A Spot for Spot

The “place” cue is a must-have item for dog lovers this holiday season!  A “place” cue works great in many situations in which people commonly ask their dogs to sit or lay down and stay.  For example, dogs can be sent to their place when the doorbell rings, when guests are entering, when the family is eating dinner, and while everyone is relaxing in the evenings.  When a dog is on his “place”, he can’t be running out the door, jumping on guests, begging at the table, stealing food off the counters, climbing on the couch, or chasing the cat.  It is also a great skill for dogs that travel with their families because it gives the dogs a familiar place to hang out in new surroundings and the security of being given a well-known cue to perform.  It is easy to bring a mat along to friends’ houses, hotel rooms, and even outdoor eateries.  

When I tell a dog “place”, I am asking him to go to a specific location, such as a rug or dog bed, and remain there until I tell him he can move from that location.  The dog can sit, lie down, stand, or change between those positions…. I don’t care, as long as his feet remain on the designated place!   I teach this by putting a mat down on the ground and luring the dog onto the mat with a treat.  I then toss treats, one at a time, onto the mat as long as the dog remains on the mat.  I deliver 5-10 treats with the dog on the mat and then tell the dog “okay” (or whatever release word the dog already knows) and encourage him to leave the mat.  I repeat this until the dog is remaining on the mat and looking expectantly for the next reward, and then add the cue “place” before taking the dog to the mat.  Once the dog is moving to the mat on cue, I begin moving a tiny bit further away from the mat, continuing to toss treats to the dog for remaining there.  At this stage, if the dog begins to move off the mat towards you, you can step in towards him to block his progress and get him to move back onto the mat.  Setting the mat up in a corner will help, since the dog won’t be able to move away from you to get off the mat!  Gradually introduce the distractions that the dog will be faced with when you use the “place” cue in real life (what sights, sounds, and activities will be happening while the dog is at his “place”?).  Once the dog can remain on his place during real life distractions, you just need to build up the time between rewards so you can go about your business while the dog relaxes on his “place”.  Of course, it never hurts to give your dog some entertainment if he is going to be there a while; a stuffed Kong toy or a special chewie are always appreciated!

I find that many dogs learn to perform a “place” behavior more quickly, from greater distances, and for longer times than a stay.  This may be partly because the dogs are being given more flexibility in what they do, but I think a big part of it is that it is easier for people to be consistent about the rules!  For example, if you ask your dog to sit and stay while you answer the door and he gets up as you open the door, what do you do?  Do you shut the door in your guest’s face and get your dog back in position before allowing your guest to enter?  Or do you continue to open the door and have the guest enter, maybe telling the dog “shame on you!”, or grabbing his collar to keep him from jumping on your guest or running out the door?  Understandably, many people don’t feel comfortable shutting the door on their guests so they can teach their dog to “stay”!  However, this results in a lot of dogs that never actually learn that they must “stay” when guests are arriving.    If the dog is sent to their “place” instead (somewhere near the door at first!), then you can simply take a step towards the dog if he starts to move off his “place” towards the door, and he will move back.  The dog can get clear, consistent feedback about your expectations without having to leave your guests out in the cold!  That is sure to increase everyone’s holiday cheer!