Teaching your dog to go to a spot and remain there through distractions can be a really helpful management tool. For dogs who are prone to excitability or fear mat training can give them boundaries for containment and security. Mat training will teach your dog to settle in a spot until released, where they can still feel part of the family. Mat training is not a ‘stay’ exercise, rather it’s a ‘relax’ exercise and is a great alternative to locking your dog away, it just requires some consistency and training.
Let’s go through the steps of mat training. Before you start you will need the following,
- a mat/towel your dog has never used before. This mat is for mat training only and must be rolled up and put away when not in use.
- a lead, to stop your dog wandering off during training, alternatively start in a very small area like a laundry or toilet room.
- tasty food as a reward.
- a non distracting area.
1. Put your dog on lead or start in a small room and lay the mat down on the ground, as soon as your dog investigates the mat place a piece of food on the mat. Continue feeding your dog as long as he is on his mat by placing all food on the mat rather than feeding from your hand. Release your dog with an ‘all finished’ and walk away from the mat encouraging your dog to follow you. Move back to the mat and as soon as your dog steps on the mat feed him. Repeat this process until you can see your dog ‘gets it’- when he is on his mat he gets rewarded. Pack the mat up after you have finished.
2. Place the mat down and reward your dog when he sits on his mat and continue to reward as long as he is sitting on his mat. Start timing your rewards when your dog is not looking at you, mat training is all about relaxing, not hard focus. Try not to ask for a sit, rather your dog should offer it and as soon as he does reward him. Release and repeat.
3. Place the mat down and reward your dog when he lays down on his mat and continue to reward as long as he is laying on his mat. Try not to ask for a ‘down’, rather your dog should offer it and as soon as he does reward him. Over time what you are looking to reward as soon as you place the mat down and your dog hops on it and lays down, as soon as this happens reward, reward, reward. Release and repeat.
4. Next, you can add a verbal cue such as ‘on your mat’ when your dog hops on his mat. This is also a good time to start moving around the mat while your dog is laying down and reward him for remaining on his mat, relaxed. Move to longer and longer times between rewards. If your dog moves off his mat before being released cue him ‘on your mat’ again. Release and repeat.
5. Start moving the mat to different rooms and adding distractions, starting with easy distractions and moving up to more difficult distractions. Then add a distraction that normally triggers your dog to bark or move such as visitors or moving the mat to different locations.
Remember, as soon as you increase the level of difficulty by increasing distractions you must lower your expectations. For example, when you start working with visitors you will probably have to go back to standing right next to the mat and increasing the frequency of reward.
So, you can see that mat training does require some effort but if you are really keen to mat train you will have a dog who can be easily controlled and will relax in any location you need him to. Realistically it may take several months to work up to difficult distractions, you do not need to practice every day but when you do make sure it’s enjoyable and successful. You might like to occasionally feed your dog his dinner one piece at a time for mat training and you can do this easily in front of the TV with the mat at your feet.
Mat training will teach your dog impulse control and help manage him in any situation you need him contained. Work slowly over months and don’t forget to always release your dog from his mat.