Have you heard the phrase “off switch”?
Maybe someone has told you that your dog needs one, or commented on how a breed is known for theirs.
“Off switch” is a term we use to casually describe a dog’s ability to relax. A dog with a great off switch might be a high energy working breed, but they know when the job is done and can hang out and nap when need be.
A lot of the time, people seem to think that off switches are innate. Either dogs have that ability, or they don’t.
And while some dogs do excel at relaxing and other struggle with it, there is no reason why the ability to relax and settle can’t be taught and cultivated.
Behaviour is driven by reinforcement history. So what is reinforcing settling, and what is reinforcing the behaviours that we don’t call settling? Often times, we throw more and more activities and exercise at dogs in order to tire them out so they can settle. Or we micromanage, punish or complain at dogs who won’t settle. None of these things are teaching the behaviour of settling.
So what else can we do?
First we have to make sure the dog’s needs are being met in a way that is mentally healthy. Our dogs can’t learn to settle and relax if they’re in a deprivation state.
After that we have a few options. We can capture settling, marking and rewarding every time our dog offers a behaviour we might label as “calm” (laying down, watching something calmly, sighing)
We can teach our dogs to lay on their mat, and use pattern feeding games to help them process their environment without reacting.
And we can use clear cues to help them learn when play, training and work are happening and when they are not! Being clear and consistent makes these games very predictable, and dogs learn that, for example, after the handler says “all done” the treat bag is closed for business.
Off switches are a product of genetics, but they are also a product of clear and consistent training.
If your dog is struggling to settle, we can help! Reach out today to book your consultation!