Vincent’s squishy mat
The last couple of weeks, I had the opportunity to work with a very unique dog named Vincent. Now Vincent is an old boy, he is half deaf and he has no peripheral vision. He is also a very boisterous and excitable dog. As much as I get a kick out of him doing a leap of joy when he finally sees me, even though I’ve been in his garden standing next to him for a good couple of seconds, he is a very challenging dog to train. And you might wonder why we’d even bother training such an old boy when all he really needs is a retirement home to spend his golden years in. Let’s just say he is not aware of his grey face and the only skill he really has is a sit…well…sometimes….
In the beginning I had no idea how to approach his training, it was like he sometimes heard the click and sometimes not. Sometimes he did not see the treat in my hand, or that the treat was dropped on the ground and I’m not so sure if his memory is so great because he’d snap out of training mode in a split second and try to climb in your lap and chew on your shoes….whilst their still on your feet.
With two not-so-much functioning senses, I had to focus on the others. He got soooo very excited when having to use his nose that he lost the plot completely. Using touch at this point was also not really an option because that sends him into ‘Let’s Play!’ mode; and so we switched over to using different textures he could feel under his paws. We are only now starting to work on building associations with different textures, by using different textured mats and place mats. At this point, Vincent understands that he needs to stay on his squishy mat in order to earn treats. Treats are carefully and slowly put down on the mat in front of him so that he can follow it with his eyes, if you do it to quickly and he glances away for a split second, he has no idea that he has earned a treat. If he steps off his squishy mat, the treats stop. The squishy mat is a foam mat, and his association with this mat is that it’s now work time and time to focus. It’s basically the same as when dogs get fitted a specific harness that tells them it’s work time.
As soon as Vincent is able to be calm and focus while he is on his foam mat, we will be able to move on to a new skill. And so his squishy mat will become a cue for him to concentrate because he is about to learn something new and the high value treats happens on this mat . Other mats and textures will be associated with other behaviors,events and rewards. It would be practical to teach him what behaviours are important inside a house, by using textures you’d find inside the house, and then obviously the same for outside the house, in the garden. Even though Vincent’s sight and hearing has deteriorated, he is still 100% dog and can do anything that other dogs can do. I hope to share all Vincent’s new skills with you all very soon.
By Tersha, Trainer