog – or choose a time when you are always cuddling on the couch anyway. If your dog likes to be touched, you can help him to relax by stroking and massaging him. If he doesn’t like it, you can do it without touching him.
  • Think of a word of your choice (for example, calm, easy, calm, relax, relax, etc.).
  • Take your hands away for a moment.
  • Breathe in and out deeply to consciously relax again.
  • Then say your chosen relaxation signal in a calm voice (without saying your dog’s name and without whispering).
  • Breathe in and out deeply once more.
  • Continue stroking and massaging.

Repeat this up to 3 times in a row and several times a day when your dog is relaxed. When you have safely established the signal and notice that your dog relaxes, it is enough to say your relaxation word and then help your dog to relax with or without touch. When using it in a stressful situation, make sure that you give another signal after the interruption signal to help your dog switch to an alternative behaviour. This can be a “come” or “around” (as a reversal signal) or whatever words you have already trained with your dog.

If you need long-term relaxation for your furry friend, for example in the case of separation anxiety, fear and aggression, training with a relaxation scent, relaxation music or a relaxation blanket/towel is more suitable. In a relaxed state, your dog can think better and thus implement what he has learned so far more easily.

Relaxation scent

Essential oils such as lavender, bergamot, chamomile or jasmine can be used as a relaxing scent.Make sure that you use a 100% natural oil (here you can find a compilation for the following aids).You can use a nebuliser. You only need to drop 3-5 drops into some water and turn it on.If you want to use a cuddle cushion, sachet or scarf, dilute 3-5 drops of oil in 100 ml of water (3 drops for small, old, sick or very young dogs, 4 drops for healthy normal-sized middle-aged dogs and 5 drops for healthy large dogs) before you drip a drop of your scent mixture on it. Keep a close eye on your pet. Remember that dogs can smell a lot better than we can and the scent should not be too strong at first and too close or he can move away from it (don’t wrap the scarf around him) until you find out what intensity is comfortable for him.In order to establish the link between the scent and the emotion of relaxation in your furry nose, it is best to choose a moment when it is already lying relaxed or cuddling with you, e.g. on the couch.

  • Place the scented pillow/bag or scarf near your pet and continue cuddling.
  • Repeat this 2-3 times a day for a maximum of 15 minutes.
  • Put it in an airtight container.

To maintain the effect, renew the oil on your cloth every 2-3 days.The fragrance combines well with relaxation music, but you can also use the fragrance and music separately.

Relaxation music

The set-up is the same again:You choose a moment when your furry friend is already relaxed and turn on calm music, e.g. quiet classical music (it is important that the music is not too loud and does not contain any bass that could bring your dog out of relaxation again). When I work in the office, I like to listen to classical music – for example, piano music (I play the piano a bit myself) by Chopin. As soon as I turn it on, I feel an inner calm. It doesn’t take long and deep, even breathing comes from Nala’s direction. You see, relaxation can be as simple as that.

You can also try the RelaxoPet Pro. It is a deep relaxation trainer that can play high-frequency sound waves (more information at the end of the blog article).As a last relaxation option, I would like to offer you…

Relaxation blanket or towel

…as it is a particularly helpful tool when you are out and about, for example when visiting a restaurant.

Instead of barking and growling, having a relaxed dog at your feet (preferably shielded from stimuli) – how great would that be?!Maybe there’s even a blanket or towel that your dog likes to rest on?

Great, then all you have to do is slowly build it up outside the home as a place to relax (first in the garden, then in a low-stimulus park, etc.).If there is no blanket or towel yet, build up a positive association. Every time your furry friend makes himself comfortable there and likes to be touched, you massage and stroke him.If this works well, then move the blanket or towel to other places within your home.Later you can set it up in the garden, etc.

How can you tell that your relaxation signal is working?

Sure signs that your furry friend is relaxed are:

  • Yawning profusely
  • Lolling, stretching on the lounger into an even more comfortable position
  • Closing eyes
  • Deep breathing

Would you like to learn more about your dog’s body language and be able to “read” him in the future?I can highly recommend you the Sprich Hund!-network from Christiane Jacobs (and the link to her Facebook group  Sprich Hund – lerne hündisch – both in German).

What you should pay attention to during training

A small-step structure is very important.

If you increase the difficulty too quickly – i.e. if you go outside too quickly with your furry friend and try out the relaxation signal – it may not have the desired effect yet.In that case, take a step back and repeat the training indoors for a few days at a time and then try it again. Or the stimuli outside were already too close and strong for your dog.

In this case, I recommend that you first choose a low-stimulus environment, such as your garden.

Your dog reacts with defensive behaviour

Some dogs do not like to be touched when they are tense or relaxed. They can react with resistance or even aggressive behaviour. In this case, you have to gradually get your dog used to being touched. Always make sure that he really feels comfortable and does not, for example, turn his head away (defensive behaviour).

Ending your training too early

Even if you have successfully built up the signal once, it is important that you keep at it.

Because then your dog can calm down with the relaxation signal in all kinds of situations, even without your presence.

Your dog does not react to the signal after some time

As with other signals, it is important to “recharge” the relaxation signal again and again at home in relaxed moments, like a battery, so that it retains its effect.

Do you have questions about conditioned relaxation or does your dog not find peace at all and you need support?

In the following, I have compiled a few helpful links to the aids mentioned.

Links to aids

  • Animal relaxation trainer RelaxoPet Pro (https://amzn.to/3yIDGCo*) has the advantage over music from the smartphone or other digital devices that it also has high-frequency sound waves that only your dog can hear. This means that you can switch it on without always having to listen in. Or you can switch it on when you’re not there. It’s also handy for travelling.
  • An animal protection guard (https://amzn.to/3geav3n*) helps you with the small-step training against separation anxiety.
  • With essential oils it is important to pay attention to the quality and purity (label: 100% natural essential oil) so that they work properly. Lavender (https://amzn.to/3gaTc3m*), Bergamot, Chamomile and Jasmine.
  • Room nebuliser (https://amzn.to/3gcF49Y*): you fill it with water up to the mark and add about 5 drops of the essential oil.

*Affiliate links: If you order through these links, I receive a small commission. Many thanks to you.

More on the topic…

Read more about “What your stress level does to your dog” in my blog.

If you now want to delve deeper into the topic and understand the scientific correlations, you should read the detailed German article written by Dr. Ute Blaschke-Berthold (https://www.easy-dogs.net/konditionierte-entspannung/).

On the biggest German online dog congress in November 2022 I had the pleasure of talking about my heartfelt topics of relaxation and mindfulness with the behavioural biologist Ariane Ullrich (Mensch Hund).

There are also many other interesting dog topics.

And the best thing is: you can save 10 % on the purchase of a congress package including all content plus many exclusive extras with the voucher code KONGRESS-KGW (partner link).