If you’re a dog owner, rescuer, or dog trainer who spends any amount of time with our team, you will be coached on the concept of “place,” otherwise known as your dog’s Off Switch.
Whether you’re working on your own to resolve or improve behavior issues in your dog, or entering into a training program with us, place (a command that instructs the dog to both lay down, stay, and ultimately turn off their brain to the world around them), will be fundamental to your success. As a command, place is a key ingredient in how we change and prevent poor behavior habits, as well as a brilliant tool and strategy for proactively building the impulse control and correct choice making desired in a young/developing dog
The goal with teaching your dog to hold a down/stay, one that specifically emphasizes a calm state of mind, is very similar to that of adopting a habit or practice of meditation in your own life. If you have a daily practice of patterning calmness, focus, and self control (deep breaths, pause, filter the information as FOR YOU), you will develop better responses to the events in your life – especially stressful ones. Without this mindfulness, most people experience anger, fear, anxiety, or reactivity. Through a practice of mindfulness, you can build the ability to call on a feeling, even if you don’t feel it in that moment, and a similar gift is ours to give our dogs.
Having the ability to act with impulse control, can make or break the outcome of
even the most difficult events or experiences for both you, and your dog.
If you start challenging your dog to remain calm and on place, no matter what is happening around them, you build a window of management at the very least, which long term can be built into a literal change in their feelings and perceptions. Place command facilitates a pathway for releasing your dog’s anxiety and insecurity, and building more authentic confidence and connection.
For inherently insecure or nervous dogs especially, knowing that you’re in charge of the situation at all times, that not every matter in their environment is their problem or their business, is one of the most loving messages of advocacy and independence you can share. We give a directive of “place,” that we pattern over time with increasing distraction levels, and show our dogs what to do instead of problematic behaviors such as barking, jumping, growling, or fleeing.
Place training may seem utterly disconnected from resolving the behavior issue(s) that drive you the most crazy, such as leash reactivity, or territorial behaviors of barking at strangers when they come to your home. Additionally, it may seem counter intuitive to train your dog to “turn off” as a tool to improve socialization with other dogs and people, or their fear of and aversion to certain sounds or experiences.
When we are calm in the face of stress or struggle, however, we can both receive and give feedback more effectively, which in dogs means becoming more approachable, trustworthy, willing, and responsible – opening doors for positive social experiences that begin to override a history of messy encounters. Place training works to improve overall behavior, by building a skill that patterns your dog to have better responses to the events in their life – changing the outcome they create.
How to teach place?
- Start by patterning place INSIDE your home, controlling the level of challenge and distraction your dog faces as they begin to confront their restless or impulsive feelings head on.
- Keep your dog ON LEASH to teach this concept, ensuring you can share fair and timely direction about your boundary to remain on place. Having the leash on allows you to calmly and quickly collect and return your dog if they wander off the spot you directed them to remain in. Leashes give DIRECTION to your desired movement, if you’re teaching place with remote collar, but no leash, you will find an increased difficulty in communicating clearly – especially to the less driven or motivated dog.
- Rewarding your dog with food or excessive praise is unnecessary and often increases arousal or excitement – this is in direct opposition of the goal of cultivating calmness. Instead, the reward is your dog’s ability to share inclusion with you, to self manage, and to feel calm and comfortable because of their increased independence through impulse control. The greatest reward for your dog may not be felt by you or them in the training process, but in the long term improvement in their health and well being thanks to a mental state that is balanced and relaxed. This does NOT mean we never reward our dogs, we absolutely create markers and reinforcements to create clarity and motivation, but many dogs receive these things in excess, and to the detriment of their development.
- Continually raise the bar, being fair to your dog requires allowing them to graduate a “kindergarten” level of training. INCREASE DIFFICULTY over time, as your dog masters the concept of place and is able to proof their resolve in the house with varying distractions and challenge, take that show on the road and proof it out and about.
Like sleep training a toddler, you can expect to receive pushback and an exploration of the boundaries, confusion, and even complete upset in some cases. If your dog is older, more anxious or entitled, or the relationship you share has a good bit of water under the bridge, they will have more of a “case” for negotiating and complaining about this new concept.
When your dog is on place, they are denied freedom of choice and busy-ness or constant connection to you, so if you experience the aforementioned squirmy stuff or even significant rebellion, you’ll likely be experiencing even more confirmation for the importance of succeeding in this training process.
Most of us have to crawl before we can walk, so starting inside and with low stakes challenges, means you set you and your dog up for success over time, and simultaneously build more trust and respect in your relationship together. Dogs who graduate from our three week board and train program understand the command, concept, and consequences for breaking the command, but they still have varying degrees of reliability and sticktoitiveness. Even with a precision training program on board, there is no replacement for time and practice, and place work increases in value when used consistently over time.
When fear, nervousness, or anxiety start to take over, place command will be/have built in your dog the ability to look to you for information and direction, something they are NOT currently doing when they engage in reactivity, aggression, or avoidance.
The very same proven tools of energy and mental management that have become pivotal in personal development, work by teaching your subconscious to call on a feeling even though you don’t feel it. This patterning allows you to dissipate stress, anxiety and tension, or better yet, cut them off at the pass before they ever invade your conscience. Even if nothing about the environment or circumstances changes, by teaching our dogs to hold a down stay with duration, we give them the gift of ultimate relaxation and calmness. We are helping them to navigate our crazy world that is often not set up for their success biologically – in even the simplest of ways.