Station training

Prerequisite Behaviors:

“Down”/ “Down-stay”: Ideal but not necessary!

Step #1: Get yourself in the correct position

Stand or sit parallel to your dog’s bed/k-bed making sure the bed is off to your side, about a foot away. Encourage your dog to stand near you by calling him over to you and verbally praising him. Give him a few treats for sitting or looking at you when you call his name to pique his interest in food and prepare him for the new cue.

Step #2: Luring the dog to the bed

Hold a treat in your hand and simply move your hand towards the bed. Avoid moving your feet; keep them parallel to the dog bed. This is important so that the behavior of lying on the bed or mat is what is rewarded, not lying in front of you. As you move your hand towards the bed, visibly hold the treat to bait where you want your dog to go. You should extend your hand out over the bed towards the middle. Your dog will follow the treat to the bed. When all four paws are on the bed, mark the behavior with a click (or verbal marker like YES) and give the dog the treat. Encourage your dog to come off the bed by walking away a few steps and then calling the dog to you by patting your legs and using encouraging words. Give your dog ample petting and praise when he comes to you but save your treats for when he’s ON the bed. Repetition builds confidence in the behavior and familiarity with the bed; repeat this pattern of luring the dog to the bed, rewarding with a treat, and calling the dog back to you for verbal praise and petting until the dog shows no hesitation. A dog will rarely be fearful of a bed or mat. However, if the dog shows any signs of reluctance, start right next to the bed if you have to and move your hand VERY slowly so that your dog can easily follow the treat to the bed. At first, your dog doesn’t have to get his entire body on the bed to be successful and earn a treat. Mark approximations toward the final behavior by using a click and treat even for putting one paw on the bed to start.

Step #3: Adding prompts and using repetition to build confidence

Increase the distance between you and the bed by only 6 inches. This time, instead of not moving both of your feet at all, move the foot that is closest to the bed one step in the direction of the bed, keeping the foot furthest away from the bed completely still. Moving your foot closer to the bed is a “prompt” that will help the dog understand that you want him to go to the bed in later steps when you begin to fade out baiting the dog with the treat in your hand. As you move your hand towards the bed, hold out the treat where you want your dog to go, as you’ve done before. When your dog arrives on the bed, mark the behavior with a click and reward. When approximately 8 times out of 10 your dog will walk over to his bed simply by following the treat in your hand, you’re ready to add the word “BED” to the hand signal. (You don’t have to use the word “BED” if you’re more comfortable with the word “Place” or “Mat” you can use those as well.)

Step #4: Adding the verbal cue and fading out luring with the hand

Do not hold a treat in the hand from now on, as we want the dog to begin to pay attention to the environment and positioning his paws on the bed instead of following his eyes and nose to the sight and smell of the treat. Say the word “BED” as you move your foot towards the bed to prompt the behavior. Wait a few seconds, and if the dog doesn’t move towards the bed, add the hand signal and repeat your chosen verbal cue. When your dog arrives on the bed, mark the behavior with a click and reward. If your dog sits or lies down on his bed, give him extra treats! This is the behavior we eventually want, so giving the dog a “jackpot” for sitting or lying down on the bed can help him understand what the complete behavior is. At this stage, it can help the dog understand that you want him to lie on the bed by tossing the treats onto the bed instead of feeding out of the hand. By eating off of the bed, we are “reinforcing for position” and the dog is more likely to begin focusing on the bed and less on the movement of the hand. Repeat until you’re confident your dog will do it 80% of the time asked.

Step #5: Finalizing fading out luring with the hand

Standing or sitting parallel to the bed with your dog in front of you, say your chosen verbal cue (“bed,” etc.) and move ONLY the foot that is closest to the bed in a single step in the direction towards the bed. Do not take more than one step. If the dog walks on the bed, move to step #6, otherwise extend your hand out towards the bed, but come up short of fully luring the dog into position. Your dog, who has up until this point in the process only been following your hand because it contains a treat. If he stops directly underneath your extended hand looking for a treat instead of walking over to the bed, show him an open hand so that he can see there are no treats, and move your hand back behind your back. Wait a few seconds, then say “bed” again while simultaneously moving your foot towards the bed and pointing your hand towards the bed again. At this point, it is helpful to give the dog some time to think. Simply wait. Do NOT repeat your voice cue “BED”. Instead, wait around one minute to see if he offers up the behavior. If your dog walks over to his bed, even if he only touches the bed with a paw, mark it with a click AND REWARD WITH A TREAT ON THE BED. It is very important that the dog is rewarded on the bed and not for coming back to you. It may seem counterintuitive to reward the dog for only approaching the bed, however, once the dog understands it will get rewarded for approaching or touching the bed, it is very simple to withhold the reward until the dog offers the full behavior. If your dog doesn’t walk in the direction of the bed after 45 seconds, it’s no big deal! Simply back up to the previous step in the process and make it a little easier for him the next time. When your dog seems “stuck,” the key to getting him through this plateau is going back to the previous steps and repeating them. Ask yourself, “Is there a way I can make the approximation to the next behavior even smaller?”

