Tag: get on the mat

How to Get Behavior: Shaping

03Training, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: , , ,
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel on a mat.

Cricket has been taught to lie on her mat using shaping.

When it comes to positive reinforcement based clicker training, there are four major ways of getting behavior: shaping, luring, targeting, and capturing. There are other ways, including physical modeling, but they have limited applications and are rarely used by most force-free trainers. In this post, I’ll address shaping, and in the coming weeks, I’ll follow-up with the others.

Shaping

What is shaping? Shaping is a method of building behavior “from scratch” by clicking successive approximations towards an end behavior. Often a trainer will create a mental or written “shaping plan” that lays out the steps it might take to get the final desired behavior.

One popular way to introduce shaping is when teaching a dog to get on a mat. The goal behavior is that the dog lies down on the mat for an extended period.

In the beginning, the trainer will start by clicking and treating their dog just for looking at the mat. This is usually followed by sniffing the mat, brushing up against it, or putting a paw on it, all of which can also be clicked. After the dog has received several rewards for interacting with the mat in this way, they will start to experiment just a little, often by purposefully putting a paw or two on the mat. Click!

From there, the trainer waits for the dog to put three or four of her paws on the mat before clicking and treating. When the dog demonstrates an understanding of “paws on the mat = treat”, the trainer patiently waits for the dog to offer a sit or a down. Some dogs offer sitting right away and later relax into a down, while others flop over into a down right away.

It’s very important to understand that the trainer remains relatively quiet during this process and does not prompt the dog by talking, saying cues, patting the object, or touching the dog. All of these things mean nothing to the dog! He can’t comprehend English and he doesn’t know the desired behavior yet. At best, it’s luring which must be faded later; at best, it confuses the dog and slows down the learning process.

The dog must figure out what behavior earns him a click and a treat. (Praise and happy talk after the dog has interacted with the mat and received a click is just fine, but you should stay quiet while the dog is figuring things out.)

Instead, the trainer should manipulate the environment to set the dog up for success. When I teach group training classes, I tend to work on matwork as the last exercise, when the dogs are comfortable and are a little tired. I have students sit on their mats during class and only take them out when it’s time to work on mat training, and I instruct them to be prepared before putting the mat down. They need to be ready to click the instant the dog starts looking at or sniffing the mat, which is often before it even hits the floor!

I recommend that students to practice matwork in the evening when the dog is already considering taking a nap. Sleepy dogs are more likely to lie down on an object than wound-up, excited dogs. The flip side to this, of course, is that if you are shaping a fast movement-oriented behavior like agility obstacles, tricks that involve movement, or coming when called, do it when your dog is awake and full of energy.

Training How-To: Get on the Mat

01Training, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: ,
Dog on a Bed

You can use any object as your dog’s mat! Dog beds are a popular choice, but towels and small blankets work well, too. (Photo Credit: Howard Young)

What is “Get on the Mat”? The dog learns to relax on a ‘mat’ – a specific towel, blanket, or dog bed. This mat can be moved to any location, like your kitchen, the vet’s office, or the car, and your dog will know to stay on it and relax.

Why does my dog need to know it? Getting on a mat is a great behavior for dogs that are “on the go”. Dogs that know a mat behavior can be taken anywhere, because they will be able to settle down and relax once they get there. Their owners are then free to enjoy themselves and not have to worry about what their dog is getting into.

A mat behavior is also excellent for dogs that are a nuisance when visitors arrive to the home. Whether the dog is barking, jumping up on guests, or bolting out the front door, laying on a mat is an easy-to-teach behavior that is incompatible with those actions.

How do I teach it? First, choose your mat. This can be a towel, bath mat, fabric placemat, carpet sample, or dog bed. (In the future, you can generalize this behavior to other mats. Initially, use the same mat each time you train.) Next, get out your clicker, and prepare some tiny, soft, tasty treats that your dog really enjoys.

Sit on the floor, and place your mat in front of you. When your dog approaches, click and toss the treat on the mat. Then, click and treat your dog several times just for being on the mat, placing the treat either on the mat or directly into his mouth. Next, click and throw the treat off of the mat. (This “resets” the dog to approach the mat again. This is a two-part behavior: the dog needs to get on the mat, and then stay on the mat.) Click and treat when your dog gets back on the mat. Once again, click and treat several times, and then click and throw the treat off of the mat.

Dog in Car

This dog is very relaxed on his mat and is safely restrained in the car by a seatbelt harness. (Photo Credit: Jojof – Flickr)

Now move the mat just a couple of inches away from you. Again, click and treat when your dog gets on the mat, repeat several times, then click and throw a treat. Move the mat again. Keep moving the mat a few inches at a time so your dog learns to look for it no matter where it is placed in the room. Once your dog is reliably getting on the mat anywhere you put it, take it to other places in the house, in the yard, and even in the car to help cement your dog’s understanding of the behavior.

Next, shape for relaxation by rewarding sits, then downs on the mat. Delay your clicks to build duration one second at a time. Once the dog is consistently offering to lay down on the mat, encourage relaxation by giving the dog a favorite chew toy or bone on the mat, or by doing gentle, relaxing massage while your dog hangs out on his mat. Happy training!