Last week I was working on getting Elsa to go to her "place" for a bit. She did pretty well and had done it several times when we quit for the day. The next day we went to her puppy class where the teacher said we were going to teach her to go to her "mat," great. Same exercise, different verbal cue. I had not put a cue on the behavior yet at home because Elsa was not reliable at all.
When we started the teacher was working with her and it didn't go well. Elsa of course was distracted, there was a separate puppy session going on in the corner of the room and she is after all 14 weeks old. As I watched I could see several issues that she was having, one of course was the distraction factor. Most learning at classes is for the owners, puppies learn much better in a quiet familiar surrounding. Elsa was all over the place but her teacher was confusing her by clicking all over the place. The teacher was clicking for interaction with the mat plus for releasing her off of the mat. When you are starting to teach your dog a new behavior you need to focus on one thing. That one thing is the one and only thing that is going to get clicked and rewarded.
Seeing that Elsa was being confused by the whole session I ended it. Yesterday I gave it a go again. I got out an orange piece of fleece and put it on the ground. She got clicked for going on it immediately. Watching her it was clear that she had no concept of the "mat." I walked away from it and approached it again and she walked out ahead and hit the mat; clicks and treats. We did it again and again until she was reliably targeting the mat. This means that she was looking for it and going there once she saw it.
I picked up the orange fleece and moved it around the yard; she targeted it each time. Several times she came and lay down beside me; I simply ignored this so she then targeted her "mat" again. After about 10 minutes I wanted her to lay down on the mat so I waited once she hit the mat and she did lay down. She got a big pay load then and understood that quite clearly. The goal is to have her go to her mat and lay down; and she got that within 15 min. of working.
Like many dogs, Elsa needs black and white guidance. She does not do well with interference or gray. Too much body movement confuses the object at hand. Not that she has her "mat" we will proof it, meaning that I will put that mat all over the place and I will get further and further from it expecting her to go to it and lay down. The clicker helps to mark the correct behavior even when you are so far away.
Every dog is different and as a trainer, experience lets you see how dogs are working and not working with particular guidance. Having been a trainer now for nearly 15 years I can quickly see when something is not working and not going to work. Continuing on a path that is not working is futile and often frustrating for both owner and dog. When a dog is not "getting it," you need to stop and change it up. The whole concept of positive training is thinking; how can you teach a dog a behavior? They are all different just like us.