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Someone suggested you train the dog to go to a mat, ahead of your baby arriving. This was some of the best advice you were given when expecting. Fortunately, you heeded the suggestion. This means that juggling a baby on one hip and carrying laundry in the other arm, you no longer have to worry about the dog dashing around and tripping you up. It's as simple as telling the dog to go to his mat, and he does.
This also means you have better control when the doorbell rings. You simply don't have enough hands to hold the child, grab the dog's collar, and open the door. But now you simply tell the dog to go to his mat and a hand is instantly freed up.
There are so many situations in which it is useful to have a dog happily stay on his mat until given the cue to move. Indeed, some of these can be life-saving, such as the dog who goes to his mat when the doorbell rings, hence saving him from dashing out onto the street.
From a practical point of view, it can make day to day life in a dog owning household much easier. Imagine how much easier it makes stopping a dog dashing into the kitchen, if he is trained to a mat. Likewise, many insecure dogs who bark at visitors, will show a marked improvement in their behavior when they have a task to do such as go to the mat.
As with all training, be prepared to hold short but regular training sessions. Be sure to keep the mood light and fun, so the dog looks on training as a game. By praising his interest in the mat, you teach him to think about how to earn you praise and attention, which is the foundation of reward-based training.
It's helpful to teach the dog a good solid 'sit', 'stay', or 'down', ahead of teaching him to go to the mat. This will make it easier for him to understand you require him to stay there once on the mat.
The equipment you will need includes:
- A comfortable mat that is big enough for the dog to lie on.
- A distraction-free room
- A treat bag or pouch so the rewards are easily accessible for a quick reward
- A clicker
The Clicker Training Method
Understand the idea
This method rewards the dog's interest in the mat and has him try to work out what behavior gains him a reward. You use the click of the clicker to mark the desired action, hence telling the dog the exact moment when he did something right. This enables him to understand what he did right, so that he can repeat it. Once the dog is offering the right behavior (going to the mat and lying down) then you can add a cue word.
Understand what a click means
First you need to teach the dog that the click of a clicker means he's earned a reward. To do this, drop a small treat on the floor. As the dog eats the treat, press the clicker. Repeat this several times. Then press the clicker and if the dog immediately sniffs the floor, you know he's linked the click to getting a reward. This means you can now click when you see the dog offering up a behavior that you wish to encourage. This is called "shaping". It sets the dog thinking about what he was doing that earned the tasty treat, so that he then want to repeat it.
Click interest in the mat
In a room with few distractions, place the mat on the floor. Stand quietly and let the dog sniff around and investigate the room. When he goes to sniff the mat, click and praise him. This is telling him that going to the mat will earn a reward. Keep practicing this.
Click sitting or lying on the mat
Once the dog realized that interest in the mat earns a treat, he will become more focused on it. Now wait for a specific action, such as sitting or lying on the mat, before clicking and rewarding. He now realizes that to get a reward he has to sit or lie, and will therefore be more likely to offer these behaviors.
Encourage lying down
A dog that lies down on the mat is more likely to stay there than a sitting dog. To teach the dog you prefer him to lie down, have two different treats: One that is fairly boring, such as kibble, to reward the sit. Also have a tasty treat such as cheese, which you save for when he lies down. Once the dog realizes that sitting gets kibble while lying gets cheese, he's going to offer the 'down'.
Add a cue word
Once the dog is regularly approaching the mat you can add a cue word, so he understands which action is required of him. Let him approach the mat and lie down, then add a cue word such as "Mat", so that the behavior is put on command.
The Target Training Method
Understand the idea
This method involves you guiding the dog towards the mat and praising his interest in it. While you lure the dog over to the mat you use a cue word such as "mat" to help him understand what's required. Once on the mat you use basic 'down' and 'stay' obedience training to keep him there.
Make the mat interesting.
Attract the dog to the mat by seeding it with kibble or treats. As he walks over to investigate, say "Mat" in a firm but happy voice. As he reaches the mat say "Yes" in an excited voice. Ask him to sit and reward him.
Lead the dog over
Alternatively, you can use a treat to lure the dog to the mat. Again, as soon as he steps onto the mat, say "Yes,", praise and reward him. Immediately give the 'sit' or down' command, praise and reward him again.
Let the dog lead
Now encourage the dog to step out ahead of you to get to the mat. Point to the mat and say "Mat". If the dog seems confused or reluctant to obey, then toss a treat onto the mat to encourage him. Say "Yes" as he steps onto the mat, praise and reward him.
Work on the length of stay
Once the dog is happily going ahead to the mat, have the dog wait in a 'down' position. Increase the amount of time you ask her to say down, before rewarding her.
The Dos and Don'ts Method
Don't: Punish the dog
If the dog is reluctant to get onto the mat or steps off too quickly, never punish him. This will only confuse and frustrate him, and leads to increased anxiety. It is, however, fine to guide the dog with a brief, curt "No", if he goes to move off the mat.
Do: Withdraw attention
If the dog ignores the mat, try rolling the mat up, removing it and then turning your back on the dog. Ignore any attempts by the dog to get your attention. Then unroll the mat and act as if its the most interesting thing you've ever seen. Place the mat down and praise the dog when he shows an interest in it.
Don't: Tire the dog
Keep training fresh, interesting and fun for the dog. If he loses concentration then bring the session to an end with a command he can do, so that training ends on a positive note. It's better to stop and train in short sessions, than tire the dog with a few long sessions.
Do: Work on 'down' and 'stay'
Don't neglect basic training such as 'down' and 'stay'. When the dog already knows these commands, he will find it much easier when it comes to mat training.
Don't: Forcibly restrain the dog
Never use force to hold the dog on the mat. All he will learn is to be fearful of you and the mat. Instead, use reward based methods that encourage his own interest in the object.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 01/08/2018, edited: 01/08/2021