Free Consultation


Building Your Dogs Place Command for Calm Stays

Building Your Dogs Place Command for Calm Stays

The Power of Confidence-Building

Confidence-building is something I do with every dog who comes through my dog training program. It’s especially important for dogs with a nervous disposition, but every dog can stand to become more confident in their commands. To explain what I mean, I’m going to break down the three components of confidence building using an example.

Let’s say your dog is generally pretty happy-go-lucky but becomes uncertain when new things happen—this is super common, so it’s a great example. The “new thing” that triggers uncertainty can be anything: new environment, new people, new dogs, new sounds, etc. Let’s talk about how to build your dog’s confidence in this scenario.

I know obedience commands can feel useless. When they’re not taught in a functional way, they basically become glorified tricks—and that helps no one! There is a way to teach obedience commands that makes them helpful in real life scenarios. It requires teaching the command, proofing it for distance, duration and distraction, holding the dog accountable for the now-known skill, and proactively prompting your dog for this skill/pattern in situations where it can be useful.

For a dog who is generally pretty laid back but becomes uncertain with the presence of “new things,” all of the basic commands—the place command, a sit/stay, a down/stay, the heel command, and recall—can be helpful depending on the context. In the example we’re using—a dog who becomes uncertain when “new things” are around—we can invoke the familiar obedience patterns to help him cope and help him feel more confident.

Let’s say we’re in a new environment, like a new park with a playground. If our dog is freaked out just by the sight of the playground, we might stop at a distance and prompt the dog for a sit/stay or down/stay to take in the new scene. It can often help (and never hurts) to give a dog a second to take in the “new thing” without having to make decisions about it. By using the sit/stay or the down/stay in that moment, we’re providing guidance about what the dog should be doing in this moment of uncertainty, and if those patterns are familiar, that also brings a measure of comfort and a bit of confidence to the dog. “Oh yeah, I know this!”

Once you’ve approached the playground you may also be able to use the place command to prompt your dog to get on it (if possible—not all playgrounds have that kind of set up). Your dog will be hesitant at first, but again, while he might not know about the playground he does know about the place command. He’s already confident with the place command (“I know how to do this!”) and by using it in a moment of uncertainty, we can help him feel more confident.

This approach is different from simply exposing him to the playground without utilizing his known skills and patterns. Exposure to the playground (observing it, walking around near it, even getting on it) might bring some measure of comfort once he realizes it’s not that big of a deal, but a much greater confidence boost comes from introducing known commands and patterns into the scenario that brings uncertainty. With known commands and patterns in the mix, he can feel confident in what he’s doing while he starts to realize that this thing that makes him uncertain isn’t such a big deal after all.

The above strategy works best when your dog respects and trusts you as his leader. The best way to build trust with a dog who is uncertain is to guide them and advocate for them. Guiding them means you take the responsibility of deciding what he should do with himself in those uncertain moments. For example, you’ll proactively prompt him for a command instead of “seeing how he reacts.” Your guidance will be best received by your dog if you have a leader-follower relationship (he’s used to taking your directions) and he respects you as that leader (you are consistent and clear and you hold him accountable for known skills). Advocating for your dog builds trust, and that’s extremely important for a dog who is uncertain.

To continue with our example of a dog who is uncertain about a playground, advocating for him might look like taking things slow and not rushing into the scenario. It might look like recognizing what level of challenge he’s up for in that moment and calling it quits after a minor success instead of pushing him forward. It could also look like creating space for him to work through his uncertainty—i.e. you might ask other people not to pet or crowd him. This lets him know you’ve got his back and you aren’t going to add other potential stressors to the situation. All in all, if you’ve already established a strong leader-follower relationship with your dog, he will feel so much better about following your guidance in moments when he feels uncertain.

