The Importance of Foundation Training (For Most Behavior & Training Problems)
What Is Foundation Training?
Foundation training encompasses the sets of behaviors and skills a dog needs to practice daily to succeed in life to build emotional and cognitive resiliency, confidence, and obedience. Some of the key, self-soothing foundation training behaviors are Sit, Down, Stay, Recall, etc.
Foundation training are essential life skills a dog practices daily to thrive and succeed in life. Foundational behaviors are essential to all protocols from separation anxiety, reactive and dog aggression to service dog training and emotional support animals.
A dog needs to learn how to modulate their own emotion and to be comfortable with relaxation protocols before being able to defer to your attention and guidance. Foundation behaviors are the key to all other behavior and training skills.
One of the most vital practices of foundation training is station training. Also used interchangeably and known as mat training, and place training.
Because station training is so practical and functional for all dogs, I will focus on working foundational behaviors with regard to station training.
What Is Station Training?
Station training is a protocol whereby a Certified Dog Trainer and Behaviorist will teach a dog foundation behaviors on a particular surface such as a mat.
Station training is an integral component of a dog’s foundation training and an exercise that positively teaches your dog to relax on a conditioned surface, such as a mat, bed, rug, towel, pad or any thin, durable, transportable mat (unlike a thick, bulky and harder to clean, dog bed.)
The goal of station training is to ensure that your dog has solid conditioned behaviors that they can rely upon to get rewards in any situation. For example, when your dog is nervous, scared, fearful, aroused, reactive, etc. he or she will know that they can go to their mat or other safe places to feel better.
How Do Station Training and Foundation Training Work Together?
Many people use Station Training to teach the dog foundation behaviors on their mat. The mat then becomes one of your dog’s main safe places when they become anxious or fearful, such as when you are out of the house, across the room working, eating dinner.
When we teach our dog Station Training, we are teaching them to self-soothe and be independent. This way, a pet can relax while you are away from them, reducing a dog’s separation anxiety, shadowing behavior, or demands for attention.
Self-soothing is so important to all dogs because relaxation is incongruent with fear, anxiety, and stress. There is an inverse relationship between fear, anxiety, and stress, and learning. When these detrimental and unhealthy emotions arise, learning slows or stops. Additionally, if your dog becomes anxious or stressed when you are home or away, they are not learning to be relaxed or independent.
Benefits Of Foundation Training And Station Training:
- Builds confidence and reduces nervousness and fear (works with all relaxation protocols)
- Helps with separation anxiety and all types of dog anxiety
- Teaches your dog obedience training in or out of the home (parks, beach, café, friend’s home, veterinarian behaviorist office, etc.)
- Reduces shadowing behavior following you around the home, being under your feet, or chewing something they shouldn’t.
- Conditioned history builds emotional and behavioral resiliency
- Generalization, and the ability to transfer the “environment” (mat) to many environments thereby taking your dog’s learning and all of the positive associations (emotions and cognition) with you and your dog wherever you go.
- Helps build a rock-solid ‘Stay’ behavior. A rock-solid Stay on a mat is invaluable in all environments for ALL pets and working dogs.
- Offers the opportunity for a pet and parent to co-regulate. Calm and sensory processing are vital for our pets and we can help facilitate and model the behaviors necessary for healthy nervous system regulation.
- Works well for all dog breeds, ages, temperaments, etc. Station training is perfect for confident dogs but even more effective and important for insecure dogs with separation anxiety or general dog anxiety.
- Target areas you want your dog to be. Helpful for when someone rings your doorbell knocks on the door or walks by your apartment door, etc. You can guide your dog to any area of the house after they understand that being on the mat brings about wonderful rewards. You can also use several mats strategically placed around the home (or outside) where a dog learns to go to earn reinforcement or when they are stressed, nervous, or unsure of what to do.
