Teaching Your Dog to Settle
by Brandy J. Lyle
We've all been there! Your dog is running around in circles like the Tasmanian Devil and nothing you do or say seems to make a difference. Many dogs that are uncontrollable or unruly in the house are crated or end up being "put outside." Unfortunately, this doesn't solve the problem; it only postpones their excitement until they're free from the crate, or brought inside the house again. Then you're right back where you started from: Tasmania!
One of the most important commands that you can teach your dog is the "Settle" command. It can be taught, learned, and reliably performed at a very young age. The Settle command can even be taught before "sit" and will contribute to the bonding of you and your dog. It can save your dog from being isolated in a backyard, specific room, or crate and it can help you enjoy your dog, have control of him, and establish your role as "Leader" of the "pack."
Dogs are social animals, they thrive on social interaction and are usually their happiest when they are included in the daily activities of their "people." Consistently isolating your dog in a crate, a room, or in your yard (or doing so for prolonged periods) may lead to a socially starved dog. This isolation can make your dog so overwhelmed when he receives attention or is brought into the house that the same unruly behavior intensifies; thus a vicious circle begins. The Settle command will allow you to take control of the situation so your dog can be a <italics>welcomed<end italics> member of the family household.
This command is most easily taught at a very young age, but even old dogs can learn new tricks! So start teaching your puppy or dog the Settle command <italics>today<end italics>. If you have a puppy, you can start teaching him as young as 8-10 weeks of age. Lay your pup on his back gently...if he squirms, try to gently keep him on his back until he relaxes. If he <italics>really<end italics> squirms, and tries to bite, then lay him on his side. Puppies that exhibit biting or nipping behavior when being placed on their backs may grow up to be very dominant dogs. If your puppy exhibits this behavior it is your responsibility to educate yourself on the special needs and considerations that a dominant dog requires.
Generally, a dominant pup will squirm <italics>a lot<end italics> and maybe try to nip or bite, "mouthing" on your hands as you're restraining him. A submissive dog may squirm a little, but will usually relax quickly and will look away from you. Avoiding eye contact is a submissive gesture, so do not try to make your puppy look at you. In fact it is best if he looks away as this reinforces the pack hierarchy that establishes you as "leader."
While you are gently holding your puppy on his back or side, say "Settle" in a gentle, but firm manner. Don't be lovey-dovey with him (even though he'll look so cute); this is teaching a command, not love-play. At the same time, don't scare him into settling by screaming the command. When he squirms, tighten your hold (gently but firmly) and say "Settle" until he relaxes. When he relaxes say "Good Settle" and loosen your hold. Each time he squirms tighten your grip and repeat "Settle." Then repeat "Good Settle" when he relaxes. If you have long hair or floppy sleeves, make sure they're not touching your dog in a way that would tickle him and make him squirm! Try for 20 seconds of a continuous settle. This may be impossible for the first few times...so get at least 5 seconds of a continuous settle at first, then release him with LOADS of praise. (The praise part is VERY IMPORTANT **EVERY TIME**)
Practice the Settle command three times a day. Pick times when he will most likely comply. Don't "test" the command (i.e., don't use it when he's in his Tasmania mode) for a few weeks or until you are sure he knows the command, and you are also sure that you can handle him. Some puppies and dogs respond quite well to being gently restrained, others are as squirmy as a wet worm! These squirmy worms may be dominant, submissive, or anywhere in-between; they have been described as a "helicopter trying to take off backwards." The easiest way to combat the squirmy dog is to practice this command when he is already resting. When teaching a new command, you want to make it as easy as possible for your dog to "Do Good." If you have a particularly hyper dog that never seems to <bold>be<end bold> resting you will need to be physically and mentally prepared for your first attempt! It is important that the first time you attempt the Settle command that you are able to, at the very least, gently restrain your dog. If you start teaching him the Settle command by saying "Settle" and then allow your dog to squirm his way out of it, you are essentially teaching him a great new fun game! If you have a wiggle-worm dog that seems to be void of a spine and feels like he's got an extra pair of paws, you will need to be ready for his antics! (Think FIRM, but gentle.)
