Ooh, this one is good! At first you may think that teaching a dog to “go to your spot” is some kind of parlor trick... but no, no, this is one of the best behavior modification tools you can have in your tool belt.
If you follow positive reinforcement training, you already know that success comes when you think about what you do want your dog to do and teach him that, instead of focusing on what you don’t want your dog to do.
Here’s a beautiful example of how “go to your spot” can help with that:
If you have a dog who jumps up on house guests, who bothers you when you eat dinner, or who likes to grab food off the counter (uh oh..) you can use “go to your spot” as the behavior you’d like him to do instead.
So instead of holding back tears or rolling your eyes as your dog whines underneath the table at dinner, you’ll have a dog who knows exactly where he should be instead - laying down on his mat, chewing on something that’s dog-approved, in the corner of the room… away from the table.
A successful go to your spot or "go to your place” happens when you cheerfully say, “Go to your spot!” or “Go to your place!” and your dog walks straight to the agreed-upon place and lies down.
This might seem like a totally mythical behavior, but you CAN teach your dog how to do this and it’s actually not that hard.
You’re going to need to gather supplies for this one - find a mat that you want to use, but don’t overthink this, you can change it out later. This skill is transferrable - you can teach your dog to go to many other “spots” in his lifetime once he knows what that means.
I’ve worked with a client whose dog really liked the marble floor next to their fireplace - that became his spot. I’ve seen someone else teach her dog that her spot is the small rug in the living room. You have options!
You’re also going to want good treats for this. Go with moist training treats, cheese, or chicken, depending on what your dog likes.
And we’re definitely going to do this one inside. This one takes focus!
Get Bear's attention by asking for a "watch me" or letting him smell your treats
Walk over to the mat. Look at it and be really excited about it ("Oh wow! That looks like a nice place to relax! Cool!!" etc.) - like, actually say those things out loud in an excited voice. You’re going to feel silly, but this will peak your dog’s interest.
For any behavior associated with the mat (if he looks at it, steps toward it, puts his paw on it, steps on it, sits on it, etc.) immediately say "yes!" and drop a treat on the mat.
Then drop another treat behind you away from the mat. You’re “resetting” Bear so you can start again. If you have to, encourage him to get up. You may have the tap the floor or whistle, etc.
Once he’s off the mat finding the treat, start the sequence over.
Do this several times until Bear starts to realize that standing on the mat = treats rain from the sky and he purposefully walks toward his mat when you point at it.
Resume your silliness of looking at the mat and being very excited
Eventually Bear will start deliberately walking over to the mat. That’s what we want! He’ll expect a treat, but don’t give it to him right away. This time, you’re only going to reward him if he sits or lies down on the mat. Don't say or signal anything. Just stand there and stare at the mat until he does one of those.
If he sits, say "yes!" and give him a treat.
If he lies down, say "yes!" and be really, really excited. “Good boy!” Feed him 5 treats in a row. Jackpot! You want him to know that "down" makes you happier than "sit"
Drop another treat behind you and say “all done” so he knows to get up.
Continue to practice this sequence for several days (or even weeks) until you move on. You’re ready to move on when Bear starts purposefully walking over to the mat and lying down when you look at it.
While you’re in this step, throughout the day, whenever Bear decides to walk over to the mat to lie down on his own, throw delicious treats his way and give him lots of praise.
Basically you want Bear to love this freakin’ mat!
Okay, Bear is regularly walking over to the mat to lie down now. Great! You can add in the verbal cue now.
Get Bear’s attention by doing a few “watch me’s” or just let him smell your treats
Walk over to the mat and look at it
If you’re pretty sure he’s walking over to the mat, say the words, “Go to your spot!” in an upbeat voice
Wait for him to lie down, say “yes” and give him lots of praise! Awesome!
Say “all done!” and drop a treat behind you so he knows he can get up off the mat
Practice this at a close distance a ton of times. You want to get to the point where you can get Bear’s attention and say “go to your spot!” and he listens every single time. Use treats to your advantage and don’t be afraid to step it up and give him really good stuff (bacon? yum!) as a reward for going to his mat.
This is a slightly more advanced behavior so be patient and give him lots of praise throughout the exercise.
Once Bear has the hang of this from a close distance, we’re going to add in a few curveballs. Remember, when you make something harder, practice a few easy ones where you’re standing right by the mat to get him started.
Walk a few paces away from the mat and ask him to “go to your spot”
After he’s got that one down, try asking him from across the room
Ask him when he is across the room
Move the mat to a different place and ask him to go to it there
Set up a few toys and ask him to go to his spot and walk by them
Move the mat to a busier room (like the kitchen) and practice there
Once he’s really getting good, move the mat outside and practice there
I saved this one for last, because it’s probably the most important for this command. Eventually, you want to be able to ask Bear to go to his spot and have him stay there until you release him.
You gotta work up to that.
Once you’ve mastered steps 1-3, start lengthening the time between “go to your spot!’ and “all done.” See if Bear can stay in place for 5 seconds and then release him. Try it for 8 seconds, then 10. Go back to 5 (because you don’t want to keep making things harder and harder.) Try 15 second. Back sure you release him every time with an “All done!” and a treat.
When you are getting up to the longer durations, you can start to feed Bear treats as long as he stays on the mat.
That would look like this: “Go to your place!” (count 5 seconds) “Yes!” Treat. (count 5 seconds) “Yes!” Treat. And so on. Make sure you only say “yes!” if he remains lying on the mat.
If it looks like Bear is about the get up, say “all done!” before he does and make it a little easier next time.
Keep working on your duration until he can stay there for 10, 20, and then 30 minutes. If he ever gets up, just say something like “uh oh!” and ask him to go back to his mat. Make it a little easier and release him before he gets up next time.
Take this one slow, if your dog is having trouble, so back a step and really practice there before you move on
If your dog is really having trouble, go back and practice “sit” and “down” like crazy. Also practice “automatic sits” where you expect your dog without you having to say anything.
If your dog doesn’t want to get up from the mat, even after you say “all done,” try throwing a few treats, tapping the floor, and encouraging him to get up. When he gets up, you can say “yes” and give him a treat.