Get five pro trainers in a room and you’ll get five different answers to a training question; and they all could be right. The use or non-use of place boards in training bird dogs is one of those questions that could produce five different answers. In this article, we’re going to talk primarily about theory; the actual teaching of place board use is a whole different article.
A place board is just that…a board. The size can change depending upon the size of the dog being trained. For a larger dog, a 2’ x 3’ board will work well. They are typically elevated to ensure the dog recognizes the board from a distance or in heavy grass. Although 2” x 4” elevated boards are often used, some trainers like the board to be higher. Twelve-to-eighteen inch high boards are common also. That’s the physical description; now let’s talk about the purpose.
The purpose of a place board is to teach a dog to stand (or sit) still in one place. We associate that behavior with a command such as stay, sit or whoa. We lead the dog onto the board and then give them the command. We restrain the dog so they have no option except to stay on the board. We then reward them for staying on the board. That’s a very simplified process for teaching a dog to either sit or stand still on a place board.
Now let’s examine how place board training is useful for both retrievers and pointing dogs. For retrievers, place board training is used to make a retriever sit in one place and, often, for very long periods of time. Waterfowl hunters sit in blinds for hours and they want their retriever to do the same. When the command is given to fetch downed birds, the dog leaves its position and does his job. That’s all pretty straight forward and it’s easily understood why the place board training is useful for a retriever.
For pointing dogs, the purpose of the place board becomes cloudy. Just check on one of the gun dog forums and you’ll find the use of place boards for pointing dogs being debated for days on end. On the positive side, just about everything we teach pointing dogs is done while the dog is still. Teaching the “whoa” command and being steady to wing and shot are examples. Sounds good…right? Yes, it is good. But issues could develop later if place board training is not handled correctly. The issue is the transition between an artificial “place” and a natural “place” in the woods or fields.
Personally, I feel place board training for a pointing dog can be very useful if it’s started early…say six months of age. Begin with yard training; a four inch high board would be sufficient. Teach the pup to stay on the board initially for ten seconds and then progress to one minute and the two minutes, etc. Then move the board to a field and even the woods. Once the pup has learned to stand still on the board, then transition the training to a piece of carpet. The carpeting will be easier to handle and provides a slow transition from a board to natural turf. Also, continue to change location.
As the training progresses, and the pointing dog remains standing on the “board”, it’s now time to introduce birds. With the dog on the board and on a lead, have a helper pull a pen raised bird from a bag and simply throw the bird up and away from the dog. If properly trained on the “board”, the dog should not move when the bird is released. After a few bird sessions with the dog on the “board”, remove the board and continue with the birds. You’ve transitioned the dog from a recognizable “board” to natural turf.
For a pointing dog, the transition is the cloudy part. No one wants a pointing dog that needs to look for a “board” when it encounters scent. However, if you make the transition from board to carpet to natural turf slowly and carefully, the dog should transition easily. If you have reservations about using a place board, check with a pro-trainer. They'll be able to assist you with the transition and give you that “brag dog” you’ve always wanted.
Paul Fuller is host of the Bird Dogs Afield TV program. Paul’s website is www.birddogsafield.com.