How to Teach Your Dog the Place Command

Have you ever watched family or friends tell their dog to go lay down? Did you get a little sad watching the formerly joyful and optimistic pup hang his head and slink away?

Go lay down was a common command in my house growing up. It meant “stop begging,” “stop pestering our guests,” and “we are done playing fetch now.” But to the dog, it always seemed like it meant “go away, we don’t like you anymore!”

Once you teach your dog the place command, they will eagerly rush to their bed, lay down, and relax while they wait for you to release them. 

It always made me feel bad to see a dog react that way. When I got my own dogs as an adult, I never had the heart to tell them to go lay down. (Not that they would have listened, they knew I was a pushover.)

So when I discovered the place behavior, I was excited to finally have a reliable command to get my dogs to leave the area when needed. But more importantly for me, I had a way to teach the behavior in a positive way that wouldn’t crush my dogs’ joyous demeanor.


Table of Contents

What Does the Place Command Look Like?

There are a lot of variations of this versatile behavior, but the general idea looks like this: You tell your dog to “place” and they stop what they are doing and hurry to their designated spot. This might be a bed, a mat, or a specific area in the room.

The place command is useful for puppies and dogs of all ages and a great way to help your dog learn some patience. 

Because this behavior is so useful for keeping your dog in one spot for long periods, I recommend using a comfortable spot like a favorite bed. This way they can rest while they wait instead of watching you with intense anticipation.

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How Place Differs From Stay and Wait

The most obvious difference between place and stationary commands like wait and stay, are that your dog moves away from you to go to the spot they will “stay” in.

With both wait and stay, you are the one that must walk away while your dog freezes like a statue or simply doesn’t follow. These commands are also relatively short lived.

Once your dog understands the place behavior, they will happily take a snooze while they await the release cue, allowing you time to cook, eat, or get some much-needed me-time in. 

When you ask your dog to stay, they almost always keep their eyes glued to you, waiting for that release command.

Place is different. When taught correctly, your dog will learn that this command can last for 10, 20, even 30 minutes at a time. Instead of watching you in gleeful anticipation, your dog will settle into their place and rest while they wait to be released.

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When Can You Use the Place Command?

The uniqueness of this command makes it useful for a number of different situations.

Some of my favorite situations for this command are during dinner to get my dogs to stop begging, when guests first arrive at the house, and while my toddler is walking around with tempting snacks.

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But, if you get creative, this behavior can be used just about anytime you need to remove your dog from a situation. Maybe you’ve dropped a glass on the floor and need your dog to leave the area but want to avoid walking over the shattered glass to lead them away.

The place command is perfect to use if you want to get your dog away from the dinner table to someplace a little less in-your-face. 

This command is also unique in that it helps control your dog’s emotions. In order to successfully complete the place behavior, your dog must lay down and relax. For this reason, place is very helpful for anxious dogs and those who get over-excited. By asking for a place before or during a stressful event, you can curb their arousal and help calm them down.

>>>Using the place command is a great way to control your dog during outdoor events. Here are some more tips to keep them safe.

If you feel like you need an extra challenge, you can even replace the “place” command itself with the sound of the doorbell to get your dog to run to their bed every time someone comes to the front door.

How to Teach Your Dog to Place

Before we get started, there are a couple of things you should keep in mind.

First, this is a complex behavior. It may take multiple training sessions before your dog really understands this concept.

>>>Looking for more must-know-behavior how to’s?  Check out this article on loose leash walking.

Your training sessions may last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes depending on your dog. Only train for as long as your dog is interested and having fun. And always end your training sessions on a positive note. Once you begin the next session, back up a few steps and start with the last thing your dog had mastered before starting on anything new.

It’s easiest to teach the place command using a thin bed or bath mat first. Once your dog understands the concept, you can reteach it using their favorite bed or even their favorite sleeping spot on the couch.

What you’ll need

To train the place command, you will need a leash, some high-value tasty treats, a treat pouch, and a thin mat or bed. You’ll need to walk over this bed, so choose one that isn’t too fluffy or large. You can always generalize this behavior to a different bed once your dog understands the concept.

