Teaching Your Dog To Settle Down When Asked
If you’re anything like me, there have been moments where you just want a small glimpse of having a calm, relaxed dog. Being able to get your dog into this position on command will be beneficial in numerous situations, whether it be in the evening at your home or out at a busy restaurant. Learning how to get your dog to settle down takes a little bit of patience and know-how, as you have to catch them in the natural position before attaching a cue for the behavior.
To get your dog to settle down, you first need to look for their body position to show relaxation, which is usually marked by a comfortable lay down. When their hips are shifted to the side, and they are relaxed, reward them by saying “Good settle” and give them a treat. You will then mold this into a command over time once you have attached the calm behavior with the reward.
Getting your dog to enter a relaxed state upon command is beneficial in many situations that range from having house guests to eating out at a restaurant. To train this, you need to first communicate to your dog that the relaxed position will be rewarded rather than asked for initially. Understanding your dog’s body language and situations in which they are more likely to be relaxed will be extremely helpful during the “settle” training process.
Teaching Your Dog To “Settle”
Having a dog that will enter the “settle” position on command will allow you to have more control and a better behaved dog in a plethora of situations. Going out to eat, having houseguests, or simply eating dinner on the couch are all instances where it would be gratifying not to have to worry about your dog being rambunctious. I tend to use “settle” after a play session or after coming inside from a game of fetch. When first introducing this command, it is best to train after your dog has exerted a lot of physical energy.
Watch for your dog to lay down with their hips positioned to the side. This is the main difference between a regular lay down and a “settled” position. When they have entered this position, reward them in a calm voice and say something like, “Yes, good settle.” Continue to do this for the remainder of the time they are laying down like this, for at least a couple of minutes. If they pop up or try to do another behavior, ignore this and wait until they lay back down into the relaxed state. If they don’t right away, wait until your next opportunity.
This “settle” behavior takes some time to master as your dog will be trying to figure out exactly what you want. A good way to practice is when your dog enters its crate. As soon as they lay down and look relaxed, reward them for a good settle. Walk away, and whenever you walk by and see them in that state, reward them for being settled. If you have a puppy, look for moments when they are lying down near you in a peaceful state (which may be almost never if you have a high-energy pup like mine!)
The main goal is to reward your dog for being relaxed. Eventually, you will be able to ask for this behavior on cue once they have gained an association with what you want. When teaching the command, use a low tone of voice and lower your hand towards the ground, similarly to lay down. Being relaxed and calm yourself will help your dog understand that this is a peaceful state of being.
To achieve the best results, make sure your dog has had adequate exercise and mental stimulation before trying to work on the “settle” command. To reach the desired state of mind to relax, they need to be at least somewhat tired, especially in the beginning stages of training. I like to use a designated item, such as their dog cot, to practice settle as this is a comfort item for them and gets them relaxed.
If you have taught or plan on teaching “Place,” this is a good command to use alongside it. I have a mat near my kitchen that I will have our dogs lay on while I cook dinner. I will have them “place” on the mat and remain there throughout the duration of cooking. At intermittent times, I will walk over to the mat and reward them for a “good settle” as they are often laying with their hips shifted to the side. This has taught them that relaxed, calm behavior lets them be near me and keeps them from being underfoot while cooking. If they get up, I ignore them until they have gone back to the mat and settled back into position.
Remember that your dog may do very well with “settle” when they are lying on the ground beside your couch but not when they are out in a busy environment. Work your way up to this by slowly adding distractions such as having one new person over to your house or taking them to a park when it isn’t very busy. It is key to set your dog up for success by knowing where they are most comfortable and what is the most distracting.
Bringing It All Together
Once you have associated the relaxed body position with the “settle” command, you can begin to ask your dog to replicate this behavior when you ask. Reward frequently as this will teach your dog that remaining in this position will net them a lot of treats. If they stand up or get jittery, ask them to “settle” again. Pay attention to your dog and know the limit of their attention span, as well as the environment they are in. It is possible to achieve a perfect “settle” when asked, but it takes a lot of work and consistency!