Stationing is where your dog gets on to a platform, mat or other defined area and stays there until asked to do something else. It has multiple uses in a variety of different situations. You’ve probably seen trainers doing demo videos with one dog, whilst their others wait patiently in the background. That’s station training. Your dog gets constantly under your feet whilst you’re preparing food in the kitchen? Station training can fix that. Station training on the road means that your dog will happily hop on to obstacles to pose for a photo. More practically, you can use nature’s stations (walls, tree stumps, rocks) to get your dog out of the way whilst other people or dogs pass on a walk.
So how do you go about training it? For me it all starts with simple mat work. Building a huge amount of value for seeking out and getting on to a mat on the floor. Once they understand that game, I can introduce low platforms that are easily big enough for them to get on. Next come smaller platforms that challenge them a little more. Finally, I can look for stations and platforms wherever we are and generalise their understanding.
Let’s take a closer look at that first step – building value for the mat. You will need your dog, a mat, towel or blanket that’s big enough for them to fit on and a handful of treats. Aim to start in a quiet area, with no distractions. Place the mat on the floor, and wait to see what your dog does. If they head to the mat – great! Pop a treat down on the mat for them, and whilst they’re eating that get another treat down on the mat to one side of them. Keep working on placing your treats all over the mat for your dog to find, all the while staying on the mat. Do this with seven to ten treats. Don’t wait for your dog to do anything else, like look at you or move around, just get those treats down there. We want them to learn that the mat has all the value, not us. Once you’ve got through your treats, lure your dog off the mat, pick it up and move it a little. Does your dog head straight back to the mat? They should, because they just got a whole load of treats for being on it! Repeat this a few times, and make sure to put your mat away for a while. You can play this game a number of times across the course of the day and throughout the week. Even if your dog already knows how to go to a mat, you can (and should!) still play this game. We can never build too much value for the mat.
Here’s Ripley having a play, to show you what it looks like.
Try the same process with different mats, in different rooms, inside and outside. As your dog gets confident, rather than lure them off the mat in between see if you can pull the mat from under them – lots of dogs think that’s a great game! The more you do this, the harder it will be for you to get your mat on the floor before your dog is trying to get on it.
Remember, we’re not telling them to get on the mat, and we’re not asking for a specific behaviour on the mat. Ripley will race to a mat and lie down, and I have never specifically cued him to lie down on a mat.
Sounds simple enough, right? It really is, and what’s more it’s fun - I’m all about the fun in training. Give it a go, show me your videos, let me know how you get on. You can share your videos in the Compass Canine Challenges and Chat Group. To get updates and information about training, sign up here.
I would like to say a big thank you to the wonderful Julie Daniels for introducing me to what I believe is a highly enjoyable and effective way to teach mat work with our dogs.