The Puzzle Week – Part 6: Mat Work Outdoors

We’re starting over with the first mat work step – outside! After dropping treats all over the mat, I help Puzzle settle down with my treat placement – and then I start counting again to build duration.

A person walks past, and she looks at them and back while staying on the mat and not being concerned. Good girl! Mats are safe spaces. Strangers don’t interact with dogs on mats. That’s just the way it is – always. As long as you’re on your mat, you’re in a safe bubble. (Don’t you wish your life had more mats in it? I certainly do!)

Another session outside … with lots of people walking by, and Puzzle being a superstar!

This area is usually pretty quiet! I didn’t expect there to be so much foot traffic. Turns out that between 5 and 6pm, it really comes to life with people walking home from work. I hadn’t planned on introducing passers-by or the Look At That game at this stage, but since Puzzle was doing so well, I went with it. She’s sitting here rather than lying down – no surprise, since the commotion is new. I mark looking down/lowering the head and use my treat placement to encourage her to lie down, but I don’t mind if she’d rather sit up while people-watching. This is not an obedience exercise – it’s an exercise in trust, and being comfortable in her own skin and in the world.

At around 1:25, I stop marking for looking at the mat. Just nice, calm placement to encourage her to lie down if she’s ready to do so. At 01:31/32 you can see me wait for a moment with the head down to treat. I go back to clicking for looking at people a few seconds later (you can’t see the people at first – they are to the right, outside of the frame of the camera – but you can hear them talking, and Puzzle can see them).

03:48 YAY! Puzzle lies down!

Now I start counting again to lower the rate of reinforcement.

04:10 Moving around the mat is not a problem, either.

07:31 Now that’s relaxation! I curled-up puppy with her head resting on the mat!

In the last 3 or 4 minutes of the video, things get exciting. First the neighborhood dogs start a bark fest. Then, a guy walks by up close. Puzzle gets distracted by a fly that needs to be chased. And then there’s people yelling! This is a lot of stimulation all at once – and it’s visual as well as auditory. Puzzle is a superstar though, and at 09:00, she’s lying down again.

This session was quite long. I wouldn’t train an obedience behavior or tricks for such a long session with a puppy like Puzzle. But relaxation is a low-key activity. Puzzle was doing really well. She is ready for mat work to go on for 10 or 15 minutes. Not every dog will be! Remember to listen to your learner.

Leave a Reply