Monday, January 16, 2012

Go To Mat

Go to mat is a useful behavior requiring both distance and duration. Once your dog has a solid go to mat behavior, you can take her anywhere, without having to cart a crate along. You don't have to use the same mat either, you can teach the dog to use any mat, towel, dog bed or dog hammock you designate as their mat. You could toss down your jacket for a mat. You could teach your dog that a leash laid in a circle serves as an impromptu mat.  Waiting on a mat is an easier than stay because its less formal and because dogs are more secure with a mat to mark their waiting area. Go to mat as a great tool for resolving unwanted door greeting behaviors.

You will need a mat. You can use a dog bed, towel, carpet square, or jacket. Use the same mat for a few weeks and later you can transfer go to mat to other mats.


  • Position yourself near the mat, so that when the dog is near you he is likely to step on the mat. How close you are will depend on how close to you he naturally stands. Sit or stand and wait. Any time he steps on the mat (even one foot), click and treat. If you need to, you can toss a treat on the mat to get the game going. If he stays standing on the mat click and treat in place five times. The sixth time, click and toss the treat to the side, so he has to get off the mat.
  • For the second round, click and treat your dog for standing on the mat three times in a row, then the fourth time toss the treat to the side. Then two on and toss. Quickly transition to tossing the treat aside every time. You want your dog to realise that its getting on the mat that is making the clicks happen.
  • Note: If your dog sits or lays down on the mat at any time, click and treat that with a jackpot.
  • Now you will start shaping the dog to understand that he should put all four feet on the mat.
  • Lets say your dog has been putting two feet on the mat consistently. The next time he gets on with two feet – just wait without clicking. When he gets on and isn't clicked he will look at you as if you've lost your marbles. It’s the look that says, "Hellooooo I'm standing on the mat!"
  • When you still don't click, your dog will get a bit frustrated and offer an exaggerated version of what he'd been doing before. If that exaggeration is more feet on, you are in business. Click and treat that third foot on the mat. Very quickly shape your dog to get all four feet on the mat.
  • Now start adding distance between you and the mat. The key is to step away (or move the mat away from you if you are sitting) a very small amount so that your dog doesn't really notice it at first. I recommend no more than six inches.
  • Repeat the click/treating sequence in round two of Step One. If your dog has difficulty with the distance you added, step in closer, cutting the last distance increase in half. So if you added 6 inches and the dog seemed uncertain, step 3 inches closer and see if that works. Then make your next few distance increases the smaller 3 inches. As your dog regains confidence in the behavior you can try a larger increase of six inches and later 1 foot. That being said, its better to go slowly and maintain confidence than to rush.
  • Repeat the click/treating sequence in round two of Step One every time you increase distance.
  • Your initial goal is for the dog to move 5 feet away from you to get on the mat. Later, to make the behavior really useful, you'll want to increase the distance to 15 to 20 feet.
  • When your dog is confidently moving at least five feet to get on the mat, its time to shape an automatic down on the mat. You will use the same process as you did shaping your dog to get all four feet on the mat.
  • Simply stop clicking and wait for your dog to offer you more. Your dog may pounce in a crouch or if you have a solid default sit already, offer a sit. Click and treat ANY behavior that is somewhat closer to a down position. Perhaps the dog will stand there and lower his head, looking at you through his eyebrows - that is an effective place to start shaping.
  • Just so you know, frustration is your friend in shaping, since your dog quickly learns to offer you a variation when you stop clicking what you were clicking before.
  • If your dog doesn't seem to understand to offer you a new behavior or isn't offering something that works toward getting closer to down, you can teach this by cueing a down every time your dog gets on the mat. As the dog is stepping onto the mat say "down", then click and treat when he does. If you repeat this sequence often enough, your dog will begin to anticipate and start laying down automatically. As soon as you see that, delay saying down and if your dog lays down anyway, click and treat it. You may still say down if he's slow, but quickly you can leave out that cue.
  • When your dog understands that going to the mat (at least five feet away) and automatically laying down is the desired behavior, its time to add a cue.
  • Follow the directions in the blog entry Putting Behaviors On Cue to put the go to mat behavior on cue.
  • Good cues to use are: mat, bed, place, go rest, or take a break. Of course, as with any cue, you can use any cute or clever cue you want.
  • Follow the directions in the entry Adding Duration to increase the amount of time your dog stays on the mat, without being told.
  • Remember, when you make ONE thing about a behaviour more difficult, you have to make everything else simpler. So when you add duration to the automatic stay, you will want to work closer, so the dog is more comfortable with the new behavior. See the entry Getting to Generalisation for more information.
Get that greater distance to go to the mat and increase the duration as much as you can. You can hide the mat in strange places so the dog has to go looking for it, thus adding a game element. And remember you can teach the dog to stay inside a leash circle, treating that area as his mat.