Teaching Your Hyper Dog to Settle

  • By Kathy McRoberts
  • 05 Jan, 2011

Do you own a dog that never stops moving, jumping, squirming, running, and playing? And never seems satisfied to sit still with you? Is he making your life a nightmare? Then you need to read this.

Typically, the most hyper and active dog breeds are the working dogs. Hunting and herding dogs such as the spaniels, terriers, retrievers. This includes Jack Russell Terriers, Labs, Australian Shepherds, etc. They are bred with a job to do, and will never be content being a couch potato.

The number one rule of owning an active breed... EXERCISE, and plenty of it. You will never be able to change the dog’s need to be active, so you need to fulfill it somehow. This may mean daily long walks, running and playing in the yard, treadmill, whatever. It is imperative that you drain their energy before any other training will be successful. There is an article on this site about   dog sports and activities . Most active dogs enjoy chasing a ball or Frisbee, or sports like agility. Perhaps even rollerblading, biking, hiking, or even just running in the park. Find what works for you and your lifestyle and implement it. I take my chocolate lab out twice a day, either to run and play Frisbee in the yard or to take a nice long walk in the neighborhood, and he also uses the treadmill and plays with the neighbor’s dog. If you can’t commit to exercising your dog somehow every day, then an active breed may not be the right choice for you.

What NOT to do with a hyper dog…

1. Yell at them to settle down. Raising your voice or becoming frustrated and stressed out will only fuel their excitement more.

2. Lock them in their crate as punishment, or confine them outside or in a room all alone. Again, this will only make it worse.

So once your dog has had his daily exercise and it’s time to wind down and be quiet, how do you get him to do it? Teach him the “Settle” command. It’s really pretty easy. This command could quite possibly save his life. I have heard far too many stories of people who acquire a dog before doing their research on the breed, only to discover how hyper and active the dog is. They don’t know how to handle it and it becomes a problem for their life, so the dog ultimately ends up going either to a new owner or back to the shelter. This saddens me because it is never the dog’s fault and until someone learns how to deal with the active needs of the dog, he will never have a good life.

Teaching your dog to Settle on command is easy and fun, for both you and your dog. If you can teach him any cute trick, you can teach him this.

Start out by supplying yourself with a handful of treats. Get on the floor and sit next to your dog while he lays next to you. If yours is like mine, the squirming and squiggling will already begin. With one hand, gently hold him in place and place your other hand on the dog somewhere. You can pet or gently massage. Remain very calm and speak in a calm, slow voice. Say “Settle”. Then wait. The very second he stops moving and lays still, say something like “Good boy!” or “Yes!” and give him a treat (calmly). Do it again. Continue to do this over and over. Maybe gently push his head down on your lap as you say “Settle”. Remember to remain calm and patient through the whole process, you want to convey very calm and quiet energy at this point, since dogs tend to take their cue from us and our behavior. It may be tough at first, but take a deep breath and be patient. Never get frustrated. Your goal is for him to stop moving when you say "Settle".

Repeat this over and over two or three times a day for 5-10 minutes at a time until he catches on that he will get a reward by simply relaxing and being still. You can do this while watching TV. After a couple days begin holding a paw or examining his ears, or lifting his lips to look at his teeth, while saying “Settle” very calmly, and remember to get happy and reward every time he relaxes and allows you to.

It shouldn’t take long for your dog to make the connection between “Settle” and being still. Once you feel he’s got the idea while sitting on the floor, try this next step, this is where it become like a game and is really fun for your dog.

While standing, get your dog really wound up by playing tug or just being excited and crazy with him. Then stop movement quickly and say “Settle”. If he stops playing too and looks at you, whoohoo!, praise and reward! Then get going again and get crazy with him. It’s kind of like the old Simon Says game if you remember that (I’m probably dating myself here). The game is that at any moment during the fun you might freeze and say “Settle” and he is to stop also, then he gets the reward. It took my crazy, hyperactive dog about a week to fully grasp the Settle command once we started this game. He will immediately stop, sit and drop what is in his mouth, looking at me for the reward.

Begin using “Settle” throughout your daily routine, any time you want him to be still. In the presence of other people, when jumping on you, whatever. Just continue using it and be sure to reward with either a treat or an enthusiastic “Good Boy!” every time. Or “Good Settle!” I often say “Good Settle” even at random times when he is at rest to reinforce it.

My dog had a severe excitement issue when getting in and out of the car, and nothing I tried was working until I taught him to Settle. Now he will calm down and sit quietly in the car if I say "Settle" (most of the time - it's a work in progress). And the entire time he is still I reinforce by quietly telling him "That's a good Settle", and "Good Boy".

Teaching your dog to Settle can be valuable for many, many situations, even if you don’t have a particularly hyper dog. For example, when going to the groomer or vet, if you want to trim his nails or examine his ears, in the car, greeting visitors at the front door, or even in a medical emergency. In my opinion, this is one of the most important of all commands.

First and foremost, be sure to provide ample time for your dog to drain his or her energy, and then teach them to “Settle” on command, and your life will be so much more peaceful.

Originally compiled by Kathy McRoberts on Jan. 2, 2011

Cincinnati Dog Knowledge Center

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