Category Archives: Dog doc – reader’s questions

Settle Down – An Essential Command

Lie Down and Settle

Settle down
Enjoying a coffee break in the park

We’ve developed a new tradition at the weekends; we walk round our local country park and stop halfway for a coffee.  The park Rushmere Country Park is lovely and the cafe is very dog friendly.  So we sat and enjoyed our coffee.  The girls were quite fidgety and restless for a bit, but then they settled down.  There were a couple of other dogs there, left alone while their owners went to buy their drinks and one of these was slightly anxious and vocal.  Chris asked me how you train a dog to cope with being left.  So how do you do that?

As with all training, start slowly and build it up, being patient!  You need to start with asking a dog to wait in front of you and gradually lengthen the time your dog can do this with you there.  Then you start to go out of sight for a short period, lengthening this until the dog can cope happily.  I will cover this process in more detail in the future.

Equally important for this kind of experience, is teaching your dog to settle down.  This is similar, but not quite the same as teaching a ‘down’ and a ‘wait’.  ‘Settle’ means “lie here in a relaxed way while I am busy doing something else”.  Of course we want our dogs to do that all the time at home, while we are watching TV or working at our desk, but we also need to be able to instruct them to do it while we are out, if we are enjoying our coffee and don’t want to be constantly having to manage our dogs.

This might be a good point to say that if you have a labrador or practically anything apart from a collie, you might be wondering what I am making a fuss about.  But I did hear of a dog (only part collie) that demanded to be played with all day, every day and was never left other than for short periods.  Coping with inactivity is definitely a required skill.

Here’s my video – the world’s most boring clip, showing my dogs being settled.  Of course Aura should have been rewarded for going down and pretending to settle, but I had run out of treats!  What you are supposed to do is wait until they are settled and relaxed and then give them calm praise, a nice long stroke and a treat.  I’ll work on that.

If you are enjoying my training pupdates, why not let me know?  If you want me to cover a particular topic, give me a shout?  Don’t forget to share with your friends and if you subscribe you will receive a notification every time I issue a new post.  Finally, if you want to see whether I know what I’m talking about, why not head over to IndePenDent Inspiration?

Dogs Off Lead – Why bother?

Following on from my last post, about how we train our dogs to come when they are called, so that we can let them off the lead, I started thinking about why we should do that.

This is a tiny video clip of my dogs in the woods, wandering about, separately and together.  They can sniff and nose around in the undergrowth, they can wander wherever they choose to go and they can run about, unrestrained.  Busy in particular usually races around after squirrels when she is in the woods, living up to her name!  (Unlike the rest of the time, when she is pretty chilled 😉 )  You can see her in the video, trotting along.

Why bother?  Why do we need to let our dogs roam freely?  Many people walk their dogs on lead and they trot along, perfectly happily, so it seems.  Or they have their dog on an extendable lead, so that the dog can wander about, supposedly at will.

My feeling is that both of these options are better than not walking your dog at all, but that neither is really giving your dog the freedom to experience its environment fully.  I think that because a dog is so governed by its sense of smell, being able to roam freely, at their own pace, makes a big difference to their ability to ‘follow their nose’ and really appreciate the environment around them.  I think that walking a dog on lead is a bit like us going for a walk wearing a blindfold, or even more tantalisingly, a semi-transparent blindfold, which shows us that there are interesting stuff going on around us that we cannot investigate.

Reasons for walking your dog

I think it comes down to why we walk our dogs at all and what we expect them to get out of it.  My understanding is that there are a couple of reasons for walking:

  • physical exercise – of course your dog needs exercise.  This is a bit of a difficult one though, as there is so much variation in the amount of exercise people feel that their dog needs.  An hour?  Two hours?  Two walks a day?  More, or less? I see the amount of exercise as irrelevant, compared to the overall level of stimulation being received.  If you walked your dog for two hours, on lead, along the same paved paths every day, it wouldn’t be very interesting, would it?
  • mental stimulation – I feel this is more important than the physical exercise.  Going along different paths, exploring and being able to go off in different directions, is vital for a dog’s general wellbeing, in my opinion.  And of course if they can interact with other dogs along the way, they will have a much more interesting experience.

Of course there are many benefits for you in walking your dog regularly and at some length.  And it is great to interact with your dog while you walk.  I do most of my training while walking with my girls.  They practise wait, down, sit, come, retrieve and a few other bits and bobs.  My girls know how to ‘mind’ out of the way of cyclists and runners.  Off lead, of course.

Walking my dogs helps me plan and structure my work as a dragon.  To see what else I do, head to my other website IndePenDent Inspiration

When to go off lead?

Developing a perfect recall

I recently had one of the pups back for a few weeks, which was an interesting experience.  It seems that just like when you have a baby you instantly forget what labour is like, once your puppy is transformed into a sweet-natured, well-behaved adult dog, you forget what it is like to have a puppy!

I began my daily 15-20 minute walks with Charlie on lead, switching to a long line whenever there was space.  This is basically a long cord, which can be left on the ground.  It is NOT a retractable lead, which must be pulled against by the dog.  It allows the puppy the freedom to roam a bit further away from you, with the security to be gathered up if he isn’t interested in coming back to you on his own.

Getting started

The trick is in working really hard on the recall at this early stage and in trusting the pup to come back, even when they are off lead.  How do you do that?  Here are some top tips:

  • Start in the garden and house, before you go anywhere.  Your puppy should know their name and know that coming to see you results in a reward, whether that is receiving a fuss and a cuddle, or a play with a toy, or some loving words, or a tasty treat.
  • As soon as you go out, use treats to gain interest and engagement, even while you are just walking along on the normal lead.  Use the puppy’s name and a positive tone of voice.
  • I also take a special toy, which I use to play tuggy or to throw a short distance, to add interest and engagement.

Once you’ve gained a bit of confidence that you can get your puppy back, let him go!  Warning: it will be scary and it might go wrong!  So obviously try and look out for possible dangers and try and find somewhere will plenty of space.

Do’s and Don’ts

Like everything else, it takes practice and patience.  The more you do it and the more relaxed you are with it, the more likely you are to succeed.  Some more tips:

  • Don’t expect an instant response, instantly!  Call his name and ‘come’ and then wait a few seconds for the call to register.  The more he is able to wander around and have a good sniff, the more likely he is to want to come back to you for a treat, knowing that he can then go off again.
  • Do practice the recall many times during the course of the walk.  If he thinks he is going to come back and then be put on the lead because it’s the end of the walk, that’s not much of a reward, is it?
  • Do keep your voice light and excited.  This is VERY hard to do when he is completely ignoring you and talking to another dog/person/butterfly.
  • Do praise him for coming back, even if it has taken time to achieve.  If I have to go and get him, I’m not going to be happy about it, but ANY response I get from him MUST be rewarded (although you might really be wanting to kill him!)
  • Do be more interesting and exciting than whatever else is going on. An excited voice, an interesting toy and tasty treats will all be needed.

Finally..

If all else fails, run away!  Turning your back and legging it in the opposite direction is one of the best ways to get your pup to come back to you.  It’s scary and difficult to do, but will usually work.

Comment or Get in touch?

Good luck with your training!  Please comment below on your puppy training experiences or Contact me if you want to discuss your training.