Stationing, in a nutshell, involves sending an animal to a designated location where they’ll stay until released. When properly used, it serves as one of the most versatile tools in a trainer’s toolbox. In the dog training world, people commonly refer to stationing as “place training” or “mat work.” While currently commonplace in many trainers’ training, behavior, and environmental management arsenals, it has only really become popular in the last few years.
Outside of dog training, though, behavioral and training specialists have used stationing in various forms for centuries. Falconers teach their birds to stand and stay on a perch during demos and public appearances. Exotic animal trainers and zookeepers use stationing to keep animals and staff safe during healthcare, training, and enclosure cleaning.
Stationing: going to a designated object or place, interacting with it in a specific and trained way, and maintaining the proper proximity or position continuously until released via verbal, environmental, or physical cue
Military dolphins and sea lions station next to their unit’s boat or watercraft during operations. Farmers and ranchers train livestock to stand and stay on a scale for veterinary procedures. Riders teach horses and camels to target and remain next to a block for training or husbandry purposes. Circus ringmasters used stationing during performances when working with large or dangerous animals. The list could go on and on.
The exact species involved or who is doing the training/teaching/handling isn’t important. What matters is that every example of stationing mentioned above shares a common skillset: the animal going to a designated object or place, interacting with it in a specific and trained way, and maintaining the proper proximity or position continuously until released via verbal, environmental, or physical cue.
What is Stationing in Dog Training?
As a foundation skill, stationing in dog training seems pretty simple. When given a cue or signal, the dog gets on a designated object. Typically, the object is a box, top of a crate, dog bed, or purpose-built station like the Klimb dog training platform. The dog then remains on the station until released by their trainer or handler. With proper training, neither duration nor distractions matter in the context of stationing. No matter how much time passes or how chaotic the surroundings, an experienced stationed dog should remain happily stationed until released.
Stationing application, however, can get very complicated very quickly. It can involve complex and multi-step behavior chains involving lots of distance, duration, and distraction. The dog may have to move to the station across a lot of space. Sometimes, the dog may have to remain on their station while other dogs are being worked or released. The dog may be stationed for 15 seconds or 2 hours. It may be passive — sit or lie quietly and relax — or extremely engaged and energetic.
As a basic behavior, place training is simple targeting — touch this thing. Next, stationing builds duration into the core behavior — touch this thing and stay touching it. Once a dog needs to move across distances or ignore distractions or differentiate cues in various contexts, it quickly starts to involve advanced skills beyond basic targeting.
Stationing Criteria Varies Widely
Stationing criteria varies widely depending on the expectations and experience of the trainer. Sometimes, the stationing context or use influences criteria, too. As an example, some trainers expect their dog to auto-down when they get on a station and to remain in the down without shifting until released. Others just want their dog on the station, period, and allow the dog to sit, stand, or down at will, as long as all 4 feet and all body parts remain inside the bounds of the station at all times. Some don’t mind if front feet hang off the edge of the station, as long as no body parts touch the ground.
“Criteria is what exactly the handler is looking for out of the dog at any given time as a metric for success.”
Ron Watson of Pawsitive Vybe
Some trainers need their dog to run to the station across a field. The dog might have to weave through other dogs working or training. In contrast, some people just want to walk their dog to a bed, point to it, and have the dog happily snuggle down until released. Contextually, a Service Dog stationing quietly in a classroom who only gets up to provide task work uses different criteria than a Search and Rescue K9 stationing at the scene of a disaster or a Corrections K9 stationed next to a guard tower.
What are the Benefits of Stationing?
Training a dog to place carries many benefits. First and foremost, it’s an excellent behavioral management tool. A stationed dog isn’t jumping on guests, stealing things from the trash can, or interrupting another dog’s training session. They’re contained, but not confined. This allows them to still be active participants in whatever is going on around them. They’re able to continue to engage with the environment and to benefit from sensory input without their handler needing to actively restrain or worry about them.
Stationing provides mental stimulation by working your dog’s impulse control, frustration tolerance, patience, and many other soft skills. A dog on a “place” voluntarily chooses to remain there. This is an active choice on the part of the dog — to remain in one place, even though more interesting things are going on elsewhere. Making that choice requires focus, the ability to delay gratification, and an understanding that their turn will come.
Stationing Allows Your Dog to Succeed
Far from being a passive process, stationing gives the dog an active job consisting of 3 distinct parts. First, go to this thing. Second, get on it. Third, stay on it until released. Properly utilized, place training tells the dog exactly what to do in order to earn reinforcement — station. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Anything other than stationing will not be reinforced. To be correct, all you must do is station like it’s your literal job. In high energy or chaotic environments, stationing sets your dog up for success. The rules and expectations are clear. Think of stationing as an “anchor” of sorts.
This is particularly useful for Service Dogs and other dogs who work in public. Schools and office environments are chock full of distractions, motion, and unpredictabilities. Furthermore, going to work or school involves long periods of nothing happening then a lot happening all at once, from the dog’s perspective. Stationing calmly provides a baseline for long periods of relaxation and downtime while still remaining engaged and ready to work.
Dogs who do performance or competition events greatly benefit from place training. Trainers don’t have to constantly rotate and crate/uncrate dogs for training sessions. Dogs who aren’t currently being trained or worked get sent to their station to hang out. Search Dogs who are off duty can hang out on a station with the rest of the team instead of having to be crated. Only creativity limits the potential uses.
How Do You Train a Dog to Station?
Training a working dog to station involves more than we can really dig into here but you can start with basic matwork. Shape your dog to stand on a mat or bed, clicking and treating for success. Continue treating as long as your dog remains on the mat. Once your dog hops on the mat from several steps away and remains there for several seconds, add a cue. This is the base behavior for stationing. You’ll build duration, distance, and distraction into the skill over time and with lots of practice. Always set your dog up for success throughout the training process.
Note: Most dogs find stationing easier on a platform, box, or raised bed. The clear edges allow your dog to either be on or off. There’s no gray area. Contrast that with a mat — if your dog is all the way on the mat except for a foot, are they on? What about if they lay down and both front legs stretch out on the ground? Criteria becomes much more complicated when the station isn’t as clearly defined.