In dog training, there are many different types of tools that can be used to help make your goals more attainable, but in over 25 years of professionally training animals, I can think of no better tool in my toolbox than platform training. By using this simple idea of elevation, you can help not just your dog, but almost any animal understand certain concepts quicker in everything from basic obedience cues, to working through bad habits around the house, to trick/stunt training and even dog sports.
If this is a new concept to you, I am excited to share the knowledge of this amazing training aid!
Where Did Platform Training Come From?
So do you ever remember watching a circus and seeing the lions and tigers on those high pedestals? Or how about the elephants doing those amazing tight turns on those tiny barrels barely bigger than one of their feet?
This picture taken from a circus in Brisbane in 1903, proves pedestal training was alive and well way back then.
It is unclear when and where the idea of platforms originally got introduced into the world of pet dog training, but the concept of training animals on an elevated surface like this has been used for many, many years with our zoo animals and with circus and performance animals around the world with evidence of this in images dating back to the 1800’s.
This sea lion poses for shots on his pedestal at an aquatic animal show.
Quite simply, a platform provides a visual barrier for the animal, which aids them in being able to hold position for longer periods of time. Let’s face it, if the lions and tigers jumped down during a performance, it probably wouldn’t be pretty, as these animals typically don’t get along in the wild!
What Do I Use As A Platform?
To get started, you are obviously going to need to find something for your dog to practice on in addition to the tasty treats you will be rewarding them with during your training sessions.
Loki loves practicing on this piece of cat furniture we picked up at the local pet store.
A platform can be a wide variety of items. It just needs to be something sturdy enough for your dog to jump up, work on and hold your dog’s weight. Over the years, I have used everything from cat furniture for my smaller dog, to a jogging trampoline, footstools and ottomans, upturned barrels and planters, center blocks, shelving, raised dog beds and a lot of other random items. So to get started, just look around your house or in your garage and get a little creative!
If getting involved in Stunt Dog Trials interests you, a standard dog pedestal, called a Klimb is used and can be purchased easily online. This is a 2 ft x 2 ft platform that stands 1 foot tall, so if you are looking to build something on your own, these can be good dimensions to start with.
How to Get Started
In this section, I am going to teach you a basic cue to teach your dog to go to his designated spot. This single cue is one of the very first things I teach any new dog family member in our home and I find it to also be one of the most useful and diverse signals used in our home or when performing.
Remember to always start teaching this one on an elevated surface. However, once your dog is proficient with this cue, it can be taught to a variety of different types of objects, including things like flat mats or even a piece of tape on the ground. You’ll be able to send your dog anywhere!
Nova is demonstrating the “Go to Your Mark” cue.
Teaching “Go to Your Mark”
- Begin by trying to lure or shape your dog onto the new surface. Any movement towards it can be rewarded in the beginning. One step towards, one paw on, 2 paws on and so on until your dog is standing with all 4 paws on the mark.
- The first week, I like to do what I call “Magnetizing the Mark”! A special treat during the week is given only on the mark. If you bring home a new toy or your dog loves massages when you get home from work…give it to them on the mark. Practicing some fun tricks your dog really seems to enjoy performing for you…it all happens on the mark! Basically, this is now the hot spot to be! It is during this magnetizing phase that I start giving the verbal cue “Go to Your Mark” and a visual cue of pointing to the area when I see that my dog is starting to hone to this new, special area whenever we are near it.
- Once your dog is confidently jumping on the mark and learning to respond to the new cues, gradually start increasing your distance from the platform. In the very beginning, I like to get them a little excited and run with them to the mark. This gives them a little forward momentum and also gets them a little excited to run out to this new place. Instead of going right up to the edge of the platform, I just stop a little short and see if they can complete the distance on their own. Once your dog is performing at 1 foot away at least 80% of the time then progress to 2 feet away and so on.
- Always stay behind your dog and send him out to the mark. Do Not lead him. This is a skill he must figure out on his own. When your dog makes it to his designated area, immediately mark this behavior by saying “Yes” or using a clicker and go up to him to reward him on the pedestal, before he steps off. As your dog’s independence grows, you can start making it more difficult by simply standing in one spot and sending him to the area, instead of running and playing with him.
This video will show you how to start teaching your dog to go to a pedestal/platform.
Using Platforms for Basic Obedience
One quote in dog training, that I have already taken to heart is “Calm Feet, Focused Mind”. What this means is, the more settled your dog’s body is, the more focus they tend to have when you are teaching them. So let’s say you have the fidgety dog that lacks any manner of impulse control and is constantly dancing about in front of you during a training lesson. By using a little elevation, you can quickly help your dog gain self control and focus. Some training facilities these days, even incorporate platforms into their group classes, to help the dogs understand their boundaries while working around others.
