Farm Dog 101: Place Command – Part Three

Once your dog will “place” for at least two minutes with you moving around the room, you are ready to progress to Step Two – teaching your dog to travel to its “place.”

Step Two: Place your mat or rug one step in front of your dog. Toss a treat on the mat and tell your dog to “go place”. When your dog steps onto the mat and eats the treat, Praise and Release.

Duration: Gradually increase the length of time the dog remains on the mat before the Release.

Distance: Once your dog is able to leave your side and go one step to the mat without assistance and remain there for 2 minutes, you will start to increase the distance away from the mat that your dog is sent one step at a time. Each time you add distance, reduce the length of time the dog remains on the mat and gradually increase the time again. Until the dog is successfully completing a “go place” at two steps without physical assistance you will not move further away. Each increase in distance should be one step at a time. Continue until you can send your dog 20 feet to a mat and the dog stays until Released.

Distractions: Reduce the distance you stand from the mat back to one step and have a distraction ten feet away. If you have been working without a leash, make sure you put a leash back on your dog so that you can prevent him from going to the distraction. Send your dog to the mat. When your dog is successfully ignoring the distraction, move the distraction one foot closer and repeat. Continue to move the distraction closer only when the dog is able to successfully ignore it.

Difficulty: Once your dog is ignoring a distraction and able to “go place” from one step away, start increasing the distance you send your dog one step at a time and begin with the distraction ten feet away again. Continue to vary the distance you send the dog, the type and location of distraction and duration of the stay on the mat.

Much larger treat than I normally use but I wanted it to be visible.

Fix moves onto “Place” when told “Go Place”


Farm Dog 101: Place Command – Part Two

To recapitulate, the first step in teaching a “Place” command is to teach the dog to remain in a designated spot until released.

To teach this you will need the following:

  1. Something to use as your designated spot – a bathmat, rug, elevated dog bed, etc.
  2. Leash
  3. Treats (optional)
  4. Release word

Step One: Put your dog on leash. Put your mat or rug in front of your dog. Help your dog step onto the mat as you say “place”. Do not repeat the command but use the leash as necessary to ensure the dog steps completely on the mat. Your dog may sit, stand or down but may not step off the mat until you have released your dog.

Duration: build on duration first; start with five seconds and increase the length of time you require your dog to stay on the mat before being released.

Distance: once you have built up to a one-minute stay on the mat, reduce the duration back to five seconds and start to move yourself further away from the mat, one step at a time. If your dog tries to move off the mat, use the leash to prevent the dog from stepping off the mat, without stepping back into the dog. When you are able to step away leash length (6 feet) for five seconds, gradually build up the duration again, five seconds at a time.

Distraction: once you are able to move six feet away from the mat and your dog can stay for one minute, start adding distractions. When you add distractions, reduce the distance you are standing away from the dog and the duration of the stay. Again, use the leash as necessary to ensure the dog does not move off the mat until released. Start with mild distractions and work up to heavy distractions. As your dog learns to ignore the distractions, gradually build up the duration and distance again.

Difficulty: once you are able to move six feet away from the mat and your dog can stay for one minute with heavy distractions, you are going to increase the difficulty of the exercise. While your dog will initially still have a leash on, you will no longer be holding it. Start moving around the room, being prepared to pick up the leash to enforce the “place” if necessary. Vary how far you move, how long the dog must stay and the level of distractions.

Fix staying in “Place” with 6 foot distance and distraction

Ready to move on to Step Two

Farm Dog 101: Place Command – Part One

A Place command is incredibly useful. Put simply, a place command involves teaching a dog to travel to a specific spot (I like using bathmats as mats are portable and easy to travel with) and then to remain in that spot until released. It is easier for most people to teach than a solid stay because the dog isn’t required to remain in either a sit or a down, but as long as the dog remains in that spot, can sit, down, stand, turn around. . .you get the picture.

So in keeping with my resolution to actually start training Fix, I decided a Place command would be a good addition to his education.

Fix practicing a Place on an elevated dog bed


This exercise consists of training two separate exercises and then combining the two into a single exercise.

The first part involves teaching the dog to remain in a designated spot until released. The second part involves teaching the dog to travel to the designated spot.

In training this exercises, as with all exercises, the Four D’s of Training are employed. These are:

  1. Duration
  2. Distance
  3. Distraction
  4. Difficulty

Remember, you want to build on success, so your goal in training is to set your dog up to succeed, not fail. Be sure your dog understands what is required before making the task more difficult.

