6 Guides on Teaching Your Dog "Go to Mat" (or Place) from Force-free Trainers
Step 13 of 33 in the Dogly Manners Channel
with Cory & Jane of Dogly

If you've ever wished you had a way to have your dog free and happy amidst the family action while lying calmly in a certain place, you're not alone. And you're in luck.

In these 6 guides, certified positive reinforcement dog trainer and Dogly Advocate Tressa Fessenden-McKenzie breaks down how to teach your dog "go to mat" (or a dog bed or any designated comfy place) into simple steps so you can use this super useful, calming behavior with your dog. It's often referred to as "place training" or the "place command" and for most dogs, it's fun learning in the training process and a welcome, relaxing behavior in everyday life.

Let's take a look at what you and your dog will learn in each "go to mat/ place/bed" training guide, from when your dog learns the initial foundation skill of the "go to mat/place/bed" behavior through each successive level as you introduce distractions and increase duration to make your dog training bulletproof in real life.

In these 6 guides on teaching your dog "Go to Mat" in the Manners Channel, you'll learn:

Here's a brief overview of the 6 guides to give you and your dog a solid "go to mat" cue in real-life situations:


Guide 1: Teach Your Dog "Go to Mat/Bed "

Ultimately, we want your dog to be able to lie quietly and happily on his/her mat or bed no matter what noises, shenanigans, or deliciousness is happening in the immediate area.

But for now to start, as always, you want to set your dog up for success. This guide breaks down learning the foundational skill of the magical cue of "go to bed/mat" into 10 small achievable steps.

What you'll learn in this place training guide:

  • How to use "shaping" to break down the behavior you want into small achievable steps

(And you'll learn what shaping means in dog training.)

  • How to listen to your dog and take training session breaks when needed
  • How to set up your space (as well as your dog and you) for success in your mat training
  • The 10 small steps to building your dog's mat training success

Step 1: Click and treat as your dog interacts with the dog mat, your dog's bed, whatever you've set up as the designated spot. Treat toss to set up the next step.

Step 2: Click for movement toward the bed or mat; toss the treat as before.

Step 3: Click for any touching of the mat - even nose or a paw. Toss treat as before.

Step 4: Click for one paw on the mat even if for just a few seconds. Toss treat.

Step 5: After clicks for one paw, delay to see if you can get two. Toss treat.

Step 6: Click for three or four paws on the mat. Great time for a treat "jackpot" - and taking a break.

Pro tip: always go at your dog's pace and take a break when needed, let your dog relax, and then start fresh!

Step 7: Watch for a "sit" from your dog on the mat. Click and treat.

Step 8: Watch for your dog to offer "down" on the mat. If not, use your down cue. Click and treat.

Step 9: Begin fading the cue for "down" as you continue to reward your dog's down with a click/treat.

Step 10: Begin adding a cue ("on your mat" or whatever common word works for you) once your dog understands and is consistent with the behavior.

Then practice, practice... and that's how you and your dog build your basic go-to-mat skill! You can watch Tressa take you through all of these steps in the accompanying video.

Dive into the full guide here to start teaching your dog the foundation skills for "go to mat." Or continue on to the Q&A training guide for a little troubleshooting after you have some experience working with your dog on mat/place training skills...


Guide 2: Your Training Q & A when Teaching Your Dog "Go to Mat/Bed":

Now that you and your dog have experience with learning and practicing "go to mat," you probably have some questions or maybe some sticking points that popped up in the process. This guide answers common questions dog parents have and suggests some troubleshooting things to try with your dog in case you might need an aha moment or a little reset. And remember, it's all about the incremental wins and celebrating successes with your dog in the process!

What you'll learn in this dog training guide:

Tressa shares answers to common questions from dog owners and tips to troubleshoot your "go to mat" practice with your dog like...

Q: Does my dog really understand what I'm marking, or is he/she just standing in front of me to get treats?

  • How to reset your dog in different positions using your treat rewards to get a jumpstart on generalization
  • Why you should make sure there's a distinct texture difference from floor to mat when training
  • How and why to make sure your rewarding mechanics are really clean and your food isn't too visible

Q: What do I do if my dog gets stuck at one level (like only two paws on the mat or dog bed)?

  • How to break steps down into even smaller steps
  • Getting really good at shaping means getting really good at observing.
  • If you and your dog are getting stuck often, make it rain treats and end the session with some fun!

Q: When I move away from the mat or bed, my dog orients to me and sits in front of me instead of the mat - what do I do?

  • Take it slow - go at your dog's pace, add new elements very incrementally as your dog masters each baby step, and take a break whenever your dog could use one!

You can check out the full Q&A guide here including the accompanying video where Tressa takes you through it all. Or continue on to make your dog's mat skills stronger by teaching your dog to go to mat or bed - and stay there with increasing duration...

Guide 3: Teach Your Dog to "Go to Mat/Bed" and Stay There

Next up in building your dog's reliable place behavior is teaching the first of the all-important 3 D's: duration, distance, and distractions. Now that your dog has learned the basic "go to mat" behavior, you'll want to make sure your dog stays there until you give the release cue.