This group of Puppy Class graduates learned how to use platforms which enabled them to have better control during group pictures.
The obedience cue that seems to benefit the most from this type of training is the “Stay”. Nothing will help your dog learn to hold position better, then adding a little elevation. Do you have a very bouncy dog that has a horrible time holding a Stay until they are released? The higher the elevation the better! Does your dog tend to get lazy on their long Sit Stays and try to lie down? Try a smaller pedestal to eliminate that option!
There’s no chance Nova will try and lay down during her Sit Stays by practicing on this centerblock!
Another basic obedience cue that can be taught easily with the use of your platform is “Off”. Let’s say your dog gets up on your furniture and you want to be able to ask him to get off of it on cue. By releasing your dog “Off” and rewarding him for four paws on the floor, you can build up this verbal cue and be able to apply it to other areas around your house once you have consistently taught and reinforced it.
Here is a fun trick you can try on a platform with your dog that is great for photo opportunities, as well as teaching the “Off” cue.
When beginning to add the distraction of working with more than one dog in the same room, it is a fantastic tool to teach the non-working dogs to wait until it is their turn.
Rocket is learning how to wait patiently on his platform during class while another dog works on the floor.
Using Platforms for Bad Habits
There are numerous, common household bad habits that I use platforms for, to help better manage situations. Here are a few ideas for things that I use them for on a regular basis.
This pup is being redirected to go to his designated mark when he hears a knock at the door, so he doesn’t rush up on people and run out.
- The DoorBell Dash- Keeping dogs away from the front door when guests come over.
- Keeping dogs out of the kitchen area when I am cooking (I’m constantly having to step over sleeping dogs!)
- Reinforcing areas in the living room for them, so they would rather be in their spot than on off-limits furniture.
Using Platforms in Dog Sports
There are many ways that platforms are used to strengthen skills in a wide variety of dog sports and there is even the sport of stunt dog trials in which a platform is an integral part of the testing.
2018 National Stunt Dog Champion, Chrissy Joy and her dog Beasley.
Here are a few other areas of sport where platforms are commonly used during training.
- Obedience and Canine Freestyle– For teaching your dog the different positions around the handler (Heel, Side, Front, etc.) and how to make clean transitions between the positions.
This video gives you an idea of how you can use platforms to help you teach positions and position changes used in obedience or canine freestyle.
- Canine Conditioning– Here, you are teaching dogs a wide variety of skills to improve a dog’s physical fitness in the areas of flexibility, balance, stamina, coordination and strength. Platforms can be used for things like different types of stretches, body positioning, helping to develop core strength and more. (Ex. 2 On 2 Off, Paws Up, Back Up on to, etc)
If you are looking for a great book to help you get started in Canine Conditioning, then I highly recommend checking this out.
- Agility– Commonly seen used to help teach the pause box during agility and also any sport where your dog might need to learn to wait behind a starting line.
- Hunting Dogs– used for teaching the dogs to Sit and Stay until the hunter is ready to release the dog to flush out an animal.
Retriever pups are often trained to use platforms at an early age to help strengthen their Stays, so they don’t release early around the birds.
Using Platforms for Animal Actors
Do you have big dreams for your dog to be in the movies one day, or in your favorite petstore’s next TV commercial or print ad? Then you definitely want to bone up and get some mad platform skills! Or how about taking your awesome crew of tricksters on the road and performing live shows like us? If you are going to be working multiple animals on a stage, you will find a platform to be an imperative part of your props. I never leave home without mine.
How and why are they so important at this level? Here are a few reasons why.
- Distance Training- when working on a set, your dog typically is going to be at least 10 feet away from you (you will be behind the camera man, director, lighting, etc.) You need to be able to cue your dog from a distance away, without them leaving their mark.
- Helps Audience Appearance for Smaller Dogs- On a stage setting, little dogs get drowned out on a large stage if they are by your feet all the time. Having them perform on an elevated surface helps more of your audience be able to see your dog’s performance, especially if the audience seating is at equal ground level as the performance area.
Even on this short pedestal, the audience can see this little dog a little better since they are seated at ground level.
- Getting the Perfect Shot- Of course, the platform is going to help your dog hold positions better in any situation. So even if you and your dog aren’t up for the next modeling gig, it is a perfect apparatus to use when trying to get that next best shot for a great family portrait or a fun holiday card photo shoot.
We even use our platforms for our Meet & Greets and photo ops after shows.
I do hope this article has given you a little insight into how helpful a platform can be and how widely used they are in the dog world. I hope you consider trying your hand at platform training soon!