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  • DateMay 11, 2020

Settle on a mat – how to get your kitchen back! Part 1.

I must be a very messy cook because whenever I am in the kitchen Sweep is always there.  OK, OK, I admit it, I do chuck him bits of veg etc, plus I am bad for accidentally dropping sausage when prepping food for training so he is constantly reinforced for this behaviour!  I have nearly fallen over him several times so we started working on him stationing on a mat when I’m in the kitchen.

To start teaching this behaviour it’s good to use a lightweight and portable mat that you can take on the road with you.  I use a piece of vet bed that the dogs can lie down comfortably on.  It’s the same mat that I use for stationing when I am training the two dogs together – we can generalise the behaviour to other beds later.

I mention ‘criteria’ a lot here.  This basically means what you expect from your dog on each replicate.  We say to reduce criteria every time you change something, for example, your position relative to the mat, if you’re adding distractions etc.

How do we train your dog to go to a mat?

1. Make sure you’re ready with your reinforcer and your dog and put the mat down, mark and reinforce your dog for looking at it.  You’re then looking for:

  • any movement towards the mat;
  • a paw on the mat;
  • two paws on the mat;
  • standing on the mat;
  • a sit on the mat;
  • a down on the mat.

Below is a video demonstrating the process with Odie. Here I can increase my criteria quite quickly as Odie is a bit of a pro at mat training. Although you can see that swapping from a sit to a down I do have to play a bit of a waiting game with him!

Main pointers:

  • Increase your criteria slowly;
  • Throw the reinforcer behind the mat so your dog walks back towards the mat to get to you;
  • It’s a good idea to also stand in front of the mat yourself;
  • When your dog does a down on the mat it’s a good idea to mark and reinforcing them in situ a couple of times before resetting them by throwing the reinforcer;
  • Once the behaviour is reliable (we say that you would bet £20 that your dog will collect the reinforcer and come straight back to down on the mat) then you can add in the cue (see previous blog on Cat Training);

Here’s rock star Sweep demo-ing the whole behaviour from start (first putting the mat down) to finish (cue on and under stimulus control!).  He’s a perfect demo dog for showing that you won’t necessarily need all of the steps I’ve outlined above, for example, he goes straight for a down on the mat rather than having a sit first:

2. Start to generalise the behaviour to other rooms in your house, for example, the kitchen, living room.  You really want to aim to generalise the behaviour to any location you may want to use it.  Every time you change location you may have to reduce your criteria and go back a few steps, especially if the location has a lot of distractions such as people, other animals, smells etc.  Don’t expect your dog to know the cue right away in every location.

In each location it’s important to train the behaviour to fluency.  Fluency includes the precision of the behaviour, the latency or time between cue and reaction of the behaviour, the speed of the behaviour, or the time between the cue and the end of the behaviour – I may choose to work on these three things eventually but they’re not too important just now.  The really important aspects of fluency we need for this behaviour are Distractions, Duration and Distance or the three D’s.  I’ll go into these in more detail in Part 2 of this blog.  So work on these steps first and then when you have a strong “mat” behaviour move on to Part 2 where I will give a step by step, along with video to show you how I taught Sweep to be happy on his mat while I’m in the kitchen 😊

Carol Milner

About Carol Milner

I currently live in Weymouth, Dorset (originally from Beverley in East Yorkshire). I am a certified dog trainer, graduating from the Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Professional course in October 2016. I have owned dogs since 2001 when I got my first rescue dog Jack, a mutt extraordinaire. When I lost him I spent two years fostering dogs for a local charity and as a result I gained Odie and Sweep. Odie is the reason I became interested in training and behaviour. He demonstrates "aggressive" behaviours towards other dogs. I chose clicker training because I saw how much confidence it gives both my boys and I train mostly as a hobby with my own dogs and cats and spend my spare time with them and continuing my training and behaviour education with webinars and seminars. My passion as a trainer is in force free husbandry. If we can teach dangerous exotic animals to accept blood draws voluntarily then we have no excuse in not teaching it to our animals. I work full time as a marine biologist (to fund my dog habit!), a job I have done for 20 years. It has taught me to avoid the use of jargon while not dumbing down content, a skill I hope will help me produce a helpful blog!

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