To begin, you need a RELEASE word. This is a word which you will consistently use to let your dog know it is free to do something different. For example, in this case, once you have told your dog to “place” your dog should not move from that location until you have given permission; i.e., a Release. It is important that you use this word to release your dog following every command. A Release word is not the same as praise. Praise should be given while your dog is performing the action (sit, down, etc.) so that you are praising the action and not the dog’s behavior after completion of the action. A Release word simply means your dog has your permission to do something else and should not be followed with praise.


Farm Dog 101: Paper Plate Recall

Fix turned 24 weeks (6 months) old today. He still hasn’t outgrown the fuglies, but I am seeing some glimmers of the handsome dog he will be.

Fix at 24 weeks


Despite other Farm Dog 101 posts where I state I am going to start formal training with Fix, I have to admit that has not happened. His training to date has been just day to day interactions and doing chores.

So this evening, I decided it was way past time to get serious about training and I dusted off an exercise I used to teach to students in my beginning obedience classes – the Paper Plate Recall. This is an exercise I learned from a colleague, now sadly deceased, Dick Russell from Baton Rouge, LA. Rather than type it out here, I am providing a link to the exercise explained on another colleague’s blog: Paper Plate Recall.

So after chores, I put a leash on Fix, found a suitable plastic lid and put a few treats in my pocket. While Fix does know “sit’, I have not taught him a “stay” so he is a novice dog and a great example of the “magic” of this exercise. We started at 3 feet from the lid and finished, about 10 minutes later, approximately 60 feet away with Fix holding a stay while I walked away from him to put the treat on the lid and then while I walked back to him. Click on photos to enlarge.

Lid in foreground and Fix on Stay about 60 feet away.

After I walked back to Fix, I sent him to the plastic lid

Fix at the treat




Fix returning on a “come” command

Almost back

Farm Dog 101: Five months

Yesterday Fix turned five months old so I thought I’d chronicle his day. Since I leave the door open at night for the adult dogs to come and go as they please, Fix is still crated at night so he can’t get himself into trouble outside. When I got up in the morning, Fix was let out of the crate (waiting for his release word “free” even after the door was opened) and he made his usual check of the dog dishes to see if 1) one of the other dogs had not finished their dinner; or 2) if food had magically appeared in the dish overnight before dashing outside to pee. When Fix was smaller I used to go out with him, first on a leash and then later just to supervise, but he has been going out unsupervised for a few weeks now. I put the water on for coffee and washed dishes and Fix dashed back in to see if the dog dishes have re-filled themselves. After I finished my coffee, Fix was fed breakfast. (Again, waiting patiently in a sit until given his release word to eat.) Chores were next. After we did chores I went back to work on digging out gates. Fix hung around a bit and then went off to explore. He found a piece of horse hoof and played with it for awhile – throwing it up in the air, then pouncing on it when it hit the ground and then running laps with it in his mouth before starting all over again.

The Pounce

Running Laps

We played a little fetch with a stick he brought me and then he wandered off again. When it got too hot for me to continue, I took a shower while Fix hung out. I needed to run into town for groceries so I crated Fix since I was going to leave the door open for the other dogs to come and go. When I got back I spent a little time on the computer while Fix just hung out and then we took a nap in the hammock. At some point Fix jumped off the hammock and just laid down on the bedroom floor. After our nap, I did a little work using the computer and Fix alternated between lying next to me and going outside to explore. We did evening chores and he did a little more exploring while I was pulling more T-posts. He did come back to help me do a little more digging around the gate post. Then it was time for dinner and more time just chilling out in the house before bed. Not a real exciting way to turn 5 months old. . . I’ll have to come up with something special for his six month birthday next month.


Farm Dog 101: Fetch and Tug as training games

At not quite five months of age Fix is starting to help out with chores. I’ve allowed him to put up the sheep at night a couple of times. While in reality, the sheep will usually put themselves up once I bring them out of the pasture, as far as Fix is concerned, behind them and dragging a line, he is moving the sheep on his own. This morning after I filled a hay net with hay, Fix moved the hay net to the cart. He did this on his own, without any prompting by me.

I play games with my puppies – primarily fetch and tug – as a way to encourage team work (and to teach self-control). Fetch because later I will train a reliable retrieve to hand and tug because sometimes the dog will have to exert some force to bring me something – a filled hay net is one example.

Many years ago a fellow trainer told me a story that I’ve never forgotten. He trained bird dogs so his puppies were taught to fetch from day one. He also never corrected a puppy for picking up and carrying something inappropriate but encouraged the pup to bring the item to him. One day he had a young pup with him in a building where unbeknownst to him someone had put out rat poison. He noticed the pup with something in his mouth and called the pup to him. The pup came running with a box of rat poison. Had he been in the practice of punishing or correcting his pup for picking up things, it is likely that 1) the pup would not have come to him carrying the rat poison; and 2) the pup would have tried swallowing the poison before he was able to remove it from the pup’s mouth. I have taken that lesson to heart and I also never correct a puppy for carrying something in its mouth.