Step #6: Increasing distance and fading out prompts

Move your position about a foot away from the bed. Use your verbal cue “bed” and move your foot toward the bed to prompt the dog. At this point, do not point towards the bed, as the goal is to completely fade out the hand cue as well as the foot prompt so that the dog responds to the verbal cue alone. Once again, give the dog about one minute to offer up moving towards the bed, then repeat your verbal cue and the foot prompt. When the dog will consistently go to the bed, begin fading out the foot prompt. Give the verbal cue, wait a few seconds, and then move the foot slightly towards the bed if the dog does not offer up the behavior. Continue this pattern until the dog will stand (or sit/ lie down) on the bed from the verbal cue alone and no foot prompt. This step may take a few training sessions for your dog to master, as he is learning to focus completely on the vocal cue and the bed. Once the dog will consistently go to his bed from the voice cue alone and with no movement from the foot or hand, it’s time to move to step #7. Remember that if your dog seems stuck or frustrated, the best thing to do is relax your criteria and add the foot prompt or even the point cue again as necessary.

Step #7: Increasing distance

Increase your distance from the bed by 6 to 12 inches. Give the verbal cue “bed,” and click/ treat when the dog is on the bed. Now that the distance is more than arms-length away, it is useful to toss the treats to the dog. If you are having a difficult time with this, click and walk toward the dog to deliver the treat, but make sure he gets it ONLY when he is on the bed. Gradually increase the distance, but be sure not to go too quickly or exceed your dog’s attention span. Give him a couple of treats to make it worth his while to go to his bed. Remember to only use verbal praise and petting to “reset” him away from the bed in between repetitions-- save the food for the behavior you are training. If at any point in the process your dog is not walking all the way to his bed, give him a little time to figure it out. Do not interrupt him. If he winds up only placing one paw on the bed, he is successful! Next time, he will probably do it better, as long as you are consistently marking approximations of the final behavior with a click and rewarding each small success, your dog will eventually learn to walk all the way over to his bed. Repeat several times, and remember that a good benchmark for success is your dog getting the behavior correct 8 out of 10 times you ask him.

Step #8: Adding “down” and building duration

Now we are adding a second behavior that is required before the dog will get rewarded. This is called a “behavior chain.” When your dog gets to his bed, before rewarding him ask your dog to go into a “DOWN”. If he offers the down right away give him a jackpot!!! (A jackpot is 10-20 small treats. You can either sprinkle them on the bed or you can give them one after another by hand). If he seems confused, cue him “down” again and wait a few moments. Your dog should already know the “down” behavior before attempting to train him to go to his bed. However, if he does not offer the behavior after a second or third verbal cue, simply relax your criteria and point down towards the bed and click/ reward when he is lying on the bed. Repeat this a few times to build “behavioral momentum,” then fade out the hand cue. Eventually, the dog should walk over to the bed and lie down with the verbal cue “down.” To finalize the behavior, cue the dog by saying “bed” and waiting for him to offer the “down” before clicking and reinforcing. Once he is lying down, build duration in this behavior by reinforcing him anytime he is lying on his bed. At first, you may only be able to wait 3-5 seconds in between treats, but gradually build duration into the behavior until the dog is relaxing on the bed, patiently waiting for treats.

Troubleshooting and Final Thoughts:

  • Remember to keep the sessions short, two to four 3 to 5-minute sessions throughout the day all that is necessary.

  • If you want your dog to spend more time on his bed, remember to reward him whenever you see him lying on his bed. By reinforcing that behavior with treats and praise, again and again, it will become what is known as a “default setting”. He will automatically choose this behavior whenever he wants your attention.

  • Even when the behavior is fully trained, it might be necessary to relax your criteria to compete with distractions. If, for instance, you have an unexpected visitor at the house, do not be concerned about having to point or even walk toward the bed to get your dog’s attention. Exceptionally consistent behavior will come with time and repetition.

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