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If you’ve got a young hunting dog, you’re probably thinking about heroic retrieves in an October pheasant field or duck marsh right now. But before you get too far ahead of yourself, you should be thinking “place.”

I got a tutorial on teaching the “place” command with lab trainer and breeder Mike Smith of Flatwater GunDogs last week. The command is simple: point to a place you want your dog to be, and say “place.” The dog goes there, sits, and stays. There are a couple reasons to do this. One, it trains your pup to go sit where you want him, like a boat or blind. Two, it gets your dog to watch and follow your hand (which is the beginning of casting). And three, it can be an important part of force-fetching (if you plan on having your dog force fetched).

Before starting with the place command, your dog needs to obey the basic obedience commands of sit, stay, and heel. With a puppy, put a treat in your hand, point to an obstacle (Mike uses a piece of plywood over an old tire), and command “place.” Your dog will follow your hand onto the obstacle to get the treat. Make him sit and give him the treat. With enough repetition, your pup will figure out the game and he’ll follow your hand without needing a treat. Disclaimer: Most trainers, including Smith, don’t like training with treats, but for this command it’s the easiest way to get the dog to understand what you’re asking of him.

Train with a leash until he has the concept fully mastered. Then, work off leash. Next, change up obstacles. Get him to jump in a canoe and sit still and you’re one step closer to that October duck marsh.