Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mat Work for Backpacking

Sleepy good dogs take adorable pictures!
Over here in snowy Ohio, we are gearing up for a backpacking trip (yes, we realize that there is snow on the ground and we are willingly choosing to sleep outside) with the dogs so we thought it would be fun time to discuss one of the skills that we find is very useful while out on the trail.

We are quite well aware of the fact that the more normal of you have no intention of coming out of hibernation until the spring, so we have specifically chosen a skill that is useful in many different areas. And that skill is the ever loved ‘Go to Mat.’

Maddie demonstrates a good mat behavior.
In ‘Go to Mat’ the dog learns to seek out his designated mat and relax in a down on it until released. This becomes a useful behavior to have whenever you have to take your dog with you anywhere that he might have to do some waiting (have you been to your vet’s office recently? you WILL have to spend at least SOME time waiting…) but is particularly useful while on the trail.

There are many awesome resources out there to learn how to train your dog to do this behavior (and we will have a short feature on it in our upcoming ‘Husbandry Skills’ video; you should be SUPER excited about it!) so we aren’t going to go into the specifics of how to train it. What we are going to do is to teach you some of the specific tricks we have found useful while out in the backcountry.

1) Teach your dog to go to mat on something you are ALREADY planning to carry. This might be a sweatshirt, a sleeping pad (we love these!), or a tarp. You’re more likely to bring and use it if it isn’t adding weight to your pack.

We CAN share.
2) Your dog should be able to share his mat. This might be with you, or another dog on the trip (as long as your dog is okay with this dog!). When you are all sitting around the campfire, YOU will probably also want to practice your mat relaxing behaviors and the ground gets awfully cold pretty quickly. It’s nice if your dog will share his mat with you. And it also makes you feel like he loves you when he cuddles with you for warmth!

3) Back your mat up with a tether. There are lots of distractions in the woods (squirrels, deer, other campers with better dinner) and it’s really unfortunate to discover that RIGHT at bedtime your dog has decided he needs a midnight snack of chipmunk. It takes a lot of stress off of you and allows you to focus on getting camp set up if you don’t continually have to keep one eye on  your dog to be sure he is still on his mat.

You can even use your mat in the car!
4) Take your mat into the tent. This will help your dog to relax for the night, and will (hopefully!) have the added benefit of preventing him from deciding that your face is the most comfortable spot to sleep. Not that we have any dogs in our group who would think that.

We hope that you will find these skills useful when you are in the backcountry. And remember, even if you have yet to discover the joys of winter camping (don’t worry, you will) it is always wise to begin preparing for the spring now. Start training a good solid mat behavior now so your dog is ready to head out on that very first beautiful day next spring!

Completely gratuitous sleepy dog picture.