If you start right out teaching your dog to sleep in her bed while she is still a puppy, you won't have any problems when she grows older. However, this article will work equally as well for those of you who have older dogs, and are facing first-time dog bed training issues as well.
Understanding the Natural Denning Instinct
As with any dog training exercise, results are gained more quickly if you work with a dog's natural instinct rather than against it. Wild dogs will always try to find a sleeping den that is safe, warm, and dry. When puppies are born in the wild, the mother always seeks out a safe and cozy den for the birthing. She teaches them to keep the den clean by correcting them if they use it for a bathroom. Understanding that domestic dogs have these same instincts will help make the dog training process go more smoothly.
Selecting a Location
The dog bed should be placed in an area that is safe, warm, and dry. Try to keep it away from common areas where there may be loud noises and constant interruptions. Keep the bed away from drafty areas or areas that receive direct airflow from your home's heating or cooling vents. It is OK to place the bed in the same area where your dog eats as long as that area meets the conditions that I just outlined.
Pre-Conditioning the Bed
The dog's sense of smell is an all-powerful motivator. She uses it to detect food, danger, friend and foe. The most important use, as far as bed training is concerned, is that she uses it to detect the "Alpha Male" or "Alpha Female" in her "pack". Since her pack is your family, and the alpha male or female is the family member who the dog thinks of as the "boss", your sent means a lot to her. She knows that you represent food, protection, fun, and love. As a result, your scent is soothing to her. You can take advantage of that by placing your scent on the bed before your dog uses it for the first time. Here's how:
Remove the bedding and rub it up against your skin. The goal here is to transfer your odor to the fabric. If you're a bit hot and sweaty, so much the better. Don't be afraid to really rub your scent into the fabric, your dog is going to derive great comfort from the scent. Next, rub your hands along any railings or non-fabric pieces that make up the bed. Again your goal is to transfer your scent.
Once you have permeated the bed with your scent, allow other family members to do the same. Your dog's nose is keen enough to pick out each of the individual scents and will immediately recognize that this new object "belongs" here and that all of the members of her pack have visited it.
Leading Your Dog to the Dog Bed
Once you have pre-conditioned the bed, take a few of your dog's favorite toys and place them into the bed. Call your dog to the bed and point to the toys and get her interested in sniffing around the toys and bed. Pat your hand and try to get her to hop into the bed. If she won't then pick her up and gently place her into the bed. She does not have to lie down yet. Your goal here is just to get her interested in the scents and to add her own scent to the mixture.
Once she is in the bed, praise her with "Good dog" or whatever your usual praising terms are. Touch and rub the bed and bedding while you pet her, or rub her head, or scratch her behind the ears. Your goal in this step is to have her associate the bed with love and pleasure.
As you continue to praise and pet, have her lie down in the bed. Continue to praise and pet so she will be relaxed and unafraid. Lie down on the floor next to her and continue to praise and pet. Keep this up for a few minutes and then gradually walk away. She may stay or she may hop out. Either way is no problem.
When your dog appears to be ready to lie down for the night call her to the bed and repeat all of the steps above. make sure that her favorite toys or blanket are in the bed. Lie down with her, if possible, until she falls asleep. If she refuses to sleep in the bed at first, do not discipline her. Take your time and repeat the procedure every day until she gets the hang of it. It could take up to a week, or more, for her to start thinking of her new dog bed as her own cozy den.