In the early stages of training, or when the lure of distractions may be over-whelming for your dog, you can make your own life a little easier by using tethers to back up your dog’s place on his mat. You can also use tethers in outdoor situations to ensure the safety of your dog.
Using Settle in the Real World
You haven’t spent all this time working on the settle so your dog will do it when you’re watching TV; you’ve been doing it to make your life easier in the long run. For your dog to really know the settle command in all situations, you need to work on it in all situations.
A Day at the Beach
Plan short outdoor field trips in your local area to work on settle. The beach, the park, your town’s downtown area — anywhere that you can find a place to sit and be comfortable yourself is a good place to practice the settle. Start in somewhat low-distraction venues, then move to busier areas. Coffee shops or cafés with outdoor seating are great places to practice — you get to enjoy yourself while you work the settle. Step on the leash or tether your dog if necessary when you first start working on the settle in new or distracting locations, but give him the least amount of help that gets the task accomplished. The settle is his responsibility to maintain, not your responsibility to “glue” him into position. By the time you get to this point, he will have had enough practice to understand what’s expected.
The Great Indoors
There are tons of indoor places to practice and use the settle command. Any place that allows dogs is fine, but also try places that might be similar to places your dog may accompany you to. Implore friends to let your dog come practice settle at their house (with your supervision, of course). Local shopkeepers often welcome dogs, and it never hurts to ask if there is no posted policy. Your vet’s reception area will work as a practice venue (and is a good place to use the settle command anyway), but the important thing is that you get your dog out and do it!
Using Tethers to Help Enforce the Settle
While tethers can be extremely helpful in helping you enforce the settle, they can also be very frustrating for your dog if you just use them to restrain her without teaching her what she’s supposed to do. Tethers are only to be used under direct supervision. You don’t have to be close enough to touch your dog, but you should be able to see her. Provide something for your dog to chew on if she’s going to be tethered for any length of time, and make sure the material your tether is made of is indestructible, like chain or vinyl-coated steel cable. Indoors or out, tethers must always be attached to something extremely sturdy. It doesn’t do much good to hook your dog up to your lawn chair if she’s going to drag it around the yard every time you get up for a beverage. The tether should be just long enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, sit, and lie down, slightly longer than the amount of leash you give her when you step on the leash to encourage your dog to lie down when you’re working on settle close to you.
Weaning Off Tethers
While you can continue to use tethers to support the settle for your dog’s whole life — and it’s not a bad idea to do so outdoors, for safety reasons — you’ll probably want to wean your dog off them as your dog gains confidence in the exercise (and you gain confidence in your dog). Before you do start weaning off tethers, make sure your dog has been thoroughly proofed and will maintain the settle under a variety of distractions, in multiple environments, both indoors and out.
To start decreasing the dependence on tethers, you’re going to do the exact opposite of what you did with the recall: you’re going to gradually give your dog more length on the tether, so he has room to make the choice to leave his mat, but not to completely leave the area. Try to ignore him for a few minutes if he leaves his mat and see if he’ll return to it on his own. If you have to help your dog stay on his mat a lot, he’s not ready for more freedom yet, so continue as you were for a few weeks and then try again. Each time you give him more freedom, double the length of his tether, until it’s 6 to 8 feet long. When he can hold the settle in any situation with 8 feet of room to make a mistake, detach the tether from its attachment point and let your dog drag it for another few weeks, then start shortening it a foot or so at a time, like you did when training the recall.
The Sitcom Settle Down
The sitcom settle exercise helps you build duration into the settle. Watching a 30-minute sitcom provides a perfect chunk of time to practice. There are several ways you can use the TV show as a guide for training, allowing you to enjoy the show and still get some training done.
And Now for a Commercial Break
Your first goal when building duration with the sitcom settle is to get your dog to maintain the settle through the opening credits to the first commercial break. To help your dog stay in a down position, step closer to the collar on the leash as soon as she lies down so she can’t get all the way back up. Release her — only if she’s quietly and calmly settled, not if she’s struggling to get up — at the first commercial break, and use the break to work on something else, like position changes, or eye contact with distraction.
Over several evenings, gradually make your dog hold the settle for a longer period, a segment of the show at a time (the part between the commercial breaks), until your dog is maintaining it from the show’s opening to the closing credits. When your dog can hold the settle for a whole show without trying to get up, try it without your foot on the leash. If he can hold the settle for the whole show without your foot anchoring him in place, challenge him with distraction.
Challenge Your Dog’s Commitment
Get up and walk around the room, stepping on and squeaking one of his toys on your trip. “Accidentally” spill some of your snack on the floor near (but not too near — challenge, don’t overwhelm) his settle spot and make sure he holds it while you clean up, maybe even treating him with one of your snacks. Alternate between settle and play, or settle and training. Work on settle during the show, and play or train during commercial breaks to help your dog learn to calm down from an excited state quickly and easily.