Fix really likes carrying my shoes. He learned very early on not to chew on shoes by simple redirection. However, every time I saw him carrying a shoe, I called him to me, praised and then removed the shoe from his mouth and gave him something else. Fix has also taken to carrying empty metal food dishes if I leave them on the ground. Again, I encourage him to bring those to me and reward him for that. In the past I’ve had to train dogs to carry metal objects so I’m very pleased to see Fix has no issues carrying metal dishes. Of course it means I have to watch where I put the wire cutters in the barn because I’ve caught Fix carrying the wire cutters a few times.

Finally, fetch and tug are useful games to use in training. The following is a brief introduction to TUG OF WAR.

The rules of tug are:

  • You start all games of tug (the toy should be put up away from the dog between games).
  • If the dog’s mouth touches your hand or arm at any time during the game, the game ends immediately.
  • You end all games of tug. The dog must release the tug toy on command.

Start all games of tug with the dog in a sit. Some dogs will be uncomfortable holding onto a toy if they feel you want it. If your dog is hesitant to hold on to the toy when you tug, start with just holding one end of the object and praising your dog for holding on. The next progression is very gentle pressure on the object while praising the dog for holding onto the toy. It may take several days before your dog is willing to hold on to the toy when you pull.

Remember pups that are teething have sensitive mouths – don’t jerk objects out of their mouths. Also, keep the object level and don’t tug up where the dog has to flex his neck.

Frequently during the game, tell your dog to sit or down and give. While tug should be a fun game, you don’t want the dog to become so aroused he no longer is under control.

Finish the game by having your dog sit or down and giving you the toy. The toy should then be put up away from the dog until the next game.

If you are having problems with your dog giving up the toy, with your dog in a sit or down, simply put your free hand under his muzzle and press his lower lip over a lower tooth. Praise when he opens his mouth slightly and remove the toy.

Farm Dog 101: Teenage Stage

Adolescence is a hard stage for any animal, and Fix is unfortunately not an exception. While he believes he is now a “big” dog, he is actually a typical adolescent trying out varying behaviors to see what works and what doesn’t. As trying as this stage is, it would be a lot more difficult had Fix and I not established ground rules and boundaries when I first brought him home. Even though dealing with Fix is more time-consuming than ever, banishing him from the household routine will not teach him that the rules still apply. Consistency is even more critical at this stage than it was before – Fix will deliberately do something that he has previously shown he understands to be verboten and then look at me to see if I will do anything in response. Sadly for Fix, I understand this stage very, very well and am committed to ensuring that I am always able to correct Fix and redirect him to appropriate behaviors.

I have been taking Fix to the office with me on alternate weeks. This week was the week where he went with me on my day up in Albuquerque. He was on his best behavior (which is why he is allowed to spend the day at the office) so I knew that I was in for a rough time the next day. Fix did not disappoint – the next day at home his behavior was such that I lost count of the number of time outs he earned.

Yet another time out

A time out does not mean the dog spends hours in a crate. It is a short (5-15) minute break to interrupt a behavior that the dog continues to display after two attempts to redirect.

It is easy to see why so many dog owners who fail to establish rules and boundaries with puppies, either stuff their adolescent dog in a crate for long periods or throw the dog out into the backyard, and then when the dog is between 7 and 9 months of age relinquish the dog to a shelter because it still hasn’t learned how to be a “good” dog.

Having been through this before, I know there is light at the end of the tunnel and by including Fix in the household and being consistent in correcting misbehavior and redirecting to appropriate behaviors, I will eventually reap the rewards of a well-mannered dog.

Farm Dog 101: Training

There is no magic wand available. There are lots of options for “training” equipment – face halters, collars, harnesses, electronic collars, etc. – but no equipment can “train” an animal. It would be more appropriate to categorize all equipment as “management tools” which are more or less useful in the process of applying a training method in order to train a dog. However, if the dog will not reliably respond to a command without some type of equipment being used, the dog cannot be said to be trained. While no training is 100% – remember, dogs are not computers – a trained dog is going to be consistently responsive at a distance and under distraction. Training is about developing a relationship with the dog and relationships, as mentioned before, take time, energy and commitment.

