The ability for us to relax and the value of controlled breathing are considered highly valuable and extremely important. Breathing exercises for humans lead to physiological and physical improvements. The same benefits can apply to dogs. With relaxation therapy, dogs are rewarded when they relax and breathe slower. Dogs learn to relax themselves to earn their rewards. This is a learned behaviour which must be practiced with your dog in a positive, non stressful environment.
In the 1960's, Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School began researching the therapeutic effects of relaxation and how it affects the body's physiology and reverses the negative effects of stress. In the early 1990's, Professor Karen Overall, head of animal behaviour at the University of Pennsylvania's veterinary school adapted relaxation techniques for dogs. Through her research she showed that dogs respond better to training when they are relaxed. This therapy can also be used in clinical situations to reduce stress in dogs with cardiovascular and other conditions.
Physiological responses to relaxation are substatial. Circulating levels of adrenaline, a stress hormone, drops, as does blood pressue and blood sugar levels, states Professor Overall. Also, as the dog's muscles relax, the lactic acid in their system will diminish. Relaxation can improve the immune system and digestion may also improve.
Relaxation therapy can be practiced outdoors or indoors, but watch for signals in your dog for any signs of stress or anxiety. It is important to have a good positive energy when working with your dog.