What "place" is:
A cue in which you SEND your dog to a specific target/location (like a bed, mat, towel, or any moveable marker or combination thereof, MEANING: Spark & the HEX Dog gang has this cue generalized well enough that if I "activate" an object by touching it, and then cue "place!" they understand that I mean that specific object or target in that instance). Once they are on the "place," the dog remains there (in a sit, a down, or a stand, your choice) until released by the handler. I like my dogs to lay all the way down on the place, but that isn't a requirement. Most people are satisfied as long as their dog is ON the place, regardless of which position he wants to be in.
Why we do it:
Place cue is amazingly useful in a variety of situations! Seriously! I use it when we sit down to eat and don't want the pups underfoot; I use it when I feed them; I use it when I open the refrigerator so there aren't four pit bull heads in the freezer! I also use it when people (visitors) come in the door and I need the dogs in a safe spot.. I also use it all the time in class when my dogs assist and I need them to go to a specific location. SO useful!
NOW... for HOW we do it!
Prep work: get yourself something you want to use for your "place" to start teaching it: a towel, folded in half, is fine, or a kitchen/bath mat. Consider using a clicker for this. (A clicker is just going to be your marker to tell your dog, "YES, that's what I wanted you to do.") A verbal marker is good also, but you do lose a little precision. I say "YES" in place of a click if I don't have a clicker handy. ALSO, you NEED to have a release word to teach this in any valuable kind of way, so pick one right now! A release word is just a cue to tell the dog when the behavior is over. My dogs' release words are: break, release, free, at ease. I have also used "fall out."
1) Spend a little time with your dog on a leash, walking him back 'n forth over the place. It's not unusual at all, especially in puppies, for the dog to show a little aversion to a weird surface at first. (Some dogs don't care at all, some will try avoiding it at all costs in the beginning... lol. Just keep walking him back 'n forth and around over it, and you can even throw a treat or two onto it until your dog isn't showing any aversion to stepping on the place. This becomes especially relevant if you graduate to having your dog "place" on different items, i.e. if you're part of the HEX Dog Crew, you can place on rocks, plastic chairs, stumps, scratchy "wipe your feet" type mats, etc.)
***NOTE!*** Don't give the verbal cue "place" until you are on step 4 and have your dog readily going over to the place & sitting down. RESIST the urge to nag "place, place, place, PLACE, PLACE" as you're going through the steps - your dog doesn't speak English & he doesn't know what you want yet. It's annoying to me (in classes!) and it's annoying to your dog to repeat "placeplaceplaceplaceplace" while you're trying to teach it and neither of you has any idea what you're doing yet. lol.
2) Get a pocket full of treats ready. Here's where it can get tricky: you can certainly use the treat to LURE your dog onto the place, but I prefer to do it in a way that makes the dog use his brain a little more. I find I get better results by trying to do less of a "lure," and more of a "hint," i.e. I'll walk my dog around the place, move it (the place) a little bit with my foot, and when the dog looks down to acknowledge it/see what that was, I click and deliver the treat. (Remember, the click is to tell him when he was on the right track - it's NOT to get his attention and especially not to reprimand.)
3) I continue to move around the place, clicking & treating any interest my dog shows in the place. What you will eventually start to see (and it can take a good 15 minutes the first time you do this), is a dog looking down at or pawing the place as if to say, "Ok, I'm not sure exactly what you want me to do yet, but does it have something to do with THIS?" Why yes, yes it does, sir :) After you click and deliver the treat, say your release word ("break!") and walk him off the place. DO NOT TREAT FOR THE RELEASE, only for touching the place.
***Again, nothing wrong with simply LURING your dog onto the place with the treat, or for that matter, walking him over to it and getting him into a sit with your leash, HOWEVER... neither of those methods require your dog to REALLY use his brain, and I find I get a more enthusiastic lifetime response if I teach it by having him try to "figure it out" to a certain degree.***
4) As your dog is getting the idea to touch the place with his feet, withhold the treat a bit until he tries something else (they usually SIT at this junction and that's what we want!), especially if you are close to them & they know you have the treat. You can also simply CUE "sit" at this point, although again, I like to have the dog figure out as much as possible. I can usually initiate the sit simply by moving the treat UPWARDS. It's like giving a "hint" instead of just saying it or luring him into it. You see what I'm getting at here?
5) As you have your dog going to sit on the place, and he's getting the idea of that, start to have your dog WALK OVER TO IT at greater distances, meaning... I walk over to the place, and stop short about a foot 'n a half from where I WAS standing right next to it. You can lean and reach over with your hand to indicate that you want him to go to that TARGET. "Place" doesn't just mean "sit/lay down next to me;" it's going to mean GO OVER TO THAT TARGET. Slowly increase the distance you are sending your dog to the place, and change the location of the place as well; this way, you are helping your dog generalize that the cue "place" means GO TO THIS TARGET (not that section of the house, etc.). ***When you have your dog walking over to the place, even if it's just from a few feet away, start cuing "Place!" RIGHT WHEN HE STARTS WALKING OVER TO IT. Don't wait until he's all the way there. "Place" doesn't mean "sit." It means "go over to that target and sit/lay down/stay" until released. As said previously, what position you want him in is up to you.
***Don't forget to give your release word ("free!") EVERY single time you're letting your dog off the place!***
A few common issues that come up teaching "place:"
> Your dog starts stopping halfway over to the place as you increase the distance:
If this happens, no sweat, simply calmly go over to him, pick up his leash, and bring him over to the place. He's just confused. Reward him once he gets there.
> Your dog isn't staying on the place until released. Again, GET HIM and bring him back over the place and sit him down on it. Keep calm. As your dog gets more proficient at place, no longer reward him if he breaks prematurely. (You can end up with a dog that breaks every three seconds so you'll come over there, bring him back, and give him the treat again!)
Hopefully, this was a comprehensive description of the behavior, and I hope you guys have tons of fun teaching it! Here are a few videos (via facebook) of the HEX Dogs demonstrating the command!
Dually demonstrates long distance "place" for breakfast!
Double Dog "place!"
Thanks for reading, and please visit us on facebook here and check out our actual website here!
Cassie-Leigh Stock, ABCDT, CTDI, AKC-CGC, CDT
Owner, Higher Expectations Dog Training & Behavior Modification
President & Founder, New England Bully Breed Club