Does your dog try to rush out of every door you open? Jump on you, friends, family, neighbors and strangers? Does your dog run around in circles when you come home like he's just taken 32 espresso shots in a fancy Starbucks order that I can't pronounce correctly? Good, you've come to the right place.
A place command is the same thing as a stay command, only it's different ... let me explain. Teaching a dog to stay means "Stay where you are, don't move until I release you." Very simple. A place command is more "Go to the designated area we've previously established and wait there until you've been released."
So what are the pros and cons of a stay vs place command? Stay commands don't really make sense. If I tell my dog to sit, I expect him to sit until he's released. If I tell him to lay down, I expect him to lay down until released. If I tell him to stand ... well, you get the picture, he stands there until he's released. So why use a stay command? Sit means stay while seated. Down means stay while down. Stand means stay while standing. A separate word for stay is redundant.
A place command, however, isn't redundant because I'm sending the dog to a specific location I've already decided upon. If my dog gets wild and runs circles and bumps into everything and everyone when he's excited, I can say "Place" and he'll go to his bed, or place mat, or crate, or on a piece of tape on the floor. Literally anything can be used to mark a place. So why try to convey the idea of calming down to a dog, which is possible, but a difficult concept to express on a dog; when you can simply avoid it with a place command until he calms down?
Now that we've established the difference between a stay and place command, why it exists, and issues that can be solved by teaching a place command, how do we actually teach the place command?
Step 1: Most people would say "Make sure your dog has a solid stay command." But as I've mentioned earlier, in my opinion, it's a redundant command. So start with this: does your dog know basic obedience? If yes, does your dog stay in a sit or down until you release them? If the answer is no, your dog isn't trained in the basics yet. You need to go back and focus on your base foundation of obedience. Down means stay right here, in the down position no matter what.
If you've got that ironed out, you need to pick a mark. Bigger is better at this point. A dog bed, a crate, a towel, or a small blanket work great. Walk your dog to it and as soon as they stand a single paw on it, give them a marker word and reward with a treat. Do this randomly throughout the day for a few days.
After that, stop giving a reward for 1 paw, and only mark the behavior and reward when they're completely on the mark or in the crate. Continue this leg of training until you can tell they understand the exercise by walking fully into the crate or fully on to the mark surface.
Once you've completed that, simply add the down command. Most dogs like to skip ahead, which can be bad, but is good in this instance. With enough repetition, they know that as soon as they go to their place, you tell them to lie down, so they'll skip the step and go straight to lying down before you get a chance to tell them to lie down.
Building upon the love dogs have for skipping a step, if you're lucky, when you grab treats and walk over to the mark, you may have noticed that your dog goes directly to the mark and downs without you saying a word. Reward that. But start adding a command to it. Walk over to their mark, say "Place," if they lay down instinctively, reward. If you have to tell them to lie down, that's fine, reward when they lie down. After a few repetitions of this, they'll learn that place means to go to their mark and lay down. You've successfully trained the place command using nothing but positive reinforcement and only ever using 2 commands (down and place).
There's one problem though if you're using this command when your dog is excited. Just because a dog knows a command, doesn't mean the dog will obey the command when exposed to a high level of distraction or stimuli. So how do we insure the dog always obeys the command? It depends. Do you have all the time in the world, or is this training done in response to reasonably dangerous behavior?
If you have all of the time in the world, simply have friends come over, and if the dog breaks the command, you reprimand him, tell him to go back to his place, and reward him for listening. Depending on the dog, its drive, your bond, and how eager the dog is to work with you, this method can take anywhere from a few days of practice to get down, to practically never being 100%. The second option involves corrections, so I would much rather at least try the first option. But if that fails, or the dog's behavior is reasonably dangerous, you may need to move to corrections to teach the dog that you're not asking, you're giving a command that will be obeyed.
What do I mean by "reasonably dangerous behavior"? I'm talking about dogs who rush guests aggressively trying to intimidate them. I mean dogs who jump up on every guest, including elderly parents and friends who may lose their balance and get hurt. I mean dogs who'll fly head first into a kindergarten class worth of 5 year olds like a bowling ball. I mean a dog who will go flying out of the door and not come back when called. These are instances where someone or the dog may get hurt, and in these instances, if corrections are needed, use them.
I gave examples of dogs who like to escape out of the door, or dogs who rush or jump on guests benefiting from place training, but the uses are endless. Tired of your dog following you into the bathroom? Do you not want your dog out of the kitchen when you're cooking for both of your safety because you'd hate to trip over him and burn the both of you? Does your dog run circles around you when you vacuum or mop? There are endless reasons to use a place command, and so many ways it can make your life simpler and safer.
If you liked this article, please leave a like and a share. How many of you use a place command already, and what steps did you take to teach it? Leave a comment.
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