It is highly important to have a safe space for your dog to have access to. They seek a place of calm and safety in times of stress. It can be a crate, a mat or a space under a table…somewhere that is just for them. A place where all the fun things happen – where treats magically appear, special dog chews arrive and the best dog toys live.
If you are consistent you can eventually train your dog to go to their place on cue. For example, if your dog is noise reactive, you can place them in their safe place to assist in lowering their stress levels. By showing them that they can find solace away from the situation they aren’t comfortable with.
Familiarising your dog with the place can be reinforced through training. Call your dog to their place on cue, choose a signal, for example say “Place!” or “Matt”, lure them there with a treat, and then reward them “Yes! Good Girl!” Repeating until your dog takes comfort in this space on their own or on your signal.
What should humans avoid doing around a dog’s safe space?
You should avoid doing anything that could be perceived as negative event for your dog. Once you’ve gone to the effort of making the space a positive one, avoid any negative actions to encroach on their space. Such as letting strangers touching them or high energy children approach the dog if they are in their safe space. Don’t clip their nails or even brush/comb them in their space. Nothing that will give off a negative vibe.
All of those things could be viewed by your dog as potentially quite negative. They could lead your dog to view their space as less safe and instead resort to other ways of protecting themselves.
How you can prevent a dog from sitting in unsafe locations (i.e. behind doors or under cars)
We mentioned earlier about positively charging a space. If you’re not doing anything positive with a particular space, chances are the dog’s not going to really favour it. The exception would be if you’re absolutely doing nothing, in which case the dog will choose what spot suits him or her and it won’t necessarily suit you.
The best bet is to decide where you want the dog to be, i.e. a comfy bed, and positively charge that space. Give the dog a treat whenever they go there. Give the dog a Kong or other interactive item that will occupy them, which they don’t get until they go to their safe space.
If your dog is in an unsafe location, you are better off calling the dog away instead of getting up and forcibly removing them. The dog may consider “under the car” is a safe space, so you don’t want your dog having experience with you being the one taking them away from somewhere where they’re comfortable.
You want it to be their idea, so you’re better off calling them to you and using a high value treat if you need.
What’s happening in a dog’s mind when they are in a ‘safe place’?
As to their specific inner workings, as much as we’d like to say that we know, we don’t. However, we can assume if the dog is choosing to seek out this location and the dog is showing behavioural signs that he or she is relaxed, you would think that the dog enjoys being there because the dog has a choice of whether to be there or not. If they’re engaging in relaxed behaviour, and better yet, if they’re engaging in curious, inquisitive behaviour on top of that, that’s a really good sign that shows that the dog at least has a positive emotional state.
Should you train a dog in their safe place?
We wouldn’t really recommend much training much besides, “Go to your place and lay down,” on the safe space. Mainly because we want it to be a location where the dog experiences low arousal, which is low excitement and calmness. Things like snuffle mats, food puzzles, Kongs etc are fine to give your dog in the safe space.
The caveat, obviously, if your dog isn’t used to these items, say you’ve got a rescue dog that’s had a very limited history of seeing and experiencing these things, we’d advise against just throwing them a toy and saying, “Here you go. Enjoy.” If the dog doesn’t know what it is, that might actually be a bit counter intuitive.
It’s relatively easy to promote a dog to use a safe place. Once they’re there, keep the interactions positive and minimise any negativity.
You might have a hammock, or your favourite spot on the couch. And this dog has a tea cup 🙂