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Incorporating your canine family member into your daily life is infinitely easier once you’ve mastered the principles of training your dog to go to a spot. Imagine if your dog would:
- go straight to his or her own spot when the doorbell rang,
- lie by your side at a park, even when someone comes up to greet you, or
- wait by the door—even when a squirrel starts a game of hide-and-seek.
We’ve seen this be a game changer for so many families.
Working with a dog’s basic nature is usually a great place to start any training. Most dogs have an instinct for their role in the social hierarchy, and as a result, if they’re not given a job to do they’ll usually come up with what they think it should be. That can lead to behaviors you may not love (like all that barking and jumping when the doorbell rings).
Training your dog to a spot gives them something to do, while also calming them. It also protects them from dangers including traffic and/or hostile wildlife. And it certainly makes including your dog in all sorts of daily activities far more fun!
3 basic principles of training your dog to go to a spot
Interestingly enough, only humans and dogs understand the meaning of pointing to a spot. When it comes to your dog, this can be a huge advantage.
Training this skill has 3 basic parts:
- Recognizing the spot
- Staying until released
- Learning to go to the spot you’ve pointed to
Be sure to have their most favorite thing ready. It might be food, or a frisbee, soft toy. You may even want to designate a special reward you use just for training this skill.
STEP 1: Help them connect the command and the spot.
Create a moveable item that can serve as your training spot, or a spot “marker.” You could use a towel, or a low platform, footstool or barrel, or even a flat board (something that won’t blow away if you’re working outside).
Your goal is to ensure they recognize that touching the spot or marker is a reward-worthy action. So, every time they touch the item, give them their reward item along with plenty of praise. (Even if touching it, initially, is an accident!)
TIP: In the beginning, work within a close distance, where it’s easy for them to connect closely to you and what you’re wanting them to do.
STEP 2: Train them to stay on the spot until released.
Once your dog has touching the “spot” mastered, you can follow the same approach to advance them to sitting and/or lying down on it, again by rewarding the behavior until it’s routine.
TIP: Immediately after the reward, start using a word to cue them they can get up or leave their place—you might use “break” or “free” or something similar. (“Okay” isn’t the best choice because we say it A LOT.)
STEP 3: Train them to stay longer, or to go further.
Once you’ve succeeded at training your dog to got to—and stay on—a spot until released, you can start to lengthen the amount of time, or distance.
- For distance: set them up for success by putting the desired spot in a place that’s not too far from your hand when you make a big, super-obvious arm motion pointing to the spot.
- For time: start with short intervals, gradually extending them to 5 minutes.
While a towel makes a convenient training tool if you’re working with your dog away from home, a platform is particularly helpful for keeping your dog focused, and preventing him from lying down when you want them to be attentive.
And it’s fun: one of the games that’s always a favorite at our Day Camp Plus is Platform Hopping—where each dog jumps from platform to platform around a course. You can see their love accomplishment every time!
A little patience and lots of practice at training your dog to go to a spot and you’ll both be beaming too.