Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Creating a Safe Place


Right now, if you have a dog with separation issues, you are probably his safe place. As charming as that is, it may well be the taproot of your dog’s problem, because when you walk out the door, his safety goes with you. So our task is to create a safe place in your home that is always there when he needs it.

This can be any sort of bed or blanket or an open crate works as well – doesn’t have to be fancy. If you’re going to go “all out” then pick up a bed with some sort of sides on it. Locate this where he can see the door you use to come and go but is out of the way. In many homes, this is a corner of the kitchen or family room.

How to begin:

Put a worn article of clothing there, such as a sweat shirt in this area. Something that smells like you is, for your dog, like putting a picture of a loved one on your desk is for you: A comforting reminder.
Now, anytime you walk past that bed toss a small, but delicious treat or two on it, then walk away. It won’t take your dog long to put two and two together.
At the same time, sit near the bed and when your dog walks by it – toss a treat onto it without comment or command. Being near to the bed causes treats to rain from the heavens. How interesting!
Once your dog gets that idea, that this new bed place seems interesting, start tossing in treats when he puts a paw on, then two paws and then getting all the way in. Reward his best efforts with treats and watch him learn. Be patient – reward him enough to keep him interested, but frustrate him enough to encourage him to try new things.
DO NOT praise, pet or look at him when doing this – the goal is to create a good feeling about the bed, not a good feeling about you being near the bed. Your emotional participation would defeat the purpose.
Do this for a few minutes at a time until he happily hops into the bed on his own.
Store favorite toys and a couple of treats in that spot.
Anytime you just happen to find your dog already in that bed, stroke him calmly using long, slow strokes (these are calming to many dogs) or simply toss a treat to him without comment. A drive-by treating!. We want him to think: Being here is so nice, I love this spot!

Building Love for the Safe Spot

Leave a leash on your dog when you are home, and any time you want to pet him or speak to him, walk him calmly and happily over to his spot. Touch and talk to him when he is there.
Ignore him when he is off his spot. No big deal, it’s just not the way he gets your attention.
Feed him on that spot. In fact, if he’s a food lover – hold his leash, restrain him a bit and place his bowl on his spot. (Not that strong? Then tether him to a doorknob.) Move your dog a few feet away and hold him back a few seconds, then let him go. This will help build his desire to go to that location. Don’t use words here, we want him to think that seeking this spot out on his own is just a darn fine idea.
Anytime you happen to find him on his spot, smile, speak to him calmly and stroke him with long, slow, firm strokes.

Finishing Touches

Teach a Guided Down. This is where your dog lies down to light downward pressure on the leash. This is useful because it allows you to create a down without discussion or debate. Once he understands the Guided Down, use it anytime you take your dog to that spot or go over to reward him there. DO NOT say “Down” – simply gently use the leash pressure and wait. When he downs then you release pressure, smile, praise and stroke slowly and firmly. Doing it this way quickly creates a dog who downs whenever you approach his safe spot. Excellent!
Use this to teach him how to get your attention. If he looks at you, goes to his safe spot and downs calmly, you go over and interact with him calmly. If he goes to his safe spot but does not down, smile as you use the Guided Down to remind him, then reward him. Your goal is to help him get it right, not “correct” him. As far as he is concerned, lying down on this spot causes the nicest things to happen!

Doing this protocol should have your dog happily choosing to hang out on his bed.

Not only is this a sanity saver in general but this starts to teach an SA dog to enjoy a spot away from you. With practice and persistence, your dog will start seeking this spot out on his own for relaxation.

Quick Tips

Store his toys on and around his safe location
Give him treats when he is there
Pet him and talk to him when he is there
Give him his meals there (ideally in his food dispensing toys)
Do not allow other pets or people to use “his” spot

Safe Spots: Problems and Solutions

My dog won’t get on the bed.
So you’ve done the treat tossing deal and it’s not getting you anywhere. Try this: Put him on leash and, using a treat to his nose, lead him onto the bed.

At first, give the treat when one foot touches the bed. After a few repetitions, try for two feet – then three.

If at some point he just walks onto the bed, great! Give multiple treats – continue to treat for as long as he is on the bed.

When he gets off the bed, ignore him for a count of ten then try again. On bed: Smile and treats. Off bed: ignore. That’s an easy choice!

My dog won’t stay on the bed.
Deliver treats more rapidly when he is on the bed; when he gets off – ignore him. If he gets off rapidly, just step on the leash so he can’t go far and ignore him for a count of ten, then try again. When he’s on the bed, smile while delivering multiple treats quickly. He’ll figure it out.

Now he won’t get off the bed!
Not a problem! This is what we want. Let your dog hang out there as much as she wants. Randomly toss treats over there when you happen to walk by or go over and stroke her with long, slow, firm strokes. What a good, good dog. That’s perfect!

By Sarah Wilson,

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