26 June 2008

Mat Training

Before starting mat training, it helps to understand what the point of a mat is once the behavior is trained. The mat and its behavior is sort of like a cross between a crate and down-stay. The mat doesn't have walls, so requires much more self-control than crating does. However, it is more relaxed than a typical down-stay, because there is a physical marker and the dog is allowed to change positions.

Initially it is a good idea, according to my reading, to stick to the same mat. This also gives the dog the comfort of a familiar item. Later when the dog is more experienced and the behavior is more solid, you can use anything you find as a mat, like a park bench, a jacket, or a leash.

I really want to get Molly mat trained because I think it can be a very useful thing when she is working as a service dog. I can use the mat to encourage her to settle down in one spot. Bringing her mat with us will give her a familiar smelling spot and something comfortable to lie on no matter where we go. I picked a throw rug because it is easy to wash and handle. This way I can keep it clean and presentable, so I always have a nice looking mat when going places. Additionally this means that Molly lies down on something I take with me again. If she does drop any shedded hairs or anything, they will leave with us on the mat if handled properly.

Having her mat should also be a help while waiting in the airport and sitting in the airplane. It will add something familiar to the foreign environment and make it easier for me to show her exactly where I want her to lie down.

I actually got started with training the Levels Book as an entire program because we were having trouble with mat. But now that we're doing the whole program, mat is easy. Last night Molly passed Level 3 mat, which requires her to go to the mat on command, lie down on command, and stay lying calmly on the mat for a minute.

When I was originally training mat, I varied the method a bit from the guidelines. I used a higher value treat any time she offered a down on the mat. Now downing on the mat is getting to be Molly's default behavior. So she didn't need the extra down command--just the mat command.

To make sure that the dog associates the behavior with the mat itself, not the location, it is important to move the mat and the handler's location--just not both at once before the behavior is getting reliable. So Molly has practiced mat all over the living room. We even took her mat along to my in-laws the other night and used it there. Even though she was only holding 30-45 seconds reliably when there (this was before the test with 1 min), it was still a help that we could send her to the mat if she was being a bit too eager for attention. She loves my in-laws and they like her, but sometimes the limits on behavior are a bit too fuzzy for her. Sending Molly to her mat calmed her down quickly and gave her something to do that everyone could praise her for.

Mat training is basic shaping. You click and treat when the dog gets near the mat. Then for a paw on the mat. Eventually you work it up to all four paws on the mat and get the command in. Of course somewhere in there you mix it up by moving the mat around and a little bit away from you. That way you can send the dog to the mat at a reasonable distance wherever the mat is. Molly isn't great at recognizing and finding her mat yet, so mostly she has to see me put it down to find the right mat. Otherwise she finds something that looks likely and lies down on it, for example, she's pulled a blanket off the sofa for a mat, used the sofa itself, and even crawled under the chaise longe when she wasn't finding her mat.

To help make sure that Molly thinks her mat is fun, I've also sometimes given her extra yummy treats and chews on the mat. I also try not to leave her mat lying around if I'm not paying attention to treat her for being on it. I don't want to discourage the behavior by accident by failing to reward it. So usually when a mat training session is over, I ask Molly to take the mat and give it to me. Then she gets an extra treat for delivery.


Tansy said...

Very interesting! My Best Person got "Control Unleashed" and is teaching me Mat as well. I enjoy it, unless something is happening which I must investigate and/or Bark at. Self-control is sometimes difficult, I Applaud you Molly!


Rebecca and Molly the Border Collie said...

Thanks Tansy. "Control Unleashed" is great. Mommy started really making me feel better around other dogs after she read it. But when she tried to teach me mat from the guidelines in there, I didn't understand very well. She gave me a break and taught me a bunch of other things from the "Level Book" then started teaching me mat using the guidelines there and I could figure it out.

So don't feel bad if it takes you a while to work the whole thing out. Mommy also hasn't been making me stay on the mat too long and things aren't too exciting at the same time. Except the time I had to mat at farmor and farfar's. That was harder, but then I had four people telling me how good I was when I lay down and stayed there. ;-)

Self-control is definitely hard. Daddy makes me control myself when he plays ball with me. That makes it fun to learn to stay lying down. If I'm good, I get to chase the ball.

Take good care of your person Tansy. Sounds like one worth keeping! I know I love my people, even if they do test my patience sometimes with their silliness.

Sniffs and wags,