Settle on a mat is a lifesaver.
It’s the fix for “He’s too excitable.”
Is your dog easily excited?
A bit “too much?” Is he a maniac when people come to the door? Does he bug you when you’re trying to eat dinner? Would you love to have a place where your dog could just chill out yet still be in the same room with you?
You need SETTLE.
Well, more accurately, your dog needs settle. What is settle? Settle is when your dog goes to his specified mat (wherever you are: your house, the park, hotel room, family’s house for a party, veterinary visit, etc.) and relaxes (and even falls asleep – yep, honest. I’ve seen it happen!).
Settle on a mat is pretty darn easy to teach, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your dog catches on.
What you’ll need to teach settle on a mat.
- a mat (think: bathroom mat [the kind with a plastic backing])
How to teach settle on a mat.
- Stand still centered behind the mat.
- Have your clicker ready to go (in your hand, thumb on the clicker).
- When the dog just happens to put a paw on the mat (totally by chance), CLICK!
- Toss the treat off the mat (we need the dog to leave the mat so he can come back onto the mat to get another click).
- Wait for the dog to eat the treat and wander back over to where you’re standing, in the process accidentally stepping a paw on the mat again.
- Click, treat, toss.
Fairly quickly, you’re going to be clicking and treating like a maniac — your dog might not know [yet!] exactly what’s getting him the click and treat, but you’ll see that he’s hanging out near you and with his paw on that mat a lot more often.
When he’s getting a paw on that mat every single time, hold off on clicking him until he gets two paws on.
Ooh, we’re tricky, aren’t we! You’ll be surprised at how quickly your dog moves both those paws on that mat. Be ready and click the moment that second paw touches the mat. Toss the treat off and wait again.
Pretty soon, two paws will be the norm. Then guess what you’re going to do. You’re going to wait for the dog to have three paws on before you click. Then, you guessed it, when he’s good at getting three paws on the mat, you’re only going to click when the dog has all four paws on the mat. You’re always tossing a treat off after you click, of course.
Ok, now comes the first big leap of faith that I’m going to ask you for.
It’s going to involve your doing nothing. And that’s really hard for people, I’ve learned. We want to help. We want to tell the dog what to do. I’m begging you — remain silent. Remain still. You’re doing nothing except clicking and treating.
Ok, ready: once the dog is good at getting four paws on, I want you to wait (!) until the dog voluntarily (!!) sits on that mat. I PROMISE YOU THE DOG WILL SIT without your asking him. HONEST. I wouldn’t steer you wrong here. Just wait. It’ll be worth it, I promise.
Once your dog is coming to that mat and sitting reliably, guess what.
You’re going to wait for the dog to volunteer a down. I KNOW, RIGHT?! Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? It’s not. Again, you have to trust me here. You’ll, of course, click and treat the instant that dog lies down.
Here’s what it looks like. This is little Levi, a sweet 10-ish week old Labrador retriever who was so punky when we shot this video, I laugh every time I watch it.
He had never worked on settle prior to this video shoot. See how fast he gets the idea? Your dog will likely be this quick, too.
Troubleshooting the settle on a mat:
- What if my dog doesn’t move? Just be patient. Remember in the beginning of the video, Levi sort of sat still for a bit. I didn’t look at him, didn’t talk to him, just sat and waited. If your dog gets really stuck (lies down, for instance), you can toss a treat (no click, just toss) to get him up and moving.
- What if my dog wanders off? Some inexperienced dogs might not understand the process. To help the novice dog, try this. Click and treat 10 times in a row. Click, then toss the treat away a few feet. You’re not clicking for anything in particular, just pairing the sound of the click with the tossed treat. Tossing the treat gets the dog moving and once we have a dog who’s up and moving, it’s a sure bet that he’ll inadvertently walk across or onto that mat (for which you will click and treat).
- My dog just stares at me, what do I do? Stand (or sit) still and look at the mat. Keep your eyes on the mat and resist the urge to “help” your dog.
There are still some things we need to do to make this behavior useful. Things like adding the cue word to tell the dog when he should settle, introducing the concept of staying on the mat, and introducing distractions, too. No worries, we’ll cover that in next month’s newsletter.