I love teaching a dog to go to a mat/place because it has so many applications. Because of that, this is one of the very first skills I teach a new dog of any age. Some uses for Go to Mat are teaching the dog to stay, settle (relax) and start small, gradual periods of separation. In fact, this is also one of the first things we start teaching in a separation anxiety protocol or even with a new puppy or dog to get them used to us not being right next to them. Also, if your dog can settle on a mat you can take that mat anywhere ( a friend’s house, your office, a coffee shop, brewery, winery…) and in turn, have your dog settle anywhere.
“Go to your mat” is a type of targeting behavior. We want the dog to go to a small mat, bed, rug or towel, lie down on it, and stay until released. This same technique can be used to teach you dog to go to any stationary spot (bed, kennel, etc) too but when teaching “go to your mat” the “mat” is not a location; rather it is a moveable target. You should be able to transfer your “mat” to any location.
Teaching “Go to your mat”:
- Step 2-3 feet away from the mat and toss a treat onto the mat. When your dog goes after it and steps onto the mat click and treat (C/T). You can C/T 2-3 more times when he is on the mat.
*Your arm outstretched tossing a treat and pointing in the direction of the rug becomes your hand signal for the cue.
- Continue to lure your dog on and off of the mat with a treat. When hits the mat, click and treat (C/T). If your dog goes into positions (sit or down) quickly, have him do the position and the C/T. If he is slower, don’t worry about the position, just C/T for him hitting the mat. Release your dog from the mat with “ok” each time. Make hitting the mat a fun game! Repeat 8-10 times.
- If your dog does not go to the mat on his own go back to step 1.
- Once your dog is consistently going to the mat, looking for a treat and lying down or sitting on his own, you can add the “go to your mat” cue as he is on his way to the mat.
- Now start taking one step back or to the side, return to your starting position and C/T. Increase distance, always returning and C/T your dog for staying on the mat. Increase the difficulty by dancing around, waving your arms etc. and then returning to your dog on the the mat and C/T
- As with all of your training, make this a fun game! The mood should be light, not “commanding” because well, how much fun is that (for either one of you). Play games by moving away; gradually increasing distance or duration (time) and then come back and treat.
- We are aiming for “errorless learning” here meaning, we make it so easy that the dog doesn’t mess up! Make your steps small and if your dog gets up, it just means you went too far or too fast. Just break down to smaller steps so that your pup is succeeding.
- I like to place the treat on the mat between the dog’s paws so that all his energy is downward towards the mat.
- Because my end goal is relaxation, I may use the clicker or marker initially so the dog understands the targeting behavior but then I lose the clicker/verbal marker and just treat. I do this because most dos will associate the clicker/ treat much as “training mode” and I want them to go into “chill mode.” with this skill.
Another way to teach “Go to your mat” quickly is by free-shaping the behavior by using your clicker. Simply click and treat anytime your dog goes over to his mat. Just watch him figure it out and offer up his mat position!
Like having your dog hang out with you at coffee shops, breweries (I’m in Seattle folks!) and outdoor field games? Try playing the “Add-A-Count” game to help him relax in those environments (and home too). Super easy, check it out!