After potty-training and the recall, teaching your dog the place command is one of the single most life-changing hacks for dog owners. Training the place command, or mat training, for dogs teaches discipline, self-restraint, and confidence. While it is a convenient training tool, it can also help with behavioral issues, and in some cases, it may save your dog’s life.
How to teach your dog to “place” or “go mat” is a reasonably straightforward exercise that can be achieved over a few weeks.
The important thing to remember is that place training is not a simple trick like “rollover” or “shake” but rather something to peacefully incorporate into every part of your routine to soon become a lifestyle habit.
What is the Place Command, and Why is It So Important that My Dog Knows It?
The place command is simply a way of telling your dog, “I want you to go over to that spot and stay there until I release you.” The spot should be anything you point at.
It could be your dog’s crate, bed, a mat, a special elevated cot, or a towel.
The word “place” is simply the cue or the command word, and it can be exchanged for any word you prefer, like “mat,” “go crate,” “rest,” or anything else you choose to as your cue word for the command.
When to Use the Place Command?
Once a dog is properly mat or place trained, there is almost no area of life where it can’t be used. It should become as much a part of your dog’s routine as being fed or going for a walk.
Examples of when to use the place command include:
- When you are cooking in the kitchen, and you need to avoid the accidents that could happen by having your dog underfoot.
- When you sit down for a meal and don’t want your dog hovering inches from your plate with giant puppy eyes and a slobbering mouth.
- When visitors come to the door, and you’d prefer if they didn’t have an excited dog jumping all over them.
- When you have a dog that can be aggressive with people, and it’s best if they go straight to their crate and stay there when you have people over.
- When your dog is hyper-attached and suffers from separation anxiety, place training can be the first step to giving her the confidence and coping skills to stay separate from you.
- When you go to the vet’s and need your dog to lie still on the scale to be weighed.
This is far from an exhaustive list, but it should be evident that place training your dog can be just as beneficial for your relationship with your dog as walking calmly on a leash in the city, or not biting your hand every time you pass him a bowl of kibble.
What Does “Place” Mean for a Dog?
When your dog learns the place command, it learns more than to obey an order. Going to a designated spot and staying there until released means your dog learns self-discipline and boundaries, two skills that are crucial for a quiet homelife.
Going to a mat, crate, or other designated spot also gives the dog a job to do. When the place command is well-taught, the message the dog receives is not that “my human wants me to go away” but rather “my human has given me the important task of staying in this spot that I will fulfill because I am a good dog.”
Place training works with exercise, sport, and other obedience training to teach a dog to have manners and respect boundaries.
When trained correctly, the mat becomes a safe and secure spot for them to be calm and relax. It should also be something they connect positively with as a source of rewards.
How Do You Use the Place Command?
Using the place command can become part of your daily routine. Whenever you are busy in the kitchen or eating at the dining table, you should be able to point at a rug or a mat and say “place.”
Your dog should then immediately go to that spot and wait patiently to be released.
The same applies if the doorbell rings and your dog wants to storm it, barking madly.
Merely saying “place” and pointing to their spot or crate gives your dog a healthy, alternative behavior to engage in.
Place Training: What You Need To Get Started
- Several mats, crates, beds, elevated cots, or other comfortable spots.
- A clicker if you are going to use clicker training (optional).
- Your dog’s favorite treats.
Step-By-Step Instructions To Teach Your Dog To Place
Step one: Prepare your house
Lay your beds, mats, or crates at strategic places around the house. You may want to put them just outside the kitchen, next to the living room sofa, in the hallway, or beside your bed.
The key is to prepare to work the place command into your daily routine and have a spot ready wherever you are in the house for your dog to go when it’s told to.
Instead of place training becoming a single training event that you practice once a day for ten minutes, prepare to sprinkle short sessions throughout the day between 30 seconds and three minutes at a time.
Step two: Lure your dog
Using your dog’s favorite treat, lure her onto the bed. Depending on how comfortable your dog already is with the bed or crate, this may take time. Some dogs will go right onto it, and others may circle it if it something unfamiliar to them, like a new elevated cot.
Either behavior is okay. The critical thing to remember is at this stage, you are not going to use the cue by saying ‘place.’
You are merely going to let your dog smell the treat and approach the mat. If they climb straight on, you make a high sharp sound to indicate that this is correct, such as saying “Yes!” and reward immediately with the treat.
If your dog is warier, you can reward them for just putting a paw on the mat, then two paws, and so on.
If you are using the clicker and your dog already knows what the clicker means, simply click and reward.
Do this three or four times only and end the session before your dog gets bored and while he is still eager for the treats.
- Keep your body language light, confident, and happy.
