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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A TIP for Tuesday: SETTLE

I park my truck and bring FLD Mike out from his place on the floor of the passenger seat.  MIKE, SIT. (*See note at bottom.)  Mike sits patiently while I fill the parking meter with change.  I walk Mike over to the berm. MIKE, PARK.  After a few moments sniffing around at the end of his leash (I never let him wander while he's doing his "duty"), he "parks."  MIKE, WAIT.  He stands still while I buckle his "Puppy-Being-Raised-for-Leader-Dogs-for-the-Blind" working jacket.  MIKE, HEEL.  We set off at a leisurely stroll to the restaurant, a bit early for my luncheon date at John Barleycorn's.

At the door, which opens from the right, I tap the handle and say, MIKE, AROUND.  Obediently, FLD Mike ducks behind me to enter the door on my right side.  This is a command that the Leader Dogs for the Blind asks puppy raisers to teach our Future Leader Dogs to prevent their paws from catching in the door.  I pass his leash to my right hand and heel him through the entryway.  Once inside, I command MIKE, HEEL and FLD Mike ducks back around to my right side while I transfer the leash back to my left hand.

Most of my group is already seated, so FLD Mike and I take our place.  MIKE, DOWN.  Mike settles calmly at my side, but he spots a crumb under the table.  He sneaks his way toward it like a crawling Marine under fire.  It is my job to pay attention to him; I quickly say MIKE.  He stops to look up at me.  NO, and I gently guide him back to position.  MIKE, SETTLE.  FLD Mike relaxes, practically undetectable for the rest of the two hours or so that we are there.

My friends are amazed.  "How do you get him to stay there like that?"  I smile to myself.
  • Well, Mike's been coming to places like this since he was seven weeks old.
  • Leader Dogs breeds puppies for this temperament. 
  • I walked Mike two miles this morning.  A tired puppy is a good puppy.
  • There are many exercises we do with our puppies to train them to behave like a Future Leader Dog.
As I discussed in last week's TIP, there is no short answer, but one of the best techniques I've learned from the Leader Dogs for the Blind is an exercise we call "settle."  It is a valuable tool to use with ANY puppy!


"Settle" helps to build trust, leadership, and self-control.  Depending on the age and size of the puppy, there are different methods with which to employ this technique.  "Settling" should be practiced frequently, in various locations, and with increasing distractions.

PUPPIES UNDER 10-12 POUNDS  "Elevation"
This technique can be harmful to a larger puppy.

When FLD Mike was less than 10 pounds, I grasped him around his chest with my hands just below his front legs and, much like I would pick up a baby, lifted him.  As he faced me his rear legs dangled just off the floor.  FLD Mike would squirm, but I held him until he "settled" down and relaxed.  I did this several times during the day, in numerous places and situations.  It wasn't long before I could add  MIKE, SETTLE when I picked him up and he would immediately relax.

PUPPIES OVER 10-12 POUNDS  "Cradling"
Alternatively, I "cradled" young FLD Mike in my arms like a baby, restraining him from wiggling until he "settled."  As he grew, I switched position--while sitting on the floor I held his upper body against me with the rest of him between my legs.  This has become one of his favorite things to do at the end of our day; now that he's almost full-grown he curls up between my legs (or next to me), and rests his head on my lap.

FOR ALL AGES  "Quiet lying down"

As a pre-cursor to the "down" command, I would situate FLD Mike on his side with his legs stretched out away from me, petting him with long, slow strokes.  When he "settled" (usually this is accompanied with a big "sigh"), I would praise him, GOOD SETTLE, MIKE!  This was an excellent opportunity for me to "handle" Mike--touching him all over, fondling his ears, face, and paws.

After using all these settling exercises, FLD Mike is very well-behaved, just as you see here at Natalie's soccer game last night!

(*Puppy-raisers are taught to say our puppy's name before each command because this is what Leader Dogs for the Blind instructs the vision-impaired handlers to do.  The puppies learn name-recognition to help them focus.  My  prior experience in training dogs has been NOT to use the name before the command--this teaches the dog to respond to the command without having to add the name.  This also helps maintain consistency--you won't have to remember to say the name first, just the command.  The use of the dog's name is reserved for off-leash situations when you absolutely MUST get the dog's attention, like if the dog is running into the street and a car is coming.)

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