If your dog is clicker trained, you can use your clicker to mark the correct behaviors in the steps below. Otherwise, you will use praise as your positive marker.

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Step 1: Reinforce stepping on the mat

With the mat or bed set in the middle of the room, get your dog on a leash and walk them to the mat. Walk over/beside the mat so your dog has to step onto it to stay with you.

The moment your dog’s paw (any of them) hit the mat praise them and give them a treat.

Move your dog in a large circle away from the mat and then move back toward it. Again, lead your dog over the mat and praise and treat once they step on it.

Repeat this process over and over until you feel like your dog is starting to make the connection between stepping on the mat and getting rewarded. This can take anywhere from 20 to 40 repetitions (or more) depending on the dog.

Once you think they have it, walk toward the mat but move to the side of it enough that your dog won’t automatically have to step on it to stay with you. You should notice your dog move toward the mat and deliberately step on it, as if they are magnetized to it. If your dog does this, they are ready for the next step.

If your dog passes the mat without attempting to step on it, repeat the previous process a couple dozen more times before testing them again.

Tip: If your dog is really struggling to put it together, you may need higher value treats to really get them focused on what you want of them. Small pieces of hot dog and boiled chicken work well for most dogs. Others are more motivated by a tennis ball or other toy.

>>>Learn about common training mistakes and how to overcome them.

At first, walk directly over or next to the mat to force your dog to step on it and reward them the second their first paw touches. Once they get the hang of it, you can walk to the side of the mat to see if they gravitate toward it on their own. 

Step 2: Reinforce sitting on the mat

Once your dog understands that stepping on the mat or bed gets them a treat, you are going to change the rules slightly. Now, instead of treating your dog for simply stepping on the mat, you are going to treat them only for sitting on the mat.

Start as you did before with your dog on a leash, walking with you toward the mat. When your dog moves to the mat and steps on it, don’t praise them, but do turn toward them and stand in front of them. Don’t give any hand or verbal signals.

Most dogs will readily offer a sit because they are used to be rewarded for this behavior. If your dog doesn’t offer it, try telling them to sit and rewarding them three to five times in a row. Then start again and see if they will offer the sit on their own now that it’s fresh in their mind. 

If your dog is accustomed to sitting in front of you when you ask, then they will most likely offer a sit for you now. The moment your dog sits, praise and treat them.

Many dogs won’t sit right away, especially since they were previously being rewarded for simply stepping on the mat. Be patient. So long as your dog is standing in front of you, continue standing where you are. If some time passes and they still don’t offer a sit, try looking away or moving your hands up together slightly.

Tip: If your dog moves off the mat before offering a sit, turn with them and make a big circle before going back to the mat and trying again. Don’t praise or talk to them, simply get them reset and give them another chance to figure it out. Not getting praise or a treat will let them know they need to try something different this time around.

Once your dog does sit, praise and treat them. The longer it took your dog to sit, the more excited your praise needs to be.

Repeat the above process over and over until your dog is readily offering a sit each time you walk over the mat.

As we did before, test your dog’s understanding by walking past the mat at a distance to see if your dog moves toward the mat on their own to sit down. If they do, you are ready for the next step. If not, keep working on this one until they do.

Tip: If your dog offers a sit but it isn’t on the mat, call them to move with you, do a big circle and try again. If they sit only half on the mat and half off, still praise and treat. Once they really understand the concept you can start only rewarding sits that land on the mat directly.

Ragz the Dalmatian mix is quick to offer a sit on the first try, but it may take your dog much longer. Be patient and use your body position to give them a clue of what to do by standing in front of them with your shoulders back.

Step 3: Reinforce laying down on the mat

Once your dog understands to sit on the mat, we will add the toughest step of all: Laying down on the mat instead.

Start as you did before with your dog on a leash walking toward the mat. Once they offer their sit on the mat, turn to them as you did before but don’t treat or praise. Just wait.

