Giving your dog an area in which it can settle will be a useful training tool. By providing a mat, you give your dog an easily recognisable area where it can go if it is feeling uncomfortable or wants a rest. As the owner, it also gives you a place to send the dog if you want it out from under your feet or away while you eat dinner. The mat can also be used to help your dog focus when it is feeling excited or anxious about greeting friends, family or strangers. You can take the mat wherever you go, which makes it easier for the dog to behave appropriately outside the home.
Start in an environment where the dog is calm and there are minimal distractions. Put the mat on the ground and place your dog’s favourite treat or toy on top. If your dog puts at least one paw on the mat, mark the behaviour with a “yes”. This will, in time, let your dog know it has done the right thing. If the dog keeps its feet on the mat, mark the behaviour again (“yes”) and give the dog another treat. Repeat this step.
Next, you want to get the dog to settle in a comfortable position that it will be able to maintain for extended periods. This is usually a ‘drop’ or ‘down’ position. Lure the dog into a down position and mark the behaviour, followed with a treat. Continue to give the dog treats for maintaining the drop position. If it gets up, do not say anything. Just re-lure the drop and give the dog treats for staying on the mat. You are trying to teach the dog that good things will happen if it stays on the mat. It is best to repeat these steps in several short sessions.
Staying on the mat
When the dog is in a comfortable position, occasionally offer it a treat as you move around the mat. Move away and then come back and reward the dog. Gradually increase the distance each time you move away. Remember, that being out of sight is a big change for the dog, so you will need to make sure it is quite comfortable on the mat before you leave the room.
Using enrichment items, such as Kongs, pig’s ears or bones, will also encourage your dog to stay on its mat. Each time the dog receives this treat inside, it must first settle on its mat. You will be able to go about your daily business while the dog is busy enjoying its treat. Remember to verbally praise the dog and try to return before it finishes its treat. If the dog moves from the mat, calmly ask it to get back on and reward it for doing so.
Adding a cue
When you are confident that your dog understands how to use the mat, it is time to add a cue to the behaviour. Set up the mat and have some treats ready. Cue the behaviour of the dog getting on the mat with a word such as “mat”. If the dog gets on the mat, mark the behaviour (“yes”) and immediately reward it. Let the dog off the mat and try again. Initially, you should do this close to the mat so the dog understands exactly what you are asking for.
Getting off the mat
It is very important that you let the dog know when it is allowed to move off the mat, otherwise it will become confused. Saying words such as “OK” or “off you get” will let the dog know when it can move off the mat. Remember to reward the dog when it does as you ask.