What is “Get on the Mat”? The dog learns to relax on a ‘mat’ – a specific towel, blanket, or dog bed. This mat can be moved to any location, like your kitchen, the vet’s office, or the car, and your dog will know to stay on it and relax.
Why does my dog need to know it? Getting on a mat is a great behavior for dogs that are “on the go”. Dogs that know a mat behavior can be taken anywhere, because they will be able to settle down and relax once they get there. Their owners are then free to enjoy themselves and not have to worry about what their dog is getting into.
A mat behavior is also excellent for dogs that are a nuisance when visitors arrive to the home. Whether the dog is barking, jumping up on guests, or bolting out the front door, laying on a mat is an easy-to-teach behavior that is incompatible with those actions.
How do I teach it? First, choose your mat. This can be a towel, bath mat, fabric placemat, carpet sample, or dog bed. (In the future, you can generalize this behavior to other mats. Initially, use the same mat each time you train.) Next, get out your clicker, and prepare some tiny, soft, tasty treats that your dog really enjoys.
Sit on the floor, and place your mat in front of you. When your dog approaches, click and toss the treat on the mat. Then, click and treat your dog several times just for being on the mat, placing the treat either on the mat or directly into his mouth. Next, click and throw the treat off of the mat. (This “resets” the dog to approach the mat again. This is a two-part behavior: the dog needs to get on the mat, and then stay on the mat.) Click and treat when your dog gets back on the mat. Once again, click and treat several times, and then click and throw the treat off of the mat.
Now move the mat just a couple of inches away from you. Again, click and treat when your dog gets on the mat, repeat several times, then click and throw a treat. Move the mat again. Keep moving the mat a few inches at a time so your dog learns to look for it no matter where it is placed in the room. Once your dog is reliably getting on the mat anywhere you put it, take it to other places in the house, in the yard, and even in the car to help cement your dog’s understanding of the behavior.
Next, shape for relaxation by rewarding sits, then downs on the mat. Delay your clicks to build duration one second at a time. Once the dog is consistently offering to lay down on the mat, encourage relaxation by giving the dog a favorite chew toy or bone on the mat, or by doing gentle, relaxing massage while your dog hangs out on his mat. Happy training!