Final thought: if your dog is currently expressing his uncertainty in an unhealthy way, you’re going to have to do more than build his confidence. You will first need to say “no” to the unhealthy behavior he’s currently displaying—growling, barking, lunging, showing teeth, etc. You can do all the confidence building in the world, but if you don’t explain to your dog that this reaction is off limits, then you’re going to hit a sticking point where your dog is no longer making progress (and you’ll probably hit it sooner rather than later). Once you start saying no, it’s extremely important that you become a strong advocate for your dog. Your dog is displaying these problematic and/or potentially dangerous behaviors because he feels he needs to handle the situation; if you’re going to insist that he no longer display these behaviors, then you also need to be ready to “handle” the situation for him by advocating for him.

Establishing the Place Command

I don’t teach the words “stay” or “wait” but I do teach those concepts. The concepts of stay and wait are built into the skills, manners, attitude, and dog-handler relationship that we develop throughout the board & train program. It’s not necessary to name and teach them as separate concepts; in fact, that can become more of a hindrance than a help.

Have you ever told your dog to “Waiiiiit… Waiiiiiit….” and watched his excitement and anticipation grow? Treating concepts like staying and waiting as individual commands too often pairs them with the wrong state of mind (excitement, anticipation) instead of the cool, calm, collected state of mind we’re looking for.

Sit always means “sit and stay”. Most dogs come to my board & train program knowing many of their basic commands (sit, down, come) including “stay” as a separate command, but their understanding of these commands is shallow. It looks something like this: I say “sit” and if I’m holding food or if the dog finds me particularly interesting he might sit for a second, but then he pops back up again. Serious question: what good is that? How is a sit helpful without stay?

I teach stay as an implied concept because that’s what makes the stationary commands (sit, down, place) practical. Sit, down and place always mean “until further notice”—i.e. “Stay.” When we’re teaching obedience for practical purposes, “stay” is completely unnecessary.

Wait is also an implied or built-in concept. When I open up the front door, I don’t instruct the dog to wait; I expect it. We teach the dogs to wait for our permission to cross the threshold not by adding a word, but by setting firm boundaries and building a leader-follower relationship. This is part of how we teach dogs to make better decisions for themselves instead of being completely dependent upon human guidance.

Everything is permission-based, so everything involves waiting. There’s never a need to say “wait.” Waiting is also a constant occurrence during training because it’s one way we begin to address the dog’s state of mind. Most dogs are super amped up—some from excitability and hyperactivity, some from nervousness or fear, etc.—but dogs don’t make very good decisions when they’re in an elevated state of mind. We teach them to calm down and think through their behavior, and doing things slow and steady is one way we accomplish this.

The problem with teaching “wait” and “stay” as separate commands is that the dog doesn’t get the leadership and state of mind benefits that you’d get if they were implied. These two factors—leadership and state of mind—have massive impacts on a dog’s behavior, so this is no small thing! The other problem with teaching separate wait and stay commands is that the stationary commands you’re teaching (sit, down, place) have no practical value—literally none. Without the “stay” part, they’re just tricks.

For best results, teach stay and wait as implied concepts: build stay into your stationary commands and build wait into your interactions with the dog across many contexts.

The Power of the Place Command

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? He won’t. 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.

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 jumping, barking, digging, or just general overstimulation.

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.

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.

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 are 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.

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” include:

  • Rocks
  • Logs
  • Picnic tables
  • Patches of grass
  • Cardboard boxes

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:

Item Description
K&H Pet Products Pet Cot 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.
Kurgo Elevated TaGo Bed 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.
Only Natural Pet Sweet Dream Dog Mat 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.

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.

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 use “free.” I’ve also heard other use “break.”

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.

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.

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.

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? Here are a few:

  • Breweries and patios
  • Parks with playgrounds
  • Busy sidewalks
  • Hiking trails
  • Camping sites
  • Backyard while kids are playing

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

Tags :
Share This :

Get Updates with our



Join our passionate community of dog lovers. Embrace the journey of companionship with Ihavedogs, where every dog gets the best of care and love.