Climb-boards are something that most people are not aware of, but I feel are invaluable to teaching a dog self-control. A climb-board is a very simple piece of equipment. It is basically a platform that is at least 4” off the ground. It can be higher, but should be at least this minimum height in order to create an elevation change your dog can understand. I prefer to use ¾” plywood because it is more stable in supporting larger dogs, and won’t be so apt to warp over time. The size is dependent on how big your dog is and what you are trying to accomplish. For the legs I found that cut 2×4 in the corners works well. I’ve seen three pieces running the full width of the board used, but to me this is added weight not needed, especially when using ¾” plywood. The board pictured outside is my go-to board in my training yard. It is nothing fancy. It is made from ¾” pressure treated plywood and pressure treated 2×4’s for feet. It stays outside all the time and has taken a lot of abuse and is still holding up well. It is a little on the big side to accommodate different size dogs and to make it easier to teach new dogs the concept behind it.
When your dog gets onto a climb-board, they can do whatever they want, as long as a paw does not touch the ground. This means they can stand, sit, lay down, bark, etc. They just have to stay on the board until released. Why is this boundary important? It teaches the dog self-control of their body. I’m sure anybody who has taught their dog the down command can appreciate how hard it is to keep your dog from creeping under high distractions. When you put your dog in a down command, especially when introducing distractions, the dog usually starts creeping, and before you know it, the dog is halfway across the room or yard. Whether you can catch them in the act or not, there really is no fair way to correct the dog because technically, the dog never broke the down.
Once the dog understands the concept of the board, you then can start to introduce commands while still on the board such as the down. Since you have the self-control taken out of the equation, you can teach the dog down from any distance you want to build up to. You can also introduce higher and higher stimulation to proof the dog to whatever level you desire. From here you can teach any of your other commands and the dog will learn to do that command where they are at, regardless of your distance from them. In the down command, this eliminates the ability to creep towards whatever it is they desire. This naturally flows right into a place command. Usually by the time place is taught, it is just a simple matter of showing the dog what the place is, and that they need to remain lying down instead of any position they desire.
Another great example of using the climb-board is for greeting guests at the front door. For a while you can set up the climb-board in the position you would like your dog to be in when you answer the door. You then teach your dog to go onto the board before you open the door and the dog won’t get any closer unless you allow it. After the dog has learned what to do over a period of time, you will start to get an automatic response to go up onto the board every time there is a knock on the door. Once this starts happening, you can begin to experiment with not putting the board down and soon your dog will go to the spot and just wait for you to tell them what to do next. I have also had clients put their dog on a climb-board at family gatherings. I have found this works very well when you have a lot of commotion going on such as kids running around or even other dogs. This keeps your dog from charging throughout the house, but gives them a little freedom to choose what position to stay in. Once things have settled down you can either release your dog or transition to a place command. Doing it this way, I have found that the owner and the dog gets less frustrated because the dog doesn’t have to learn all that self-control at once under high distraction. The climb-board is a nice compromise until full self-control is reached at the level of distraction you expect from them.
The climb command doesn’t even have to be on the board once the concept of the command is understood. You can use the landing next to your front door, the table at the vet’s office, the bed of a truck, or a park bench. As long as it has a defined border and is elevated, you are only limited to your imagination.
You can get even more technical with the climb-board by manipulating the size of the board and the position which you stand. As you make the board skinnier, the dog has only one option in which to lie down or sit without falling off the board. If you pair this with where you stand in relation to the board every time you give your dog the down or sit command, you create a muscle memory and a dialogue that your dog learns. What you are teaching them is not only to down or sit perfectly straight, but to also to face a desired direction in relationship to you.
The climb-board is fairly portable so you can take it to the park to train in real world situations. Once again, I have found that this makes a great transition into high distraction environments for both the owner and the dog. It really takes some of the pressure off of both parties because the dog has something familiar it can relate to, even if it is out of context, while it gives the owner added confidence that their dog will listen and be manageable in new environments. And as with any of the uses I have described, the climb-board then can be transitioned out of the scenario and your dog will continue to perform as if they were still on the board.
Thank you for reading,