28 May 2008

A Great Mat Training Session

Molly and I just had a great session working on our mat training. Mat training is teaching the dog to lie down on a mat or bed and stay there until released. It is sort of like a virtual crate. When the dog is on the mat, it should stay there and be settled down and not go anywhere. It leaves the owner free to do other things but is more relaxed and comfortable for the dog than an extended down stay.

I've tried this with Molly before but didn't feel like she "got" the mat--that she understood she got treats for being on the mat. She was very good about downs even though I wasn't expecting those of her yet, but she didn't get on the mat when I moved it.

I want her to be strong on this behavior for service work. I think it would be great to be able to put her on a mat in the airplane when flying so she can relax but know to be quiet and settled through the flight. I also think this will be a great resource in restaurants and when visiting people. The mat will serve the additional advantage of collecting any hair she may shed (although I intend to keep her well-groomed to limit that) to help make others more comfortable with her presence.

When I was having trouble training it earlier, I decided to back up and really follow the Levels Book 100% and now I'm really glad I have. Not just because it has improved her mat training here, but because I've gained a lot overall and bonded better with her. I thought I could hop around and just take what I wanted, but following the program really has given me a more well-rounded and better grounded dog. The stuff she could already do but hadn't been trained in a completely positive way, we retrained to strengthen the connections she had to the behavior. The stuff she has been trained in positively, I'm just testing her behavior to check her current level. It lets me make sure I don't have holes in her behavior and we're really bonding even more closely.

Now back to this mat session.

Molly's mat is a throw rug that we already had. We can easily get more rugs later to once she is steady on the behavior. It's inexpensive, discrete, warm, sturdy, and easy to carry. The rug is also very washable, so it's no problem to keep it clean and fresh for taking on the road. Molly will need a familiar mat for her trip to USA to help her be comfortable in the airplane, everywhere we go, and in the car.

I hadn't started feeding Molly yet when we trained this morning. To make it really exciting, I used a can of shrimp as her training treats. I started with her mat to the left of the recliner I sat in. I clicked and treated about 10 times for her having anything on the mat, throwing 9 on the mat and the 10th off. I did this 3 or 4 times without moving the mat. Then I moved the mat to in front of the chair. Molly impressed me by immediately getting onto the mat to earn more treats. I repeated the 10 times clicking and treating once or twice then cut down to five times a few more times to see how strong her return was--it was VERY strong. So I moved the mat about two feet to the right. She got onto the mat right away again. I did a couple 5 times clicks and treats then jackpotted (gave lots at once) with the last of the shrimp because I was running low. She got to clean the can out then handed it to me as soon as it was empty. Good Molly!

Even then she stayed on the mat, so I got some Frolic treats and fed her some of those one after the other while she lay down on the mat and I praised her. Then I encouraged her off the mat and put it away.

To really make her feel good, we went outside for a short play session. I am so proud of her that she picked it up so quickly today. I think all the other groundwork has helped. Plus the work we've done before on mat that has had time to sink in during her time off from working on mat.

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