Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Behold! The Power of the Mat

A huge component to my reactive dog class is mat work. Once dogs learn about the mat, they tend to really like them due to the strong reinforcement history. Our class focuses on relaxed states while on the mat, so it becomes a cue for relaxation, as well.

However, I’ve been rather skeptical about Maisy feeling relaxed on the mat. She tends to lie on her side on the mat… with all four legs sticking straight out, and at least two of them (if not all four) are held rigidly off the ground. Even though she’s in a relaxed position, she’s not actually relaxed. Still, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that despite appearances, she has figured out that the mat is a relaxing place.

On Sunday, we went to visit Elizabeth and Beckett. Beckett, a true greyhound, promptly lay down on his mat and fell asleep. Maisy, however, being a corgi-possibly terrier mix does not voluntarily stay still. Not only that, but we’ve only been to Elizabeth and Beckett’s a few times, so she was a bit unsure about what she should do, and was pacing the living room and occasionally whining.

Elizabeth got one of Beckett’s many mats and brought it to me. I thanked her, but expressed that I highly doubted she would use it. Still, I set it down next to me, pointed at it, and told Maisy to “go mat.” She did, of course, but what really surprised me was her willingness to stay on the mat with only verbal praise. She even curled up in a little ball and snoozed a bit! Pretty relaxed for a high-energy ball of fuzz!

I’m pretty excited about this discovery. I’m going to start taking her mat more places to try to help that relaxation generalize. Although a friend’s house is a fairly low-key place, if we can build up to using the mat at trials, this could be a huge stress-reliever for her!

Have you taught your dog to go to a mat or place? What’s the most useful application that you’ve found for it?


Urban canines said...

I love using the mat at training class between exercises to give Kelsa a break while the instructor explains a concept to the humans.

It is also very useful when visiting friends and family because it becomes her go to safe place. Similar concept to a crate but more versatile.

Megan said...

I was mighty impressed by Maisy's mat behavior too. She was sooooooooo good that night!

I'm also quite jealous of how happy she is about verbal praise.

Crystal said...

Her mat behavior was a complete surprise to me. But I was thrilled!

And I'm so lucky that she loves verbal praise. She loves food more, don't get me wrong, and she likes her tennis ball best of all, but she'll take verbal praise, too. I think it's a conditioned reinforcer for her, since I've paired it with food so much.