How to get an active dog to calm down

How to get an active dog to calm down

Most of us have had active dogs at some point. Getting them calm down is not as easy as “just give them more exercise.” That is only part of the equation. I’ll share my tips below, and then I’d love to hear your ideas on how to get an active dog to calm down.

Tips to get an active dog to calm down

1. Lots of walking throughout the week.

It’s not about one long walk on Friday. The dog will be wild again by Saturday morning. It’s about planning a long walk every single day. If your dog is hyper, I recommend a 60-minute walk with him every morning and another 20-minute walk in the evening whenever possible. You will miss some days, but shoot for longer walks, more often. Running with a dog is even better. If you don’t have the time to exercise your dog, consider hiring someone.

How to get an active dog to calm down

2. Work your dog’s mind.

A mental workout can do more to tire out some dogs than a physical workout. Look for ways to mentally challenge your dog every single day for at least five minutes – preferably three or four five-minute sessions throughout the day. You can work your dog’s mind by:

  • visiting new places
  • walking with other dogs
  • working on obedience training
  • feeding your dog from puzzle-type toys instead of bowls
  • having him wear a dog backpack on walks

3. Sign up for an obedience class.

This is an easy way to work your dog’s mind while teaching him to be calm around other dogs. My own dog will be tired after a walk, but after an obedience class he comes home and crashes.

4. Teach your dog to be comfortable doing nothing.

If you have an over excited dog, you’re probably always looking for ways to keep him more active. Really, one of the best things to teach him is how to lie around and do nothing. There are different ways you can do this such as teaching the dog to lie quietly in a kennel with a chew toy or tethering the dog across the room and encouraging him to lie on his bed.

It’s also important for every dog to learn how to stay on command for long periods. It’s reasonable for every dog to learn to stay on command and remain staying for up to a half-hour in the house with no distractions. You’ll have to start with just 30 seconds or so, and build from there. Dogs with a higher level of obedience will also have more self-control, allowing them to be more relaxed while doing nothing.

5. Time to run off leash.

Most dogs benefit from a good off-leash run at least a few times per week. This might actually make your dog seem more energetic because of the initial excitement, but overall it should help him get rid of pent-up energy. Depending on your dog, you may be able to just let him run off leash in the country or at a dog park. If neither of these are an option, the next best thing is to allow the dog to run on a 50-foot rope. When you use a long rope, you may be able to allow the dog to drag the rope around, or you may have to hold onto the rope (where gloves!).

What are some tips you use to get an active dog to calm down?

How to get an active dog to calm down

46 thoughts on “How to get an active dog to calm down”

  1. Lindsay: This is a well written article and good tips. I have a relatively calm dog, but he definitely has to “run off” his energy. If I can’t take him for a long (60 minutes) of walking a day or running a couple miles, he has pent up energy. I think the most important thing is to be consistent… need to do something to exercise or mentally drain your dog every day. Fortunately, my dog loves to retrieve and is very good at catching a frisbee. This is one of the best ways to drain a dog of energy. If the dog loves to retrieve a ball or a frisbee, it makes it easy. Playing frisbee for 1/2 hr to 45 minutes a day with my dog really helps him drain off energy and calm down. It gives him the opportunity to run off leash in a constructive way.

    On really rainy days, I have him retrieve a ball that I roll up and down a hallway or I do extra training with him.


    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Hi Beth! Thanks for your feedback. My dog is a fetching nut, so I totally understand how beneficial this can be for exercise. I have to be careful, though, because it also makes my dog a bit crazy since he’s so obsessed with it. But in a constructive way (as you said), it’s a great mental and physical workout for him.

      1. What does it mean to play fetch with your dog in a constructive way? My dog is also a fetching nut, so I hope playing fetch with him isn’t making him more crazy.

        1. Lindsay Stordahl

          Just make sure you’re the one setting rules. Have a start and end. Have him sit and wait sometimes when you throw it. Stop after a short period, like 5 mins. Put the toy away when fetch ends. Have a word to end the game and don’t negotiate.

          1. Okay, I am doing most of these things, although we usually play fetch for about 20 or 30 minutes, is that too long? Also, there are several different places I take my dog to play fetch, and whenever we get within 2 or 3 blocks of these places my dog starts getting really excited and it’s difficult for him to heel (I make him heel when crossing streets) and he even starts to tug on the leash a bit (he is usually good about not pulling). Do you have any tips to keep him calm until the game actually begins?

  2. Norma Cooney aka Loopy

    My dog is a jackapoo so has lots of energy. I’m 67 years old and don’t run or jog but we do go for some nice walks. a couple of times a week he goes on a tear around the apart for just a couple of minutes and then he’s I think this is his way of getting out some of that pent up energy. He makes me laugh when he does it.

