When to Use "Place" vs. "Down"
If you are familiar with most training programs, they talk about the importance of teaching your dog to go to a place. Some basic classes will focus on teaching the dog to stay in a position such as sit or down.
Kind Animal Services teaches both of these beneficial skills to classroom students and dogs attending our Dog School. However, I think it is worth teaching both behaviors, I want to discuss the difference between the two and the situations where each has it's time to shine.
What is the down behavior?
Down is when you ask the dog to lay down in their current location no matter if they were previously sitting, running, or standing.
Some alternative vocal cues people use for down are: "lay down", "manners", "settle", "drop", "ground".
What is the "place" behavior?
Place is when you ask your dog to go to a specific and definable (to the dog) location. The dog is then required to stay on the said place until they are released.
Some alternative verbal cues people use for place are: "settle", "mat", "bed", "go to __", "board", "on your mark", "station".
The difference might be visible to you with a brief description of each. Yet, I find human students struggle with when to use the correct cue.
To start, both behaviors are taught as stationary or stay behaviors. This means that the dog is not allowed to leave or get up voluntarily. They MUST be invited to resume their normal doggy behavior and move from the position or location.
Next, it's important to point out that the place action does not and should not require the dog to be in any position (sit, down, or stand). It is okay to use your requested location to maintain the dog's focus and stack additional cues on top of it during training exercises. Though on its own the place command should allow the dog freedom of comfortable movement.
When the dog is allowed freedom of movement while staying in it's set location makes it the preferred option when the duration of the behavior is important. Personally, I have also found it easier to teach and maintain the place behavior in high distraction as well. This is probably because the dog is allowed to move and look at the distractions versus having to look away when they don't have the self-control to do that.
The place does require the aid of a definable object, preferably one with clear boundaries. Some examples: A truck bed (or car), picnic table, or park bench can make natural place locations when out and about. In the home: a bench, mat, or lifted dog bed and dog crate (with the door open) can be used as places. Personally, I prefer my lightweight travel training platform. The point is as long as your dog can define the edges of their place, then you're in business.
One more note about the objects you use as a place; be aware of the dog creeping or dozing off.
If you use a dog bed, mat, or crate, you might find you and your dog getting frustrated due to creeping. If your dog is sneaking, then the edges are not defined enough, and possibly the bed or rug is not big enough. Another thing you might think about is how confusing it can be to the dog when they wake up after dozing off. How will they know if they are or aren't allowed to leave the location? For this reason, I avoid using rugs or dog beds that the dog has constant access too. In the case of a crate, you will want to keep the crate door closed when not requiring the dog to stay there.
In contrast, the down command asks the dog to lay on the ground in whatever location they are currently in. This behavior is much harder to teach in a variety of locations, as many dogs are picky about where they lay down and might come to find the act of laying down a punishment because of discomfort. In this way, you will start to get more resistance to the cue.
To avoid a breakdown in your dog's down behavior, it would be wise, to consider if the situation calls for a down or a place. I use down for temporary or inclusive conditions.
What do I mean by inclusive? Situations where a child asks to pet your dog (assuming your dog want's to be pet) or at a time when I am sitting on the ground, and I would like my dog to lie down at my side. I use down for more extended occasions on clean or comfortable surfaces. Lastly, down might be used for safety, such as halting the dog in mid-run to avoid getting hit by a car.
When it comes to down, you should be selective about asking your dog to lie down. By all means, pull out their dog bed and ask them to down on that and stay until they fall asleep.
Alternately, if you need your dog to stay out of the kitchen for an hour while you cook dinner, it would be best to set up a defined location and ask them to remain in that location.
By now, I would think that you are starting to see the difference between the two behaviors. At Kind Animal Services training programs, we use place in most situations and only teach down as a backup and for manners when inside buildings or greeting small people.
If you want more information about integrating these two behaviors into your daily life, check out the video (coming soon).
Comment below and tell us: have you taught one or both of these cues? When do you find each of these cues most helpful?