Jump to section
One of the worst aspects of owning a small dog is that he can get under your feet... literally.
You've lost count of the number of times you've stepped back and nearly trodden on a paw. However, recently things took a more serious turn.
You were unloading the shopping and carrying it into the kitchen. The dog was excited (he knew sausages were on the shopping list) and dancing around your ankles. Unfortunately, a combination of the shopping bags and a quick dog meant you couldn't see where he was the whole time.
You stepped forward and tripped over the dog. The shopping when flying and you ended up with some nasty bruises. Something needs to change. The thought of actually stepping on the dog and doing serious harm gives you chills.
If only you could send the dog to a safe place and be sure he'd stay there... Perhaps if you taught him to go to his bed and sit, that would do the trick.
Teaching a small dog to sit on his bed is a simple task that has any number of uses. Small dogs especially are prone to bark when visitors call. By giving the dog a task to do, such as sitting on his bed, this can often alleviate this behavior. Then there are the times when your hands are full but you need to keep the dog under control in one place.
As for the action itself, it is super simple in that all you require the dog to do is stay put in one place, which happens to be his bed. To achieve this you teach two actions which are then added together for the end result. These are the 'stay' command and going to the bed. Teach these separately and then add them together for maximum benefit.
To train a small dog to accomplish this task you need:
- A comfortable bed for the dog
- A distraction-free space for the initial training
- A treat bag so the rewards are close to hand
- Time and patience
The Teach 'Stay' Method
Understand the idea
It's one thing for the dog to sit on his bed, it's quite another for him to stay there. If you want to avoid the dog equivalent of a jack-in-the-box then it's essential to teach the dog a rock solid 'stay' as part of getting him to sit for long periods of time on his bed.
Have the dog sit
Use a treat to lure you dog into a sitting position. To do this, hold the treat near your dog's nose so that he can smell it. Keeping the treat close to the dog, travel it in an arc over and above his head so that as his nose follows, his butt drops to the ground. Praise the dog for sitting.
Time and distance
A good 'stay' has two parts: time and distance. This means not only will the dog stay in a sitting position for a long time (but perhaps only when you are right in front of him) but he'll stay even when you step away or leave the room.
Work on time first
Staying close to the dog, work on the length of time the dog stays sitting. Give the dog a visual cue that he is expected to stay, such as holding a palm facing toward the dog. Start with a few seconds, repeating "stay" in a firm voice. Before the dog moves, give him a treat and praise him. Gradually extend the amount of time you expect the dog to stay still, before he gets praise. Do this incrementally, say five seconds, then ten seconds, building up to a minute and then longer. If the dog moves before the allotted time, say "No" or "Oops" in a disappointed voice and withhold the treat. Then have him sit and try again, but with a slightly shorter wait.
Now work on distance
Once the dog has repeatedly accomplished a stay of a minute or so, you can start to add in distance. To do this, have the dog sit and stay, then take a step away. Almost immediately, step back, while signalling with your palm that the dog is to stay. Reward the dog. Build up the distance, by taking more steps away from the dog. Add a pause, so that the dog becomes used to staying when you are not by his side. Over time you will be able to cross the room and eventually leave the room, while the dog stays on his bed.
The Go To Bed Method
Understand the idea
Once the dog knows how to stay, you can teach him that his bed is a good place to be, and encourage him to sit there. This is done by luring the dog with treats and praising him when all four paws are on the bed. Then have the dog sit and stay.
Treats in bed
Arouse the dog's interest in the bed by hiding small treats in it. When the dog discover the hidden goodies, it will increase his curiosity and the likelihood of him investigating the bed. When you spot him sniffing around the area, praise him enthusiastically and tell him what a clever dog he his.
Lure the dog with a treat
Use a tasty treat to attract the dog's attention. Using the treat as a lure, walk him over to the bed. Hold the treat over the bed in such a way that the dog steps on. When all four paws are on the bed, praise him and give him the reward.
Add a cue command
Practice luring the dog to his bed. When the dog starts to anticipate where you are heading and runs ahead to get the treat, you can start adding a cue word. As he jumps onto the bed say "Bed" or "Place", or whichever cue word you have chosen. Repeat this lots of times over several training sessions.
Use the cue
Now the dog is familiar with the cue word, try using in the absence of a lure. When the dog runs to his bed, well done! You have put going to bed on cue.
The Do's and Don'ts Method
Do: Draw it all together
Hopefully, your small dog is now going to his bed on command and able to stay there. Congratulations. You have taught your dog to achieve a task through a technique called chaining. Give your dog a big fuss for being so clever.
Don't: Expect too much too soon
Although it's tempting to step away from your dog the moment he first learns to 'stay', avoid the temptation. Instinctively your dog will move to come to your side, which means him leaving the stay position. Instead, take your time to establish each step firmly in the dog's mind, before moving on.
Do: Practice regularly
Your dog is going to learn best with a series of short, fun training sessions, but which are repeated regularly. Aim for at least two, five to ten-minute training sessions per day.
Don't: Punish the dog
If the dog refuses to go to his bed or breaks his stay, never punish him. Instead, say a disappointed "No" or "Oops" and ignore him. Then take the lesson back to the step before and re-establish that behavior.
Do: End on a high
Always finish each session on a happy note, with a command the dog is able to perform. For some this might be just a 'sit', but it's important to leave the dog feeling pleased and confident so that he looks forward to the next session.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 01/16/2018, edited: 01/08/2021