Dog Equivalent of Running with Scissors

In my first Farm Dog 101 post I stated “ . . . as long as a handler is reasonably consistent with his/her approach to training, almost any type of training will eventually produce results. Training methods are a matter of personal preference.” While every dog is an individual, the basic principles of training are applicable to every dog, regardless of breed. Having said that, training is as much an art as a science and the trainer needs to be able to read their dog and adjust their training program accordingly.

At 4 months of age, despite his opinion to the contrary, Fix is not mature enough to be expected to handle a lot of pressure. While Fix has been accompanying me on chores from day one and has been “helping” move sheep for the past three weeks, he is not ready to start formal stock dog training. I need to be careful to push him enough where he is progressing but not so much that he can’t handle the pressure. It is my job to make sure he isn’t over-faced in any situation, so while we wait for him to get a little bigger and older, I am now prepared to ramp up his obedience training. Since I want a working dog, as well as a companion, I have a fine line to walk initially. If I stress obedience too soon, I run the risk of a dog who won’t work independently and who looks at livestock as another distraction to ignore. If I don’t start obedience before introducing my dog to livestock I run the risk of an out of control dog running my livestock into fences.

As Fix continues to mature, we will continue with daily chores while becoming more serious about obedience training. My goal is that, assuming Fix is ready, we will start stock dog training sometime in the fall. In the meantime, in progressing from teaching (i.e., associating the command with the required action) to training, I will start focusing on the first two of the 4 D’s of training (duration and distance). While the third and fourth of the 4 D’s (distractions and difficulty) will be introduced, these won’t be emphasized in my training plan until after Fix has started training on stock.

Farm Dog 101: Relationships

Fix is 16 weeks (4 months) old today. While physically he is, to be truthful, not the most attractive of puppies right now, his emotional maturity is quite amazing for his age. The combination of genetics with the environment in which the litter was raised resulted in a super nice pup with just the right balance of independence and biddability.

4 months old today

I brought Fix home at about 8.5 weeks so he has been here almost two months. In that period of time Fix has learned quite a bit. He has a good grounding in manners and self-control and has been introduced to (very) basic obedience. We have worked on restraint and handling and he accepts being groomed and having his nails trimmed. He is crate trained and about 98% house trained (I would have said 100% but this afternoon he peed under the table while I was at the computer. This was my fault because I had just taken him out with me while I was doing some chores and failed to ensure he peed before he came back in with me.) I rarely have to correct Fix for chewing on an inappropriate item and he is no longer mouthing on me. Fix rides well in the car – hooked into the seat belt assembly on the front passenger seat – and has traveled to southeastern New Mexico and to northern New Mexico to pick up goats and has gone up to the office with me several times. He has met children and adults, both male and female, and has met a few adult dogs belonging to friends. Fix has learned that he has to be respectful of older dogs and how to interact with them, both when engaging in play and when the other dog tells him to go away.

During this period of time, Fix has been introduced to the rules of the household and has been consistently redirected away from undesirable behavior and shown the appropriate behaviors expected of him. While most people understand “training” in the context of obedience training, in actuality all of the experiences Fix has had have been “training” him. Without the discipline and structure I provided, what Fix learned may have been “training” him to be a pushy dog intolerant of restraint or handling or an insecure dog likely to be afraid of many things in its environment. However, I have spent the last few weeks teaching Fix that he can trust me to ensure his needs are met and that I will keep him safe and that rules will be fairly and consistently enforced. Training is all about developing a relationship with an animal. Dogs are not computers which can be programmed and then ignored. Relationships take time, energy and commitment. (While the benefits are huge, there is a downside to having a relationship with a dog as opposed to “owning” one and it is rare for anyone who has never had a relationship with a dog to truly understand the loss and grief when that relationship ends.)

Good training involves discipline as well as teaching responsibility, accountability and reliability. Good trainers understand that this is a two way street – both the handler and the dog have to work together as partners for the relationship to succeed. Respect is a huge component of training. The dog must respect the handler and, in turn, the handler must respect the dog. Respect does not develop out of fear but from the knowledge that there is fairness and consistency in expectations and that the handler will not put the dog into situations where the dog may be injured or is not prepared to handle.

I have neither the time nor inclination to micromanage my dogs. My expectations are that a dog learns to be responsible for its actions and make good choices about its behavior. However, to achieve that goal, it is my responsibility to ensure that the dog is set up to be successful. These past few weeks have laid the foundation for Fix to be successful in his role as a companion and working dog.

Now that Fix is of an age to believe that the established rules and boundaries no longer apply to him – he is, after all, in his opinion a “big dog” and no longer a puppy, my responsibilities have increased. It is no longer sufficient for me to simply teach manners, self-control and all the other things I have worked on. I now need to start teaching Fix responsibility, accountability and reliability. To achieve this I will need to start focusing on obedience training while still continuing with his basic education.

