Calm Dogs: Do we really need to teach dogs to ‘settle’?
“Go to your bed”, “Crate”, “Place”, “Settle”, etc. are all cues folks give dogs when they want them to be calm dogs. Many moons ago when I first started training dogs “Place” was the cue of choice. Crates weren’t the norm then, so teaching a dog to go to their bed with the “Place” cue was how people got a calm dog. UGH!
I remember thinking, at the time and still wonder today, why does one need to TEACH a dog to settle? What about meeting a dogs needs inside the home and out, so that when a dog is inside they can just chill on their own without needing to be put on cue. If a dog is put on cue to go to their bed or be in their crate, door open or closed then what happens when the dog needs to go potty or just wants to cool off on the floor instead of their warm cushy bed? It never really made sense to me.
I’m typing this now, with 4 dogs lying quietly all over the living room. Three are mine, ages, 14, 4 and 2 yrs old, all rescue dogs. The puppy is 8 months old and in training to be a Service Dog. They’re all crashed after a day of fun, training and fresh air. They can sleep wherever they choose and of course because we have this wonderful bond, they choose to be in whatever room I’m in.
If they have to go potty, they simply sit by the door and ask to go out or nudge me letting me know they need something. If they are thirsty they meander over to their water bowl and drink to their hearts desire. If they want to play with each other or chew on a toy or even ask me for some attention, I’m good with all that. Why, because I know I’ve met their doggie needs and I trust them to let me know if or when they need something. The puppy learns and meets the energy of my dogs and me, so together we are all in tune with each other making teaching a dog to be calm, unnecessary. They learn on their own to settle, if we let them.
Some will say a dog needs a safe place. Safe from what? Other people, kids, whatever’s going on in the home? Still why do they need a safe place. A dog can choose to go wherever they want if the stimulation is too much for them and if the kids have been taught to be respectful of their dog, then wherever the dog chooses to go is a safe place and they are free to get up to meet their biological needs or just chill in another place when they want or need to. Dogs do need a place that they can chill and feel safe and that can be anywhere as long as we’ve met their needs, taught the children, make sure that we communicate with company and the dog will feel safe. This is our job.
The key, is that we do have choices and learning to read dogs, so that we know when they are feeling anxious, fearful or getting too reactive, we can then meet their needs with proper training and patience so that they can learn to settle on their own and they will, if you allow the process to unfold.
The process is simple:
- When you’ve met the dogs needs, simply say “All Done” or whatever cue you like and go inside and get busy with either calls, computer time, cooking, whatever you can do to be occupied. They have toys, they can play w/ on their own, to wind down and you’re busy, so ignore the dog.
- Ignore any attempts, whining, pawing, initiating play. No eye contact, no talking, nothing, just ignore the dog.
- If anyone else is in the house, please let them know, they too, need to ignore the dog.
- Wait this out. Your dog will settle and some take longer than others. Don’t cave. Some dogs settle in 5 minutes, some in 30 minutes. Be patient and wait your dog out.
- After a period of time, say 5 min after they settle, really settle, not settle, get up, settle, get up over and over but really settle by either laying quietly, resting, sleeping, comfortable gnawing on a toy, quietly look over and say ‘Thank You” or something calm and quiet then immediately get back to work. If you are too rambunctious in your tone of voice, you may get them up again. So, simply go back to ignoring. Wait a little longer before trying to say Thank you.
- Every time you’re done playing use the same cue “All Done” and get busy again. If you are consistent in this teaching process, dogs will learn to settle on their own and you won’t even need to use a cue for it. It’s natural and dogs need the rest, so have fun with your dog and watch the magic happen.
The two doodles in the first picture are 5 and 6 months old, both males and complete goofballs. They went to the bed on their own volition and are free to move around if they choose. How cute are they?
Food for thought while you’re training a new pup or an older new dog. Do what feels right in your gut and go with that. If you need to teach a ‘settle’ go for it and in time as you build your dogs confidence in himself and in you, you can begin to allow the dog to settle on his or her own.
About the author: Jill Breitner, is a professional dog trainer, award winning author, writing articles for Dogster, The Whole Dog Journal, Animal Wellness and her own blog. She is also a dog body language expert, loving and living her life on the west coast of the USA. She is the author of Dog Decoder, a smartphone app about dog body language recommended and used by veterinarians, shelters, trainers, educators and guardians worldwide. It’s available in iTunes and Google play. Jill, is Fear Free Certified and has been teaching gentle handling/basic husbandry skills to clients dogs for 40 years. She helps you to be your pets advocate for a happier and stress free life. She also does online dog training, worldwide. Join Jill on her Dog Decoder Facebook page