Can your dog settle anywhere?

by Tamsin Durston // July 2017

Can your dog settle anywhere?

We love our furry friends and want to take them everywhere with us, but how much pressure do we put them under without realising it? Some dogs can find the world extremely exciting while others can find it rather scary. An excited or worried dog will find it very difficult to remain calm and still yet we sometimes expect them to do just that!

Teaching our dogs to settle without the need for having our full and constant attention can be thoroughly rewarding for us owners – because then our dogs are  able to accompany us on visits to our friends’ houses, on transport, public spaces, dog-friendly cafes and hotels, anywhere they are permitted, without bothering anyone else or becoming worried or over-excited themselves. We don’t need to worry about leaving them behind or about them troubling anyone else at all. But it’s good for them too - if we’ve taught our dogs that although we sometimes withdraw our attention and ignore them this can actually be a thoroughly rewarding time for them! By teaching them this we’re actually doing them a favour, cos the unpredictability of life means that one minute we might be playing with our dogs but the next we’re involved in a very long winded phone call and have to remove our attention from our dogs completely and immediately! We need to teach our dogs to cope with this but once we have dogs can then enjoy relaxing without the need to constantly pester us for our attention!

How to start teaching the settle!

We recommend starting by using a Kong toy or a food-releasing toy – these come in many shapes and varieties which you can rotate to keep dogs interested - simply stuff it with treats/his normal food and place it onto his bed area so that he sees this as a very rewarding place to be all by himself interacting with the food-releasing toy. Then simply leave him to enjoy the Kong while you do something else, but remain nearby as it might be too much if you suddenly disappear..   you can build up to this slowly as your dog learns he doesn’t need you while he is doing this activity by himself.

This teaches him that engaging in this activity alone, while you are all unavailable for attention-giving because you are all busy, is thoroughly rewarding and a much more worthwhile activity than attempting to interact with you at that point.

The idea is that your dog learns that you simply withdrawing your attention means he should relax by himself and so over time and practice (during our 5 week courses) we aim to eventually use the Kong toy less and less so our dogs do not become dependent on them but can simply switch off and relax waiting for us to become available to interact with them again.

When ‘the settle’ might come in handy

You can use a stuffed kong toy to provide your dog with self-contained entertainment during times when you might have visitors and it is going to be easier to have him settled.

It is also useful during times when you have to ‘stop and wait’ at any point… waiting for an appointment at the vets, in the park if you wish to stop for a snack during a long walk, or if you happen to be at a dog-friendly café…   even while travelling on public transport when people might be eating nearby! It is such a useful skill!

Tips to remember when practicing the settle!

  • Practice makes perfect! Dogs need to learn in different situations and places – so start within the home and gradually build up to practicing in places with more distractions such as a bus stop, a park bench, the vet waiting room during a quiet time! Always make sure your dog has a very tasty food-releasing toy during these new practice sessions.
  • It is important that your dog is never placed into his bed (or behind a child-gate if you are using these to cordon off areas within your home) without a reward being given to him simultaneously as we always want him to view this as a happy and secure place to be.
  • Never place a dog into his bed or exclude him from company as a punishment or as a result of unwanted behaviour. We need his bed to always be a very happy place for him, otherwise we will create problems for him and for ourselves!
  • Whenever your dog is in his bed or resting he should never ever be disturbed or forcibly removed. Your dog needs to know that his bed is a haven and therefore a place of absolute security for him.

We’d love to see some photos of you practicing this exercise…   don’t forget you can Instagram and Tweet us at @dogschoollondon

Happy training!