Updated: Dec 10, 2019
Picture it. . .your sitting down at the table to eat and here comes your dog, whimpering, crying or barking at you while you are trying to eat.
Or, the doorbell rings and a delivery person has a package for you. Your dog races you to the door, barking, trying to push past you to see who is at the door.
Imagine being able to eat dinner, answer the door or have guests over peacefully.
In this article, I provide you one way to teach "Place", "Go to Mat", "Park It". . .or whatever you eventually choose to call this wonderful trick to your dog! You can even eventually pair it with the doorbell or knocking so your dog automatically goes to their special place when someone is at the door!
Start by getting a blanket, top sheet for a bed, very large towel or rug, etc. The idea is that your dog can’t miss getting onto whatever you are using. This item will need to be picked up when you’re done training, so the large area rug on your floor may not be the best thing to use.
Happily and somewhat quickly, walk with your dog to the blanket and just as your dog barely touches it – mark with a verbal marker (YES) or a clicker and toss a reward onto the sheet, etc. The idea is that the sheet (mat) is bringing the reward. We want to build the desire to get to the mat. Do this several times making sure you mark and then reward as soon as your dog is on the “mat”. Give your “release cue” as you are walking away from the “mat” to start the game again. Eventually, we will want them to stay on their “mat” until you release them so it’s good to get that started now. Spend a day or two at this stage coming onto the “mat” from different angles. At this point, we are not using the cue word as we want to build the behavior and then name it.
Once you see your dog is understanding how valuable going to the mat is, you’re ready for the next step. Move towards the mat as before but stop a step or two away from it and wait your dog out. Be patient! As soon as your dog goes to the mat on their own and even touches it with part of their body, mark and then reward! Remember to give your “release cue” as you are walking away from the “mat” to let your dog know it’s okay to come from it. Do this a few of times and give them a break, playing the game for a short period later in the day.
If your dog stops at the edge where you stopped – wait them out – if you did the first part enough – they know that the mat/sheet brings the food and they need to get on it to get the reward. Be patient. If they are having trouble, that’s okay! Go back to part one for another couple of days. Better to build good foundation and communication with our dogs!
After a day or two at step two, and when your dog is almost beating you to the “mat” you are ready to add a cue word! When adding the word – say the word you choose just before the dog touches the mat – they then go to the mat – mark it with a YES! or a clicker and then reward. At this point you can still reward on the “mat”. Repeat this for a few minutes and give them a break, picking the fun game back up later in the day.
As your dog gets better you can expect a little more from them once they are on the “mat”. When you give them their cue word to go to the “mat”, wait a bit to see what they offer. If they offer a sit, mark and then reward! If they offer a down, mark and then reward! The more problem solving your dog does do, the faster he will learn it and the better he will retain it.
For me, I want to use this to have my dog go to her “mat” and lay down for an extended period of time. It may be 5 min, it may be 30 min. So, at this point, I now want to encourage the dog to go to the “mat” and go into a down – either because I gave my down cue or, if I am still teaching it to a dog, I will help lure them into the down.
Ideally, you want your dog to already know the down behavior before getting to this step. If your dog doesn’t know it, I would encourage you to work on that separately.
When introducing the down behavior on the “mat”, give your cue word to go to the “mat” and as soon as they are on it, give them their down cue. Just as they go into a down, mark and then reward! Do this 2-4 times making sure you mark and then reward as soon as your dog goes in a down on the mat. Again, remember to give your release cue letting your dog know it’s okay to get up and leave the “mat”.
At this point, I like to see how much the dog has learned. Give your cue word to go to the “mat” (stay somewhat close) and when they get onto the “mat”, wait to see what they offer. They may look at you for a bit and wonder why you aren’t helping them, but this is where the problem solving comes in. As soon as they go into a down, mark it and jackpot your reward by giving multiple pieces but one at a time. A whole handful of reward may be a 5-6 to us but it is one giant reward to your dog. It means more to your dog to give them multiple rewards, one at a time while they are still in the down position (so keep your hands low so they don’t get up). You can even begin to build a few seconds of duration in the down position before marking and rewarding.
After a few days or a week of doing this from various sides of the mat and maybe a step or two away from the “mat”, now step 4-6 steps away from the “mat” and have your dog go to it – mark & reward. A few days later add a few more steps.
If at any time, your dog is showing signs of confusion, go back a step or two and spend more time there. Sometimes, we think our dogs are understanding and we move too quickly. It’s always better to spend a little more time on each step to ensure clear communication and fun then to create confusion in our dogs!
Don't forget to verbally praise your dog after you have released them off the "mat" throughout the training process! Verbal praise and play are great ways to reward and it increases the fun and learning for your dog! Aim to Train With Play!