Since fear, anxiety, or high arousal are common components of behavioral issues, retraining cannot start until a calm, relaxed state can be reached on command. Training should concentrate on both the emotional state and the behavioral reaction (sit, down, walk, stay on your mat) (calm, relaxed). In fact, it is not feasible to try to teach your pet to relax in the presence of the stimuli that elicit fear or arousal until you can train them to focus and relax on cue in the absence of those stimuli.
“A fresh set of cues that help the pet and you both understand what behavior is desired is a fantastic place to start,” says the expert.
Exposure to gradually more intense stimuli should be possible once the dog has learned to settle on cue (see Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning). When a dog gets extremely enthusiastic or nervous, such as when meeting family members, strangers, or other animals, the settle command can be used to get a focused response. It can also be applied when dogs become overexcited when visitors arrive, when owners are getting ready to leave, or when they are getting ready for a walk.
How does settle training work?
The process of teaching your dog to respond to a verbal or visual cue, as well as to commands, is known as cue-response-reward or command-response-reward training. Finding a way to guarantee that the pet would quickly and consistently display the desired behavior, reinforcing the behavior, and then adding a signal before the behavior are the typical steps. Particularly for animals with behavioral issues, it can be helpful to teach some commands like as sit, down, heel, and go to your mat.
A fresh set of cues that both you and the pet can use to understand the intended behavior is a fantastic place to start. Instead of “You may use the commands “watch,” “steady,” “concentrate,” or “relax” as you sit. Similarly, a “relax,” “settle,” or “SOFT command might be used in place of the word “down” (see Teaching CalmSOFT and Handling Exercises). For a calm, loose-leash walk, “follow” or “heel” should be used (see Teaching Loose Leash Walks, Backing Up, and Turning Away) “Go to your bed should be understood to mean go to your mat.
How do I get started?
Make sure your dog gets enough exercise and has a fulfilling daily routine before you begin teaching him (see Enrichment, Predictability, and Scheduling). Every day, your dog needs to go on walks and playtimes, eat, spend time alone playing, and sleep. Additionally, your dog needs to understand what actions result in a reward (see Learn to EarnPredictable Rewards). Starting the process of teaching your dog to relax and concentrate should take place in a setting with little to no distractions and a calm dog. Although the steps for training are as follows: (a) give the command, (b) get the desired response (using one of the ways mentioned below), and (c) give unambiguous and immediate reinforcement, training cannot start until you have a method for reliably and consistently achieving the goal behavior.
The initial response can be accomplished via a variety of techniques. Most of the time, luring the pet into the desired response can be accomplished via food, a toy, or a visual target (which has been connected to favorite food items). Alternately, a physical aid like a leash and head collar can be used to physically nudge the dog to express the desired response, along with an immediate release of tension after the behavior is displayed (see Training Products). Head Halter Instruction). Another choice is to reward the desired action when it appears on its own and to add a cue word shortly before the answer (this technique is often used when training a pet to eliminate on cue). To obtain a relaxed response, a SOFT relaxation exercise can be utilized (see Teaching CalmSOFT and Handling Exercises and TTouch). If they are constantly given just after the behavior, food, attention, a favorite toy, or a clicker (see Clicker and Target Training) can all act as rewards. Except for training, these benefits should not be granted (see Learn to EarnPredictable Rewards). The behavior can be gradually changed over time for more relaxation or length.
How do I achieve a relaxed state?
The objective of settle and relax training is to gradually shape more calm and relaxed responses once the target response has been obtained. This can be achieved by reserving the pet’s favorite treats solely for training and instantly rewarding the animal for the desired behavior. Responses of progressively longer length and of progressively higher relaxation should be emphasized with each subsequent training session. Prior to rewarding your dog and moving on to gradually more successful outcomes, you must pay close attention to the dog’s facial expressions, body postures, and breathing to ascertain the pet’s level of relaxation (e.g., sitting with one leg under the body, relaxed facial muscles, regular, slow breathing). When it comes to identifying and rewarding behavior increments that are progressively more desired, clicker training can be especially helpful. Before being released and rewarded, success can be ensured by using a leash and head halter. The individual conducting the instruction must stay composed, at ease, and soft-spoken, and the surroundings must be distraction-free in order to achieve and sustain a calm response. Remember, even if you could be training your pet to sit/stay or down/stay, your main goal should be to emphasize a calm, peaceful attitude.
How do I teach my dog “look, “watch me, or “focus?
- Show your dog a favorite toy or treat, then tuck it away. So that the dog can’t get behind you, position yourself with your back to a wall or in a corner. An additional strategy is to place the reward between your dog’s eyes and yours, in your closed palm in front of your chest. It would be acceptable to present the dog the toy or treat on the first attempt.
