Melinda Benbow, Orvis Ambassador, is the owner and operator of Urban Uplander Pet Care, LLC in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The benefits of a good dog bed are well established—it is a place of refuge, a place to recover after activity, and a helpful training tool. However, some dogs struggle with resting and sleeping on a dog bed, which could be for a variety of reasons: the bed doesn’t suit the dog’s needs, or in some cases, the dog may be having issues relaxing their mind. Unfortunately, some dogs do not understand the purpose of a bed or don’t know how to relax independently.
Once you’ve taught your dog how to lie down in their bed calmly, you can shape that behavior into napping behavior and use this new skill to assist you in different scenarios. A dog who can relax in a bed calmly can be taught to do the same in your vehicle, which makes for nice, calm car rides. This behavior can also assist you in setting boundaries around the house. Lying calmly in bed can provide an alternative to begging for food at the kitchen table or barking at the door when a guest arrives. In general, teaching your dog relaxation also allows you to help them through stressful situations. In this article, you will learn the sequence of events to teach your dog how to get in their bed, lay down, and remain calm while there.
The right bed is important for your dog’s rest, health, and overall well-being—an essential part of caring for your dog. There are many different types of beds available, and your choice will depend on your dog’s breed, size, and age. Your dog's bed can provide relief from existing physical issues and help prevent future problems. Some dogs naturally sleep on their back while others naturally burrow, and there are dog beds for all sleeping styles. Understanding your dog’s natural sleeping position will help you pick the shape that will be most comfortable for your dog. Just as important as the shape of the bed is the fill. Some fills offer more support and increase ventilation to help regulate body temperature. Some dog beds feature therapeutic support that helps with weight distribution, body recovery, and joint health. Understanding what your dog needs to be comfortable is very important when selecting a bed.
The very first step to teaching your dog how to sleep comfortably in their bed is to teach them a place behavior and cue. Once they’ve learned place, you will be able to prompt them to get in their bed. While this useful skill is your first step in getting your dog to nap on a bed, it can also be used in a variety of situations. Here’s how to establish place on a dog bed.
- Lure your dog onto the bed with a hand target or a treat. Remember that you want to build the behavior before adding a verbal cue.
- Once all four paws are on the bed, mark it with your marker cue, and give a treat reward. Your dog should already understand a clicker or a marker cue, so you can signal when your dog has performed the correct behavior.
- Encourage your dog to hop off the bed, so you can repeat the process.
- Repeat the luring behavior, and mark and reward accordingly.
- Once your dog is reliably performing the behavior of getting on the bed, you can introduce your verbal cue: “Place.”
- Repeat the luring steps again, saying “place” as the dog performs the behavior. Mark and reward accordingly. It is important to say the verbal cue as the behavior is happening to condition the cue accurately.
- Once your dog is doing well understanding the verbal prompt, you will lure less and less. Move from using your hand as a lure to using body movements. This will allow the dog to respond to cues rather than a lure.
Now that your dog knows how to get on their bed with a verbal cue, it is time to teach them down. Not to be confused with off, down is the behavior of laying the body on the floor. Once your dog understands this behavior, you can focus on capturing calm moments.
- Begin by using your place cue to prompt your dog to get onto the bed.
- Using a lure, get on your knees to shorten the distance between you and your dog without hovering.
- Hold a food reward between your thumb and index finger, palm facing down to the floor, and the reward in front of your dog's nose. Slowly lower your hand with the food lure straight down toward the ground in between your dog's front legs. As soon as their elbows touch the floor, mark the moment, and place the treat on the ground between their front paws.
- Practice the behavior several times, marking and rewarding the correct behaviors.
- Once your dog is reliably engaging in the behavior, it is time to layer in the verbal cue: down.
- Practice this behavior several times with the verbal cue, and mark and reinforce all correct repetitions.
Now that your dog knows how to get on the bed and can lay down on cue, it is time to teach your dog how to relax. Calm behavior is like any other behavior you want to teach your dog—the more you reward it, the more likely and often it will reoccur. If you are struggling with a dog that does not seem to calm down, make sure that you are seizing every opportunity to reward them every time they exhibit calm behavior. The more consistent you are about marking and reinforcing these behaviors, the more natural your dog will be engaged in calm behaviors. Having a dog who lies down nicely in their bed is wonderful but lying down is not the same as being in a relaxed state of mind. Not all dogs inherently understand how to be calm, and this can vary from breed to breed and dog to dog.
- Begin your training session with your dog on the bed in the down position.
- As your dog appears to be calm, provide them with a food reward.
- After you have provided your dog with the food reward, they may get up. In this case, put them back in place and back into the down position.
- After the first reward, your dog may not return to a calm state for a while after the excitement of food. This is normal, and it is just a matter of waiting to capture that next moment.
- As you hold out for each of these calm moments and reward them, you will see that the time between calm moments becomes shorter and shorter.
- As these calm moments become more frequent, you will be able to shape this calm behavior into napping by working with your dog for longer durations in a calm position on the bed.
Now that you understand the training steps to help a dog lay down and relax in their bed, you can continue to condition this behavior into sleeping. Keep in mind every dog is different, and this comes easier to some dogs than others. No matter what, stay consistent and take your time! There is no overnight solution to any dog training, and you need to practice often to set them up for success. If your dog has difficulties, they may need the assistance of a behaviorist or may simply not have a dog bed that promotes comfort and relaxation.
Relaxation is harder for puppies, who can be destructive. Before splurging on a bed, wait to get a feel for what kind of bed your pup will need. You may also want to wait until they're out of their destructive chewing phase.