By Honor Tarpenning, NextDayPets.com Staff
The Place command is a target exercise that cues your dog to go to a specific location, lay down, and stay, this is called a Down Stay. Once your dog has this behavior down, you can use it to keep him from pestering guests, begging at the dinner table, and being underfoot while you perform tasks like feeding or changing a baby. A Place command is also a perfect alternate action to encourage when your dog is performing undesirable behavior like excessive barking.
Before you teach Place, your dog needs to be comfortable on a leash. He also needs to have a firm grasp on down, and stay. Do not try to teach Place if these activities are new to your dog, or if he doesn’t have an understanding of the commands to the point that he does what he’s told every time without hesitation. It is important to teach one command/action at a time until your dog has perfected it before moving on to another behavior that includes that action, lest your dog get confused and frustrated.
Once your dog has a good handle on down and stay, the next step is picking out a good spot for your dog to Place. A mat or dog bed that is easy to get in and out of is ideal; a throw rug or towel will work as well. The point is to have a specific, designated spot that your dog identifies as his and wherein he’s comfortable spending some time. Ideally, this should be a spot your dog will willingly go to relax even when not commanded to do so. For the purposes of explanation, it will be referred to as the mat.
Next, you need to choose an easy-to-recognize command. You should choose a command that doesn’t sound like any other commands you use, or sound like anything else you say often. Remember that your dog does not speak English; all of our commands and communications with our dogs are just sounds to them, so make sure the sound you associate with Place is easily discernable. Some examples include “place,” “bed,” “go to bed” etc.
Now you’re ready to start teaching your dog. Equip yourself with a treat pouch full of small, soft, easy-to-eat treats, and all your good-trainer patience. You are going to break the Place action down into a series of simpler actions, and build each on the one before until your dog performs the complete action. This system consists of starting with easy criteria to receive a reward, and gradually upping the requirements as your dog figures out what is expected to get a treat.
Place, broken down:
1. Go over to mat
2. Make contact with mat
3. Stand on mat
4. Sit on the mat
5. Lay down on the mat
6. Stay on mat
First, with your dog on a long training leash, stand about a yard away from the mat with your dog by your side. Say “place,” point at the mat with one hand, and toss a treat onto the mat with the other. When your dog walks to the mat to get the treat, reward him with praise. Do this several times. Then say “place” and point to the mat without throwing a treat. If your dog goes to the mat, reward him with praise and a treat. If he doesn’t, back up and try throwing the treat on the mat a few more times, then try again without a treat.
Once your dog consistently walks over to the mat every time you point and say “place,” it’s time to up the expectations. Say “place” and point to the mat, but this time do not praise or treat your dog until he makes physical contact with the mat. This can be anything from standing on the mat, to placing his paw on it, to touching it with his nose. The idea is that your dog will be expecting a treat, and when he doesn’t get one, he will try to figure out what he needs to do to get one. If he doesn’t make contact with the mat within a few seconds of walking over to it, use the leash to walk him close enough to the mat that his paws touch it, and give him a treat and praise. Then try again.
After your dog starts consistently making contact with the mat every time you point towards it and say “place,” up the ante again and require him to not only contact the mat, but stand on it. Point and say “place” but withhold a treat until all fours are on the mat. If he doesn’t walk onto the mat within a few seconds, use the leash to direct him to stand on the mat, then praise and treat.
Next, withhold the treat until your dog sits on the mat. If he does not sit right away, ask him to sit and then give him a treat.
When this is performed consistently, require that the dog lay on the mat before he gets a treat. Tell him to “place” and once he’s sitting on the mat, say “down” (or whatever your down command is) and hold a treat near the ground between his front paws. When he lies down, give him the treat. Do this a few times, then ask him to “place,” but instead of saying “down” just hold the treat near the ground between his front paws. Do this several times, and then say “place” and stand where you are, about a yard from the mat. If your dog goes over to the mat and sits but does not lay down, go back to holding the treat near his paws a few more times. Then try again and give him a treat after he lies on the mat.
Hold at this phase of training and start standing further away from the mat when you ask your dog to place. Thus far you have been standing about a yard from the mat. Try the command from two yards away. When your dog does this perfectly a few times, try it from across the room.
Once your dog will lie on the mat every time you say “place,” from anywhere in the room, count to three in your head before he gets a treat. If he starts to get up before the three-count is up, discourage him with a stern “Eh! Eh!” and give him a treat once he’s settled into a down.
After he has established that he must hold down for a few seconds to get his reward, increase the count to five before he gets a treat, then to ten, then to 30, then to a minute, two minutes, five minutes and longer.
This process requires quite a bit of patience, because your dog will most likely not master this concept in one day. The speed at which your dog picks up this action depends on a lot of factors. Some dogs will immediately stand on the mat, or even sit on the mat, within the first couple of tries at getting him to go over to it. If this is the case, you can skip ahead to getting him to lay down, and then hold a down stay in fewer sessions. Some dogs will pick up Place in a matter of days, while others can take weeks of daily sessions.
Help the process along by always giving your dog chews and bones on his mat. When you’re not training, reward your dog every time you see him lying on his mat. You don’t have to give him a treat every time you see him there, but you can scratch him behind the ears or tell him he’s a good boy. Once your dog is at the “lay down on the mat” step, you can ask him to place periodically throughout the day to enforce the behavior, like before you take him for a walk, or before you feed him dinner. In these cases, the walk or the food become the reward for good behavior, and your dog will begin to understand that good things come when he lies on his mat. Once you’ve taught the whole action and your dog performs Place when he’s told, it is important that you don’t use it as a punishment, or only use it when he’s in trouble. Be sure to mix it up and keep it fun for the dog, not always asking him to place and stay for long periods of time. Continue to ask him to place from time to time just for a few seconds and giving him a treat to keep this behavior fresh and rewarding.