Everybody wishes that their dog would have the impulse control to stay on his bed while the rest of the family is buzzing about the kitchen, getting food prepared for a meal.
We teach Relax on a Mat in our Puppy Kindergarten class. It’s a valuable skill because you can take it anywhere you go! PuppyK teacher Sarah Stoycos says that a friend of hers can even use a paper napkin as a “mat” and her dog will happily down-stay on it.
Here’s a great video of a child helping his puppy learn how to relax in the kitchen:
Video by The Family Companion, a positive training center in NY.
Notice two important things:
1) Nothing happens when the dog gets up. The child simply waits for the dog to offer the correct behavior (down on the mat) and rewards the dog.
Other trainers will tell you that you need to:
- Say “no!” in a stern voice.
- Jerk on the leash to correct the dog.
- Press a remote to shock the dog with an e-collar.
- Force the dog to return to the mat.
None of these things are necessary. Dogs will do whatever behavior benefits them the most. This pup is smart and you can see her thinking about what to do to get those treats!
2) The child is “proofing” the behavior. Many people forget this very important step to training. When you proof a behavior, you introduce other variables that may distract your dog into making a mistake.
In the video, you see the young trainer:
- Opening the oven door
- Opening a drawer
- Opening the fridge
- Walking around the kitchen
Each time the dog holds the correct position (down/stay on the mat), she gets a reward. This drives home the lesson that NO MATTER WHAT, down/stay on the mat is where the dog should be when in the kitchen.
Later on, they could increase the temptations:
- Running around the kitchen
- Pouring dog kibble in a bowl
- Dropping food on the floor
Again, if the dog makes a mistake, nothing happens. (Be sure the dog cannot self-reward by grabbing the dropped food, though!)
When the dog returns to the mat, the rewards begin to flow again.
No force. No fear. Just a dog that understands her job and is happy to do it. This is positive training in action!