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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By Kathy McRoberts 03 Dec, 2014

Original article by Marybeth Bittel, Tails Magazine

When I was a young music student growing up in Chicago’s western suburbs, my family adopted an Airedale puppy we named Beethoven. I picked Beethoven out at the shelter because all the other puppies rushed forward to greet me, while he hid shyly in the corner. Most trainers agree that’s not necessarily the ideal benchmark for selecting a furry friend, but we got lucky. Beethoven matured into an outgoing, even-tempered, fun, and affectionate family member who sternly guarded our front yard one minute, and romped through our sprinkler the next.

But then came the Fourth of July. Fireworks went off at random intervals around the clock. We discovered that when it came to loud noises and ear-popping explosions, Beethoven was absolutely terrified.

At first we wondered how this could have happened. After all, we’d never left our beloved boy outside while pyrotechnics peppered the sky. He hadn’t been exposed to extreme noises as a puppy. In all likelihood, Beethoven’s fireworks aversion, like so many pet fears and phobias, was just one of those things that took hold when his sensitive hearing encountered a sudden trigger he could neither see nor anticipate.

So we did what numerous pet parents do when their cherished companion is struggling: we cuddled him, coddled him, and cooed comforting words of reassurance. We also sat, feeling helpless, watching him cower and hide as the problem held steady each year. In fact, through all the years of Beethoven’s life, he never overcame this disabling sense of distress, no matter how soothing or supportive we attempted to make his surrounding environment.

When my husband and I began working with abused rescue dogs, we noticed that most arrived with an array of deep-rooted anxieties acquired over time. One Bichon was terrified of rotary fans. A Shih Tzu mix became a jittery mess during thunderstorms. A sweet and docile Foxhound routinely hid from houseplants. These fears ran the gamut, but they had one thing in common: They were exceedingly real to the dog, and they had a great impacts on the entire family.

We began working with local animal behaviorists, and that’s when we learned an invaluable truth:  The way we, as caregivers, react to our pet’s anxieties can actually perpetuate the patterns.

Why would this be? As Abe Mashal, owner of Marine Corps Dog Training in St. Charles, explains, “Dogs form extremely solid bonds with their humans. That means most canines are highly attuned to any type of interaction with their human ‘pack’ members.” So when something a dog is doing  earns our attention—whether that attention takes the form of praise, pampering, or peevish irritation— the behavior is often unintentionally reinforced.

“Reinforcement,” a common term in the world of animal behavioral training, is really just another word for strengthening. In reality, a reinforcer can be anything that strengthens a behavior.

So for those of you thinking, “I never reinforce my dog’s non-stop barking! I scold her on the spot,” see if these examples sound familiar:

  • You hear your Husky howling, and immediately storm in to reprimand her. How is this reinforcement? To many dogs, having a beloved human present (even a beloved yet annoyed human) is better than feeling lonesome. Your dog begins to think her howling is prompting you to chime in.
  • Your Lab whines pitifully as you begin to leave the house, so you return to take him with you. Over time, your dog starts believing that his whining causes you to come back for him (Pavlov’s theory, anyone?).
  • Your Westie mix cowers and growls behind the sofa whenever company arrives, so you pick him up and coo “Ohhhh, you’re fine, what a gooooood boy….” Soon, your dog begins to equate hiding and trembling with oodles of TLC.

“Every interaction with your dog has the potential to teach and reinforce, merely because you’re paying attention,” explains Sara Swan, owner of Narnia Pet Behavior & Training in Plainfield. How can you tell if this is happening? Simply observe over time. Dogs continue to engage in behaviors that provide some sort of payoff. If you’re dealing with a fear or anxiety response that’s ongoing—such as Beethoven’s abhorrence of fireworks—some kind of inducement is likely contributing to the pattern. In Beethoven’s case, his reactions earned him almost round-the-clock nurturing.

Fortunately, we as dog parents can leverage these same dynamics when it comes to re-programming undesirable behaviors. Let’s say your 80-pound “lap dog” excitedly jumps on you whenever you come home from work. When you withhold the coveted attention—immediately going back out the door, or turning your back on him—many pups gradually begin to seek out a different behavior.

The same thing can work with a fear response. If your pet is terrified of your Swiffer mop, for example, try propping it against the family room couch and just leaving it there. Then, simply act like it’s no big deal and go about your daily routine, even if your pup exhibits an unsettled reaction. Very gradually, over time, as your furry friend begins to approach the mop with quiet but tentative curiosity, reward that calm behavior with brief praise or a small treat. Keep it up, and eventually your dog can learn that “mop = calm = good.”

Helping your dog manage his stress is one of the keys to having a happy and healthy pet. If your animal companion has specific challenges beyond what you’re comfortable handling, always reach out to a certified animal behaviorist who can help you develop targeted interventional techniques that will work on your pet’s unique needs. It will not only help with unwanted behaviors, but strengthen your bond, as well.

Safe, Drug Free Ways To Soothe Your Pet’s Stress

The Thundershirt. The ThunderShirt leverages the age-old principle of swaddling an infant to promote calming reassurance. Simply fasten this snug, stretchy shirt around your pet’s ribcage. During anxious episodes of panting or hyperventilation, it provides ongoing sensory feedback that suppresses this common panic response. ( Thundershirt.com )

Music or ASMR. As a musician, I can attest firsthand that deep, resonant tones often work wonders on a nervous pup. You can also try leveraging something called ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), which is promoted by many hypnotists and human sleep therapists. ASMR is a subjective, perceptual phenomenon characterized by a distinct calming or scalp- tingling sensation in response to quiet, seemingly mundane sound triggers. Certain pets appear especially receptive, and may even be lulled to sleep. To gauge effectiveness, try playing low, calming music or ASMR audio with your dog in the room. Use a meditation CD, or visit YouTube to access ASMR recordings by reputable “ASMRtists” such as The Waterwhispers.

Calming Sprays. Help create a relaxing environment for your pet by using a calming spray on their bedding or by plugging in a calming spray diffuser. Many cats and dogs experience reduced anxiety and stress after being exposed to these non- sedating sprays, which use soothing scents such as lemongrass, cinnamon, and lavender to encourage relaxation.

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