Teaching your dog to settle down

by Jenna Kiddie

How to Settle & Relax your Dog

Our how-to guide and top tips to help your dog settle down when you’re busy

As part of your family, it’s important for dogs to learn to relax, lie down, and have time on their own.  It’s especially important for them to do this when you’re busy at home, with guests, making dinner, cleaning the house, or outside with friends at the pub or café.   It’s hard for your dog to learn to be settled when there are distractions, lots of activity or opportunities for attention so it’s best to begin practicing somewhere quiet.

 The Method

Start training at home and at times when your dog is more likely to be already relaxing. You’ll know your dog is truly settled when they lie down, not asking for attention and isn’t easily distracted by what’s going on around them. Once your dog has learnt the basic objective of being settled, try training in different locations with more distractions. To begin with you may just need to reward your dog for any behaviour that is not staring at you, pulling on the lead, or barking.

  • Sit quietly on a chair with your dog on the lead and a blanket on the floor. Drop tiny bite size treats to your dog as a reward for settling down on the blanket. Don’t say anything to your dog whilst doing this.
  • Gradually reward more relaxed behaviours – this will vary between dogs – some will automatically start lying down and you can quickly progress to rewarding your dog only for this behaviour before moving on to reward specific signs of relaxing like sighing, weight shifting and head resting.
  • Some dogs will take longer and will struggle to stop pulling on the lead or staring at you. If this is the case with your dog, you’ll need to take things more slowly by rewarding behaviour such as standing quietly, disengaging from people or sniffing their blanket.
  • When they’re relaxed, start increasing the time your dog must be settled before you reward them. Build up gradually a couple of seconds at a time over multiple sessions.
  • Slowly start building up distractions by practising the ‘settle’ in increasingly busy areas, or ask a helper to create a distraction by walking past, progressing to more exciting activities like sweeping or skipping. If your dog becomes unsettled or gets up, ignore them and wait until they settle again before rewarding them. If they won’t relax and settle, increase distance from the distraction or make it less interesting.

Key points

  • Initially reward any relaxed behaviour your dog shows, from sitting quietly, and not pestering you, build up to lying down and completely relaxing.
  • Withdraw your attention when they become over-excited or unsettled; no touching, talking or making eye contact, just turn your back and ignore them.
  • Keep your dog on a short lead whilst training and ask people not to interact with them if they’re unsettled.
  • Don’t tell your dog what to do during training, the aim is for them to learn for themselves to be calm and relax. This is a stronger form of learning and means that your dog will learn to settle without needing to be asked.