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Pets Corner- teaching a dog to settle

Getting the right balance between activity and rest is a tough call for many dog and puppy owners. Attempting to burn off energy by increasing exercise and activity only adds to the problem, creating an adrenalin junkie pet. What every dog and owner needs is an ‘off switch’ and one way is by teaching the dog to settle on cue.

There are two phases to teaching settle. In the first part we use a mat to teach the dog to move to a specific place. In the second we teach the dog to lie down and relax while he is in that place, slowly increasing the duration.

Teach your dog to settle in a specific place using a mat (always put the mat away after training).

  1. Put the mat down on the floor away from distractions. Now put a treat onto it and allow your dog to investigate the treat. As soon as he puts his paws on the mat say ‘yes’ give another, better treat. Now pick up the mat.
  2. Repeat, putting the mat somewhere else in the room. When your dog steps on the mat, say ‘yes’ and give a treat, then remove the mat. Repeat all over the room, until your dog is whizzing over to the mat every time you put it down.
  3. Next, point to the mat and say ‘settle’ before your dog steps on it. Reward and start to introduce a release command (‘OK’) before you remove the mat and your dog steps off it.
  4. Wait for your dog to have all his feet on the mat before you reward and release. Now increase the contact time before reward and release.
  5. Your goal is for your dog to go to his mat without hesitation when you point and say ‘settle’ and that he stays on it for a minimum of 20 seconds in any position without prompting from you. Once you achieve this go to step 2.

Learning to relax. (Put your dog on a lead).

  1. Find a comfortable chair and something to occupy yourself. Put the training mat by your chair.
  2. When your dog goes to check the mat, praise him and drop some treats onto it. At the same time put your foot on the lead, just so your dog has enough leeway to stand on the mat. You need to be positioned so you can keep a foot on the lead while you are seated in your chair.
  3. Ignore your dog until he lies down on the mat, if he does say ‘settle, good settle’, put some more treats between his paws and then ignore him. If he stays in position for a few seconds, praise, reward and release (‘OK’)
  4. Waiting until your dog chooses to lie down is crucial. Some dogs will lie down within minutes, others will take half an hour, and some may buck, rear and pull to get away. Whatever your dog does, just calmly wait for him to lie down and follow the steps in 8. With persistence and practice you will find your dog starts to lie down more quickly each time.
  5. The magic moment occurs when as soon as your dog sees the mat he goes to it and lies down. When this happens stop the session, remove the mat and play a game your dog loves.
  6. Now start to randomise reward at each training session. Sometimes your dog gets a treat, other times he doesn’t; occasionally he gets a large piece of something he loves (jackpot).
  7. Once your dog goes to the mat and settles whenever you tell him to, start to increase the time he stays on the mat. Sometimes reward and release him immediately; other times ask for a bit longer. Aim for a minute before you reward.
  8. Again, if your dog starts to resist just keep your foot on the lead and wait for him to lie down; reward and release. Your dog will begin to understand that only calm behaviour gets rewarded.
  9. Start to use other areas of the house to practise ‘settle’ and build duration. The final stage is to go out of sight. Put the mat on the other side of the door of a small space, like a toilet and build duration.

Leonie St Clair: www.londondogstraining

Image: Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash