By Sarah Ward IMDT, PPG from Peace and Paws Dog Trainer
Many people don’t realise that dogs have to be thought to settle and chill. Especially in distracting places like parks, cafes etc… these places bring a lot of excitement and temptation and it is unfair of us to expect them to just know they have to settle and chill because we want them to. Think about it, dogs can see, hear and smell things the we just can no comprehend, which sparks all their natural doggy impulses. So to help them learn to be settle and relax and control their impulses around all of the chaos that is our crazy human world, we need show them how we want them to behave and set them up to succeed.
Setting you dog up for success
When ever you are teaching your dog something new, always start is a natural environment like your home. The key to success in dog training is gradually building the level of distractions your dog has to learn around. When we learnt how to swim, we weren’t just thrown into the deep and and told to swim. First we where thought to swim in the shallow end and as we improved and progressed in our swimming lessons we slowly but surely moved our way up to the deep end. This is no different for our dogs. Always keep in mind that you are working with your dog, not against them. You want them to succeed, you want them to want to do the things you like, so work together and before you know it you will have other owners jealous that you can enjoy a lovely coffee and pastry with your best pal chilling by your side.
The easiest and clearest way to teach your dog to settle and chill is using a target. This target will be a mat or blanket that is easy to carry around with you and will be their special place to settle and chill. This target will be only used when you need your dog to settle in any situation. That way you can bring it anywhere, like a cafe, in the car, to a hotel, anywhere, as the target is a cue to settle and chill. So grab a blanket, some of your dog favourite treats and of course your dog.
Step 1: Place the target on the floor and toss a couple of treats on it to encourage your dog to go onto the target. Soon as they go onto the target, mark it with an ‘YES’ and reward them by putting 3-5 of treats on the target. Toss one treat away from the target and when your dog goes for the treat, place a couple of treats on the target, mark ‘YES’ and reward with 3-5 treats on the target. Repeat this until your dog is enthusiastically running back to the target.
Step 2: Now that your dog is getting the game, start cuing them to lie down on the target. Mark ‘YES’ and reward by placing 3-5 treats between their paws to encourage them to stay in a down position. Repeat the exercise in step one with your lie down cue, and continue to do this until your dog in running and automatically lying down on the target before you even get a chance to cue them to.
Step 3: Now that your dog understands that the target means go on and lie down, start building duration between rewards. This will teach your to stay on the target. Mark and reward as before for lying on the target, wait 5 seconds then mark and reward again for staying on the target, still placing the treats between their paws. Gradually build up the time they stay on the target, 5secs repeat x5, then10 secs repeat x5, then 20secs, then 40secs and so on, until you can have your dog settle for the duration of a coffee or meal.
Tip: when your target is not being used, be sure to put it away. Practise this at random multiple times a day. The best way to incorporate any training into your busy life, is with short sessions throughout your day. Training whilst the kettle boils, the ads are on the tv, etc… It is much easier to find a couple of minutes throughout your day to train than one long training session. Plus when training sessions are kept short and sweet, your dog learns better and training is a lot more fun and achievable.
Proofing: Start building distractions by doing things that might make your dog move from the target. Jump up and down, toss a toy, crinkle food packaging etc… once they are super at staying on the target, move out to the garden and repeat your steps. Only move onto more distracting places when your dog is super at staying on their target in the current location. Be sure to keep them on leash when practising this out and about.
Settle and Chill
Step 1: Now that your dog knows their target place, you can start teaching them to settle and chill. Place their target down and just sit and chill with them. Wait until your dog shows no interest in you (because you have treats) and turns away or puts their head down. Calmly and quietly mark and reward placing one treat low down between their paws.
Step 2: giving them that treat will peak their interest which is expected, so don’t worry just wait again for them to loose interest, quietly and calmly mark and reward with one treat. Continue to do this until your dog understands it's better to just chill and do nothing and treats will come their way. You can also calmly and gently stroke them to help them relax even more, speaking to them softly as to not excite them.
