Imagine how useful it would be if your puppy or dog knew that when you say, “Spot,” he should lie down and relax on his mat.
Teaching “Spot” means you won’t have to deal with your dog doing any of the following:
- Going berserk when someone rings the doorbell
- Sampling snacks off your coffee table
- Hanging around the dinner table or under your baby’s high chair
- Putting paws on the counter while you prepare a meal
- Bothering your kids or guests while they are seated or standing
- Pestering other pets in your household
- Dropping toys in your lap while you try to relax after a hard day of earning money to buy dog treats
- Jumping up on people you meet on the street
- Straining and whining at other dogs or people in the veterinarian’s waiting room or in puppy class
None of those aggravating things can happen if your dog is lying quietly on a mat, so teaching this one skill will be of benefit to you in many ways. Your dog will benefit because he will earn plenty of rewards in the form of praise, petting, treats, a stuffed Kong, being included in more activities and having a chance to chill out.
Believe it or not, this is not advanced training. It’s the kind of basic skill (like sit or come) that any dog can learn.
You’ll need a bath mat to start (later you can transfer the skill to a mat as tiny as a washcloth, and just carry it with you!), soft yet non-crumbly treats in a contrasting color to the mat, and an indoor location free of distractions. Some practice teaching “down” is a bonus that will speed the process. Use a leash or train in a powder room if you think your pup may wander off.
Here’s how to teach it. For more details and troubleshooting tips see Puppy Savvy, and ask questions in the comments section below.
Have a few treats ready in your pocket. Be prepared to say “yes” and bowl the treat onto the mat as soon as your puppy looks at the mat. Why will he bother to look at it? Because you will start by spreading out the mat, standing two feet away and looking at it yourself. He will look, and you will reward immediately by saying “yes!” and tossing the treat onto the mat. When he is finished eating his tidbit, encourage him off the mat by patting your leg and saying “ok” (in the video I say “free,” which happens to be Ruby’s release word). Repeat 2-3 times.
The hardest part of this training is resisting the urge to convince your dog to look at the mat by pointing, leaning, or outright bribing with food. If you do this, the training will take ninety-two times longer, and his skills will never be as strong as they could have been. Just stand there and look at the mat. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Warm up with a few reps of the above exercise. Then allow your pup to look at the mat, but don’t say a word. Just wait. His wheels will turn and he will walk over to the mat (because that’s where his reward has been magically appearing). When even one of his paws touches it, say “yes!” and feed him a treat. On each subsequent repetition, withhold your reward until another paw touches the mat (such that by the fourth repetition, he is leaving you, walking up to the mat, then putting all four paws on it).
Start right where you left off. Spread out the mat and wait. Your pup will look at it, walk to it, and stand on it. Reward as usual. On the next repetition, count to one or two and then reward. Woo hoo! He went to his mat and stayed for two seconds. Now anything is possible! Repeat a few times, encouraging him off the mat in between repetitions.
Take a short break and play with a toy, or just run around the room and act silly together.
Back to training. Go near the mat. Wait. After he is standing on it, wait some more. Don’t say anything. He will likely plop his butt into a sit, because by now he’s figured out from your other training that sitting pays the big bucks, and that staying on the mat is also highly rewarding. Say “yes” and feed him several treats like it’s a big deal (which it is!).
Only do a few of those because the goal is for him to lie down, right?
Repeat the last exercise, but this time wait for a down position (this will go quicker if you’ve already started teaching “down” separately). Instead of staring into the pup’s eyes, look at the spot you want his elbows to land. When he goes even partway into the down position, lavish him with praise and treats fed low between his front legs. Remember to release with “ok” before he has a chance to hop up.
Now we make it look like real life. For the next few sessions, practice in several different places in the room. Then try your body in several different positions (sitting in a chair or lying on the couch—good practice for when you have the flu and don’t want your dog disturbing you). Work up to different rooms in the house and you standing at varying distances from the mat. Use awesome treats. If you get stuck at any point, try again, but do make it a wee bit easier if you get two failed attempts.
When to say “Spot!”
When you can roll out the mat, in any room of your house, with you sitting or standing, from any distance you like, and your pup trots right on over to the mat and lies down, waiting for your release before he gets up (after a few seconds), then you are ready to add the magic word to cue him to go there. Just say, “Spot!” right as he’s about to do it and he’ll start to associate the word with the action he already knows.
You can add to the length of time he is able to stay there by counting more seconds before you feed his treat in the down position.
Soon he’ll be lying there for 30 minutes at a pop, perhaps enjoying a chewy while you have cocktails with your friends. It might even make you nostalgic for the days when he was so young and naïve, all cute and eager to learn this handy, new trick.