How to teach your dog to settle
The UK is preparing for the return to school in a few weeks - when most of our children have been at home since March. This will be a big change for our pets too. Many of us are worried about leaving our pets after spending so much time at home together. Which is why it is important to start training now, to make sure that your dog doesn’t get overwhelmed with stress or anxiety once they are suddenly left on their own again.
ldog Photo by Alexandru Sofronie on Unsplash
Getting ready to be left alone
Before you start training your dog to be left alone, there are a few things you can do to help set them up for the process:
- Make sure they are getting enough exercise and - where possible - that they are interacting with other dogs. Regular exercise will help your dog to use up excess energy and lower their stress levels before you leave.
- Make sure they have things that will exercise their brain when you are not there. A toy such as a Kong stuffed with food can help to exercise their brain and give them something to focus on so that they don’t become destructive when you’re not at home.
- Set them up with a safe place where they can settle and relax when they are at home. Some people use a crate for their dog, but this can also be a dog bed or comfy area. It is important that they have free access to their safe place and that they feel secure there – so make sure it doesn’t overlook anything that might unsettle them such as a busy road. If you use a crate, leave the door open when you are there so that they can go in and out of it freely.
Shar Pei Photo by Sophie Elvis on Unsplash
Teaching your dog to settle
By teaching your dog to settle, you can help them to feel secure before you leave. This enables them to ‘switch off’ and rest properly. Before you begin your dog will need to know the ‘down’ command, to lie down from a sit. You can find some useful info on how to teach this to your dog on the Battersea Dogs Home website. By using a particular mat or towel you can also take it with you and use it to settle your dog away from home if needed too.
Before you begin training make sure you have plenty of time and that you are not going to be interrupted. It is a good idea to take your dog for a walk first and make sure they have been to the toilet, so that they are already a little bit tired and more likely to remain calm. Stay composed and don’t try to rush though the steps. Observe your dog and go at their pace. If they move away from the mat or get up from the down position, be prepared to go back a step - or even start over - and be patient.
Black lurcher Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Seven steps to settling your dog
1: Choose a mat, blanket or towel to use as your training pad. Place it on the floor and let your dog take a look at it and familiarise themselves with it.
Give your dog a treat whenever they go near the mat. Throw the treats onto the mat rather than offering them from your hand, so that the dog develops a connection that the mat is a good place to be and associates it with a treat.
2: Once your dog has made this association, reward them every time they have 2 paws on the mat. Then reward them only when they have 4 paws on the mat. Repeat the process until your dog is happy to go over and stand on the mat with all 4 paws on it.
3: Now that your dog is happy standing on the mat, ask them to lie down on the mat and give them a treat when they do so.
4: After some practice, your dog should be keen to get onto the mat whenever you put it out. This time wait for them to rest their head on the mat before rewarding them with a treat.
5: Gradually increase the time that your dog spends lying on the mat. You can do this by waiting before you give them their treat. Increase the time progressively, with whatever amount of time your dog feels comfortable with – go at their pace and don’t progress too rapidly or they may become frustrated and stand up.
6: When your dog is comfortable lying on the mat for an extended period of time, with you close to them, begin to create distance between you and the dog. Take one step back and reward them for staying on the mat. Then another step, etc.
7: Include some distractions and practice in different places so that your dog comes to recognise the mat as a cue to settle, wherever you may be.
This dog feels at home - Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash
Main Photo by Photo by Mitchell Orr on Unsplash