Ideas for cues: “spot”, “go to bed”, “on your mat”, “kennel up!”
Teaching your dog to go to their mat is one of the most important behaviours in your toolbox. When successfully trained, your dog should be able to go to their mat on cue from a distance in many different environments, and even lay down and relax, staying until released. This can be very helpful when you are cooking, greeting visitors, cleaning up a mess, when the doorbell rings, during a meal, etc.
Create a natural magnetic effect by only bringing the mat out when actively training, feeding a stuffed food toy, a meal, or a chew. When the good stuff is done, put the mat away. Guaranteed, your dog will start to hop on that mat as soon as they see it!
How to train:
Using a mat, towel, blanket, or your dog’s bed. Be armed with your treat pouch full of high value, pea-sized treats, and clicker.
Step 1: Hold the mat in your hands or tucked under your arm. Place the mat on the floor a foot or two away from them and watch carefully. If your dog glances in the direction of the mat, CLICK and then treat up to four times by placing the treats one by one on the mat. Once your dog has eaten all the treats on the mat, encourage them away from the mat gently or toss one treat away from it so that they follow. Immediately scoop up the mat and tuck it under your arm. Stand and wait for 5-10 seconds.
Step 2: Repeat Step 1 but only click for any movement toward the mat. Repeat until your dog starts going toward the mat readily when you place it on the floor.
If at any point the dog does not look at or move toward the mat, don’t worry! Wait 15 full seconds and then pick up the mat and wait 15 seconds before putting it down again.
Step 3: Repeat Step 2 but only click for 1+ paws on the mat. Repeat 5x. Next, click for 2+ paws on the mat. Repeat 5x. Next, click for 4 paws on the mat. Repeat 5x.
Step 4: Now let’s name it! When placing the mat down, say your cue and wait. When your dog moves onto the mat (all four paws) click and reward once on the mat and then toss one treat off the mat so that they have to chase it and return for another repetition. Say your cue once they’ve eaten the stray treat. Repeat this at least 5x.
Step 5: Now let’s move around! Stand 1ft away from the mat and cue your dog to go to mat. If they do, click and go to the mat to feed them there. Toss a treat to reset. Repeat 2-3x. Cue from 2ft away, 3f away, 4ft away, etc (a few repetitions at each level) so that you are cueing your dog to their mat from various distances and angles. If any distance is too hard, go back to the last successful distance and repeat a few times, then try again a little farther away.
Step 6: Cue your dog to go to mat and when they do, rather than clicking, ask for a “down” (if this is a reliable behaviour for them) and click when they lie down, return to the mat and feed them in position.