Why Your Dog Won’t Settle

Settle training is one of the most sought after dog training behaviours, (probably second only to recall and loose-lead walking).

Everyone wants a dog who can chill out at the drop of a hat, but it’s not always easy getting there.

Some dogs need a bit of help when it comes down to settle training, especially puppies. This month, we’ll be going over what might be causing your dog to be stressed or hyperactive without you knowing.

Breeding & Genetics

Breed characteristics and genetics play a huge part in all training, particularly calm behaviour. A well bred Labrador is going to learn to self-regulate emotions and settle at a completely different rate to a poorly bred Border Collie.

If you have a working breed, they need “off-switch” training heavily factored into their routine from the very beginning. High drive breeds that are born to work, train, bite, herd or just be constantly “doing” something can lead the dogs to self-reward with negative behaviours.

Even pet dogs and designer breeds like Cockapoos can fall into this category. Think chewing the skirting boards or barking for attention. These dogs need guidance to settle. Without guidance they struggle to focus on their handler or settle.

Rescue Dogs and Puppy Farms

The same sentiment applies to the quality of the breeding.

A stray, street dog or puppy farm dog may have more anxious or reactive tendencies. This can be down to a number of factors, but ultimately, if the Dam is stressed, scared or undernourished the puppies will be too. It’s one reason why many foreign rescue dogs brought over from France, Spain and Romania are bigger projects than first anticipated. They are genetically and environmentally wired to be skittish, reactive or resource guard. Not always, but for many dogs it’s true.

A good quality breeder will ensure only dogs that are tested for all possible inherited diseases. They will be limiting and only choose dogs who are almost certain in their minds to “improve the future of the breed”. That means dogs who are healthy both mentally and physically. A good breeder will never breed from a dog for looks alone.

Beware the “rare” colours of certain breeds that are emanating from lockdown. Some breeders are unscrupulous when it coms to prioritising colour over temperament.

Training and diet can improve the stress-coping mechanisms and relaxation for many dogs but breeding and genetic predisposition can ultimately define limits of what a dog can achieve. The only way to find out, is by doing.

Calming Products

 

Early life experiences

How a puppy learns to function in their early life determines much of the behavioural issues you could face with an adult dog.

This could be rooted in fear, hyperactivity, frustration, hyper-arousal or bullying behaviours.

What your dog has been exposed to (or sheltered from) in their early life (0-16 weeks of age) will impact how their brain has hardwired their ability to cope with certain triggers, environments and change.

Imagine you see the world through pictures. Dogs have a “mental Rolodex” of images that they are familiar with. Most of these will have been formed in their core socialisation period (0-16 weeks old). When our dogs are confronted by a “picture” that does not fit their frame of reference, you can see all kinds of behaviours and reactions come into play.

If your dog has had a sheltered upbringing (for example, grown up in lockdown) they can prove to be more stressed than the average dog. A puppy who has been lucky enough to enjoy positive experiences from the very beginning will likely be able to settle at a better rate.

Training is always needed in settle training, many dogs struggle to learn how to settle on their own. Our dogs and puppies need our guidance (very much like a schedule for a toddler).

Lack of Incentive

We all like to get paid for the work we do and dogs are no different. When was the last time you rewarded them for settling down or waiting patiently?

Settle training takes time and patience with either “bed” or “place” obedience (plus off switch training).

Many owners expect their dog or puppy to automatically “behave” when puppy classes are over and begin to fade out rewards before the dog is 1 year old (far too soon).

Most dogs need consistent repetitions and rewards 1000s of times over to ensure they really understand beyond the teenage humps of secondary socialisation and development.

Try using their dinner for settle practice. A dog who is ready to eat should be more willing to focus.

Age and Health

The majority of dogs who come to us fro training are 12-18 months old and their owners have well and truly reached the end of their tether. For these dogs “settle” training is the stuff of dreams. They pray for resolving nuisance barking and going for a walk that won’t result in shoulder surgery from pulling and lunging on a walk.

These dogs are teenagers who have usually missed out on puppy classes or worse – got kicked out for delinquent behaviour. The cause is often partly to do with teenage hormones, mental development and diet. 95% of the time it’s down to a downward spiral in training application from their handler. (Easy to fix but only if they are willing to get in the training room and try something new).

Why Your Dog Is Jumping Up (And How to Fix it)

Senior Dogs

On the flip side, older dogs with problems settling or reactivity issues tend to have an underlying health issue. Pain can completely change a dog’s behaviour. Toothache is a good example.

Minor inflammation can cause any dog to be grumpy, struggle to engage, listen or generally feel low. They might turn their nose up at your rewards and be more likely to snap.

Finding the source of the issue and providing dietary supplements or medication can turn many older dog’s behaviour on it’s head.

Unlimited Freedom

Unlimited freedom is the enemy of all training. We love to give our dogs freedom because as humans it’s what we value most. Freedom equals happiness and respect.

To our puppies however, unlimited freedom often results in a dog with no understanding of boundaries, impulse control or self-regulating their emotions. In short, a dog that will struggle to relax around anything – especially exciting things.

The antidote of course is undulating activities versus sleep throughout the day. You can watch the video tutorial in our VIP membership here.

Dog Day Care

Day care is often a good example of unlimited freedom. Most day care facilities allow dogs to bulldoze in with a hyper-aroused state of mind and run wild for hours on end.

These dogs may be sociable individuals who are experienced at playing nicely, but on the inside their adrenaline will be spiking and their impulse control around dogs often suffers. Do you have a dog who can’t cope with another dog passing by because they’re “too excited to play”? This could be why.

If your dog is awake all day and running around the house or garden trying to find ways to “entertain” themselves in your absence (chewing up your rose bushes, destroying skirting boards or barking at the neighbour every time they hang up washing) they will become more and more unable to settle.

They are over-stimulated to a fault. Boundaries that find the perfect balance between rest and fun are key.

Sleep

Dogs need more sleep than humans do. Sleep should be intermitted throughout the day. Break this up with short activities such as engagement training, walks, obedience, play and sniffy puzzles.

Dogs who are awake all day may sleep all night but they often struggle to relax in the evening… Or for that crucial hour when you need them to chill out for a zoom meeting. They can’t self settle without absolute exhaustion which is a recipe for a reactive dog. These dogs might nag and will show they are over-tired with zoomies.

The old saying “a good dog is a tired dog” is only half true. Rest is paramount. All dogs need mental and physical stimulation that is regulated and paused by good quality sleep.

Still struggling?

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Why Your Dog Won’t Settle
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