3 techniques to calm your active dog before bedtime

Some highly active dogs need a helping hand to settle down before going to sleep at night. I have a highly active sport dog, and we often do training, tricks, and play in the evening to engage his mind and body to keep him out of trouble. This helps to keep his active mind and body engaged, and keeps this herding dog out of trouble... most of the time!

Active sport dog on the beach

This active sport sometimes needs a bit of help to settle down at night.

However, activity before bedtime also means we have to use calming techniques to transition between energetic play and training, and bed time. Making this part of a regular routine can help your dog learn that it's time to settle down.

Here are three great ways to massage and relax your active dog to help calm him down if you have an unusually active evening.

Before you get started

I have the most success with taking it very slow and gentle, or it can end up making my active dog think it's play time again. Also make sure to choose a calm, quiet location and to put the toys away before you get started! Think about your voice and body language: it also can help to use a very calm tone of voice to soothe your companion before bedtime.

While you practice these calming techniques, closely watch your dogs' body language and behavior, and take cues from what he seems to like or feel uncomfortable and adjust accordingly. No two dogs are completely alike, and you know your dog best.

1) Long strokes down the side of the face and/or body

Dogs relax while being calmly stroked. Focus on the side of the face with gentle, slow strokes, or small circular motions.

When you massage the length of the body, place your palm at the base of your dog's neck, and run it along the spine towards the base of the tail. Do not press too hard, just sweep gently down the back in a calming, repetitive, slow motion. You can end the session by pressing lightly at the base of the head and tail.

2) Massage the ears

The ears contain many nerve endings, and can release endorphins into your dog's body when you massage them. An ear massage is a great, natural way to promote relaxation.

Slowly stroke the ears using a circular movement with your finger, moving from the base of the ear outwards. Use very soft pressure, and make sure to watch your dog carefully to see what he enjoys the most.

3) Rub the chest

This might be my dog Mort's favorite. Gently stroke your dog's chest in a circular motion. Take cues from your dog for how much pressure to apply, as too much or too fast may cause excitement. I sometimes combine this with stroking the cheeks (#1, above), or applying pressure in a vertical motion between the snout and forehead using my thumb.

What else?

If your dog is highly active in regular sport activities that use specific muscle groups, you may also want to take this time to focus on a deeper muscle massage.

It's always a good idea to consult with a veterinarian or canine massage therapist for the proper technique for working with sore muscles properly, in the way that is most appropriate for the sports you take part in. The professional can also teach you the signs of injury or overuse, or develop warm up exercises that will help reduce the chances of encountering them.

Your turn!

An added benefit of any form of calming technique or massage for your dog is the additional bonding time, handling practice (if your dog is sensitive to it), and you will become aware of any subtle changes in your dog's body or health. Give it a try, and let us know how it goes!

Do you have any calming techniques you love to use with your dogs? Share them in the comments! And for more articles and opinions on life with active dogs, come visit me at DOGthusiast: for dog enthusiasts!


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Positively Expert: Jen deHaan

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, writer, and dog person living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and training her two dogs.


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5 thoughts on “3 techniques to calm your active dog before bedtime

  1. Christine

    My dog loves a foreleg stroke--kneel in front of and facing the dog take both hands and cup them around the dog's legs above the elbow and with firm'ish pressure stroke down the leg to the foot, release and repeat. For some reason it's very calming for one of my dogs and settles him very quickly.

  2. Julie

    As a puppy I taught my puppy to sit in front of me with his back to me and I would rub his chest talking to him in a calm woice, as he got older he put himself in that positon when he got excited and as I massaged his chest I would hear a sigh as he relaxed. I also added in my cue word relax

  3. Jenny H

    Absolutely. Paul Owen's style -- relax and calm yourself!
    We sit and watch TV, with a glass or two of wine, while our dogs lie sprawled on the floor I front of us.
    I always think of ugh McCrea's

    Night,
    and the yellow pleasure of candle-light....
    old brown books and the kind, fine face of the clock
    fogged in the veils of the fire - its cuddling tock.

    The cat,
    greening her eyes on the flame-litten mat;
    wickedly, wakeful she yawns at the rain
    bending the roses over the pane,
    and a bird in my heart begins to sing
    over and over the same sweet thing--

    Safe in the house with my boyhood's love
    and our children asleep in the attic above.

  4. ozzie

    My more active (of two) dog likes to chew on a "Bully Stick" and it calms her down at night. She is kind of like a child, that when she gets tired, she gets a little hyper and starts chewing on paper and going in trash can to find stuff to chew -but the bully stick is like a pacifier and she usually falls asleep halfway through.

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