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Using Matwork in Behaviour Modification

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Originally published in the fall 2019 IAABC Journal.

 

Sarah Dixon, CDBC

The concept of mat work or place training is nothing new in dog training. However, it remains one of my favorite behaviors to teach because it is very useful for pet owners and extremely versatile in behavior modification work.

This involves teaching a dog to go to a specific item or place and target it with their body. I prefer to work up to a default down; I often begin with a sit and build from there. My preference is to use a flat dog mat or towel, as these are easy to move around the home, transport to different locations, and easy for the dog to get their body onto.

I prefer to teach this behavior through shaping, as doing so eliminates any unnecessary prompts from the onset of training. Shaping this behavior is relatively easy for even a novice handler to accomplish, with skilled coaching. If needed I will sometimes jumpstart the process and have my client take over, but they can do most of the work on their own if they know what to watch for. At first we want the dog to just inspect the mat, then walk on to it, and then sit and later lie down. Often I work on shaping progressively more relaxed body language as well.

By shaping a dog to go to a mat and relax, we can often quickly begin to reduce general anxiety or over-arousal issues. The dog may learn how to self-regulate their behavior through this exercise. The mat can also become a safe place for dogs that lack confidence. These benefits are in addition to the fact that it can simply be useful in many facets of behavior modification to train a dog to go to a specific spot on cue…..(read full article)