Monday, March 30, 2009

Mat training the Control Unleashed way

This is my understanding of teaching a dog self-control using the Control Unleashed program based on reading the book (which I highly recommend), listening to the program creator, Leslie McDevitt, talk about her system and watching DVDs of Leslie work dog. These notes were tested in the Wednesday morning Control Unleashed class at TCOTC in Minneapolis.

If you try the program out at home using my notes (along with the book and a copy of the Relaxation Protocol), let me know how it works for you.

(a, b & c steps are trained at the same time but not in the same sessions.)

1. A. You teach Go To Mat. The end product is that the dog can be sent to the mat from a distance, downs on the mat and stays until recalled or released from mat.
1. B. You teach the Whiplash Turn towards you to the dog’s name. At home where the dog is very focused play a game where you toss a treat and send the dog to get it. As he's eating it say his name and click the second he turns his head toward you. Let him come back to you to get another treat. Then throw another one and start again.
That game lets you practice clicking the turning of the head. Practice it outside also with the dog on lead. If he doesn't turn his head towards you when you say his name, stand very still and hold the leash close so that he can't get too far away from you. Wait until he does turn towards you. Mark that and then release him to check out whatever was distracting him. This is using the Premack principle to reward the turn. Use Premack as much as possible.
1. C. You teach a Default Eye Contact. When the handler steps in front of the dog makes and holds eye contact with the handler.

2. A. You use the Relaxation Protocol and Bar Open/Bar Closed exercises to tell the dog that as long as the dog is on it's mat, strange stuff might happen but it just means that the dog will be fed on the mat. You do the RP in room #1 for all 15 days and then you do all 15 days in a new room. After four times through in four different places in your house, you take it on the road. The bar open /bar closed bar stuff can start anywhere at anytime during the process and seems to speed up the RP. Your goal is for the dog to melt into and be totally relaxed on the mat, not a dog that is just waiting to work. The clicker while doing mat work is too stimulating for most dogs.
2. B. You start training Look At That (LAT) on neutral objects. Work on the Whiplash Turn first, as turning quickly towards you is the most important part of the Look At That behavior chain. Then c/t the dog for looking at a neutral object you hold up or a piece of paper taped to the wall. The second step is that you ask the dog to look at the object. You are not waiting for him to select his own visual target, you tell him to look at something specific.

Whatever is drawing the dog's attention most in the environment is what you will be telling him to look at once he learns the LAT behavior chain. You can point towards the distraction or use some other body language to be very specific about what you are paying the dog to look at. When beginning, stand in front of the dog -- if you are in front of the dog it is supposed to make eye contact with you. That should be trained as a default behavior. Then move to the side, opening up the space in front of the dog to invite him to look at something specific.

3. Once the dog understands that the mat is a safe place where goodies happen, and can relax on the mat, you add the Look At That (LAT) game to the mat work. Dog looks at something first, then gets a treat.

4. You take the mat and the dog on the road to high distraction environments.

5. A. You then fade the mat and have the dog down in front of you and actively watch you.
5. B. You call the dog off the mat and work LAT with the dog just standing or sitting at heel.
5. C. After you do the RP through for each day, you can add a noise desensitization CD (kitchens, vacuums, dog show, agility, door knocking, dogs barking, door bells) at a low volume and go from there, gradually turning up the volume as the gets more and more comfortable with the noises as you go through the RP once again.

6. Do mat work with a couple dogs and handlers at once. Send the dogs to their mats parallel to each other. Have the dogs pass each other to opposite mats. Have one dog stay on a mat and the another one is sent to theirs and has to run past the staying dog.

The goal is for the mat to be a home base where the dog feels safe and knows exactly what to expect.


  1. Funny....the LAT excercise is something I did with Paige when started riding her and she'd spook. John Lyons teaches his horses to "spook in place" which is a startle not a runaway, and has them turn to look at what is so scary. He feels if they can SEE what they were afraid of they won't spook so much. And now, Paige doesn't spook, she may startle but not run. LAT works.

  2. Thank you for putting this together. I've been going thru my copy of Control Unleashed to put together a training plan for my crew. You have jump started our training.

  3. Thank you for this, it is great information! I wish I could do the whiplash turns with my little girl. Any sort of 'come/recall' behavior was severely poisoned before I got her. She can do maybe 1 or 2 whiplash turns and then she will refuse to approach me to get a treat, even when I have extremely high values. We are learning to work around it, and the mat work is a God send!