For many of us, the spring and summer provides us with the perfect opportunity to take on a new puppy. In May, we took a look at the importance of using a crate with a young puppy. This time around I’m going to ask you to think about basic training. Specifically, this article is going to discuss the benefits of using a placeboard (raised platform) or some kind of target area, for example a hoop or a mat. It is these three that we use here at Mullenscote, and which we recommend to most of our clients.

All our young pups start life and their basic training using a placeboard. So now would probably be a good time to justify the reasons for this. To complicate matters further, there are various ideas and techniques around the use of a placeboard. Our choice is to use a reward-based system that relies primarily on food as a reward. If you start early enough and deliver a well-thoughtthrough training programme there is every chance that rewards and food alone will teach your dog to come, sit, stay, focus and walk to heel.

As I mentioned, we choose to use targets, placeboards, and hoops to school our young dogs. In my opinion, target training assists both the handler and dog in their understanding of what is required. For the handler, the challenge is to engineer, then reinforce with a reward, specific behaviours. The target clearly defines the classroom. Accurate and well-timed rewards quickly enable a dog to understand the precise area in which it will receive a reward.

Board or hoop?

The raised platform of a placeboard clearly defines this area, making it superior when compared with a hoop or a mat. Stating the obvious, the dog has to step down from a raised board; a hoop or mat does not offer such a clearly defined edge. Like all areas of dog training, clarity is extremely important.

Watch and learn

For newcomers and as it happens anybody who is interested in dog training, the exercise of teaching several different dogs to approach and sit on a placeboard is an excellent opportunity to observe and understand the basic principles of layering up behaviour. You would almost certainly see a variety of approaches to the placeboard… some oblivious to the new piece of equipment whilst others will see the board as some kind of monster. The latter will require that you reward initially for being brave and taking a piece of food from the surface of the board, and then gradually (and this usually shows itself as one paw at a time), the dog will gain confidence, finally bringing itself to sit on the board. As with all dog training methods, it’s essential that each layer is thoroughly learned and established before moving forward. In the early stages of training and particularly with dogs that are unsure about the boards, I find it best to put a piece of food on the board, allow the dog to eat the treat and then lure it away before about turning and returning straight back to the board, where again it gets to eat a piece of food from the surface. This process of moving away and returning clearly accelerates the dog’s learning process.

It seems that every article that I write has at least one controversial element to it, so ‘brace yourself Sheila’. I frequently meet people that say they tried to introduce Fido to the placeboard but he doesn’t like it and won’t use it. Maybe it’s a reflection of my poor character, but I want to retort, “if you don’t have the perseverance to teach it to sit on a bloomin placeboard then the future is going to be difficult!” I’m well aware that I might just have lost some of my loyal readership. Please cut me some slack, I’m only human!

Stage one

Our first goal is to teach the puppy that they will receive a food reward for putting all four feet onto the board. To encourage this you will initially need to use food to lure the pup towards the board. Some will climb straight onto the platform, sit when asked and look straight at you, which you would reinforce with a food reward.

For dogs that are initially unsure about climbing onto the placeboard you will need to quietly lure them towards it. Put a small piece of food onto the centre of the board and encourage them to take it. Quietly and patiently keep bringing the dog back to the board and reward each time the dog moves his behaviour to another level.

Ensure the placeboard is stable and on a firm surface; if it rocks or slides then for sure it will lead to your dog being fearful of it. Whilst you can use all manner of things as a raised platform, be certain to use something that is not slippery, wet or unstable.

Moving on

Once all four paws are being enthusiastically placed onto the board, the rest will be straightforward. From here, with a food treat on the nose of the dog we can lure them into a sit. Big dogs on relatively small, industry standard boards (24x15 inches) will need to learn to organise their feet and balance. But if my monster of a German shorthaired can shoe horn himself onto a standard placeboard, then so will most other gundog breeds.

The sit

As the dog sits squarely onto the board, bring the food treat to your collar button, ensure the dog is aware of where the food treat has gone. It will need to see you draw your hand into this position. As soon as the dog makes eye contact, a simple “good” whilst offering the reward is all that will be required.

Almost immediately, gently touch the next food treat onto the dog’s nose, making it aware that there is more available. Once again position the treat back on your collar button, again waiting for eye contact before repeating as before. Do this once more and now release the dog. “All done, off you go, go play.” The choice is yours.

Turn your back on the dog, walk away, ignore his advances, don’t even give eye contact. This last release command will become a signal to tell the dog that the session has finished and there will be no more food available until you ‘open’ a new training session. You will need to be absolutely clear with your body language if the dog is to learn that class has now finished. The teacher is ‘leaving the building’!

This understanding is an essential and is easily learned if the humans in the house obey the rules. Your dog needs to learn that vigorous pestering or barking will never pay off. With the correct approach, your dog will also learn that sitting quietly whilst gazing adoringly into your eyes might just work. Although, I must say it’s led me into all kinds of trouble.

So there you have it, a few tips and my overview as to the really important beginnings of training. None of it is rocket science, so study hard and enjoy your dogs! Keeeeep training!