One of Sasha’s more impressive tricks is “go to bed”, in which I can tell her to go to bed from anywhere in the house, and she obediently runs and lays down on her dog bed. This trick is not only useful, but it is also surprisingly easy to teach. It is a type of target training (like teaching “touch”), but one in which the dog targets an object that is separate from both dog and trainer.
I use this trick for when Sasha needs some quiet time: I will tell her to go to her bed, and she gets a Kong or a bone to chew on to keep her busy. I also use it when I need her out of the way and not underfoot. This specifically comes in handy when people come over to my house. When someone knocks on the door I can say “Go to bed”, and Sasha will run and lay on her bed so that guests can come inside and take off their shoes and coat without an excited dog trying to jump all over them. (If you start doing this, have someone stay by the dog giving treats at first so that they are not tempted to get up). The goal of this is that eventually, when Sasha hears a knock on the door she will automatically run to her bed without me telling her to, and stay there until released.
This is also a useful cue for dogs that may become nervous or fearful when people come over. Giving them this safe spot where they know they will not be bothered may make them more confident and feel more secure.
Teaching this command is simple. Below, I have laid out the progression of teaching it to your dog.
- Create “mat love”. The very first step is to create positive associations with the mat or bed. For this, all you need to do is place treats on the bed for your dog to eat. Then, toss a treat on the floor to the side of the bed so that they leave the mat and reset; then do it all over again. When they place any part of their body on the bed, reward that. And if they sit or lay down on the bed, give a jackpot of 5-7 treats in a row! Continue to do this until your dog is freely walking to the bed on his own.
- Wait for offered behavior. Once your dog is walking over to the bed on his or her own, you are ready for the next step. The difference with this step is that you are not enticing your dog with treats or prompting him to go to the mat; you are simply waiting for him to do so. When he does, give a few treats and then toss a treat to the side to reset. You can start holding out for your dog to offer a sit or down on the mat; when they do, give a jackpot!
- Add a visual cue. Once your dog is consistently walking to the mat and either sitting or laying down, you can start to add a visual signal to cue your dog to go to the bed. Most people point to the bed for the visual signal. When you can tell that your dog is about to walk over to the bed, point to the bed. Then, give a jackpot when he gets there! Practice this until you can point and your dog understands that he should go to the bed. Keep doing this until he consistently sits or lays down on the bed when you point to it.
- Add a release word. Now that your dog is consistently going to their bed on cue, he should be expected to stay there until you release him. Common release words are “okay” and “free”, but you can make it whatever you want as long as you are consistent. Practice sending your dog to their mat and keep him there for a few seconds while giving treats. Then, release them by saying “okay”. Start with short periods of time on the mat so that he doesn’t start getting up before the release word; after a while, when he understands the release word you can have him stay there for longer.
- Add a verbal cue. Now you are ready to add a verbal cue to the behavior! In dog training, the rule of thumb is to always add the new element before the cue that the dog already knows. So this means that you will say your verbal cue (“Go to bed”, “go to mat,” “go chill out”, etc.) and then point to the mat. If you do these simultaneously, it is likely that the dog will focus on your body language and totally tune out your voice.
- Practice with distance and duration. As with anything, you will need to start easy and practice cuing your dog to go to bed from very close to the bed. Once he seems to understand this, you can gradually increase the distance from which you cue your dog. If he suddenly is confused, that means you have moved too far and need to decrease the distance again. You can also practice having your dog stay on the bed for longer periods of time (starting at just a few seconds and working up from there) before you give the release word. Remember to set your dog up for success: if he is going to be on the bed for an extended period of time, give him something to do (like a frozen Kong or chew toy) so that he doesn’t get bored and get up.
The amount of time that each step takes will completely depend on your dog and how quickly he or she picks up on it. Remember to progress slowly, and that practice makes perfect- doing this for just a few minutes a day will have your dog going to bed on cue in no time!