Having a dog who will settle on cue is a godsend. Carolyn Menteith explains why this is one of the best exercises you will ever teach your pet...
We’re going to look at what is probably one of the most valuable exercises you can ever teach your dog. Taught properly, this is so much more than an obedience exercise, and one that can transform your life with your pet.
While most people teach their dog to lie down during basic training classes, few ever really take the time to work on this properly, or recognise just what a useful exercise it is. Perhaps that is because, while we are often very good at recognising when our dogs do things we don’t want them to do, we aren’t so good at really observing them and recognising (and rewarding) when they are doing exactly what we want.
Often, this is settling down and lying beside us when we are doing other things. This is something we all want our dogs to be able to do, but somehow we assume it will just come naturally. And while for some dogs it does, most need to be taught how to chill out beside us.
So many people have dogs who don’t seem to have off switches, who bounce all over them when they sit down at the end of the day, and that is mostly because they haven’t taught them to settle.
Once you teach your dog to settle when you are at home, you can generalise this to teaching him to do it in all kinds of places, until you have a dog who you can take anywhere with you, or one who you can relax with as you unwind at the end of a crazy day.
Examples of when the settle is useful:
- At the end of the day when you are watching TV, reading a book, or just relaxing with a glass of wine. Use some Vetbed or a cosy bed, so your dog is as comfortable as you are.
- Many of us now work from home, and trying to work with your dog bouncing around is virtually impossible; a good settle will be invaluable.
- Some days you just need to sit down with a cup of coffee — or something stronger — and you need your dog to be able to settle down and relax too. Take a stuffed Kong with you if you know you are stopping off to meet friends, so your dog gets a reward for settling.
Teaching your dog to settle
There are two ways to do this and you can mix and match between the two. They both work well in different circumstances (the first one tends to work better when out and about and the other when you are relaxing at home) but it is up to you to discover what works best for you and your dog. The first option is where you teach your dog what you want, ask him to do it, and reward him when he does it; the second is where you leave him to work it out for himself, but put him in a situation where he is most likely to choose to do what you want him to — and then again, you can reward him for it.
With the first method, the first thing you are going to do is teach the down.
- Start by asking your dog for a sit.
- Then use a treat to lure the dog down into a lying position. Make sure you don’t move the treat forward, instead move it straight down and slightly towards the dog’s front paws.
- When he lies down, say ‘Good’ (or whatever reward word or signal you use) and give the treat. Repeat this until your dog readily follows the treat and lies down. You can add the word ‘Down’ in when you know your dog will lie down (so you are linking the word with the action).
- Stop luring as quickly as you can by first getting the treat out of your hand and then using a hand signal instead, lowering your hand to the ground just as you did before but without holding the treat.
- Reduce the hand signal bit by bit (this may take days) until your dog is lying down just on your voice cue or a tiny hand signal cue.
- Practise this everywhere and at different times until your dog will lie down when you ask. Now to move on to the settle. Once your dog knows how to do the down, you are going to change the cue so that he lies down when you sit down. This looks really cool and really impresses people!
- Sit down and, as you do so, use your down cue. Reward your dog when he lies down. Repeat this and each time you do, make your cue smaller until your dog lies down when you sit down! Practise this everywhere and in different positions. Once your dog can do this, you can give him something to chew on such as a stuffed Kong, so it is rewarding for him to stay put. Make sure you have something comfortable for your dog to lie on.
‘Choose to Settle’ method
The ‘Choose to Settle’ method is perfect for when you are watching TV and want your dog to chill out beside you. Use a long training lead and attach your dog on a flat collar to the chair you are sitting on — with something comfortable for him to lie on. Have the lead long enough that he is comfortable but not so long that he can wander off. Give him a stuffed Kong or something to chew on, and settle down in front of the TV. Once he works out that he can’t go anywhere, he will eventually settle down (to start with, this can take a long time but each time you do it, he will settle quicker). This teaches the dog to ’self-settle’ when you do.