  3. Most of the time, these work for my Wild Man Shamrock. But sometimes, I still want to tear my hair out! Right now, he’s not in obedience training (discontinued while he underwent some medical stuff), but I think it’s time to get back into that.

      1. I’ve taken my dog to 3 different classes, at one point the trainer asked me “what’s wrong with him?” I do many of these things but long walks are hard with his pulling, we’ve been through 11 different collars/leashes/harnesses. I must say, I haven’t given up on him in the 5 years of struggle but man is the struggle real…

  4. These are some really useful tips. Our Entlebucher Mountain Dog Alfie is what most people would describe as a high energy dog. We give him an hour off lead every day, and always combine his walks with lots of interactive games to make them more ‘tiring’ and interesting for him.

    One of his favourite games is to sniff out a hidden toy (he sits and waits until I’ve hidden it in the tall grass, then he shoots off with his tail wagging like crazy until he’s sniffed out the toy or treat(s) I’ve hidden. I also take a little break in the middle of our walk to do some obedience training, or teach him some tricks.

    All in all that usually tires him out until the evening when his batteries have been re-charged and I sometimes play some interactive games with him and take him for a walk around the block.

    We also go to a weekly agility class which he loves and makes him sleep for half of the following day, dreaming of tunnels and obstacles! 🙂

    Having a high energy dog means you need to be innovative and active – they easily get bored of the same games. I might look into the prolonged ‘stay’ you suggested, who knows, it might make all the difference 🙂

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      You do such a great job with Alfie. I didn’t realize he was such a high-energy guy. Yes, agility is such a great way to tire them out! Ace loves agility!

  5. You’ve mentioned almost all of the tricks I’ve used. Three tips I’d add:

    – Let dogs tire each other out. If you have more than one dog, figure out what spurs them to play with each other. If you only have one dog who does like to play with another dog (at least sometimes), schedule that time somewhere in the week. Note that some adult dogs may not be interested in dog parks or playing with “strangers” but would enjoy playing with a similarly matched dog that they get to know better.

    – For many bigger dogs, walking is overrated as a form of exercise. The vast majority of people do not walk fast enough for their natural stride. This becomes more of an issue as the weather gets warmer because many dogs will get way too hot long before they actually get tired from exercise. Dogs don’t judge you based on whether you were out for 30 minutes or 60 minutes, nor do they react based on the time or exertion that the person expends. So it pays to be creative about what really will tire your dog out and get out of the habit of walk = exercise. Of course, there is running with dogs. But there are also some great bicycle attachments to make it safe to ride with your dog. Swimming – especially if there is any current or surf – works for those who have access and dogs who enjoy it (use a doggie life jacket when appropriate). It also can solve the “Hot before Tired” problem of summer.

    – Last, I have mixed feelings about frequent use of treadmills, but some dogs really do take to walking/trotting on them. There are times when it really can be helpful, such as when the weather outside is inappropriate/unsafe for your dog or if a person has a health issue preventing them from walk/other physical activity. It can also be helpful to use a treadmill to burn off extra energy or supplement other healthy physical and mental activity for high energy or active dogs. This is especially true for dogs who are difficult to walk or take outside due to having too much energy. It can help break the cycle of not being able to take the dog out (they pull, lunge, etc.) but then the dog having even more energy built up, making them even harder or crazier the next time you go out.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Great idea about playing with other dogs. I agree, that is major, assuming your dog likes to play with others.

      The treadmill is a nice option for some. I haven’t used one for my dog as we walk outside a ton, but since it’s so cold where I live some of my friends have had success with setting one up for their dogs. They use it in addition to outdoor walks, of course.

  6. Great post! I have a very young GSP who has got some crazy in her.
    I mainly run her (2x per day 5-7 miles a day, off-leash 2-3 times/week). But, even with that kind of activity, she’s not always tired.

    other suggestions:
    -Biking: we have a lot of green space (bayous) where I can ride my mountain bike, and she can run til she’s finished. Since the water is right there, she can cool off whenever.
    -Hiking: same as biking, but pay attention to any off leash rules in your area.
    -Patios: If your dog is fairly well behaved, visiting a dog friendly patio for happy hour, or dinner, can tire out a dog who needs some mental stimulation. They (well my girl anyway) needs to put in a lot of effort to be good when we are out, and usually she gets to meet a whole lot of new people as well. The experience usually leaves her pretty pooped out. (the best option, is the dog park/bar in our area…seriously genius)
    -Back yard time – She kind of tends to herself back there. We have a small yard with a pool, and numerous lizards, frogs, doves and ugh…giant bugs. She LOVES to be out there hunting whatever critters, and comes in when she’s tired and wants some couch snuggling.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I agree on the biking. Of course, safety comes first but I’ve had success biking with lots of highly athletic dogs like yours.