And that's what this guide is all about: adding duration while your dog relaxes on his/her mat or bed.

What you'll learn in this dog training guide:

  • Why duration matters when you teach place
  • 2 different methods to build duration

First method: delaying the click. You'll learn how to use this method step by step, along with when and how to click/treat.

Second training method: catching your dog with his/her head down. You'll learn how to use this to build duration as well as create a go-to relaxation habit, making it a doubly valuable life skill for your dog.

You can watch Tressa take you through the details of each method in the accompanying video.

If you and your dog have already learned the basic "go to mat" skill, you can jump into the full guide on adding duration here. Or, go to the next level to build your dog's mat skills by adding distance.


Guide 4: How to Add Distance to Your Dog's "Go to Mat/Bed" Skill

In real life, you're not always going to be standing or sitting right next to your dog. A big reason for teaching "go to mat" is so you can know your dog is comfortable and safe in a designated place while you handle something else - whether that's a meal or a conference call at a distance from your dog.

What you'll learn in this dog training guide:

  • How to know when you're ready to go to the next place training level (or not)

Pro tip: break it up into smaller training pieces - it's how dogs learn!

  • The 3 types of distance your dog will experience while stationing (aka staying on the mat or bed)
  • The simplified steps for each bit of learning to set both you and your dog up for success from your initial cue word through final release word including...

Step 1: How to teach your dog to relax on the mat or bed while you walk away

Step 2: How to teach your dog to stop on the mat or bed when you're at a distance

Step 3: How to teach your dog to move away from you to go to the mat or bed

Learn each step, try the exercises, take advantage of the troubleshooting suggestions by jumping into the full guide here. (You can also watch Tressa take you through the steps of adding distance in the accompanying video.)

Or see how to introduce distractions you'll likely encounter in everyday life to your mat training in the next guide.

Guide 5: How to Teach Your Dog to "Go to Mat/Bed" with Distractions

You'll want to prep your dog to settle and stay in position for anything that might happen in your day-to-day life and that means distractions - everything from sounds to people to food (!) and everything in between.

Staying put during distractions is the essence of a solid "go to mat" skill and why you'll be happy and thankful it's in your and your dog's repertoire!

What you'll learn in this dog training guide:

  • How to prepare your dog for real-life distractions (other dogs, people, doorbell rings, etc.)
  • Exercises for distracting scenarios so your dog learns that staying on the mat or bed is well-rewarded behavior he or she wants to do

Check out the full guide here along with the accompanying video where Tressa takes you through every step.

Or, continue to the many benefits of learning the "go to mat" skill before your human baby arrives...


Guide 6: 5 Benefits of Teaching Your Dog "Go to Mat/Bed" BEFORE Baby Arrives

If you have a baby coming into your life - and your dog's life - using "go to mat" can be an invaluable tool for keeping everyone safe and still an integral part of your family activities.

In addition to being a certified positive reinforcement dog trainer and Dogly Advocate, Tressa is also a certified Family Paws Parent Educator, and she brings it all together in this final guide in this series with the specifics you need to know to use your dog's "go to mat" behavior to everyone's benefit for families with small children.

What you'll learn in this dog training guide:

  • Why setting your dog and baby up for success beforehand matters (and you'll be so happy you did)
  • 5 situations when having trained your dog to go to mat or bed will make your first few months with your baby so much more enjoyable - and safer!
  • Exercises to test and strengthen your dog's go-to-mat skills in each of these 5 situations:
  1. Feeding the baby
  2. Bouncing, carrying, soothing the baby
  3. Changing diapers
  4. Enjoying tummy time (on the floor - your dog's level!)
  5. Welcoming guests visiting the baby

Have fun practicing "go to mat" with your dog and remember to keep training sessions short, break whenever you've both had enough, congratulate yourselves, and make it a fun experience with lots of positive reinforcement and treats!

Dive into this guide to learn about using your dog's "go to mat" training for smoother, safer family life around a baby (and watch Tressa explain it all in the accompanying video). Or if you haven't started the first 5 guides on building your "go to mat" cue, get started with How to Teach Your Dog "Go to Mat/Bed " and continue through to How to Teach Your Dog to "Go to Mat/Bed" with Distractions.

Recommended Products

Check out the Manners Channel on Dogly

Now you know how to use the dog-shaping training method to teach your dog to go to bed or mat in just about any real-life situation.

If you want to keep training and learning with your dog, you can continue in the Manners Channel to Food Manners, Travel Manners, Public Manners or even Holiday Manners.  Have fun training with your dog and enjoy the closer connection and trust you and your dog are building together. And if you need help, you can ask the Dogly Advocates in any channel or work with them one-on-one through Dogly.

Cory & Jane of Dogly

Dogly started with our own dogs and quickly became about yours. We want our dogs to live long and we want them to live well, to go where we go and do more together with us. That’s why we created Dogly. To help you live well with your dog.