In my experience, this is where most dogs really struggle. Offering a sit when they’re unsure is something many dogs do because it is a frequently rewarded behavior. But laying down is less reinforced and so less likely to be offered.

If your dog does lay down, praise and treat them. If not, try removing eye contact. Shifting your hands up and shoulders back slightly or pivoting on your foot can also help your dog understand you are not asking them to stay and that it is okay for them to adjust their position. If your dog stands, lead them off the mat, do a circle and try again.

Tip: If your dog stays seated without offering a down after a few minutes, ask them to down, praise, treat, and release them. Then, with them still standing on the mat, ask for another down and praise, treat, and release again. Repeat this three to five times, then lead them off the mat, circle, and come back to it. Again, wait for them to offer a down. Since they were recently reinforced for downing, the idea is they will be more likely to offer a down now.

Once your dog offers a down, praise emphatically, treat them, and release them to stand. Repeat the process over and over until they are offering quick downs each time they reach the mat. As we have done before, test their understanding by seeing if they are “magnetized” to down on the mat if you pass by at a distance.

If not, repeat this process until they do. Then move on to the next step.

Dogs tend to be less used to getting rewarded for laying down and therefore are less likely to offer the behavior right away. Give them a chance to lay down on their own by waiting at least a minute or two before asking for the down. 

Step 4: Adding time

Once your dog understands they need to lay down on the mat, you are going to reinforce them laying down for longer and longer periods before being released.

Repeat the above process, but this time, when your dog lays down wait a couple seconds before treating and releasing. On the next repetition, wait a couple more seconds.

Continue building the amount of time between when your dog lays down and how long you wait to praise and release them. Work until your dog will stay in a down on the mat for a full 30 seconds before moving on to the next step.

Tip: If at any point your dog “loses the plot” you need to return to the previous step and build more slowly. For instance, if your dog suddenly stops offering a down when you get to the mat, return to step three and begin instantly praising them the second they offer a down. Complete multiple successful repetitions before attempting to add any time again.

Step 5: Adding distance to the beginning

Once your dog will happily stay on the mat in a down for 30 seconds, you are going to add a little distance to the beginning of the behavior. Eventually, you will want to be able to give your dog the place command from across the room and have them move to their mat or bed on their own. To shape this part of the behavior you will start asking them to move further and further from where you stop to go lay down on the mat.

Once your dog understands they need to lay down on the mat for an extended period, you will start asking them to move to the mat on their own. Start with very short distances at first, and only add to it if your dog is consistently moving to the mat on their own with each rep.

Start as you did before, but this time, stop walking about a foot from the mat. Your dog should continue walking to the mat and lie down. Once they do, move back to them and praise, treat, and release.

On the next repetition, stop two feet from the mat. And then three. And so on. At this point, you can even take off your dog’s leash assuming they are focused on you and the task at hand.

Continue adding distance until your dog will move to the mat and down while you stop about five or six feet away. To this point, you should be praising the moment they lay down. But, once they understand the concept of moving away from you toward the mat, you can start adding some time back into the behavior. You don’t have to work until you can wait a full 30 seconds, but do slowly add time until they will move to the mat alone and down for about 10 seconds before being released.

Tip: If your dog does not move to the mat on their own, try shortening the distance and completing a dozen or so successful reps before adding more distance. When you do add more distance, do it in smaller increments.

Step 6: Adding a name

Once your dog will move to the mat and down on their own, we are finally ready to give this behavior a name.

You can call this behavior anything you want. “Place” is the most common and the name we’ll use in this example, but you can use something different like “go to your spot,” “bed,” or “find your happy place.” Whatever works for you and your dog, so long as the command can be said in a bright and cheerful way (unlike “go lay down” which seems to always come off as gruff and angry).

Start with your dog by your side and standing a few feet from the mat. Say “place,” point at the mat, and take one step toward it. Your dog should move to the mat and lay down as they were before. Praise, treat, and release them.

Repeat saying the command and pointing at the bed from various distances. At first, always take one small step toward the bed as you do. Once your dog gets the idea, stay still while you give the command. As before, start by immediately walking back to your dog and praising them once they lay down. After a dozen reps, start waiting short periods between when they lay down and when you praise them.

