The Puzzle Week – Part 4: CU Mat Work and Counting

In the session following the last video in my part 3 post, Puzzle started sitting down on the mat. With the help of strategic treat placement, I got her to lie down. At this point, I stopped clicking, too – I just calmly delivered treats in order to increase her relaxation. I sat down next to the mat, and slowed down my movement. No video because the camera angle was off.

In the next session after, Puzzle was ready for the next step: Down for the Count! The Down for the Count game is Leslie McDevitt’s way of building duration on the mat. Count to one – feed a treat (place it on a spot that encourages a relaxed body position!). Count to two – place a treat on the mat. Count to three – place a treat, and so on. If the dog gets up, gets fidgety, or breaks their position, lower criteria by decreasing the duration. Depending on the dog’s behavior, I might start over with one – treat, or just go back by a number or two.

At this point, the only behaviors that are reinforceable on the mat are relaxed ones: taking a breath is okay; calmly looking around is okay; eye contact is also okay – but we don’t want the dog to be in a working mode.

Puzzle here is doing really well in her counting session. She shifts positions now and then, but not because she’s restless – she’s simply figuring out how to best combine resting/relaxing and eating treats.

I tried singing the numbers like a lullaby, letting them bleed into each other. I’ve seen Julie Daniels do this, and really love the way it set the matwork mood of relaxation for both dog and handler.

At this point, I can kneel in front of the puppy: she doesn’t interpret my posture as threatening anymore. She trusts me! Look how fast she lies down! She is an ambidexturous curler-upper: she can curl to the left and to the right. I’ve seen her curl to her left a bit more often than to the right, so that’s the direction I’m aiming for when helping her lie back down after she got up. Strategic treat placement for the win! Sadly, my camera stopped recording after the first minute.

Another counting video – this time, the camera did its job, and you get to see me count from 1 to 10, CU-style. Puzzle is turning into an expert mat relaxer! This is the first time I sneak her “Station” cue in as well.

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