      I also love the patio idea! Thanks so much for all these helpful tips!

      1. Right now we just do off leash trails for biking…but in interested in bikejoring (seriously I’m not making this up) Skijoring was really popular in AK, and then I saw some people using the same gear to have their dogs pull their bikes/boards/anything with wheels. What do you think/know about this?

        1. Lindsay Stordahl

          Yes, I have heard of people doing this! Sounds like a lot of fun. I know a couple of people who have tried it with their husky-type dogs and also a springer spaniel. Sounds interesting. You’ll have to keep me updated on this.

  7. We are all about exercise to keep fit, but it’s also the best way to keep excitable dogs calm & with the right energy levels. SlimDoggy Jack was on Prozac when we first got him from the shelter!! We got him on daily walking/running schedule which brought his weight down and his behavior evened out. Due to his age, he can’t run every day, but varying his routine with walks/runs/swims/mental exercise/training classes and varying the locations all contribute to the dogs ability to relax. Dog yoga would probably help, if only they could do something besides downward dog!

  8. What a wonderful article! We have two pups: Maeby is very energetic and Puddy has medium energy but very poor joints so we need to be careful not to over-do it with him and physical exercise. Maeby has definitely forced us to think outside the box and get creative with exercise for her.
    -She loves training so that’s an excellent mental exercise that we try to incorporate into all of her physical exercise
    -She loves going for bike rides
    -She loves going running with my husband
    -LOVES swimming
    -Her and Puddy love going on walks together but since his joints don’t allow him to go as far we usually have Maeby wear her backpack to give her a “job” and help burn her energy on those shorter walks
    -They’ve both been to multiple obedience classes and we definitely want to work towards agility classes with Maeby. She LOVES the agility day in her obedience class.
    -We stumbled upon this toy called the flirt pole that is basically a toy attached to a string that’s tied to a stick. You just wave the toy around and the dogs run after it. A half an hour with it and they are beeeeat:
    -Both of them LOVE the interactive food games. Puddy is very treat motivated so since he has a hard time being as active as Maeby, we do a lot of mental exercise with him and food.
    -Maeby is pretty reactive to other dogs when she’s on the leash but with time and training she’s gotten much better so this summer we want to join in on some of Fargo’s pack walks
    -Lately we’ve also been taking them on walks in busier areas like downtown and fairs where they are mentally challenged to behave themselves. 🙂
    -On days where the weather isn’t very ideal we like to do “hide the treat/toy” games around the house where they have to sit and stay until we hide their treat/toy and then they get released to go find it, they love it!
    I love your suggestion to teach them to be comfortable doing nothing. I work from home and somedays they literally follow my every move, they can’t just sit and lay around or chew on their antlers so this will definitely be something I’d love to work on with them. Also, I’m so jealous of the person who said they have a bar/dog park they can go to…Fargo needs to create such a place! 😉
    Thanks again for all your valuable info Lindsay!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I believe the Red Raven in Fargo allows dogs on the patio! I haven’t been there, but will have to check it out.

      These are some wonderful ideas. Thank you so much! The backpack is such a good tip, and I hadn’t thought of the flirt pole. Ace would love that!

  9. We use indoor dog swimming facilities, and twice a week Shamrock goes to doggie day care. I try for another play date on the weekend (usually with my daughter’s large and very patient Golden retriever), off-leash time at least once a week -other than just in the yard, I mean. And at least a few minutes of training every day. Also on the weekend I try to schedule in at least one adventure, even if it’s not all that active. this weekend we went out on a boat. Because it was new to him, I think, it wore him out -even though all he really did was about 5 minutes of swimming and then snoring on deck 😉 If the weather is good, we’ll camp this weekend.

    He’s conked out from daycare now 😉

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Ace gets worn out after a boat ride as well. I think there’s just so much for them to take in with the new situation and all the smells, etc.

  10. With a poodle/schnauzer mix, if I don’t consistently engage her in physically and mentally taxing activities…she’ll be plotting against me in my sleep! She’s too smart for MY own good. And if she gets past an 8 on the energy scale (1-10) that’s pretty much the point of no return. 😉

    Regular walks every day

    Obedience and trick training every day

    RMBs every other day (and the beef ribs have been HUGE lately so she’s going to town on those for over an hour and then happily gnawing on the bone until the next RMB comes out of the freezer)

    Agility classes when we can

    Hide and seek (she knows “go hide” and will run to the laundry room and wait until called). Sometimes the humans hide themselves, sometimes it will be a toy or food.

    Off-leash running when we can; took her to the tennis courts last week and, without any prompting, started grabbing the loose balls and piling them up at the side of the net. (Like I said, too smart.)

