I don’t know how I ever lived with a dog before I knew the Place Command. Today, it is among my most important commands for my dogs and was the first thing I taught Sitka after I adopted him.
The Place Command is a magical cue that can be used in a number of situations. It is the command that will awe other dog owners who struggle with their dog’s inability to chill.the.F.out. It is the command that allows me to go to breweries, do my work in peace, allow trail users to pass, enjoy a meal with friends, and practice good behavior in hotels or in friend’s homes.
The other day, I brought dinner to a friend and needed to make a few trips back to the car. I left Sitka in the car with the door open because it was warm out. When I told her he was in the car with the door open, she was aghast, especially because we had been chatting for a few minutes.
What if he jumps out?
What if he sees a squirrel?
He will stay put.
She couldn’t believe it. And sure enough when we went back to the car, Sitka was exactly where I had left him, waiting to be released.
What is the Place Command?
The place command is an essential command that will teach your dog to settle down in any situation. It gives your dog a job to do instead of the job they choose for themselves. When your dog chooses their own job, it usually displays in undesirable behaviors, such as:
- Barking at the doorbell
- Rushing to the door
- Jumping up on people
- Begging at the dinner table
- Getting into trouble at home (eating things they shouldn’t, shredding their toys, etc.)
- Jumping out of the car without permission
Put simply, “place” means “go-to-the-spot-I-tell-you-and-stay-there-until-I-release-you.” In this command, your dog has no choice but to stay there. And they do it like it’s their job, because it is.
When to use the Place Command
I use the place command all the time, every single day, in a variety of situations. At home, if he’s not in his crate, he’s most likely in place. This gives him structure during the day when we’re together and reminds him that he doesn’t just get to do what he wants at home.
The command also translates especially well to our outdoor adventures and traveling. I use it constantly on our adventures. Here are a few examples of where I ask for “place”:
- We practice good hiking etiquette by pulling over to the side when others pass. I can point to a rock or a stump and tell Sitka, “place!”
- At camp, I bring a dog travel bed and ask Sitka to “place” while I set up the tent, eat a meal, cook dinner, or any other task I need to do where I need him to stay put.
- I use “place” for paddle boarding. This is how I taught Sitka to get up onto my board and stay still while we paddle. Otherwise, he’d move around a lot and send us both into the water.
- In the car. Sitka does not enjoy car rides and I’ve had to teach him that driving means adventure and fun. The place command gives him something to focus on while we’re in the car. I seat belt him in to make sure that he doesn’t break the command (and also for safety reasons). Place in the car also ensures that he doesn’t leap from the car without permission when I open the door.
- Want your dog to stay put for photos? Place command, baby. I pick the spot I want Sitka to pose and say “place” and he knows what to do.
- Breweries and restaurant patios. This is one of my most favorite spots to use the place command! We love hitting up a local brewery after a hike and I don’t want to have to worry about Sitka reacting to all of the stimuli. I bring a mat and ask him to place so he can chill and relax while I enjoy my beer.
Tools You Need to Teach the Place Command
The great thing about the place command is that you don’t need a lot of tools or special gear to get started. Aside from a place mat of some sort, you’ll need treats and a leash.
I personally began training with a cot, but once you teach the concept, you can pair the command with any object.
This is great for those on the go. Cots are cumbersome for travel and teaching your dog to use just about any object as a place spot will make your life easier. What you’re looking for is something with defined boundaries.
Cots are often used because they have a clear boundary, thanks to the elevated height. While I love them and use mine daily, and I have also taught Sitka that “place” can refer to a number of objects.
Other objects that can serve as “place mats”
- Scale (handy for the vet!)
- Door mat (to keep muddy paws outside before cleaning)
- The bathtub
- A piece of paper
In the “wild,” or when you find yourself in a situation where you need to use the place command, but don’t have your dog’s bed with you, you can use tons of objects as “place boards.”
I mentioned that I use rocks and logs above. You can also use any of the following:
- Picnic tables
Favorite Training Boards and Mats to Get Started
As I mentioned above, you don’t need to use a cot, but you do need to start teaching with something that had a pronounced boundary. Here are a few favorite items I recommend for getting started or for bringing along on the go:
This cot comes in a number of sizes to accommodate large and small dogs. The breathable mesh keeps your dog cool during the summer months and also keeps it clean if you take it outdoors.
