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Imagine this scenario. Every time a visitor knocks or rings the doorbell, the dog is like quick-silver as he makes a dash for the door. The other day, your dog managed to shoot out past your ankles when the mailman called with a parcel. It was only a matter of luck that there was no passing traffic at the time, or he might easily have run into the road and had a dreadful accident.
You do your best to put the dog into a secure room before you open the front door, but sometimes this just isn't practical. For example, there's the time the delivery man went away in the time you took to make the dog safe - meaning you had an unwanted trip to the depot to collect your parcel.
A friend suggested the answer is to teach the dog to sit on a mat on command. That way he sits still and you know where he is when you answer the door. Sounds like a good idea, but how do you put this theory into practice?
Having a dog sit on a mat is exactly as it sounds, and yet so much more. The usefulness of this command is in what the dog can't do while he's sitting nicely in one spot. Being on the mat prevents him getting under your feet or running out the door. Indeed, it will even inhibit some dogs from barking, since concentrating on being on the mat makes them forget about woofing.
Teaching a small dog to sit on a mat requires him to understand what you want. If he seems slow to learn, then consider you are not sending out a clear message and re-assess the lesson. It's also helpful not to expect too much too soon from the dog. Be prepared to take things in baby steps, with the dog first learning to approach the mat, then step on, then sit, and then stay.
- A distraction-free room in which to train
- A comfortable mat, big enough for the dog to sit or lie on
- Pea-sized tasty treats
- A treat pouch or bag so the rewards are always close to hand
- A clicker
To do this requires little by way of equipment but a lot by way of patience and consistency.
As well as time and patience you'll need:
The Great Place to Be Method
Understand the idea
This method relies on the dog discovering that the mat is a great place to be. This is done by placing treats on the mat for the dog to discover. When the dog steps onto the mat to retrieve the treat, you praise and reward him. You then encourage the dog to stay in place by making him wait slightly longer each time before he gets the reward.
Work in a quiet room with few distractions. Use a comfortable mat that is big enough for your small dog to lie on. Place the mat in a corner of the room and stand close to it. Place one or two small treats (pea-sized or smaller) on the mat for the dog to discover.
Introduce the dog to the mat
Let the dog explore the room, then catch his attention and point out the treats on the mat. As the dog moves towards the mat, encourage him with an excited "Yes". When the dog steps onto the mat, say "Yes" and toss an additional treat onto the mat as a reward.
Allow the dog to move
If when he's eaten the treats he jumps off the mat, just ignore him. There's no need to scold or punish him. Instead, place some more treats on the mat. If you can, do this when he's not looking so that he thinks treats magically appear on the mat (which makes it all the more appealing to him).
Repeat and practice
Call the dog's attention to the mat. Again, when he gets the treats, praise him and drop another treat on the mat. Pretty soon he'll come to anticipate the second reward and sit and wait for it. As he becomes more accomplished, make him wait a few seconds longer each time before giving him that reward.
Add distance as well as time
Once the dog is patiently waiting on the mat for a reward, you can start to add in the additional dimension of distance. Remember, until this point you have been standing close to the mat. Now, with the dog waiting patiently for his reward, take a step away from the mat. If he stays, praise him, take a step back and give the treat. Practice this, gradually moving farther and farther away before giving the reward.
The Clicker Training Method
Understand the idea
This method uses clicker training to build an association in the dog's mind between being on the mat and getting a reward. Once he learns going to the mat earns a reward, you can add a cue word and put the action on command.
Understand the clicker
If the dog is not already clicker trained, you need to teach him that a click is a promise of a treat. This is easily done by throwing a small treat onto the floor. As the dog eats the treat you press the clicker. The idea is to create a link in the dog's mind between the click and getting a treat. Repeatedly place a treat on the floor and click when the dog eats it. Now try clicking first, and if the dog looks to the floor for a treat, then he has successfully made the link and you are ready to move on.
Click moving to the mat
Let the dog explore the room, but when he moves toward the mat, click him. This tells the dog that he's doing the right thing by approaching.
Click standing or sitting on the mat
As the dog tries to work out what makes the clicker go off (and earns a reward) he'll try standing on the mat. When he does this click, say "Yes" in a happy voice and toss a treat onto the mat.
Add a cue word
As the dog realizes he can trigger a treat by standing on the mat, add a cue word such as "Mat" or "Place". This labels the action so that he understands what's required when you say "Mat."
Extend the time to reward
Once the dog is successfully going to the mat on cue, extend the time he has to wait before getting a treat as a reward. Expect him to stay still for a few seconds before offering the click and then a treat. Gradually extend the delay before he earns a treat so that he understands that going to the mat in itself is not enough but he also has to stay there.
The Dos and Don'ts Method
Do: Teach 'down' and 'stay'
It's helpful if your dog has already learned the self-restraint necessary to execute a good 'down' and 'stay'. This can speed up training, as once he understands you want him to go to the mat, you can more easily introduce the idea of him staying there.
Don't: Feed the treats from your hand
When the dog does well, avoid the temptation to feed him a treat straight from your hand. This encourages your dog to follow your hand (and perhaps move) rather than concentrate on the mat. The solution is simple, in that you toss the reward onto the mat, hence strengthening the link between the latter and good things happening.
Do: Keep things fun
Dogs learn best when they enjoy the training. Work within your dog's concentration span so that he doesn't get tired and start to lose concentration. Likewise, be enthusiastic with your praise when he does well, which helps build his self-confidence. It's better to have a couple of short training sessions per day and keep the dog mentally fresh, than tire him with one long session.
Don't: Punish the dog
Never use force to teach the dog to stay on the mat. If he steps off, either ignore him or say a curt "No", in order to guide him that it was the wrong decision. Then withdraw your attention; folding your arms and turning your back.
Do: Work in a distraction-free place
You want the dog to concentrate on the mat. Help him to do this by working in a place where there are few distractions so that he can fully pay attention to you and the training.
By Darlene Stott
Published: 01/08/2018, edited: 07/15/2021