A place board for a retriever is typically a square or rectangle big enough to accommodate the dog sitting comfortably. A square of 18 inches per side is about right. It can be plywood, plastic, rubber matting, a towel. The major requirement is that it be the same object for the early lessons. As the dog develops proficiency he will be able to generalize and the specific material of which the place board is made becomes less important. A place board is basically an aid that enables much better communication between dog and trainer. After a large number of payments delivered to the dog for sitting on the place board, it acts like a magnet to the dog and tells him to come to the place board and sit. The large number of payments increases greatly the value to the dog of the place board.
Another description of a place board might be a well defined moveable place to which the dog is programmed want to go. Emphasize the “want to”. When a dog is well programmed to a “place board” the sight of it or scent of it will trigger him to energetically go to it and sit. When you have that level of responsiveness, then you have a very powerful tool with which to communicate.
The training of several critical gundog behaviors is greatly simplified by using place boards. After the dog is fairly proficient with a place board, it simplifies his training for steadiness in new places, delivery to hand, going to his bed or other specific place such as a dog blind, or dog crate.
Place board training basically consists of delivering lots of payments for behaviors to a dog on a place board. Any specific place where a dog gets a number of rewards, he will develop a strong affinity for.
Steadiness training is the logical start for place board training. You will be training the behavior of sitting on a place board, and then shaping that sitting behavior for a longer duration of time and then shaping it for fluency in the face of increasing distraction levels. The place board makes it much easier for the dog to get what you are trying to communicate. During the first few sessions of steadiness training, you program the dog to sit; then to sit for a longer time duration; then to sit while the trainer moves away several steps.
During the first few sessions:
(1) You put down a place board, lure the dog onto it and hold a treat above his head until he sits.
(2) Then deliver treats to him rapidly enough that he doesn’t stand up.
(3) Then, being careful that the delivery speed is sufficient to keep him sitting, gradually slow the delivery rate to one treat every 5 seconds.
(4) Then start marking the behavior of staying. Use a clicker to mark or “click” the time interval of pup’s stay. Deliver a treat quickly after the click. Gradually lengthen the stay to 10 seconds.
After the first few sessions pup should be sitting in a relaxed manner for 10 seconds. Then you can progress to the training moving away. This will be a process of gradually increasing the distraction level caused by the trainer moving away. While pup is sitting the trainer should first walk in place. Then back smartly away one step and then return quickly enough that pup can’t get up to come with you (his “treat machine” is leaving). About the 3rd or 4th repetition, step away and pause; then return and click/treat. Over the next few repetitions gradually increase the number of steps that you move away. Then start increasing the pause before returning. After several sessions you should be able to walk 5 or 6 steps away and pause for 30 seconds with pup sitting calmly on his place board.
Then start raising the ante with a dummy. Over several short sessions:
- Walk away 6 steps. Stop. Wave the dummy slowly. Then click/treat and return to pup.
- Next repeat with a more energetic twirl of dummy and a click/treat for pup. Next repeat with dropping the dummy and the trainer picking it back up, and giving pup a click/treat for staying. Next repeat with a dinky two-foot toss of the dummy which the trainer picks up, giving pup a click/treat for staying. In like manner build up to a 15 ft toss of the dummy which pup sits calmly for.
- When pup is sitting calmly on the place board for the trainer to walk away 10 to 15 feet and throw a 15 ft dummy, then you can start paying him for staying with a click/retrieve very occasionally.
When pup has gotten to the stage of steadiness with place boards he should have a strong enough affinity for a place board that when he sees or smells one within 10 feet, he runs over to it and sits. This affinity is very handy for several other behaviors especially in the face of new distractions. For example, the behavior of delivery to hand is natural for a Labrador and it is easily interfered with by unknowledgeable trainers. The scenario usually goes like this. On Wednesday night you are watching TV and pup comes into the room carrying your wife’s Ferragamo shoe. You go over and thump pup on the nose and take the shoe. On Friday you take out pup and throw him a dummy and he zips out and fetches it and comes back and drops it on the ground just before he gets to you. You try it again and he drops it again. The punishment you delivered on the prior Wednesday is making it hard for pup to come all the way up to you. The simple solution is to put the place board on the ground and stand next to it for the retrieve and return. A place board is also very handy also for teaching pup to go to his bed in the corner of the room, or to get in the boat or car. The use of place boards in training is limited only by your imagination or lack thereof.
Here is short video clip showing training a young dog to sit and stay for increasing distraction. He is initially paid with treats for staying and finally paid with a retrieve for staying. https://youtu.be/olWe14XHkLk
For more information on place board training clicker training and all aspects of positive training for gundogs the author’s new book, Absolutely Positively Gundog Training, is now available at www.duckhillkennels.com. There is also a 20 minute companion video download available at the same website.