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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.
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.
(And you'll learn what shaping means in dog training.)
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...
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!
Tressa shares answers to common questions from dog owners and tips to troubleshoot your "go to mat" practice with your dog like...
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...
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.
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.
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.
Pro tip: break it up into smaller training pieces - it's how dogs learn!
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.
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!
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...
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.
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.
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.
DISCLAIMER: The content of this website and community is based on the research, expertise, and views of each respective author. Information here is not intended to replace your one-on-one relationship with your veterinarian, but as a sharing of information and knowledge to help arm dog parents to make more informed choices. We encourage you to make health care decisions based on your research and in partnership with your vet. In cases of distress, medical issues, or emergency, always consult your veterinarian.