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Teach Your Dog to Settle by Growing Calmness – Part 1
How can you grow calmness in a dog that has difficulty relaxing in a specific space (or situation)?
The Ladder of Responsibility
This post will describe the ladder of responsibility as it relates to calmness, and you will learn how to apply the concept to teach your dog to settle.
I will explore each of the rungs and will end with an example of how I am applying this concept to one of Piper’s biggest struggles, remaining settled and calm when people enter the yard.
What is the Ladder of Responsibility?
The ladder of responsibility is a way for you to think about how much responsibility you are putting on your dog and whether they can access the emotion of calmness with the amount of responsibility given to them.
The ladder starts with 100% of the responsibility on your dog. With full responsibility for their actions, are they able to be calm and settled in the house? If not, it’s time for you to take more responsibility to help your dog achieve calmness.
Rung 1: Free in the space
This is where most dogs start when they come into our homes. Full access, no restrictions.
What does ‘free in the space’ look like?
Your dog can move about your home freely, no restrictions. They choose where they are going to settle, for how long, whether they will look out the window all day, or lay on their bed and sleep. They are free to do whatever they choose.
With 100% of the responsibility on your puppy, adolescent, or adult dog, do they settle down in the house? If the answer is ‘no’ (too many distractions, too much activity going on around them), it is time to move up at least on rung on the ladder.
Note: You will need a dog who has value (or is learning to have value) for their boundary and/or their crate for the next three rungs.
Rung 2: On their Boundary
Their boundary could be a mat, their bed, or a raised platform. Can your dog calmly settle on their boundary with no leash on?
Start with the boundary near you so you can drip feed. You can also provide a long-lasting chew as long as they stay on the boundary to enjoy it. Both drip feeding and the chew will reinforce your dog for calmness.
As calmness increases, move the boundary farther away from you.
Note: If you don’t yet have duration skills built and/or your dog cannot remain calm on their boundary, it is time to move up at least one more rung.
Rung 3: On Leash on their Boundary
With your dog on leash, place their boundary beside you. Provide them with a long-lasting chew, and/or slowly drip feed until your dog settles on their boundary and perhaps even falls asleep.
If their calmness increases, have your dog on-leash but you no longer need to hold the leash.
As calmness continues to increase, you could move the boundary farther away from you.
If calmness continues, you are ready to move back down the ladder. If calmness is still eluding your dog, time to try the next rung.
Rung 4: Crate/Xpen
If your dog is still struggling to settle in the house, you can use their crate or an xpen to grow calmness. They will need to be comfortable inside the crate with the door closed before you use this rung to help them settle.
Start with the crate right next to you. You might place your fingers through the crate, drip feed, and/or provide a long-lasting chew to help your dog access the emotion of calmness and start to relax in the crate.
As your dog’s ability to settle in the crate grows, move the crate farther away. Once your dog can be calm and perhaps fall asleep in their crate, you can move down one rung of the ladder.
If calmness is still a struggle, time to move up another rung.
Rung 5: Someplace
At this rung, you are taking 100% of the responsibility to help your dog access calmness.
If your dog just can’t settle on their boundary, or in a crate or xpen, it may be that they are having trouble accessing the emotion of calmness generally in their life.
It is up to you to look for someplace or some situation where your dog can be calm.
Once you have identified where your dog is able to exhibit some calm, how can you grow that seed of calmness?
For example: If your dog can relax when you aren’t home, can you arrange to be away from home for a few hours a day to help your dog learn to access the emotion of calmness more often.
Finding a place in your home where your dog can start to access the emotion of calmness, and arranging the situation so that they spend more time in that space will allow the emotion of calmness to grow.
As your dog becomes calmer, it will be easier for your dog to settle down and to access that same emotion in other places or situations. Over time, it will become your dog’s default emotion.
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