As the owner of a full of life Springer Spaniel I love my dog’s energy and joyfulness. But as much as I love his enthusiasm, for both mine and his sanity, it’s important that he can also settle down and relax.
Having a dog that has learnt to relax is very important. And teaching them to do this on cue provides space for both of you. When you're busy doing things at home such as making dinner, cleaning, working or even entertaining guests the last thing you want is your dog being under your feet.
And if like me, you love your dog to join you when you are out socialising, then it’s really important that they learn to settle and relax in any environment.
Any dog can be trained to settle on cue. Some laid back dogs will learn this very quickly whereas more exuberant or young dogs may take a bit more time. As with any training don’t rush, take your time and remember consistency is key.
Your goal is to have a dog that will lie down in any environment, relax and not get distracted by what’s happening around them.
7 Steps To The Perfect Settle
1. Set yourself up for success
Start the training at home where there are no distractions for you or your dog. As your dog progresses you can take the training up a notch by going outside the house where there’s more going on.
Start by having your dog on a leash. Place your dog’s bed or mat next to where you are sitting. Start by dropping treats onto your dog’s bed so that your dog associates the bed with a treat. This will encourage them to come to the bed. When your dog get’s on to the bed, say nothing and drop very small treats on to your dog’s bed. Do this without saying anything or making a fuss.
2. Build The Behaviour in Incremental Steps
Gradually start looking for more relaxed behaviour. For example if your dog is in a sitting position reward lying down. If your dog has started in a down position, reward if they drop a hip to one side, put their head down on their paws, sigh or lie flat out. Depending on your dog they may go through all these positions or go straight to lying flat out. Reward whenever they demonstrate a more relaxed position.
3. Reward Little Steps
If your dog doesn’t come to the bed or just sits there staring at you, then reward even smaller moves towards what you want. For example if they are pulling on their lead reward them when they release the pressure, if they are staring at you reward them for looking towards their bed. Be patient and look for small responses to start with. Your dog will eventually get the idea.
4. Expect More
As your dog becomes more settled space the rewards out so they have to stay longer in the relaxed position to get the reward. Spacing should be built slowly by a few seconds at a time and over a number of training sessions. If you want to add a voice command to this behaviour wait until they are effectively giving you a relaxed position and then add your command such as “settle” as you are giving them the treat.
5. Add in Distractions
Once your dog can settle in a quiet environment consistently then start to add in distractions. You can start by changing the environment, so test in another room of your house or out in your garden.
Alternatively get a family member or friend to help by creating a distraction. Ask them to start by walking past your settled dog. Reward your dog for staying relaxed.
6. Reinforce the Positive, Ignore the Negative
When your dog stays relaxed with the person passing in walk increase the distraction by your helper doing more energetic movements as they go past. If your dog becomes unsettled or gets up stay quiet and ignore them until they have resettled and then reward.
If your dog struggles with the higher intensity then reduce the level of distraction and then build back up again slowly. Remember we are always aiming to set the dog up for success.
Always ignore any unsettled behaviour when training. If your dog becomes over-excited or fidgets don’t give them any eye contact, use your voice or touch them. If you’re able, turn your back until your dog settles down again and then reward.
7. Progress To The Great Outdoors
Once your dog is able to settle at home it’s time to progress to the great outdoors. On your walks find a reasonably quiet area to start where you can sit down and follow the same guidance as before.
Make sure at this stage your dog is on a short leash so that they are close to you and under control. If someone approaches your dog and they start to become unsettled then politely let the person know that you’re training your dog and not to interact with them until they have settled back down.
As the behaviour becomes more and more established your dog will learn to settle in any environment of their own accord.
Before you know it you will have a dog that will happily take a nap even in the noisiest, most exciting environments and you will be able to enjoy your social life without having to worry about hanging on to your dog.