Why this cue is useful for your dog to know: Teaching a dog to go to a specific place can be helpful at those times when you need your dog to settle down or stay in a particular spot for a while. Your dog can be out of the way, but also in a comfortable and safe area. This is a great cue to use when someone comes to the door, you are making dinner, or you just need to not have your dog underfoot.
End behavior: When given a cue, the dog will go to his bed or a mat and settle there in a sit or down position until released. (Prerequisite: The dog must already be trained in “sit” or “down.”)
Step 1: Get a mat, blanket, dog bed or towel and put it on the floor next to you. Stand next to the mat with your dog paying attention to you. With the arm that is closest to the mat, toss a treat onto it. As soon as the dog steps onto the mat, use a clicker or say your marker word (e.g., “yes”). Once the dog has eaten the treat, get his attention, say your release word (e.g., “free”) and toss another treat, this time off the mat. When he gets off the mat, there is no need to use a clicker or a marker word. Repeat 10 times. Then move on to Step 2.
- Why do you need to use a release word? The release word is your dog’s cue that he can end the behavior. With certain behaviors (including go to your place, wait and stay), we want the dog to continue doing them until we tell him otherwise. You can use whatever release word you wish; just make sure you’re consistent. Examples of release words are “free” and “OK.”
- For now, make sure that you pick up the mat whenever you are not actively training. If you are using your dog’s bed to train, put a towel or blanket on top of the bed during your training sessions and remove it when you are done.
Step 2: After doing 10 repetitions of Step 1, point to the mat next to you. If the dog goes over to the mat, click and toss a treat onto the mat. Then say your release word and toss a treat away from the mat. Repeat four more times. If the dog goes to the mat for four or five of the repetitions, move on to Step 3. If he goes to the mat three or fewer times, go back to Step 1.
- Tip: The hand that you use to point to the mat should be the same hand that you were using to toss treats onto the mat.
Step 3: Decide on a verbal cue. The cue can be any word you wish (e.g., “go,” “bed,” “place,” “mat”). Whatever word you pick, make sure you use that word consistently. Next, stand near the mat, give the verbal cue, and point to the mat. As soon as your dog steps onto the mat, mark the behavior (with a click or marker word) and give him a treat. Say your release word and toss a treat away from the mat. Do this 10 times and then move on to Step 4.
Step 4: Now that your dog is going to the mat with a verbal cue, it’s time to ask him for the behavior you want on the mat. Once he is on the mat, ask him to sit or lie down. When he does, mark the behavior (with a click or marker word) and give him a treat. Once he has eaten it, release him from the mat using your release word. Do this exercise nine more times.
Step 5: Next, cue the dog to go to the mat and see if he sits or lies down on his own once he’s on the mat. If he does, click and give him a treat, and then release him. Do this exercise five times. If he sits or lies down three or fewer times, repeat Step 4. If he sits or lies down four or five times, move on to Step 6.
- Tip: Whether you choose to have him sit or lie down, just make sure you are consistent. Don’t ask him to sit one time and lie down another time. If you want your dog to stay on the mat for a longer amount of time, you might want to teach him to lie down on it, which is more comfortable for him.
Step 6: After the dog is consistently going to the mat and taking the position that you want him to be in (sitting or lying down), it’s time to teach him how to stay there for longer periods. Here’s how to do it, using sit as the desired position: Mark the behavior (with a click or marker word) as soon as he sits on the mat. A moment later, while he is still sitting, click and treat him again. The idea is to mark the behavior as fast as necessary, but as slow as possible. So, click and treat the dog every second for sitting, for five continuous seconds. Then release him. Let him move around a bit before asking him to repeat the exercise.
- Tip: Pretty quickly, you’ll want to vary how frequently you are treating (e.g., click after one second, then two seconds, then one second, then three seconds, then four seconds, then one second) and slowly work up to a longer continuous time of sitting on the mat.
Step 7: If you want, you can change the dog’s cue to go to his place from a word to a sound in the environment. For example, if you would like your dog to go to his place when people come to the house, you can train him to go to his bed when he hears the doorbell or someone knocking. To do this, present your new cue (e.g., have someone ring the doorbell), then give the dog the verbal cue (e.g., “place”). When the dog goes to his place, click and treat. Repeat 10 times, and then just give the new cue (e.g., the doorbell sound). If the dog goes to his place, click and treat. If not, do the exercise using both cues a few more times.
- Tip: If your dog gets too excited at the sound of the doorbell (or someone knocking) to respond to the verbal cue, do the following before starting this step: Ring the doorbell or knock on the door (without opening the door or having any other excitement) enough times in succession that he starts to get used to it.
Proofing means teaching the dog to generalize the behavior in different contexts — in different areas, with different distractions and handlers, and for longer periods of time.
Longer times: Following Step 6 instructions, slowly work up to 10 seconds on the mat, then 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 45 seconds and a minute. When your dog can stay on the mat for a full minute, you can start working on distractions.
Distractions: Here are some distractions you can introduce:
- Squeaky toys
- Other dogs
- You moving around
- Another person moving around
- A familiar person entering the house after the doorbell rings
- An unfamiliar person entering the house after the doorbell rings
Distances: Ask your dog to go to his bed when he’s at different distances from the bed (e.g., a foot away from the bed, three feet from the bed, across the room from the bed).
Handler position: After asking your dog to go to his bed, move a couple steps away, then several feet away, then all the way across the room. You can also assume different positions. Try asking him to go to his place when you’re sitting down, with your back slightly turned from him, and any other position you can think of.
Here are some additional tips:
- In the beginning, make it a party every time your dog goes to the mat. Whenever he is on the mat, praise and treat him profusely. As soon as he gets off, ignore him.
- Make sure you give a release cue so your dog knows when to get off the mat.
- There are many different ways to train this behavior. If your dog is already familiar with shaping, you can use that technique.
If you get stuck between steps, create an intermediate step with duration that your dog is comfortable with. Don’t rush: Take it at the dog’s speed.