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Go lie down. Kennel up. Go to your bed. Place. These are all the name of my favorite behaviors to teach every dog. Young or old, big or small, this will help all dogs learn manners and independence.
Imagine this: someone comes to your front door. Instead of jumping, barking, or running amuck, your dog goes directly to a mat placed on the floor, and stays there until she gets the “ok.” Sounds idyllic, right?
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It surely beats hopelessly repeating things like, “Lucy, get down!” Or, “Clyde, no!” Your dog learned to ignore these phrases long ago!
Instead, we need to teach our dog they should do instead of the unwanted behavior (jump, lunge, counter-surf, etc.). I guarantee that right now, they don’t have a clue between what is “right” and what is “wrong”. And hey, jumping up generally earns them some much-wanted attention!
This is where “place” comes in. The “place” behavior is one of the first things I teach all of my clients, from puppy class
Why? Because it gives your dog an alternative appropriate behaviour to do instead of those unwanted ones, like jumping on house guests or counter surfing while you are preparing dinner.
It also promotes calm, independent behaviour. It gives your dog SOMETHING TO DO that can be easy, fun, and will earn them a reward. Otherwise, your dog is likely to choose their own adventure!
Teaching Your Dog to Go Lie Down
Think about it in steps. Each step must reach “expert” level before you progress to the next one. If you move up to the next step and your dog is no longer successful, appears frustrated or begins to lose interest, move back to the last successful level of difficulty and move forward slowly, from there.
Step 1: Trial and Error
The Capturing Method:
At this step, all we need to do is reward our dog for offering the behavior (going on their mat or into their kennel). DO NOT SAY A CUE WORD. Your puppy does not speak human and saying “place” or “go to your bed,” means nothing yet.
Allow your puppy to walk onto the mat or into the kennel on their own free will. You may choose to mark this behaviour verbally (“yes”) or use your clicker as they make their way onto the mat followed immediately with a food reward. Even if you are not using a marker, the food reward must be given immediately and frequently while they are on the mat. This is called “capturing” the behaviour.
The Shaping Method:
You may also need to “shape” the behaviour. This means, we start by simply rewarding your dog for looking at, smelling, touching, or putting a paw on the mat. Slowly, as they make their way towards the desired behaviour (having four paws on, sitting, or laying down on the mat), add a higher value reward for each progression. Once they are confidently walking all four paws onto the mat, you can begin to only reward when they are fully on the mat on in their kennel.
Remember, if you choose to use a marker word or a clicker to indicate they have done the correct behaviour, it must be followed by a treat. Yes, every single time! And ONLY use your marker to reward the moment they do the behaviour you like.
The Luring Method:
If your dog is too cautious or unsure to walk onto the mat, you may try a “lure”. Simply take a treat between your thumb and index finger, put it up to their nose, and lure them forward onto the mat. Use a different treat from your other hand to reward walking onto the mat. Once they understand that you want them to enter the kennel or walk onto the mat, you can phase the lure out.
Next we need to get them off of the mat or out of the kennel. To do this, we use a release cue and either walk them off of the mat, or toss a treat away from the mat. I generally say “relax”and toss a treat. You may use any word, as long as you’re consistent.
Some people will also use their hand target as the release cue. When your dog is allowed off the mat, just cue a hand touch! No need to teach another cue in this case.
Step 2: Practice!
Slowly add more and more time before giving the release cue, but keep the rewards coming frequently while they are on their mat. This is known as adding duration to the behavior.
It won’t be long before this routine becomes a fun game. Once they are running to place themselves back on the mat, you know it’s time for the next step―adding the cue word.
Step 3: Adding a Cue
The cue is the word you will use to direct your dog onto their place. This could be “mat,” “place,” or if you are using a kennel, “crate” or “bed.” Be consistent with the cue word you choose, and everyone in the family should say the same word every time!
As your dog begins to walk onto the mat or into their kennel, add your cue word before you mark and reward. This way, she learns to associate the action of walking onto the mat or into the kennel with the cue word.
It might look like this: as the dog walks towards the mat, say “place.” Once her entire body is on the mat, click and reward with a treat. I continue rewarding her with treats every 2-3 seconds until I say a release cue (example: “relax”).
Step 4: Distance, distraction and duration.
First, move the mat around to different locations. This will help your dog to better generalize. At this stage, you should be able to cue this behaviour (ask for it), and add varying amounts of duration.
Begin adding more distraction at a very slow pace. For some dogs, taking a few steps away might be all of the distraction they can handle. This action allows your dog to understand that no matter where you move, they are to stay in one location―on the mat!
I use the “Can You Listen When…?” game to help teach dogs distance and distraction. It’s super helpful!
You can also start to move away from the mat, and cue them from varying distances. As they become better at staying on the mat, try turning your back, kneeling down, or walking out of view. These actions are a little more challenging for your pup.
Step 5: Plan for the end goal.
Think about what you want your end goal to look like, and break it down into steps. There might be 50 steps between start and finish, and there might be 10.
For example, if your end goal is to have your dog stay on the mat while house guests enter through the front door, you may start by cueing your dog to place on their mat and simply walk a few steps in the direction of the front door. Your next step might be to turn the handle of the front door, and so on.
Remember, they must reach expert level before you progress to the next level!
Things to Remember
- Compensate accordingly. As you add more distraction, use a higher value reward. Kibble might be fine once the behaviour is well established, in your living room, and while nobody is around. But, outside on the front lawn will be a lot more difficult with all the sights, sounds and smells!
- Gradually decrease rewards. As your dog approaches expert level in one situation, you can wait longer in between rewards. But every new challenge should include higher value and more frequent treats.
- Be consistent! Make sure your dog knows what is expected of them. Be clear with your cue, and be clear with the reward.
- Set your dog up for success! Ask yourself this: “Am I confident that my dog can stay on her mat while Jim and Alecia walk in the door this afternoon?” Be honest. If you are not sure, practice more. Try to assure you are always setting your dog up to succeed. What is that old saying, “perfect practice makes perfect?” I guess that kind of applies here. Of course, nobody’s perfect. Not ourselves, and not our dogs.
- Never punish. If you find yourself saying, she “should” be doing something because “I know she knows what to do”, she doesn’t. Not well enough for that context or that situation. So, never punish your dog for not doing something you expect them to.
That’s it! Remember, training is a lifelong process. Never stop practicing, and have fun!
Erin is currently from Alberta, Canada where she works as a canine behaviour consultant. Erin is a CDBC and CPDT-KA, working with all types of dogs with all types of training needs. She has a MSc in Anthrozoology (the study of human and non-human interactions), and is a PhD candidate in the same field. Erin will be relocating to Christchurch, New Zealand at the end of 2018.