Friday, October 17, 2008

Mat Success!

A lot of trainers use mats to train a "go to place" behavior. And while it's certainly a very useful tool for a number reasons, I had never trained a mat behavior until I started CU (Control Unleashed) work. And even then, I don't think I initially understood what a powerful tool a mat can be in training.

In CU, we teach our dogs to relax on their mats - and while there is a certain obedience aspect to it (i.e. dog learns to stay on mat until released), the mat becomes kind of a "safe place" for the dogs. And since we spend a considerable amount of time rewarding our dogs on the mat, it is generally viewed as an object with high value.

Peyton loves his mat. I wouldn't say that he is able to completely relax on it (yet), but whenever I use his mat when training, he is very quick to go it, and will practically drag me back to his mat following our agility runs.

As I mentioned in my earlier post this week, Peyton has started to show some signs of stress when going to the start-line before our runs. And while I'm not exactly sure why, I'm thinking that this stress could play a big part in the zoomies that he usually gets on his first couple of runs.

Since I teach class on Friday nights, I decided to spend some time with Peyton before class to work on this, and to play around a bit on the agility field. After a little warm up, I decided to see how he was on his start-line stay. So I set him up in front of a jump, did a small lead out, and released. He took the jump and came to me, but almost immediately disengaged and started sniffing. I then decided to put his mat in front of the jump - this time he ran to his mat, held his stay, took the jump, and enthusiastically came to me. What a change in attitude from the prior attempt! I repeated this exercise a couple more times adding a second jump to make a 180, and then adding a wrap back to the dog-walk. He did great!

Tonight it was clear that the mat helped improve his performance, and I'm sure that it helped relieve some of the stress he might have been feeling at the start-line. Here I was able to use his mat, which he loves, in a context where he has been showing some signs of stress, and *light bulb moment* - his attitude completely shifted because I had changed his "picture" of the start-line.

On another good note, we worked almost all of the 45 minutes (with breaks) off-leash. The only time he left my side was when I released him to take a break and each time he came back on his own. And not one zoomie. Granted we were working alone on the field, but still I was very impressed. We'll have to see how it goes in class next week with the added distractions.

And on another good note, Peyton did a little demo for my CU class and did very well - tonight was a very good night for my spotty boy.

I think if Peyton realized just how fantastic his attention was tonight, his reaction would look something like this... :)

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