By Mark Fike
A good friend enlightened us on the wisdom of using placeboards when training gun dogs. Placeboards can be used as initial training, breaking bad habits and overall for steadiness.
We raise and train labs for hunting. The placeboards go with us each time we train whether it is at our house or anywhere else we go to train.
So, what is a placeboard and how is it used? A placeboard is simply a location for the dog to “place” or remain, or sit when training. The dog learns that the particular spot where they are placed is where they are to remain.
You can purchase placeboards or you can make your own. We made our own. A piece of plywood 2’x2’ and a ten-foot 2”x4” or even a 1”x4” (use treated wood), some outdoor carpet (optional) and screws are all you need. Make the 2’x2’ frame from the 2”x4”s, screw the plywood to it, cut and screw in a crossmember to sturdy it up, and then put your outdoor carpet on it if you wish to finish the look.
We also added a handle to ours to make it easier to carry. You can put some large screw eyes in the sides and attach a strap if you want as well.
How is a placeboard used? You can actually train your dog to stay using the placeboard as well. Put the dog on the placeboard, give the command to stay (or sit if that is what you use) and then toss your bumper, ball, duck or take a walk to make your dog learn to stay there until you give the release command, which for hunters is usually the dog’s name.
Dogs seem to understand the STAY or SIT command better when they have a designated spot to execute the command. Using a placeboard is also a great idea when you have more than one dog in the field training. Each dog has its own very obviously designated spot. I was amazed watching Kristy train and seeing that the dogs obeyed much better when they were on the placeboards.
One of her dogs has a terrible habit of creeping or what we call butt scooting. She knows she is supposed to sit and stay, but she feels as if her rear end is in direct contact with the ground, she is still sitting and therefore still staying. Obviously this is not true when we look up and she is seven feet from her original spot on the lawn, but sitting.
The dog is very headstrong and it took using a placeboard to begin breaking her of that. She is so driven to get the retrieve that she wanted to go first and be the dog called each time an opportunity came up. We have reduced her creeping substantially, but sometimes she slips off the board and then continues her bad habit.
Thus, we have decided to make new placeboards that are much higher, possibly using a 2”x10” frame, so she KNOWS she cannot just ease off the board and be ahead of the other dogs. While we have not tried this in our training, I have seen it work well for dogs that show this type of behavior when they are placed on an elevated stand elsewhere, whether it be in the field or in an actual duck hunting situation where you put them in a treestand.
One other consideration that Kristy makes is that by placing a wooden pole to the back of the placeboard, you can tether your dog to it to reinforce the command and ensure they don’t leave the station.
The same training will help increase steadiness and honoring other dogs. One additional benefit that you have using a placeboard is that if the dog breaks and eases off, you can very easily direct them to go “PLACE” and they will know exactly where they are supposed to go sit. There is no denying their assigned spot. I can see it with Kristy’s female dog. She hangs her head, busted and knowing it, but obediently runs to get back on her placeboard.
In my opinion, doing drills with placeboards is invaluable. I put their usefulness at the top of the list.