Place and the 3 Ds
Now that we’ve all mastered the value game and have become proficient shapers of behavior, there is no reason that we aren’t well on our way to developing a massive repertoire of practical and novel proactive and passive behaviors with our dogs. “Sit”, “Down”, “Here”, “Sit Pretty”, “Place”, etc, all of these cues can be conditioned with the tools we’ve learned to use to this point. I will often spend months restricting myself to reward based systems with my young dogs. Of all the cues I teach in this time, none is more valuable to me than “place”.
For me, “place” will always begin on an elevated platform. There are several commercial variations of the platforms available to the public; these are commonly known as place boards. A place board for the home should large enough for the dog to lay down on without hanging off, but not so large that the dog can choose a section of the board to lay on. It must be high enough that it easily delineated from the ground, but not so high that it can’t be easily accessed by the dog. As a stand-alone command, “place” has plenty of use, but its real value is as a training aid. I use the place board to introduce several concepts to the dog like remote access of the reward, and the “3 Ds (duration, distance, and distraction). When using the place command with gun dogs I will often opt for a smaller board that will give the dog less opportunity to lay down.
Remote access of the reward
This concept will actually be introduced earlier in training with the “target”. I will teach the pup to bump my palm with his nose to produce the mark and then reward away from the target from the opposite hand. The pup must learn that soliciting the lure will not always produce the mark. Eventually through successive approximation we can have the dog moving relatively great distances to the place board to produce the mark and release back to the reward. This is an important part of the foundation work I do with my working dogs, service dogs, and gun dogs. This behavior will grow into things such as the retrieve, remote directional casting, turning on lights, etc. It’s important to note that I will require the dog to have four feet on the board to earn the mark before I start increasing the distance from which I’m sending him/her.
The 3 Ds:
Once I’m consistently sending the dog to the board from a distance of ten or so feet, I’m ready to move back in and ask for duration (the first of the 3 Ds). Simply put, duration means the dog performs the behavior cued by the handler for an extended period of time until released. For me, this begins on the place board. The dog is cued to the board (either verbally or nonverbally), but instead of being instantly released, the reward is delivered to the dog in position on the board. Here, I will add the duration mark “good”. Once the dog gets four feet on the board, I will mark with “good” and move to the dog to deliver the reward. If the dog breaks, I will withhold the reward until he/she settles on the board or, if the dog has left the board, I’ll break engagement and start over. I consider “good” a secondary marker because; unlike “yes” I’m not compelled to reward the dog every time the mark is used. The objective is to communicate to the dog “you’re performing the correct behavior and can expect a reward if you continue to perform it”. I will gradually extend the time between “good” and the delivery of the reward. In a few short sessions, you should be able to cue the dog to “place”, deliver the duration marker, and expect the dog to stay until released. If the dog breaks off of the board, just mark with “no”, break engagement, and start over.
If we take our time and establish good duration on “place” then distance and distraction will, no doubt be easily accomplished. Cue the dog to the board, and take one step back, if the dog stays in position mark for duration and deliver the reward. Gradually increase the distance over several reps occasionally stepping back in to relieve the stress of constantly increasing distance and duration. Every once in a while mix in “yes” (primary reward marker) and allow the dog to break and receive the reward. If the dog is reluctant to leave the board go ahead and entice him/her to do so. You’ll need to work to establish a balance regarding what the dog anticipates from you in these situations. Soon, you should be backing out to relatively great distances while your dog awaits your next move patiently. This is a wonderful way to introduce the concept of “stay”.
Once duration and distance have been introduced distraction is a piece of cake. I like to use a low value toy to start. Begin close with the dog on the board. Position your body between the dog and the hand with the toy. Move the toy in a manner meant to stimulate the dog without enticing it to break entirely. If the dog does break and leave the board, mark with no and break engagement, taking with you the toy and the chance of reward. If the dog stays in position mark with “good” and deliver the food reward in position. Eventually you can toss the toy a short distance taking care to keep your body between the dog and the toy. Make sure that you can get to the toy before the dog does if he/she chooses to break. For dogs with high prey drive, we can mark and release to the toy to reinforce, just make sure you’re controlling the environment in such a way as not to encourage breaking. Before long you’ll be throwing a high value toy across the training field while your dog waits patiently for a release. Some of you gun dog enthusiast may be thinking that this sounds like an introduction to steadiness… you’re correct.