Settle Games

End your session on a calm note with Suzanne Clothier’s Really Real Relaxation Exercise.

Go to Place: Teach your dog to go to a place of your choosing and stay there.

The games below are from Control Unleashed, Leslie McDevitt

Playing with Stimulation Levels Game 1 (CU, p. 86)
Start with body work: massage, TTouch, etc. The goal is to relax the dog fully, so start in a low-/no-distraction environment and work up to more distractions.

Once your dog is totally relaxed, get up and reposition. Do this thoughtfully so as to disturb the dog as little as possible. You may need to make a plan for how you are going to do this, perhaps only rise halfway up at first and work up to standing fully upright. Resettle and continue body work. The goal is for the dog to remain relaxed and still as you reposition.

Pop-Up Game – Playing with Stimulation Levels Game 2 (CU, p. 87)
Once the dog is good at Game 1, up the ante by purposefully getting up quickly and disruptively and then re-settling for more body work. In this game, you might jump up and sit right back down, or you might pop up and move yourself and the dog to a different location. Repeat. Once your dog returns to calm, again pop up from your spot, reposition, and settle again, returning to the body work each time.

These two games help the dog reach a certain level of arousal and then be rewarded for calming down before resuming activity. Periods of calm interspersed with arousal help the dog learn how to focus through excitement and settle again after a stimulating event or activity.

On/Off Switch Game (teaching the dog to think through arousal)

DOL plays two versions of this game: a basic level and the version found in CU.

Basic On/Off Game:

  1. On leash, get the dog focused on you. Be enthusiastic, fun, even exciting if the dog can handle it.
  2. Back up quickly a few paces, encouraging your dog to following you quickly.
  3. Ask the dog to sit.
  4. Repeat.

Be as excited as necessary to get the dog interested in the game, but not so much that the dog becomes overly aroused.

Advanced Off Switch Game version (Control Unleashed, p. 154):

  1. Get your dog excited with your body language (excited voice, movement, etc), a toy, tug or whatever fun activity turns your dog on. Do the activity for about 30 seconds, but do not allow your dog to go over the top with excitement.
  2. Abruptly stop the activity and ask your dog to sit or lie down. Maintain this calm behavior for 30 seconds.
  3. Resume the stimulating activity.

There should be a clear pattern of get excited, settle, get excited settle. As the dog gets more comfortable with this activity, you can incorporate other activities and games into the routine to generalize the behavior.

The purpose of this game is to allow the dog to reach a certain level of arousal and then reward him for calming down before resuming activity. Be careful not to allow your dog to go over the top or past his threshold (we’re not looking for zoomies here). This game helps the dog learn to think through arousal by setting up a controlled situation where he can being high and low over and over again, and switch from one to the other with ease.

Give Me a Break Game (building enthusiasm to work) (Control Unleashed, p. 149)

  1. Plan a behavior you want to work on (Go to Place, Down, Sit, etc).
  2. Count out 10 treats in your hand.
  3. Ask for your desired behavior.
  4. Treat very very frequently as your dog is performing the behavior.
  5. Verbally dismiss the dog with his release word (i.e., “Free”), turn away from the dog and go sit in a chair. Be consistent about your words and body language so the dog knows you are disengaging from the game and allowing him to take a break.
  6. Allow the dog to do whatever he wants for 1 minute while you remain seated. After the break, reengage your dog and start another short, highly-rewarding session, followed by a break.
  7. Repeat.

During each break, watch for signs of reorienting from your dog. If the dog returns to your before the break is up, immediately reward his attention by starting the game again. This is the goal of Give Me a Break: creating a dog who asks to keep working, who doesn’t want to take a break because he is highly engaged and rewarded by the training process.

Note: If the dog disengages from the game before you give the release cue, go sit in the chair as if you had given his release cue.

As you progress, you can, 1 second at a time, increase each training session. However, if the dog disengages before you give the release, you have gone too quickly.