6. Goto Bed & Settle Down

Exercise 6.1 The Release Cue

Choosing a Release Cue


A Release Cue is something that often gets overlooked but it is very important since it marks the end of a behaviour (e.g. sit, down, stay, heel).  It gives the dog a clear cue to know that he can break position.  


Using a release cue will give you much more reliable behaviours.  Your dog won’t just randomly get out of his sit and walk around and this makes training much easier.


Choosing the Right Release Cue

Give a little thought to the release cue word you pick.  There are a couple of things to consider…


If you have more than one dog you might want to use your release cue prefixed by the dog’s name so you can release one dog but hold the other in position.


If you think you might go on to do more advanced training once you’ve established your basic obedience foundation then do think about having two flavours of release cue:


  • A short cue word like ‘Okay’, ‘Free’, ‘Done’ as a positional release which means to the dog you can break position but you are still working with me
  • An additional ‘all done’, ‘off you go’, ‘go play’ type of cue meaning you are free to go wherever you want, training is done for now.


I use ‘Okay’ as a positional release but this isn’t really the best word to be honest  as it can be hard for your dog to differentiate because this is a word we often use in our daily lives.


Instead, you can use something you normally don’t say much like “free” or “done” or “break” to avoid confusion. 


Stay with the same cue once you have chosen it. Everyone in your family has to use the same cue for the release command (or any other command, for that matter).


The Importance of the Release Cue

From now on try and make every behaviour you ask for have a beginning and an end.  E.g. Use your verbal cue “sit” to get your dog to sit and before he decides to get up and wander off make it your job to let him know he can move now by using your release cue.


Many dog trainers never even teach the command “stay” because every command should have a built-in stay which is only to be broken by the release cue, e.g. Sit means sit and down means down until the release cue is given.


I still train “stay” although I have always trained with a release command. Stay will work as an amplifier for the current command that you are giving your dog for situations where you really don’t want him/her to get up.


Try to use your release cue for every occasion – ask you dog to sit and look at you before:

• He is allowed to greet people or dogs

• He can run off-lead

• He jumps out of the car

• He starts to eat

• He goes through the door 


Incorporate this into your day-to-day routine and this will give you much more control and your dog will be much more predictable!


Exercise 6.2 Goto Bed & Settle Down - Tutorial 1

One of the most useful behaviours you can teach your dog in the house is to goto and stay in his bed or crate until you give him a verbal release.  This has no end of uses and you will never be sorry you trained this!


You can have a dog bed in the corner of the kitchen so if you’re cooking the dog(s) have their ‘place’ to be rather than under your feet.  You can use the same behaviour to have your meals in peace – have your dog goto and stay on the bed rather than beg at the table.  You can ask them to goto bed when someone rings the doorbell – having a mat near the door so they can see who it is good.  If you have more than one dog you can be training one dog while the others stay on their bed and wait their turn.


In exercise 6.2 then we’re going to start developing the foundation behaviour of following your hand signal to goto a specific place and stay there.  When you start this training it really helps to have something that’s raised as it forms an obvious platform / boundary that’s comfortable for the dog so a dog bed is ideal.  Crucially we want the dog to learn to goto bed and SETTLE DOWN – don’t forget the second part!


This is the first part of a two part tutorial covering everything you need to know about training your dog to goto bed and to stay there until you give them permission to break the stay (called a ‘release cue’ which we covered in Exercise 6.1).   You will also need to have completed exercise 5.2 which covers teaching your dog to lie down to a hand signal.


1. Introducing your dog to the ‘GOTO BED’


  1. I like to introduce the concept of moving away from the handler to goto bed right from the start so hold your dog while you place some treats on the bed in full view.
  2. Make a pointing gesture to the treats on the bed and say ‘goto bed’, your dog should immediately goto the bed to find the treats which you can mark and reward.
  3. If your dog chooses to stay on the bed continue to mark and reward.
  4. Repeat this until your dog is very comfortable going to the bed and getting on it.


2. Adding a Down


  1. Once your dog is comfortable going to the bed cue your dog to lie down and mark and reward when he does. 
  2. Feed a few treats in the down position and before your dog even thinks about getting up make sure you indicate the end of the exercise by giving your release cue and a hand target so the dog knows to get off the bed.
  3. At this time, we have not built in any duration for staying on the bed. If your dog makes a mistake and jumps off before you have given your release cue, simply gesture for your dog to get back on, pause briefly, and then give your release cue. 


3. Extending the duration and rewarding the settle


  1. Gradually help your dog to stay on the bed longer and longer.  You can make the gap between feeding treats longer and be really calm and encourage the dog to relax. 
  2. Notice and mark & reward any signs of relaxation from the dog like rolling over onto one hip, looking around, grooming.  I find it best not to use a clicker for this part as the click itself can make the dog excited.


In the second part of this tutorial next week we’ll look at Adding the Three Ds to this behaviour – Distance, Duration & Distraction.  We want our dogs to be able to stay on the bed for as long as we ask them to no matter how far away the handler walks, and no matter the number of distractions that appear. 


Have fun!