The Miracle of a Stationary Dog
“Stationing” is when a pup stays in a specified location until invited to leave it. Just think how miraculous it is when we can get our dogs to want to stay in one place! There’s no more jumping, no chaos, no craziness. Stations are safe, controlled, predictable spaces and can even be put to use to help dogs who are fearful or unsure in certain situations. It’s an all-purpose skill with its versatility of application and the numerous behaviors that can be built upon it. Stations are safe, controlled, predictable spaces which we skillfully train to have great value to our dogs.
The stations themselves need to be easy to identify for the dog. We use perch bowls, snow saucers, platforms, cardboard boxes, kiddie pools, crates, boogie boards, placemats, etc. at my puppy day school. In the house, we regularly send our dog to “the living room,” (where he needs to wait for his meals to be prepared), the shower stall (for rinsing feet or bathing), his crate, a perch, his bed, etc. In the summertime, we have a kiddie pool with some water in it strategically located outside the door, and we will send him into it to rinse his feet. All of these items provide tangible clarity to the dog for where he should place his body.
A pup may be in a sit or down or stand at a station depending on what the station is and how we train it.
Are you ready to give it a try? Let’s start with a down-stay on a mat (also known as “Puppy Picnic” or “Magic Carpet”).
Choose something your dog can lie down on, such as a towel. This item will eventually serve as a target for his nose! This will make sense shortly (there are videos of this exercise on my YouTube channel that will help, too: search for “PupStart” “mat”).
With a hungry dog at the ready, place a few small but yummy treats on the towel as you set it on the floor. Your dog should immediately orient to the towel if he’s hungry. If you are using a clicker, click each time your dog lowers his head towards the towel, then place the treat on the towel.
The criteria for rewarding, in the beginning, is simply to orient towards the towel. Your job is to place a treat on the towel whenever your dog focuses his attention towards it. Do not feed your dog directly! We want him to start believing that treats sprout from the towel whenever he looks at it; focusing on your hand is counter-productive.
Be generous!! Click and treat - or simply treat - just as your dog is finishing the previous treat but before he lifts his head. Pretty soon, if you are sufficiently generous, he will start to look for more treats on the towel before you put another one down. Place them in a way that he doesn’t have to move around a lot to look for them.
After a few moments, say “okay” then toss a treat off the towel. Put the towel down again in a slightly different location. It’s a pretty sure bet that he will return to the towel. Treat!
Repeat the above until he’s really wanting to go to the towel no matter where you put it. You have the start to stationing! Do keep sessions short, though.
Now, to get the down…
Warm him up as above, so he’s on the towel and focusing down. If he responds to a cue for down, use it now. If not, see if you can lure him into a down. Reward him between his front legs on the towel. Repeat the same procedure as before but this time you are adding the criteria of body in a down as well as nose down. Place the treat between his front legs.
Eventually, we can add verbal cues to differentiate one station from another, and we have a whole new level of communication with our dogs. More importantly, we have a mutually fun and rewarding way to manage them!