The large holds dogs up to 200 pounds and the material wipes clean easily with a damp cloth.
This is my go to when we travel. It folds up in half and fits into a carrying case with handles making transport a breeze. The material is padded and soft and super easy to clean. You can just pop it in the wash if it gets dirty. I would recommend air drying as mine seems to have shrunk a little in the dryer.
My one beef is the Velcro attachments. Dog fur and Velcro just don’t mix!
Dog mags like this one from Only Natural Pet are great for travel, camping, and indoor use. They are easily transportable and clean super easily. What I love about this one is that it is made in the USA from recycled plastic bottles.
How to Teach the Place Command
Begin working in a low-distraction area, such as your house. As your dog masters the command there, gradually build to higher-distraction areas. I will provide a list of great practice spots below.
Keep sessions short, starting with 10 minutes and building up to 20 once you introduce more distractions.
I’m planning to add a video soon to complement this post. Stay tuned!
Start with the Release Cue
Before using the word “place,” you first have to teach your dog a release cue. I learned this from Kerry Hall of FLASH Dog Training. If your dog doesn’t know that there is a release word, then they don’t know that they are supposed to hold that position until you say.
Choose a word that you don’t use all the time. Many handlers use “ok,” which confuses the dog because it’s a very common word that we all use. I’m totally guilty of conditioning my dogs to release on “ok” and have had to work to eliminate that word from my vocabulary when I am working with them.
I use “free.” I’ve also heard other use “break.” Just pick a word that you don’t use regularly, as it will confuse your dog.
The way this works with place is to lead your dog, on leash, to the place board. Allow them to climb on top, wait a second or two, then use leash pressure and body posture to lure them back toward you while you say your release word. Reward.
Introducing the Command
Now that your dog knows they need to wait for a release cue, you can teach them what “place” means. Start by leading your dog to the cot and rewarding them with “yes!” or the clicker and offer a treat once all four paws are on the board.
Release your dog with your release word and repeat several times.
Add Lie Down
Once your dog has this down, you’ll want to introduce “lie down” on the cot. If your dog already knows the command, then this should be a piece of a cake. Otherwise, you can lure with leash pressure and/or a treat, and reward when they are in position.
Repeat as above several times until your dog understands that they need to automatically get on the cot and lie down without asking.
As your dog learns what you are asking, now is the time to build duration. Start with just a few seconds, then reward. Then five. Then 10. Then minutes. Make sure to incorporate lots of breaks when you’re starting out so that your dog doesn’t become too tired or frustrated.
Once your dog has mastered duration, you’ll want to introduce distractions. You are going to look rather silly doing these, especially as you venture out into public places, but it will all be worth it for every time you hear someone tell you how well behaved your dog is.
You’ll do things like shake the leash, make strange sounds, run around, and hide behind corners.
Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol is my go to for introducing distractions. It’s a 15-day plan for increasing duration and distractions. Once you’ve mastered the 15 days, then you can take your dog to more distracting locations to strengthen the skill further.
Now that your dog is really fluent with the place command, you’ll want to up the ante by going to distracting locations. There are a ton of really great spots to practice. If you have a reactive dog, keep that in mind and don’t go above their threshold during these sessions.
Need ideas for spots to train your dog with the place command?
- A local park
- Outside of a dog park
- On a bike path
- At a popular urban recreating spot, like a lake
- Home Depot or Lowes
- Floral nurseries
- Skate park
- Near a school (time it for when school lets out or during recess)
- By a playground
Both you and your dog will make mistakes during any kind of training. If your dog breaks command during place training, simply say “nope” or “uh-uh” and lead your dog back to the cot with their leash and your body position. Do not reward for a mistake.
If your dog makes several mistakes in a row, give them a break or take it as a cue that they may be done for that session. You can try again later. I like to crate my dog after a training session so they can decompress.
Practice place command regularly and your dog will become a master in no time. Soon, you’ll be able to enjoy happy hour with friends, knocks on the door without commotion, and a relaxed dog indoors.