Step 3: when you are in more distracting environments be sure to recognise and reward calmness. When people and dogs pass by, when the waiter passes by and comes to your table, exciting children passing by etc… and reward as always between their paws.
Tip: when you first start training in places like cafes, be sure to choose a quieter time of the day to help your dog succeed. Choose a seat away from the hustle and bustle so less people and dogs will be tempted to say hi to your dog, helping your you dog to stay relaxed. There is no harm bringing a food despatching toy or long lasting chew to keep them busy, so whilst you have your treat they’re having theirs. If I’m at a cafe that sells hot food, I always order a sausage for my dog to enjoy whistle I dig into my food.
Proofing: to really help encourage your dog settle and chill, whenever your dog is chilling at home, if they are awake, calmly and slowly approach them and place a treat in front of their nose, marking them quietly and then walk away and ignore them. Do this randomly and as often as you like, just be sure their head is down when giving the treat. If your dog lifts their head when you approach just walk away. If they’re asleep, a nice gentle stroke for 2seconds will do.
Capturing is one of the easiest ways to teach a dog a new behaviour and is a training technique most dog owners don’t know exists. Capturing is when your dog does something you like even tho you didn’t ask him to do it and reinforcing them. So, for example, your out walking your dog and you stop to chat to a friend you have bumped into, whilst you're chatting your dog decides to sit/ lay down and chill. Capturing would mean you didn't ask your dog to do that but they did it anyway which is amazing, and you should be willing to recognise and reward them for that by saying ‘YES!’ and grabbing a treat to reward them. In the beginning stages of capturing, dogs often don’t know what they’re being marked for. That’s okay! This is a normal part of the learning process. At some point, the light bulb will go on and your dog will start to offer the behaviours that have been rewarded in the past. Remember "What is Rewarded, Gets Repeated"
Take A Break
When out walking your dog, practice taking a break. Sit on a bench, find a nice spot in the grass, even just stand outside shops, and practise asking your dog for calm behaviours like sit, lay down, chill etc... this I great for calming hyper dogs and it teaches them to be calm and focused around distractions. Doing this type of exercise will burn a lot more energy than you think, so instead of walking the legs off them, take a break. Plus all the focus and concentration they have to practise will be super mentally stimulating, burning more of their energy.
Things To Avoid
1. Avoid getting mad or irritated when they won't listen or chill. Instead, learn from it and ask yourself: Is the environment too distracting for them to focus and respond? Have they practised or done enough practice in this environment or situation? Have they actually learned cues yet? When you ask these questions, you are better able to adjust your training, and even take a step back in your progress to help your dog succeed.
2. Do not use any kind of physical punishment. It’s not helpful, they will learn to just be fearful of you, damaging your relationship and to be uncomfortable in that environment.
3. Don't rush your training. It is not a race, you are not competing with anyone so take your time. Work together and allow your dog to learn at their pace. Just like people, some dogs are faster learners than others. Especially if your dog has lack socialisation due to the pandemic. They are not used to the world being so busy and going out and about with you to all these crazy places. So help them to adjust to the normal world not force them to.
It's good to remeber that you're not alone! If you're not sure how to use these tips or need any help, talk to a professional dog trainer!
We hope thats this guide helps you to enjoy being out and about with your dogs. Outdoor dining is almost here! Enjoy you all!
Sarah Ward IMDT, PPG Peace and paws is a premium dog training and dog walking service based in north co.Dublin. Our mission is to rid you of your worries and frustrations when is come to your furry family member. We provide you with training and Guidance to give you the skills to train and understand your dog and train your dog to listen and understand you. Using scientifically proven, positive training methods that are fun and effective, we strive to help you become the dog owner who makes other owners envious of how amazing your dog is. All training lessons are 1-2-1 based, in the comfort of your own home. Sarah is passionate on all things dogs and her Alaskan Malamute Theia is her greatest teacher.