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get on the mat

How to Get Behavior: Shaping

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 […]

Training How-To: Get on the Mat

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 […]

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