So my background is in general obedience training and we have used carpet mats for teaching sendaways and distance work in obedience for as long as I can remember.
The only difference with the placeboard is that it is slightly raised. Target areas are used in many different disciplines having different names and a slightly different look, such as Target mats, Placeboards, Stations, Islands and Platforms. They are used to support lots of training exercises such as Obedience stays, Obedience distance control, Working Trial and Obedience Sendaways, Heelwork to Music positions, distance moves and much more….
I prefer the placeboard to a flat mat as it’s really clear to the dog and handler if the dog is on it properly and by that I mean all 4 paws. What can happen with a mat is the dog may be slightly off such as a paw off and the handler may often reward because it’s kind of on it. This type of inconstancy can cause problems as you progress training so it is important the whole dog is on. With the placeboard being raised you generally see more handler consistency in what is rewarded so the dog finds it easier to learn. Inconsistency is not helpful to dogs.
Placeboards can be used to help and support many gundog training exercises. For me before I even start my first goal is to build what is called a conditioned emotional response to the placeboard. This just simply means making a positive association. I have a video tutorial on how to do this for my community members. For me this is the key to successful placeboard training.
I see many dogs that are on placeboards that are either bored or frustrated. Neither of these emotional states are good or effective if you are training positively. This is because a positively trained dog always has a choice. It has no fear in saying screw you, I don’t want to do this. If a trained behaviour creates a negative emotion , they will never choose that emotion especially when there are alternatives, and there are always alternative positive emotional reinforcers available in the environment for gundogs.
No working gundog will choose to be bored or frustrated, but what they do like is anticipatory, controlled excitement. I want my dog to love the placeboard before I start attaching behaviour to it.
Once I have my conditioned emotional state to the placeboard I can use it to teach a stay. This is an anticipatory stay where the dog is in arousal but controlled. Teaching a gundog to be calm to control them isn’t helpful in a working scenario. If you’re going to the pub though, calm is very helpful. A spaniel needs to be in ‘drive’ and a heightened state of arousal to hunt hard and not feel the pain. Calm dogs don’t hunt cover well. What it needs to learn is to use its thinking brain which is called the cortex when it is aroused.
I will also use it to teach directional control to go out, back , left and right. This enables effective distance and precise directional movement. It also means you can teach this without over doing retrieving. So if you have delivery or retrieve problems you can still teach direction without dummies and not affect your retrieve training. We fade the boards and add the dummies later.
You can use it to teach the stop whistle, dogs trained to stop using the placeboard do not creep. You get precise behaviours and great distances.
You can use them for teaching delivery to hand and sitting at heel