I use and recommend station training to just about all Los Angeles dog training clients regardless of the dog’s breed, age, sex, and regardless of if they’re trying to become a therapy dog team, emotional support dog, or service dog. This training is helpful for all dogs, but especially those that suffer from separation anxiety and/or aggression/reactivity.
Station training is one of the most useful and important behaviors and life skills every dog should know.
By going to their mat dozens of times each day and by building in duration, distance, and distraction a dog will learn to relax by the very nature of being in a relaxing position and calm while being rewarded. The mat will become a place associated with positive mental and emotional states.
Foundation training is also based on positive reinforcement. It teaches a dog what we WANT from them rather than teaching them what we DON’T WANT. This provides autonomy and enables dogs to be able to choose what they want, rather than getting punished for doing something naughty.
A strong conditioned history will set you and your dog up for success. establishing a structured daily routine for the dog that supports safety, calm and regulation.
Remember that reinforcement comes in many shapes and sizes. Although we almost always start with and use food as a reinforcer, It doesn’t always have to be high-value food rewards. Your eye contact, sounds you make, orientation towards the dog, smile, laugh, or any type of attention can be reinforcing for your unique dog.
Why Station Training Works
A dog learns to go to their mat because they get reinforcements (food, belly-rubs, etc.) every time for being on it and in a relaxing position.
When in relaxing positions, a dog’s body will send signals to the dog’s nervous system to relax, breath deeply, and rest by the very nature of the position the dog happens to be in.
How To Station Train
The idea behind station training (and most dog training) is to simply capture your dog’s behavior by observing your dog whenever he chooses to go to his mat or offers you behaviors you want to reinforce.
When he does, you reward him by walking over to him and popping his favorite food treat in his mouth and/or offer several dog treats on the mat.
In this example, you don’t need to say anything or ask him to do anything. Simply observe when your dog or puppy is on or investigating his mat, walk over and feed a treat. Rinse and repeat that 100 times a day. No more punishment!
If your dog doesn’t want to walk onto their mat, you can sit next to the mat quietly until your dog explores the mat or touches it with his feet, or nose then click and treat to mark and reward the behavior.
Continue to offer your dog many treats for going to their mat on their own volition.
Don’t say the verbal cue yet (place, mat, home, spot, etc.) before your dog goes to their mat 8 out of 10 times by your gesture (pointing) or on their own.
After your dog goes to their mat ask your dog to go ‘Down’ on the mat.
Because there are many positions of ‘Down’, reward your dog for the most relaxing types with the highest value rewards. For example, a lateral-Down-Stay elicits more relaxation than a sphinx Down position.
Pitfalls Of Station Training
Training your dog to go their mat or station incorrectly.
- Using too large or thick a “mat” such as a bed. Some parents use a thick bed or surface that can’t be transferred to multiple environments, isn’t durable, or easily cleaned. This type of mat would be a mistake to use because one of the best benefits of station training is the portability of the mat and multiple areas you can practice dog training and relaxation (generalization).
- Using an expensive large dog bed. You don’t want to bring a huge bed or expensive dog bed with you to the beach, park, or anywhere. To make life easier, you will also want to get a few durable mats to put in different rooms of your home so you can have a place for your dog to go relax and to practice without having to take one specific mat with you everywhere you walk during the day. I typically buy a few of the same mats so my dog can practice on a similar surface and size in all rooms. Then you can transfer any of those mats to other environments.
- Lack of observation and reward timing. It is important to orient our relationship with our dogs to one of praise so that we do not miss out on all of the opportunities to capture our dog’s behavior and positively reinforce our dog. Also, if we don’t time out our rewards appropriately and/or are not communicating effectively with a dog learning will slow or not occur.
Station Training A Pilar of Foundation Training
Start station training today and take your reactive, hyper or easily aroused dog’s relaxation to new levels. How do you train relaxation and attention with your dog? Comment and share below.
If you are in Greater Los Angeles, Dog Training and Boot Camp may work best to teach the family and pets station training and many more foundation behaviors. However, even if you are around the world, our Phone/Video Consultation can help you.