Training your dog to settle and have an off switch has so many benefits, and can prevent issues such as separation anxiety, getting over-excited when visitors are arriving, jumping up on visitors, and taking them to a dog-friendly pub or restaurant.
Owners can make their dog’s life easier and their own life less stressful by training their dog how to have an off switch and to be calm. Unfortunately, some owners do not realise how important this exercise is for you and your dog’s well-being in the future. if you bring a puppy into your life this is the best life skill you can teach them for the future.
Training your dog or puppy crate/pen training if used correctly can be an amazing training tool. Do not abuse them by using crates for things such as time out or a punishment place or leaving them for hours in a crate while you do an 8-hour work shift at work. Using the crate in this manner can be very damaging for your dog or puppy and can increase bad behaviours. The crate or playpen should be a safe place for your dog or puppy to chill, feel happy and have somewhere to sleep.
Puppies and some breeds of dogs like to be on the go all day and this can make some owners feel frustrated and exhausted. So, it is time for you as an owner to teach your puppy or dog the benefits of chill-out time and switch off.
Your puppy or dog will have so many benefits from learning this life skill. When your pup or dog relaxes glutamate, which is a powerful neurotransmitter is released by nerve cells in the brain and plays a key role in learning, and memory is improved. In addition, dopamine which is the feel-good hormone is released, and with a chilled-out dog or puppy in the house, a similar effect will no doubt occur in their owner. What is more relaxing than having a chilled home and a happy dog?
To Get Started.
You can start off by setting up a crate or playpen, for your puppy or dog in the house. Make sure to start with it in the room you and your family spend the most time in, you can leave the crate door open, and let your dog or puppy come and go out of the crate as they, please. Start off by feeding your dog or puppy inside the crate or playpen and building up a good association with the crate or playpen. All good stuff should happen in the crate or playpen such as treats, enrichment, kongs, and feeling happy, relaxed, and safe.
However, some owners can find crate training quite difficult to get their heads around because they think it is cruel because they are putting human emotions on the dog or puppy. Some will think they are being kinder to their puppy or dog by giving them a free run of the house with no boundaries or training in place. Unfortunately, this can be a recipe for a disaster in the future for your dog or puppy’s well-being.
Teaching relaxation (zen)
Teaching your puppy or dog into a zen-like state can come with challenges so it is best to start in a quiet environment in your home.
The key to this training is to gradually reward more relaxed behaviours but of course, this can vary between dogs, some may take longer. Some dogs will automatically start by lying down and you can quickly progress to rewarding your dog for this behaviour before moving on to reward specific signs of relaxation such as weight shifting, head resting, or taking themselves off to the crate or playpen to chill. Other dogs will take longer, and you will need to take things slowly by rewarding behaviours such as standing quietly. Remember to always reward the behaviours you like in your dog or puppy, they will soon learn when I am chilling or in my crate/ bed I will receive a treat from my owner (do not go overboard with a big fuss, keep calm, and let the treat do the work)
Training your dog or puppy to chill or go to bed is a particularly important life skill.
This is important for dogs with separation anxiety. You can start off by building your dog’s confidence in your home whilst you are with them. You can start by getting your dog to relax behind a barrier such as a baby gate or crate with some enrichment such as a Kong. By reinforcing your dog for relaxation behind a baby gate or crate, when you move around your room it will help teach them the concept of relaxing when something stimulating is going on that they cannot reach. This is a good exercise for all dogs especially those who can get easily aroused or frustrated when they cannot reach what they want to interact with. This exercise also is going to help when you need to leave your house.
Before you start training.
Remember before you start any of the training exercises, set your dog up for success and provide enough physical and mental stimulation such as walking, playing a training game, or scent training, so your dog is calm and relaxed.
Settle/chill/ go to mat/bed.
1-Place a none slip mat or towel on the floor; older dogs may need a comfortable bed. Allow the dog or puppy to go over to the towel and investigate even if it’s just the front paws on the towel or mat, reward with a treat by placing it on the towel or mat, by throwing the treats on the mat or towel instead of from your hand helps to build up a good association that the mat is a good place to be. Also, eventually, they are more likely to go into the down position because you are placing the treat on the matt or bed.
2 -The progress, is to reward the dog or puppy when they have all paws on the towel or mat and keep repeating the exercise until your dog is comfortable to walk over and stand on the mat or towel. If you need your dog to step off the mat to start the exercise again, just toss a treat away from the mat, and wait for your dog to return to the mat and reward by placing the treat on the mat, (use a lower value treat to throw for the dog and high value returning)
3- If you find your dog or puppy is just staying on the mat, keep reinforcing with a treat for a few repetitions, this is making your dog have a good feeling about being on the mat/ towel/ bed. Whatever you decide to use for this training exercise stick to the same routine so for example if you’re using the mat for settle keep it the same so your dog doesn’t get confused.
4- Once your dog or puppy is understanding the exercise of going on the mat, you can start to add the cue word settle. I personally always start this exercise with a clicker and treats, once the dog understands then I start adding my cue settle. Eventually, you won’t need the clicker just the cue word settle and reward. Do not use the clicker if your dog or puppy is over-aroused or nervous by the sound of the clicker, it is ok just to use the cue words instead for this exercise.
5- Once your dog or pup is comfortable on the mat, ask your dog to lie down and then reward, it is even better if they do this behaviour by themselves.
6- Once your dog goes to lie down on the mat, wait for them to rest their head on the mat before rewarding.
7- Build up some duration for lying on the mat by delaying the reward for a couple of seconds initially and then increasing this at your dog’s pace. Do not rush the exercises or your dog might get up!
8- Once your dog is comfortable lying on the mat with you next to them, gradually increase the distance between you and the mat, moving one step away and rewarding them for staying.
9- Gradually include various parts of your home, using your dog’s mat to settle, then you can try your garden area. This exercise should be calming your dog, always practice when your dog is tired.
10- Remember to bring in a release cue from the settle exercise, such as ok, finish so your dog knows they can come off the mat.
11- If you are crate or playpen training you can eventually place your mat or towel on your dog’s bed inside the crate or playpen when you feel your dog is ready for the next stage.
12- If you are training with a mat or a towel, it is great because you can take it with you to a dog-friendly restaurant, the vets, or on a car journey, and your dog will understand it is time to settle.
Tips for teaching relaxed behaviour.
Start by rewarding any relaxed behaviour, such as sitting quietly and not jumping on you, or pestering you.
Withdraw your attention when they come over to you excited or unsettled, no touching or talking or making eye contact, wait for calm behaviours, such as a sit then you can calmly reward your dog or puppy.
Keep your dog on a light training lead in the house if you are struggling with controlling your dog, ask people or visitors not to interact with your dog or puppy if they are unsettled or excited.
Do not let your dog sit in a window barking at dogs and people going by outside, or running around the garden barking because this really will not help with your calming exercises.
You could place a food dispenser by your dog’s training mat or bed, so they want to be on the mat or bed more. (Not if you have other dogs in the household)
A small pen or crate is not a long-term solution for leaving a dog for extended periods of time. The end goal is to have your dog loose in a room or the house so they can move around throughout the day, and still understand the cue, go to bed, and settle if you have visitors arriving, etc. Lots of my clients leave their crates up, but the crate door is left open for the dogs to come and go, but the dogs are completely calm if the gate needs to be closed at any time. You will find your dogs will take themselves off to the crate because they have learned this is an amazing place to be if done correctly.
By training your dog the settle exercise, you will be able to take them anywhere and they can be involved in your activities and holidays.
JP Holistic Nutrition