Farm Dog 101: Raising a Puppy with Other Dogs

If a “breeder” tries to sell you more than one puppy, saying that they can keep each other company, run far, far away. Even experienced trainers avoid rearing two puppies at the same time. As mentioned before, puppies do not learn good dog-dog social skills (or pretty much anything else positive) from other puppies after a certain age. If a puppy has been raised to 8 or 9 weeks with its litter-mates, it has learned what it needs to learn and is ready to learn how to form a bond with a human. Raising two puppies – correctly – at the same time involves a huge investment of time and even then, provides a less than optimal environment for both puppies.

However, many dog owners bring new puppies into households with a dog (or more) in residence already. As stated before, I do not own pets. Each of my dogs are companions or, in the case of Fix, being raised to become a companion. This means that I cannot leave raising the puppy to the adult dogs but rather have to invest the time and energy into raising Fix myself. It is certainly easier just to throw the puppy in with the big dogs but it won’t create the relationship I want to develop. Puppies that spend most of their time with other dogs end up, not surprisingly, forming bonds with the other dogs and become what is called “dog-bonded.” I want, however, a dog that is more bonded to me and which prefers my company over that of the other dogs.

I currently have three adult dogs in my household. SLT (Sleet) is probably about 14 years of age at this time. She is a failed foster (a dog I was fostering for Australian Shepherd rescue who was not placable in a pet home, and therefore remained with me.) SLT is very deaf and spends quite a bit of her time currently sleeping. She also has a “kick me” sign firmly in place. She is very (read, overly) tolerant of other dogs’ bad behavior and even when she attempts to correct Fix it is not effective and therefore SLT is not a great adult dog to be teaching manners to a young puppy.

Tuck, who just turned ten, is my working English Shepherd (and also the grand-uncle of Fix). Tuck prefers to pretend that Fix does not exist most of the time. He will correct Fix if necessary but otherwise just walks away when Fix tries to engage him.

Kip is probably about 9 years old. She is an English Shepherd who I fostered (and ultimately kept) for National English Shepherd Rescue ( a few years ago when the Yellowstone Sheriff’s Department seized about 200 dogs from a very bad situation in Montana. Those dogs all spent several months in custody before the case wound through the courts and the dogs were released to NESR. Kip, like many of the ONB dogs, has some significant orthopedic problems. In Kip’s case she has a spinal stenosis in her lower back which affects her mobility. Despite this handicap, Kip has undertaken to take over Fix’s dog education. First thing in the morning, Kip and Fix will usually play wrestling and chase games. The chase aspect is usually Fix zooming around while Kip waits for him to fly past where she can roll him. After the initial morning games though, Kip will generally correct Fix for bothering her as the day progresses.

I monitor Fix’s interactions with SLT because she is not capable of teaching him good manners. Tuck is capable (and willing) to limit Fix’s interactions with him as is Kip so at this stage all of the dogs are generally out together (where I can monitor Fix with SLT). However, when Fix was first brought into the household, his interactions with all of the dogs were more limited. He was allowed approximately ten or fifteen minutes every couple of hours with the other dogs and the remainder of the time was spent interacting with me. He was never allowed access to the other dogs unsupervised.

Back when I was training professionally I saw a lot of students/clients who were inadvertently creating problems by “protecting” the new puppy from the older dog. Everytime the older dog tried to correct the puppy for inappropriate behavior, the owners got upset and corrected the older dog which fostered the belief in the puppy that it could do anything it wanted, including hassling the older dog, without fear of consequences. Eventually, when the pup was older and has lost its puppy license, the older dog had had enough and the ensuing altercation caused a lot of consternation in the household. There is a reason there are so many Craigslist ads where people are trying to give away or sell an older dog because it “doesn’t get along with the new puppy.” If the older dog has good dog-dog social skills it needs to be allowed to correct the puppy and to teach the puppy appropriate behavior around other dogs. In the case of a dog like SLT, who is incapable of effectively teaching this lesson, I simply monitor the interactions and prevent Fix from developing bad habits. This means that sometimes he ends up in a time-out (spending a short time in his crate) away from SLT.

So Fix has spent (and will continue to spend) most of his time interacting with me (or simply sleeping at my feet which he is doing now). Initially his interactions with the other dogs were limited and even now when all of the dogs are out together, Fix is still monitored and supervised. I allow the adult dogs to correct him as they see fit and will undertake to correct Fix myself if he doesn’t respect SLT’s attempts to warn him off. In this way Fix is learning 1) that I am the most important being in his life; and 2) how to appropriately interact with other dogs and respect their space.