If you are teaching an adult dog the Settle command, the same technique applies but you need to be aware of your dogs' personality before attempting the command. If your dog is known to be very dominant and/or aggressive, or if you feel there is any possibility that your dog may try to bite you, do not attempt the Settle command(get professional advice from a reputable animal behaviorist. If your adult dog will perform a "Down" command for you, you should be able to teach him a Settle command quite easily. After "downing" your dog, lay him completely on his side and say "Settle." Don't let him raise his head or squirm (keep him on his side for 20 consecutive seconds with no motion. When you release him, PRAISE, PRAISE, PRAISE!!!
As he begins to learn this command you can condition your pup or dog to execute it in whatever manner you deem necessary. For instance, if you say "Settle"(do you want your dog to lie down and roll over on his back? Maybe so, but a more practical use is to have him basically calm down, lie down, or lie still. My dogs do all three. If they're running around being too rowdy in the wrong place or time and I say "Settle" they stop whatever they're doing. Sometimes they sit or lie down, other times they just relax. They know that it is a "non-release" command, meaning they can play quietly again if they wish. Also, if they are in a new place pacing about, I can say "Settle" and they will usually lie down and stop their pacing. It can work for whining as well.
Unexpectedly, I found this command worked well for shy dogs or dogs that are scared. Saying "It's OK" to a scared dog is actually praising him for being scared and makes matters worse. By using the Settle command, I have been able to stop some scared dogs from shaking; they're still scared, but less neurotic about it! Lastly, the settle command is wonderful at the vet. One of my dogs was able to get x-rays without anesthesia because we used the Settle command for him to lie still on the table <italics>and<end italics> allow his limbs to be positioned. As you can see, the Settle command is extremely versatile!
To help your dog master the Settle command add trust-building exercises. These exercises can be performed with puppies or small dogs using the Settle command. It can also be performed with larger dogs under modified circumstances. The exercise is performed when your dog can reliably perform the Settle command by lying completely still in a cradle position in your arms. Start the exercise in the cradle position, and while giving the Settle command slowly tip the dog so that his head is <italics>slightly<end italics> lower than his backside. Don't over-do it! This exercise is simply to build trust and practice "Settle." You want him to be successful at his Settle and end the exercise with loads of PRAISE! Another way to do this with a large (or small) dog is to lay him on the bed on his side or back, give the Settle command and slowly change the positions of his legs. He should remain relaxed and allow you to move his limbs in a gentle manner. Of course, before you even attempt these trust-building exercises you need to have enough confidence in yourself first, which means you'll need to portray confidence, not laugh, and sometimes hold the pup tight enough so that he "knows he better settle." On these "intensive settles" it is best to give a release command. I differentiate the non-release and release commands by this: If I say "Settle" but do not physically touch my dog, he knows not to wait for a release command. If I say "Settle" and physically touch him in some way, to position him, to clip his nails, or whatever, then he knows he is to stay "settled" until I give a release command.
This command was particularly helpful to me when my 90-pound dog got his paw stuck. He was yelping and pulling at his paw trying to free it when we ran over to the scene. Unfortunately, every time he pulled his paw to try to yank it free, he was actually wedging it further and further. When we told him to "Settle" he was too anxious to completely relax, and we had to use our body weight to push him to release the tension he put on his paw. But he <italics>did<end italics> stop yelping and yanking. If he hadn't, he would have probably severely ripped his pad. We were then able to wedge his paw out and what could have been a bloody situation was over in about 30 seconds. He was playing Frisbee again before we realized how lucky we were to have learned the Settle command at his puppy class!
Every time you clip your dogs' toenails, look in his ears, or do anything that requires him to stay still, use "Settle." You'll thank yourself for it!
<bio>Brandy J. Lyle has been a lover of dogs (and all animals) since childhood. She has three mixed breed dogs, a German Shepherd/Rottweiler mix, a Black Labrador/Golden Retriever mix, and a Black Labrador/Australian Shepherd mix, and also a cat who thinks he's a dog. She is a proponent for spay/neuter, adoption and rescue. She received her BA in Dance and MA in Exercise Physiology from Michigan State University. That's probably why all her dogs are into Agility! Visit her "Doggie Door to Canine Behavior" Website at: http://members.gnn.com/brandynjoe/doggie.htm Or email at: BrandyNJoe@gnn.com<end bio>