November 2020 Training Challenge: Use a Relaxation Protocol or Mat Work to Prepare for the Holidays


When we had originally planned our 2020 training challenges last year, we hadn’t expected there to be a worldwide pandemic. Even though this month’s challenge was with Thanksgiving in mind and this year’s Thanksgiving will likely look different, we decided to keep the planned challenge and count it as a practice run for next year! Our November training challenge is:


Use the Relaxation Protocol or mat work exercise from the August challenge to prep for Thanksgiving festivities.


The situation we were specifically thinking about when we came up with this challenge was the Thanksgiving meal, including cooking and sitting down to eat. We routinely have clients tell us how annoying their pets when they’re trying to cook and sit down for a meal. Extrapolate that to an even larger, potentially more stressful meal and you can see where preemptive training comes into play!

I talked a little about this concept in this blog post about using “human food” in training. I mentioned that I taught Oso to hang out in our dining area when we are cooking so that he’s not in the way. I was pretty lax with my criteria when I taught him this (as long as he was on the hardwood and not the tile it counted) but you can tighten up your criteria by using a mat, bed, blanket, rug or something similar to create a specific spot for your pet to hang out. 

Brindle dog lying next to kitchen table and chair.
Oso demonstrating how to politely lie next to me while we eat.

Here’s how to go about doing this task:

  1. Decide what makes sense to manage and what makes sense to train during your normal Thanksgiving festivities (remember- this counts as a practice year!) Some people will choose to manage the majority of the day and that’s perfectly fine. Others will want to put more preemptive training in place. Do what makes sense for your festivities, training schedule, and desires. 
  2. Decide where you want your pet to be during cooking and/or eating. Set up a bed, mat, blanket, rug, etc. for an easy visual cue for your pet. 
  3. Start training your pet to hang out in that spot (you can use your Relaxation Protocol and/or mat work exercise from the August challenge) when you’re not cooking or eating. We’re starting in pet kindergarten first and then raising expectations as they become more proficient at this task. 
  4. Incorporate other distractions into this training exercise. You’ll likely want to include distractions like people walking around and anything else that will happen during the holiday. You may also want to practice while you’re pretending to cook a meal so you get the hang of training while cooking in a lower-stakes situation. This step is called proofing, and is one of the stages of learning
  5. Start incorporating this exercise into real-life cooking and/or eating scenarios. Remember to reinforce your pet as much as necessary to make it worthwhile for them to hang out in their spot!


One last note: dogs are opportunistic scavengers by nature. Even with solid mat work training, leaving a pet prone to counter surfing alone in the kitchen with counters full of food for an extended period of time is asking for trouble. We recommend still managing situations in which you aren’t watching your pet.


Now what?

  • Start training with the above steps!
  • Let your trainer or behavior consultant know if you’re getting stuck. That’s what we’re here for, after all!
  • Send us pictures and videos of you working on this month’s training challenge to us @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram


Happy training!