Training your dog to settle quietly on a mat is one of the most important and valuable exercises you can teach your dog. It teaches impulse control and promotes calmness.

The benefit of mat training is that it can be applied in many situations and for the management of many different behaviour problems, such as

  • Jumping up – when visitors arrive the dog can be sent to its mat, once calm it can interact
  • Separation Anxiety – builds a sense of security away from the owner
  • Aggression towards the owner or other people - instead of removing a dog physically from a couch or bed you can ask it to go to its mat; with visitors or children it may need to go to a crate instead of a mat for safety
  • Aggression to other dogs in the household - dogs can go to separate mats to avoid confrontation
  • Compulsive disorders – provides a task for the dog to distract it from the behaviour and rewards calmness

Now, all you need is a mat, a clicker, some treats and a little time put aside each day when you are both calm and without distractions.

If you don’t have a clicker you can use a word like ‘YES!’ in a high, clipped tone or even click your tongue. This is your bridge (or marker).

To introduce or ‘condition the bridge’ before training commences, simply click and reward your dog several times or say ‘YES!’ and reward your dog so it learns that a reward follows every time it hears the click or the word ‘YES!’. A bridge is used as it can be given within ½ a second of the desired behaviour so we don’t have to rush and fumble getting the reward to the dog. This speeds learning and avoids confusion.

Mat training is divided into 3 separate steps:

  1. Moving your dog onto the mat
  2. Sitting or dropping on the mat
  3. Remaining on the mat

1. Moving onto the mat

  • Place your dog’s mat on the floor and take one step away.
  • Check your dog is ready to participate by calling his/her name and offering a treat.
  • Lure your dog onto the mat by holding a treat in your hand in front of its nose and move your hand slowly towards the mat. When your dog steps one foot on the mat, bridge and reward, which means ‘click’ your clicker or say 'YES!' immediately to mark the desired behaviour and toss the treat onto the mat. If your dog steps off the mat, simply lure it back on again, bridge and reward your dog by tossing the treat onto the mat as the dog progressively steps 1 foot on, 2 feet on, then 3 feet until finally it is standing completely on the mat.
  • You don’t need to achieve standing fully on the mat on the first attempt. It is best to keep sessions short (2-3 repetitions at a time) before your dog loses interest and stops learning.
  • Simply end the session by saying ‘ALL DONE’, ‘FINSIHED’ or ‘LAST ONE’ and put both hands palm out toward your dog to signal that the session has ended, there are no more treats available and the dog is free to leave the mat.

2. Sitting or Dropping On the Mat

  • Once your dog is standing completely on the mat, you can ask your dog to ‘SIT’. Bridge immediately and reward by tossing a treat onto the mat. Lure the dog back off the mat so you can repeat the exercise of luring it onto the mat, asking it to ‘SIT’, bridge and reward that behaviour by tossing a treat onto the mat in front of the dog.
  • Begin to combine moving to the mat with sitting on the mat until the dog is automatically sitting when it goes to the mat, bridge and reward. If your dog is confused and doesn’t sit, go back a few steps.
  • If your dog already knows how to drop you can add the drop cue instead of sit, so the dog goes to the mat, cue ‘DROP’, bridge and reward, then begin to combine going to the mat and dropping as one movement, bridge and reward.
  • Practice again, bridge (click or say ‘YES’ once the dog drops), reward and end the session with the finish cue.

3. Remaining on the Mat

  • Remaining or settling on the mat involves increasing the duration of the behaviour. To do this, keep tossing treats onto the mat, gradually increasing the time between tossing treats, to see if the dog remains in position on the mat.
  • If your dog moves, stop throwing treats and encourage it back onto the mat to repeat the exercise for a shorter period of time before ending the session and try increasing the duration next time.
  • Once your dog remains in position on the mat reliably for a few minutes at a time you can add a chew toy for the dog to relax with instead of tossing treats to encourage settling for longer periods.
  • Finally, when your dog reliably goes to the mat and takes up position when you are standing near the mat with treats, you can add your cue word “On Your Mat” and hand signal (point to the mat), bridge (click or say ‘YES’) and reward. Repeat a few times then move one step away from the mat and cue the dog until gradually you can increase the distance and send your dog to the mat from any position in the room.

Adding the 'Stay' Cue

  • Some dogs won’t settle on the mat with treats or a chew toy and get up as soon as you move away. The ‘Stay’ cue is useful to add at this stage to teach your dog to remain in position on the mat, and later as you gradually move away from the mat. A reliable stay is a combination of duration, distance and distraction.
  • Standing near the mat, cue your dog ‘On your mat’ verbally and with a finger point, ask the dog to ‘Drop’, bridge and reward. Now give a verbal ‘Stay’ cue as well as the visual cue of holding your hand out like a stop sign, palm facing the dog, wait a second or two, then bridge and reward.
  • Gradually increase the duration of the 'Stay' by delaying the bridge for a few more seconds at a time, and start varying the length of time so you dog doesn’t predict when you are going to bridge and give the reward. Finish the session after 3 or 4 repetitions.
  • In the next session, add a step or two away from the mat once your dog is in position. Reduce the duration of the stay required to start with, remembering to give both your verbal and visual ‘Stay’ cues. Return to the dog before giving the bridge (‘Yes’ or click) and reward. The bridge tells the dog that it has done what is required and that a reward is coming – if you bridge when you are away from the dog it is acceptable for them to move and the dog may begin to move as you return.
  • Gradually increase your distance from the mat a step at a time, delaying the bridge until you return to the dog and reward. It helps to remind your dog to ‘stay’ during the behaviour so it is getting feedback indicating it is doing well. Remember to give a clear finish cue when the ‘stay’ session is over.
  • Gradually combine duration as distance, increasing as appropriate.

Now you are ready to generalise the behaviour to different locations and introduce distractions, such as strange noises, doorbells ringing, making unexpected movements. Reward your dog for ignoring the distractions and staying calmly in position on the mat. When adding distractions, remember to reduce the duration and distance to start with.

  • Remember to use the finish cue to end the session each time so the dog knows training is over and is free to leave the mat.
  • Never send your dog to its mat as a punishment as it should only be a safe, good place that the dog feels comfortable going to.
  • Avoid interacting with your dog while it is settled on the mat other than calm massage if your dog likes it and doesn't break its settle or whispering softly to maintain calmness.
  • Spraying the mat with Adpatil pheromone spray or plugging an Adaptil diffuser in the room near the mat may assist with calming your dog.
  • Keep sessions short. Increase duration, distance and distractions slowly, going back to the last step if your dog moves, as you may be trying for too much too quickly.
  • Above all HAVE FUN!

Blog updated 19th October, 2016