Settling Your Dog Down on Cue

An important skill for impulse control is the ability to settle down in the face of excitement. There is a lot of value in “installing an off switch” in your dog! It translates into the ability to get your dog to settle on cue even when she is very excited. This is especially useful when you want to let your dog know that an activity or a game has ended. Some high-energy dogs simply don’t know when to stop, and they can keep going long after you’ve already tired of the activity.

An effective way to turn off activity in an action-loving dog is to teach an “all done” cue. This one doesn’t specifically tell the dog what to do – it just signals to her that the activity is over. Use any cue that makes sense to you, such as “All done!” or “That’s all!”.

The sooner you “install” an off-switch in your high-energy, activity-persistent dog, the better. Remember, the longer the reinforcement history for persistence, the more persistent she’ll be.

  1. Start teaching this behavior by engaging in your dog’s favorite activity – say, fetching a ball.
  2. After a reasonable period of fetch time, say “All done!” and put the ball away, out of sight, perhaps in a nearby cupboard.
  3. Give your dog a reasonable alternative that she can do by herself, such as emptying a stuffed Kong.
  4. Go sit down and occupy yourself with something, such as reading a book, watching TV, or web-surfing.
  5. Ignore any attempts on your dog’s behalf to re-engage you, such as going to the cupboard and barking, or bringing you a different toy. Don’t even repeat your off-switch cue, just ignore her.
  6. Warn all other nearby humans to similarly ignore her attempts to engage them in activity when she’s been given the “All done” cue.
  7. Be prepared to quietly (so as not to get her aroused again) praise her when she finally lies down and starts to chew on the stuffed Kong.
  8. Use your off-switch cue every time you end a play session with her favorite activity, and don’t give in if she persists. The more consistent you are, the sooner you will see her resign herself to the fact that the fun really is over when you say it is.

If your dog does not like to fetch a ball, try another similar “get excited and settle” game such as running around together with a stop and settle. Or, play tug-and-drop, or try playing with a flirt pole (a toy on the end of a rope, which is fastened to a pole) to get your dog running, and then incorporate the stop and settle.

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