- When your dog stops trying to get the goodie and makes eye contact, command them to “look” or “concentrate,” at which point you can reward them with a treat or a clicker. Repeat to increase promptness and consistency. Your hand may need to be raised to your eyes in order to direct the dog. Give the command as the dog follows your hand, rewarding it when it makes eye contact.
- Rewarding the behavior solely when the dog is seated may be more practical and desired for some owners.
- Increase the minimum required duration of eye contact gradually before beginning to introduce background distractions, such as music playing, a refrigerator door opening, etc. Only after keeping eye contact (i.e., not breaking it) with you does your dog receive rewards. When the dog consistently responds correctly despite distractions, move to different locations (outdoor) and introduce other distractions, such as a neighboring dog or kids playing. Increase the distractions and work in busier locations after each productive session.
- The objective is for your dog to keep looking at you when you say the key phrase for several minutes, regardless of background noise or distraction.
- Before awards are offered, progressively extend the duration and relax more (see below).
How do I teach my dog to “settle in a down position?
- Training the dog to lie down comfortably on its belly with both rear legs on the same side would be another exercise. In some circumstances, it might be beneficial to have the animal place its head on the floor as well. Training with food lures (see Learn to EarnPredictable Rewards), leashes, and head halters (see Training Products) could achieve this. Training with a head halter, or a physical activity (see Teaching CalmSOFT and Handling Exercises).
- Progression to extended downtimes in a variety of settings, followed by an increase in background noise and distractions, should all be done gradually. Before awards are offered, progressively extend the duration and relax more (see below).
- Teaching your dog to “settle in a sit position for training when going for walks” may also be helpful.
How do I teach a settle location (e.g., “go to your bed)?
“The head halter is a very useful instrument for achieving the first behavior fast and dependably and for moving swiftly.”
- Using a settle down space can sometimes make teaching the dog to settle indoors easier. The dog can be trained to “go to your mat, bed, or kennel,” where it will learn to remain calm in exchange for preferred incentives.
- To elicit the initial reaction, food lure training or target training might be used.
- To ensure success and show your dog what behavior will result in a reward, you may need to leave a leash attached at initially. This will allow you to physically prompt (transport) your dog to the bed or mat. Giving rewards at other times will once more hinder learning (learn to earn).
- If the dog is trained to sleep in this spot as well, and if favorite toys are stored there (and if a favorite treat or social interaction is offered when the pet uses the spot freely), it might learn to utilize this spot to unwind on its own very quickly.
What other devices or techniques can be used to help me get my dog to relax on cue?
- The head halter is a very efficient instrument for achieving the initial behavior fast and consistently as well as for advancing quickly to reactions of longer length and greater levels of relaxation. The dog can be coaxed into a sit with eye contact for release and positive reinforcement by pulling on the leash and head halter, either with or without the use of a cupped palm underneath the pet’s chin. While removing the head halter (negative reinforcement) reinforces the action right away, giving a treat (positive reward) later is utilized to shape the behavior by gradually lengthening the interval. With more practice, it will be possible to maintain eye contact for progressively longer periods before reinforcing. The leash and head halter can also be used to get the dog to respond calmly and cross its rear legs to one side. Then, with rewards, a settled down of progressively longer duration and greater relaxation can be created. With the help of the leash and head halter, it is possible to keep the pet in the down position until the desired result is reached by either keeping one foot on the leash or gently pushing up as the animal starts to stand. The concurrent employment of lure rewards and clicker training methods to secure a desired outcome is not prohibited by the use of the head halter. Make sure your dog has been properly trained to accept and cooperate with a head halter before using one (see Training Products). products for training with a head halter Synopsis and behavior management products for head halter training.
- Exercises that involve physical touch: Handling and constraint techniques that use physical contact can help to improve enjoyment and reduce any fear. Additionally, they offer a method for relaxing, which can be employed if the dog starts to become anxious or aroused. Food treats can also be used in conjunction with handling to indicate and reward the desired reaction, even if for some dogs the physical contact and attention may be sufficient reinforcement. Two physical/interactive exercises that are intended to promote relaxation in pets are TTouch (see TTouch) and SOFT exercises (see Teaching CalmSOFT and Handling Exercises). Even though these are particular techniques, any physical handling that leads to a successful conclusion can be a useful training exercise. In addition, it increases the motivating value and usefulness of affection as a reward by withholding it when the cat requests it. See our separate handouts for more information on these exercises. Only amiable, non-aggressive dogs should be employed for physical training. Do not start training your dog to be aggressive if you have not first spoken with your behavior consultant about this. If your dog growls, tries to bite, shows signs of fear, or struggles excessively throughout these exercises, stop right away and consult a behaviorist or trainer.