Why won’t my dog settle?

Why won't my dog settle?

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Why can't your dog settle, is the more appropriate question

There are many reasons why your gundog might not be able to stop and relax. In my experience none of those are because they are trying to be disobedient or annoy you, none are because they are stubborn or naughty, the answers lie in their emotional and energetic experience of life, along with lessons learned from a young age (even if we didn’t mean to teach them those lessons).

Just some of the most common reasons that I see in the gundogs that owners bring to me for help with are:

  1. Overwhelm / Sensory overload (some dogs deal with this on a daily basis and so begin to live in hightened state that makes settle impossible).
  2. Over Stimulation (a common issue in puppies, playing to the point they can’t switch off, can also happen in dogs that are obsessed by playing ball or other repetitive ‘games’).
  3. Lack of Boundaries (perhaps when they should be stopping they elicit attention from you and you give it, when they bark do you engage with them? Even if it’s to say stop this invests in the behaviour that you ultimately don’t want).
  4. Stress (it can be a one of event or long term build up).
  5. Never been taught (some dogs do not naturally ‘switch off’, those dogs need our help to learn how to do this).
  6. Trigger stacking (this is where a few things come together and cause a moment we would refer to as ‘straw that broke the camels back’, the one last thing looks like the cause of the hyperactivity but it can actually be a build up of various factors or repeated or building factors.
  7. Insufficient exercise (I rarely see dogs that can’t stop as a result of this, all the dogs I see are well exercised).
  8. Boredom (I rarely find this one to be the problem).
  9. Discomfort (often dogs that are not comfortable cannot sit still and they move around a lot, this can be short term i.e. feeling sick or longer term such as joint issues etc).
  10. Old age (can be caused by senility and they then struggle to stop).
  11. Diet (sometimes diets do not suit and it can be enough to change food or treats to create a completely different level of energy in your dog).

There may of course be other reasons but above are many of the main ones. 

For the purposes of this article I will be discussing bullet points 1 – 6 as these are the most common reasons that I see causing dogs to have an inability to settle down, relax and stop ‘doing’.

Bear in mind the above, and when you train or live with a busy dog realise that you can help them by approaching those frustrating moments with more understanding, and compassion. By mentally flipping the situation from finding training your busy dog frustrating to realising you are supporting your busy dog to enable them to reach a mental and emotional space in which they can learn. Changing your view point can really help a lot and it can help all that frustration to dissipate.

I have yet to meet a ‘busy’ dog that isn’t desperate for someone to help them find internal peace and once I begin to work with them they are so grateful, it is visible in their eyes once progress is made and they start to experience moments of pure peace, albeit normally short in the beginning.

There are actually lots of things you can do to help your dog to relax and most of them involve you actually doing less yourself than you are already doing, should be simple right? But its not, it is often really hard because you are likely part of the reason your dog can’t stop, routines that you have formed with your dog will likely need to change and new ones be forged in their place. 

So let us dive in and look again at examples 1-6 and how you can help your dog.

Weimaraner Water Retrieve
Rhea waiting her turn

So, come on, tell me, how can I help my dog to learn to stop, settle, be calm and relax?

Chocolate spaniel relaxing
  1. Overwhelm / Sensory overload  – Gaining an understanding of a dog struggling with this can be an absolute game changer. Observing the kinds of situations or environments that they can and can’t cope with. When they become overwhelmed and appear ‘hyper’, stopping and allowing them time and space to just ‘be’ rather than ‘do’ can yield massive benefits for them and you.
  2. Over Stimulation – If you have a puppy or youngster then be aware of how much stimulation you give them and ensure plenty of nap breaks and down time is in their schedule. Be careful of playing repetitive games with your dog and accidently creating obsessions such as for balls/ball throwing, a game should be just that, something fun they enjoy in a relaxed manner, not something they are so obsessed by/for that they cannot relax or think of anything else. 
  3. Lack of Boundaries – Pay attention to your relationship with your dog, I often see dogs that can’t stop because they use their owners for attention and entertainment, this creates an inability to settle because when they ‘push the right buttons’ their owner delivers. Examples of this are (to name just a few): Barking, whining, pushing with nose or body, dragging owner on lead when they should be standing still, digging at the ground, jumping up, nibbling fingers or clothing. The dog has often learnt that when they do these things their owner will respond in some way, they may say ‘no’ or ‘stop it’, they make look at their dog, they may move their dog, some may accidently even respond by treating their dog or fussing their dog and so the dog learns if it wants interaction all these behaviours work.
  4. Stress – Reactive or anxious dogs can struggle to stop, living in state of heightened awareness creates an inability to settle. Sharing calm, grounded and strong stable energy with a dog experiencing this can give them great relief, relief that someone else is in charge, not feeling how they are feeling and that they can relax. Stress can be caused by many things including well intentioned things (like the ball obsession I mentioned earlier).
  5. Never been taught – When we raise puppies, as mentioned above, we would integrate rest periods into their schedule to teach them how to relax, to switch off, to accept ‘not doing’ but if this isn’t done then some dogs can get stuck in ‘go mode’, having never learned the valuable tools they need to be able to stop.
  6. Trigger Stacking – As touched on before, this could be caused by a number of things, for example: You have a dog that is a bit overwhelmed by the world, then you play ball repeatedly and ‘amp’ them up, you never taught them valuable ‘switch off’ lessons as a puppy and so they tip over in a perfect storm combination and the ‘on’ is triggered and they do not know how to turn it off, stuck on a permanent go. These events can be occasional but often, in my experience are caused by more permanent routines and so have become ingrained.  

"Balancing both ends of the lead!"

You need to be as aware and responsible for your emotions and your energy as you are expecting your dog to be of theirs, in fact, even more so.

What do I mean by that? 

I often see owners (and there is absolutely no judgement in this, I have been there myself!) who are seeking help with their gundogs, they are frustrated, quick to chastise and desperate for change (again, I have been there) but because things have become so tough and so far away from what they imagined gundog ownership would look like, they have lost sight of A) What is really going on with their dog (often after looking on social media there is a belief in things like their dog being stubborn or trying to be boss or other similar outdated ideas) and B) The energy and emotions they ‘bring to the table’ for every interaction that they have with their dog, especially when training. 

For example, I will see someone who struggles with loose lead walking and the second their dog pulls them once their energy will become low, perhaps even defeated, frustrated and maybe even angry and whilst we are bringing this energy to the training session how is our dog supposed to relax whilst it learns what we want of it? How is our dog supposed to find loose lead walking fun or even just nice?

So next time you do some training with your dog or find yourself feeling ways you would rather not feel, if you can’t simply ‘reset’ yourself then where possible walk away, go have a cuppa, cut your walk short, have some down time and try again later or even another day when you can dig deep and find better energy to bring to your end of the relationship.

Always remember it takes 5C’s to balance the lead –

* Calm
* Connection
* Communication
* Clarity
* Consistency

and if you’re unsure how to get going with helping your dog to switch off, stop and learn to relax then please get in touch for a chat about your needs and how I can help you and your dog!

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Content Disclaimer

The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this article is not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article. Nina Fotara T/as Confident Canine disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article.