Do at least 40 reps to make sure your dog associates the new command word with the behavior.

It will take multiple repetitions for your dog to associate the word “place” with laying done on the mat.

Step 7: Adding distance to the end

When you use this command in real life, you are going to want to move freely around the house while your dog stays in place, awaiting the release command. To get to that point, we need to practice in a controlled training session.

Give your dog the place command. Once they lay down, take a step away from them. Then move back to them and praise, treat, and release once you are standing at the mat again. Repeat this process but add another step away each time.

If your dog looks eager or concerned as you move away, as Pyro the Chihuahua does here, that’s a good sign they are thinking about getting up. Try to catch your dog doing the right thing by rewarding and releasing them before they have a chance to move. As they gain a better understanding of the behavior, you can ask more of them. 

In the beginning, always face your dog as you back away. Once they understand the concept, you can try taking a couple of steps with your back to them. Make sure to work at your dog’s pace.

Tip: If your dog breaks their down, use your negative marker (“eh eh” or “uh uh” work well) and move them back into a down on the mat (or start over if they don’t offer the down once you approach). Work more slowly, adding less distance each time until they seem more confident with the concept.

>>>Learn why negative markers and positive reinforcement are better than punishment training.

Continue working until you can move as far as the room will let you with your back to your dog without them getting up. Now try moving out of your dog’s line of sight for just a moment before returning to praise and release them. This can be very hard for some dogs, so work slowly and only move out of sight for a second at first.

This video includes a great visual on what your negative marker should sound like and how to use it to correct your dog back into position.

Step 8: Adding time

Once your dog will allow you to move away from them and even out of the room while they stay downed on the mat, you are ready to add more time.

Start by only moving three to seven feet from them. Once you reach the intended distance away, stop for a few seconds before moving back to your dog to praise, treat, and release. During the next rep, add a second or two. Continue adding to the time while varying the distance between three and seven feet.

Once your dog can handle about thirty seconds. Try adding more distance, about seven feet to as far as the room will let you go and decreasing the time to start. Then slowly add to the time again.

Once your dog masters that distance with about thirty-second stays, try leaving the room again. As we did before, only step out of sight for a second or two before returning to your dog and praising and treating. Then try for a couple of seconds longer.

>>>Does your dog panic when you leave the room or the house? Find out how to deal with separation anxiety.

Continue until you can stay out of the room for at least 30 seconds.

Tip: Use a pet cam or phone with facetime to keep an eye on your dog while you are out of the room. If at any point they break the down, rush in and give your negative marker and start over. Try less time then add more slowly with each successful rep.

Step 9: Make it real life ready

If there is a specific bed or spot in the house you plan to use this command, retrain your dog to it by starting back at step one in the new room. Don’t worry, your dog will catch on fast and you’ll be able to move through the steps much more quickly this time.

Once you are back up to this step, you can start adding more real-life elements into your training session.

For instance, if you want your dog to place while you are cooking, tell your dog to place, and walk into the kitchen. Then return and praise, treat, release. Then ask for them to place, go into the kitchen, and get a pot out of the cupboard before returning to them. Continue slowly adding more elements, time, and distance until your dog is ready for the real thing.

>>>Love to cook? Try cooking for your dog!

Using the Place Command in Real Life

Once your dog understands that place means to stay on their bed for an extended period no matter what you’re doing, you are ready to use it in real life.

Once your dog knows the place behavior, you can reteach it for use in many different real life situations. It’s even a great way to keep your dog under control while at the park or while the kids are running around the backyard. 

But remember, anytime you add new elements, like someone walking into the house or you eating, you might need to add those elements in small pieces first, before diving into the real situation.

In real life, you don’t have to treat your dog each time they are released. But, in order to keep the behavior reliable, do treat them occasionally and always use lots of praise. It’s not easy staying put while your family is eating or greeting relatives. Let your dog know you understand that by telling them they are a very good boy or girl. Who’s a good dog? You’re a good dog! Yes, you are! 

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