  11. One of the greatest things about living on 5 acres is that we can give our dogs an outlet. We try to switch up the walks and walking on leash is just as visual as off leash. On leash gives us more training time; off leash gives them more running time.

    One thing we can do with our youngest dog is rub his belly. I don’t know how many dogs this works on, but it mellows him right out. Strange.

  12. After our walk at Island Park with a few other dogs and then going to Petco and shopping around and playing a little fetch, Pete was a great dog all day long! You are right on the mark when working with their minds also,.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I think so too. Sometimes we end up getting them too riled up with all the activities and “exercise.”

  13. Good information. I’ve been doing most of these with my dog Pierson without realizing I was also working towards helping an active breed learn to be calm. Even though Pierson is an Aussie / Border Collie mix, he does not come across as being hyperactive. He loves to go out in the yard and chase wild bunnies. He loves training time, his walks, and his puzzle dog toys. But he is also good at being calm, quiet, and relaxed. Right now, he is sound asleep beside my chair. 😉

  14. Not a lot of people are mentioning it in the comments so I just want to highlight that a backpack made such a different to my dog! She has never-ending energy so if I dont have time to bring her for a long walk or somewhere where I cant let her off, I will put on her backpack. She immediately stops pulling (which is one bonus of course) and will be out for the count the moment we get home! I dont know if it will work so well with every dog but the backpack was a treat for Chip! I bring Chip out for two walks a day, and she is a great one for fetching the ball….but the backpack has the longest effect afterwards!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yep, couldn’t agree more about the backpack. My dog doesn’t really need to wear one now, but whenever I adopt another dog you can guarantee I will be using a backpack for him or her.

  15. A great article! Funny you wrote this now as recently this has been a big topic in my dog people circles! Someone in my foster group is fostering an ex-hunting dog and getting him to turn off that drive and calm down is quite the task.

    I do a most of those suggestions (Phew!), but the biggest gain for me recently is that he’s gotten a lot better off the lead. He is a very stubborn dog and recall was not his strong point, but we worked SO hard on it recently so I could feel comfortable with him off lead in select places. Now that he gets a sprint out of his system every day I’ve noticed a huge difference. A walk just didn’t cut it. We used the long lead for a good while and that really helped. A few rope burns later I might add…
    People tell me that I’m spoiling my dog to consider him and go out of my way like this, but I just tell them that he’s trained me to do it! If I don’t, something will be destroyed when I get home! 😛 (said only half jokingly haha)

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Great work on the off-leash skills. I am so luck that my dog is a big baby and always stays close on his own. I didn’t have to do anything to train him to stick close, and I didn’t have to do much to teach him the recall either.

  16. Good tips! Kaya is an active, excitable dog. Apart from regular off leash exercise, I quick calm down exercise I do with her is something I call “Kaya’s aerobics” in which I ask her to do a bunch of tricks quickly in a row. She does sit, down, spin in either direction, wave and jump in the air. A few minutes of this and she is ready to pass out on her side. Another one, especially when people come over, is just to have her down stay until she is calm and ask people to ignore her.

  17. I had a flat haired retriever that used to love to swim, couldn’t get him out of the water. We would go to the nearby Lagoon when the tide was going out, or coming in, and on his long lead would swim against the currant. I would throw rocks or sticks ahead of him to keep up interest. (If I didn’t keep his leash on he would swim to Japan hahaha)
    Also on a lead, swimming at the lake around the long dock – all up one side, around and down the other, then turn around and keep going up one side and down the other. Tuckered him out for the rest of the day, and was always clean 🙂

  18. I swear by our doggie backpacks – they’re such a great combination of a physical and mental workout. My pups go for daily backpack walks during fall, winter, and spring. Unfortunately, summer time is just too hot & humid to add the pack to our walks, but we make up with games inside the house (hide & seek, running up and downstairs, practicing tricks).

    I also LOVE taking the pups wherever I can – dog friendly places such as PetCo, Tractor Supply and dog-friendly restaurants with an outdoor patio make for great socialization experiences.

    Now that we have a fenced in yard I rarely use our 50 ft rope anymore, but it got a lot of use when we lived in apartments. It was a wonderful way to let Buzz retrieve his frisbee/ball – and yes, I learned the hard way that one should wear gloves when handling the rope!!

  19. Great article, great comments… We have four dogs all ages from 13 years to 3 years and the ones that can go for a bike ride once a week. They all go to dog group twice a week. Tons of obedience training along with impulse control training, and learning new tricks to keep them sharp. And we get to walk every day. The younger two play ball like crazy. Something as simple as teach to wear a muzzle can tucker mine out. It doesn’t take much when you work the mind. I think of it like when we start a new job, even though we know how to do the job, we still have to learn new people, where things are put, and new environments, makes me very tired at the end of the day.

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