What is the step-by-step instruction to teach my highly-distracted dog the relaxed cue?
The relaxed cue is the best way to calm a highly distracted dog. Clicker training can be very effective in teaching your dog to relax or “go to her place.”
Here are some step-by-step instructions:
• Get a mat or towel and let your dog sniff around it. The second she shows any interest, click or verbally mark the behavior, and put a treat on the mat.
• Start clicking and treating when she offers various desired behaviors, such as “down” or “sit.”
• Once the dog is in position, reward her in that position, but then give a release cue and encourage her off the mat. As a release cue, you could call her, throw food a distance from the mat and tell her to get it, or could walk her off with the leash.
• The second the dog leaves the mat, all clicking, praising, and treating ends. Stand quietly and wait. Most dogs at this point will go back to the mat in an effort to restart the game. When they do, throw treats on the mat.
You want to be sure the dog understands that she is being rewarded for returning to the mat, not for performing “down” or any other command. Each time she returns to the mat, mark it, and treat her on the mat. Each time you release her from the mat, step back a bit farther so she has to take another step or two to get back to the mat to restart the game.
• When the dog is committed to being on the mat, you can start increasing the time between rewards. If she leaves the mat before you give a release cue, pick up the mat for a minute and ignore her, then give her another chance. If she is confidently remaining on the mat until your release cue, you can start taking little steps around her. If you have an excitable dog, start by just bending your knees as if you are about to take a step. After each little movement you make, return and reward the dog if she has remained on the mat. It should not take long for the dog to figure out that no matter what you are doing, she will continue receiving rewards if she stays on the mat until you release her.