- If at any time you feel yourself getting frustrated, go back to the last and easiest thing you know your dog can do right, reward it, and end the training session.
- Never train your dog in a bad mood.
Step three: Add the down
Depending on where you are in your dog training, you may already be able to tell your dog to lie down when they are on the mat. But if your dog doesn’t know the down command, don’t worry.
Once they are used to rushing onto the mat, bed, or into the crate for a treat, you can start using the treat to lure them into a down. Once they are lying down, you can reward them.
Do this a few times so that they get the concept, but after that, no longer reward your pup for being on their spot unless they are also in the down position. They may get confused and throw up some displacement behaviors such as jumping off, sitting, or even barking, but simply ignore these and wait for them to offer the down.
The moment they lie down, say “yes!” or click and reward.
Pro tip: Some owners may be unlucky and have a dog with a low food drive, and that simply isn’t interested in doing much for a treat.
If this is the case, never try any training after feeding them and only work on an empty stomach.
In severe cases, stop feeding your dog out of his dog bowl for a few weeks. Rather keep his food in a treat dispenser you keep around your waist.
Throughout the day, feed your dog a small handful of his daily food every time he shows good behavior, or engages well in his training, so that he learns to “work” for his dinner.
Step four: Add the cue
Once your dog has learned that getting onto the rug is a source of reward and it begins to rush onto the rug on its own, you can start adding the “place” command.
Only give the command just as she gets on so that she begins to connect the action of getting on the bed or climbing into the crate with the sound “place.”
You can also hold your hand out and point at the mat to begin adding the hand signal.
Gradually work the cue back so that you give it just before your dog climbs on the mat and finally give the command first.
Pro tip: During any training, it’s a good idea to start teaching your dog the release word as soon as possible. Usually, this a word you wouldn’t normally use, like “all done” or “that’s it.” Avoid “okay” since it’s such a common word it can cause confusion.
When working your release word into place training, use it as a signal that you are done, and it’s okay to get off the mat.
Open your palms out to show you are done, and there are no more treats. If your dog climbs off the mat before you give the release word, simply say “nope” and lead him back to the mat.
Step five: Add time and distance
Once your dog understands that saying “place” and pointing at a mat or bed means they should immediately go there and lie down, you can start throwing treats on the mat and stepping away for a second or two while they’re occupied with the treats.
Immediately step back and give another reward before they have a chance to follow you.
If they do hop off because you are moving away, say “nope” and lead them back. Do not give a reward. Step out and step back faster this time to reward them for staying on the mat.
Gradually, take more steps back. Try always to get back to your dog and reward them before they get a chance to break the command and follow you.
If they make a mistake, always answer with a simple, quiet “nope’ and take them back to the mat. With your next effort, don’t go as far away. Try to set your dog up for success, not failure.
Remember to keep these sessions short and always end on a good note.
Over time, build up how far you can go and how long you ask your dog to stay on the mat. In the beginning, a few seconds while you are standing across the room is fine. Gradually, you want to be able to leave your dog in his place for up to a few hours while you go about your business.
Pro-tip: As the time on the mat grows longer, you can make his stays more interesting by giving him a chew toy to stay busy with and keep his time there pleasant.
Step six: Add distractions
As soon as your dog understands the place command and can stay there for at least fifteen minutes, begin adding distractions.
It’s best to start small. Roll your dog’s favorite toy gently past him while he’s in place. If he has a high play drive, it may help to keep him on a long leash for this exercise so that you can check him if he rushes the toy.
If your dog goes after it, simply do the “nope” procedure again and take him back. Try the distraction again. As soon as your dog stays put despite the distraction, give the release word, and give the reward. If it was the toy he wanted, take a few minutes to play with him to teach him that self-discipline is always rewarded.
Introduce more and more distractions this way. Have somebody repeatedly come to your door until your dog can hold his place until after the person has left. Jump around and make funny sounds.
Gradually desensitize your dog to anything that might tempt him to break the place command before you give the release word.
Step seven: Take the Place command outside
Once your dog has got mat training down inside the house and is willing to lie quietly on his mat while you cook or when the postman arrives, roll up your mat and start taking it with you outside.
You can start in the yard, perhaps by telling your dog to “place” while you do some gardening. Then move further and further afield, teaching your dog to place in parks, on your vet’s table, or even in the back of your car.
Remember that while it’s good to have a dog that obediently stays in the put on the back seat, it’s also best to make such she is properly buckled in as a safety precaution.
Some dogs learn to place in a matter of days, while some dogs can take weeks, so be sure to go at your dog’s pace. The important thing is that you stay consistent and positive while training the place command. If you have any more tips for place training, drop a comment below; we would love to hear from you.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.