“Go to your place” is a common cue, one type of what trainers call “stationing,” which is asking a dog to sit or stand still in a specific spot. The spot can be a mat, a dog bed or a platform, and you can send a dog there with the cue “Go to your place.” The specific spot you want your dog to be in can even be a position relative to a person; one form of stationing is to simply have your dog stand right in front of you.
It’s common to train dogs to perform more than one stationing (or “place”) behavior. In my house, I like dogs to go to their bed and lie down, to sit or stand on a platform, and to stand in front of me attentively. All of these are stationing behaviors, and they are each useful in their own ways.
Let’s discuss each type, and its value.
Lie down on a bed.
People commonly send their dog to a bed (or mat, blanket or crate) for many reasons. One of the most common is when people come to the door; this form of stationing positions the dog away from the door and helps her remain calm when visitors come in. It’s also helpful in other contexts. Perhaps the family is having dinner, playing charades with guests or even cleaning the floor. All of these scenarios are easier and more relaxed if the dog is safely enjoying some quiet time on her bed, which is why “Go to your place” is so popular.
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One nice thing about having a dog who knows to go to her place when asked is that the “place” is portable (as long as you train her to do it in multiple locations). So, if you’re in a vet’s waiting room, you can ask your dog to go to her place (a blanket, perhaps) and have her lie down by your feet on her blanket. Or, if you’re in a hotel or visiting relatives, you can ask her to go to her crate, which will be familiar and comforting to her. Being able to send a dog to a place to relax and have that “place” be flexible offers a lot of options to make life simple and easy in a variety of situations that could otherwise be stressful or hectic for both you and your dog.
Hop on a platform.
Platform stationing is useful for all kinds of training. If a dog is up on a raised surface, she is contained to some degree, which makes training easier. She is less likely to wander off, sniff the ground or interact with anyone other than the trainer who is right in front of her. If dogs are used to doing training on a platform, as soon as they hop onto it, they are likely to be in training mode. The associations with training they already have prepare them for what’s coming: “Okay, let’s train! What am I going to learn today?”
It all starts with an introduction to the platform, which you can see here in my first platform-training session with a 10-year-old dog named Gipper.
Stand facing trainer.
One of the first things I like to focus on is attention. If I have a dog’s attention, I can train her to do just about anything, but if I don’t, the likelihood of teaching her much of anything is nearly zero. That’s why one of the behaviors I like to reinforce is a particular form of stationing: standing in front of me, paying attention and looking at me, being calm, waiting for a cue.
I reward this behavior with high-quality treats at a high rate of reinforcement, which often causes people to ask me why I’m giving the dog so many treats when “she’s not even doing anything.” The answer is that a dog in that position is doing many things I want to reinforce. The behavior isn’t flashy, but to have a dog focusing on you and eager to work is amazing and should be reinforced if you want it to occur in the future. In this two-clip video, Roxy’s actions make it clear why nobody should ever take good stationing behavior for granted!
Trainers love stationing!
Why? Because it’s so useful for all kinds of animal training as well as for making daily life just a little bit easier for everyone. The attention that dogs who are stationing give is perhaps the top reason trainers like this behavior. If dogs are used to working when asked to station in a particular place, they tend to enter training mode as soon as they jump onto a platform or stand in front of you. Similarly, if they know that being sent to a bed, blanket or crate when they are told “Go to your place” means it’s time to chill out, they will become accustomed to relaxing in that context.
When working with multiple animals simultaneously, stationing allows order to emerge from chaos. If each animal has a station, or a place to call their own, they can be kept at a distance from one another, preventing scuffles or other negative interactions. Many animals are calmer when they are in a predictable place, and so are the other individuals in the household or in the training session.
Stations are also incredibly useful when working with multiple dogs one at a time. The on-station dogs are waiting to train, and the off-station dog is working. Being on-station in that context tells the waiting dogs that reinforcement is not available right then, preventing them from becoming frustrated. They understand that when they are waiting to train, there is nothing they can do to earn treats. It helps them feel more relaxed than if they think they may have such an opportunity.
Stationing can facilitate calm and controlled introductions because dogs (or other animals!) can each be in a stable location. That allows the dogs to get used to each other at a distance rather than having them move too close to one another, which can lead to negative experiences and someone becoming overwhelmed.
Most trainers recognize the value of stationing as a reset of sorts.
If something goes awry in a training session—an unclear cue, a poorly timed reinforcement or another sort of miscommunication between trainer and trainee—it’s easy for a dog to get confused or to lose some confidence. Asking a dog to station on a platform, on a bed or right in front of you can act like an eraser for that bad moment. Stationing gives trainer and trainee a fresh start, and it is not unusual for professional dog trainers to use a quick return to station as a reset button.