How to Mat Train Your Dog
Teach your dog to settle with these five steps.
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Mat training is a valuable skill for dogs that will seriously pay for the time you invested in teaching many times over. The goal of mat training is to send your dog to a safe spot, typically a mat or a blanket. So, on your cue—let’s say “Go to your mat”—your dog moves to find their mat, lying down and staying until the release signal is given.
What are the benefits of mat training?
This versatile cue provides a calming alternative to unwanted behaviors (like bolting to the door when someone knocks), helps give your dog a comforting spot when they need to take a little break, and helps you get them out from underfoot while you’re busy or have guests.
Having mastered this trick can help your dog handle adventures away from home, too. Your dog learns that their mat (or blanket) is a safe and comfortable spot, so they will likely be more comfortable away from home if the mat goes, too. A mat provides many of the advantages of bringing their crate with you wherever you go, but it is more portable, lighter, easier to carry, and can be taken lots of places that a crate can’t go. Now that you know the benefits, here’s what you need to know to get started mat training your dog.
How to mat train your dog
Note that your dog should have a good “Down” and “Stay” under their collar before you begin. This exercise is a behavior chain in which we will initially reward for several different steps or links.
1. Give the “mat” cue and lure
As you give the cue, “Go to Your Mat,” step toward the target (in this case, their mat) and use a treat to lure your dog toward it; mark with “yes” and reward as soon as they step onto the mat.
2. Follow with a Down
Immediately follow with the cue “Down” and reward again. Release and repeat. Once your dog has the hang of these first two steps, you’ll work on distance training.
3. Increase your distance
In small increments, gradually increase your distance from the mat, encouraging your dog to step out ahead toward it and anticipate the down once there. It may be helpful at this point to toss the treat onto the mat as you give the cue. This will encourage your dog to seek it out and complete the behavior on their own.
4. Link the stay cue
Once your dog shows that they grasp the concept by moving ahead to reach the mat and anticipating the down, add the last link in the chain by signaling them to “Stay” after the down.
5. Reinforce linked behaviors
When all the behavior links are in place, continue to strengthen the exercise by reinforcing increased targeting distance, increased stay duration and tolerance to distraction while staying.
Sandra Mannion, CPDT
Sandra Mannion is an Albany, Calif.-based dog trainer and animal behavioral consultant.