Teaching your dog to settle
I am reminded of the importance of teaching your dog this, when I see a post on social media along these lines: “Hello everyone, looking for more mind games to keep our boy (16 months) entertained. We walk, play fetch, play ball hockey and do obedience training. He uses lick mats and Kong with frozen food/treats. Any other fun tricks or ‘jobs’? He’s our first Border Collie.” My immediate reaction is “teach him to settle down!”
That’s a bit unkind, so I didn’t say it, but it is definitely something you need to ensure your dog can do. Puppies can be very busy, on the go, around and about, all day every day. If you let them, this can become a ‘lifestyle choice’ and they just keep on going.
Please don’t think the only way to settle your dog down is to shut him away? The best way to have your dog be calm and relaxed is to spend time with him, being calm and relaxed. This doesn’t necessarily mean cuddling on the sofa, because not all dogs like to cuddle. Just be with them, not doing anything and not interacting with them.
Some dogs resist encouragement to settle and keep on finding toys to play with, bringing them to you. It’s absolutely fine to play with them for a bit, or for them to play with each other. But they must learn that when you say ‘finished’, it’s time to settle down.
Sleeping or settling
Dogs naturally sleep for around 14 hours per day, puppies for longer. So they should spend a great deal of the day asleep. I used to feel guilty if I had to go out for a few hours, which I rarely do. Then I realised that if they are left in peace, dogs usually just sleep.
If you are struggling to get them to stop, you may need to enforce it. This might mean putting them in a crate or run, at least to start with. You don’t have to leave them alone though, just make sure they have some space. This is essential for young puppies, who need time out, particularly with young children. A tired puppy becomes very bitey!
Training a settle
Just as with any other training, it is possible to teach your dog to settle down. First of all, put them in a down and reward that. This should be at your feet, with you seated. Stroke your dog and talk quietly and calmly to them. You can try pushing them over, so that they lie flat, but only if they tolerate this.
Keep going, bringing them to you, lying them down, talking calmly, saying ‘settle’, until they relax and stop trying to get up and rush off. You can reward with a treat, but really, the reward should be just a bit of fuss.
Of course they are not going to settle all day long! Dogs do have playtime and they do have a ‘crazy half hour’ (or more) where they zoom around the room, bouncing off the furniture. They love to have toys to play with and will engage with you, playing tuggy or fetch. I find that my dogs will do this when we are trying to watch TV. I don’t mind, because I know they are happy and stimulated. For a short time.
Don’t forget though: IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO TIRE OUT A BORDER COLLIE! So yes of course go for a lovely long walk every day, with plenty of time off lead. Spend time training or playing with your dog. Give them tasks to do, or interactive toys. But never, ever expect them to be ‘too tired’. That is NOT a breed characteristic. Lol. Whatever breed of dog you have, the aim is to have a relaxed, happy dog, up for anything, but able to chill out.
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NB: I am not a dog trainer, or a dog behaviourist, just a dog breeder and owner. I can only offer my opinion, based on my experience.