Unit One – The Settle

Teaching The Settle

Settle is getting your dog to lie down and also be in a relaxed emotional state

We’re not going to clicker train this exercise.  The reason for this is that when you click the clicker it causes little bursts of dopamine in the brain.  Dopamine is a really ‘good’ chemical which is why dogs like clicker training but it influences being alert and awake.

Because we want the dog to relax and possibly fall asleep, we don’t want to use something that is going to stimulate or excite them.

The chemical involved in sleep is called melatonin; melatonin and dopamine work in balance and opposition to each other.  When we go to sleep at night dopamine decreases and melatonin increases, and in the morning when we wake up dopamine increases are melatonin decreases.

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So we don’t want to use anything that stimulates dopamine when we’re trying to get the dog to relax.

The settle is the dog lying down and also relaxing.

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The timeframe for the settle may be somewhere from around fifteen minutes up to a couple of hours

I would like you to think about your general day to day life and when this could be used for you to be able to get your dog to settle on cue, and make a list of five situations that you can practice and train.

For example, when friends visit, while you are eating a meal, when you’re watching TV, while you’re working on the computer, or visiting a dog friendly pub. This is the dogs down time.

When we teach a behaviour we normally reward at the end of the exercise.  To teach the dog to settle we’re going to reward throughout the exercise; the end of the exercise will mean the rewards stop.  This enables us to build motivation in the dog for the exercise to continue.  This will also help to avoid creating an anticipatory ‘wait’ which is different and you will learn in Module Two.

We’re firstly going to give the dog some information; this is the first step to teaching a settle.  The information is ‘if you lie down you get fed, if you move the food stops’.

You are going to need a lot of very small tasty treats.

You’re going to lure or cue the dog into a down and feed one treat after the other as fast as you can.  What is very important is that the food is placed between the front paws on the floor so that the dog does not get any food from your hand.

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At some point the dog is going to get up and move towards your hand.  When this happens you’re going to close your hand and not allow them to get the food.  You are going to count to 30 seconds.

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After 30 seconds, if the dog has not lain down again, you are going to lure them back into a down and start your continuous feeding.  It is important that there is a 30 second timeframe of no reward as a consequence because the dog moved.

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This enables thinking and problem solving and the dog becoming aware that the food stopped because it moved.  If you have a smart dog it will lay down again within the 30 seconds.  If they do make a smart decision to lay down within the 30 seconds it must be rewarded by beginning the continuous feeding again.  Therefore if the dog lays down of its own accord, the continuous feeding must start again.  What you are aiming for is that your dog starts to make a decision to lie down itself within the 30 second time frame.

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Once your dog understands if it moves out of the down position the human food dispenser stops working you can then start to slow down the delivery of treats to the puppy adding a second between treats, then two, then three and so on. The dog will be in an anticipatory state at this time but will be motivated to hold the position. Now we can focus on the right emotional state.

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I would not add the cue or command to this behaviour until the dog starts to look relaxed.  You will see the dog usually flop over on to one hip and start to look like it’s thinking about staying in position. It will stop watching you, lower its head, slow its breathing down. It is important to not make eye contact or speak to them in an excitable voice. Quiet praise is ok and movement to reward should be slow.

You can use the cue ‘Settle’ or ‘Settle Down’. Whichever you feel comfortable with

So now you have a great excuse for a pub lunch in a dog friendly pub. The more you go places and practice this the better the dog will get at it and learn sometimes nothing happens.

If you  are going somewhere for a while then you can manage behaviour for part of the time by taking a chew or stuffed kong. You can also take a mat or blanket but your dog eventually needs to learn to settle anywhere. HPRs and Pointers don’t like hard floors so you will need something to start with if you want to get a good relaxed settle.

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© Copyright Jane Ardern BSc (Hons) 2019

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