Station training! Teaching your dog to go to a specific location and stay there until released.
Stations are really great because they can be used to help dogs get out of stressful situations by sending them to their station (their safe place). They can also be used to help keep a dog away from an open door, provide somewhere to wait before greeting a guest, or simply be safe instead of being underfoot or counter surfing.
Start out with either a new bed or mat. If you choose a mat, get something with a rubbery bottom so that it doesn’t slide around. A bathmat or doormat works nicely. This isn’t meant to be a long-term location for your dog so you don’t need anything too padded or fluffy. Place the mat or bed in a location that is across the room from open doors, guests, and in general, out of the way of room traffic. This place and the mat becomes your dog’s safe station location.
Start out near your dog's station location and wait to see if they accidentally touch it. Ideally, we don’t want to actively cue them to get on it, it’s better if they discover themselves that when they touch it or stand on it they get a reward. Stay still and wait and see what happens. You can stare at the station, but don’t wave your hand, or gesture in any way, just wait.
If your dog gets on to the station, praise and reward. Don’t give the station a name just yet, but start thinking of one. If your dog stays on it, continue to reward every few seconds. If they move off, stop rewarding and continue looking at the station. After 2-3 minutes of training this, pick up the station and put it away until the next training session.
If your dog really won’t go near it it’s OK to drop a tiny piece of food at the far side of it so your dog has to step on it to get the treat. Just be patient and persevere. When he/she does put a paw on it praise and give some treats. Try not to lure with the food for this training, only do this if you’re really not getting anywhere just waiting. The minute he/she starts stepping on it, start dropping treats.
Practice this 2-3 minute training session 2-3 times a day. After about 4 days you can start giving it a name. Say the locations name once your dog is on it and you are praising ‘Place, Good Place’ or something like that. Meanwhile, as the sessions continue your dog should be seeing the station and heading right for it. Try to follow them to it rather than you coaxing them. Pause and wait if they won’t walk to it without you right there. If you always walk them to it now you could be walking them to it forever! Hang back and let your dog discover that if they go ahead they still get lots of lovely treats.
After 2 weeks of training including a week of giving it a name. Start saying the name first and then encourage your dog to go to the station. You’ll have to reward there anyway and at this point your dog should be starting to associate the name with the location and be running ahead to get there. Continue rewarding every few seconds while your dog stays on the station. Once you are done rewarding, it’s really important to use a ‘release word’ to tell them they are free to move off it. Don’t let he/she break position without your release word or you’ll find it hard to build up duration.
A release word is really important in all your basic training so that, for example, ‘sit’ means sit and ‘down’ means down until I tell you to move. This way we prevent a dog that sits or downs and then immediately gets up again.
As your dog gets really good at running to and staying on station, start sending them after various distractions, like a knock on the wall, the doorbell, dropped objects etc. Dropped objects is a really good one to practice from a safety point of view. Some medications are very dangerous, even lethal to dogs so practice sending your dog to their station after dropping small (but obviously safe) items on the floor.
In general, it’s good to keep to one station object / mat and location until your dog is fluent with the ‘Place’ cue and then you can add in new station locations.
Create station locations in each room you want to control where your dog is. When you do this, start from the beginning again but you should progress through the training quite quickly as your dog will catch on it’s the same game. You can also train this outside for a relaxed stay in public places. I always include station objects and mats in all my training classes and it’s a brilliantly effective way to get all the dogs settled and working in class really quickly – even the young pups catch on and will head straight for the stations when they arrive after a few sessions!