Mat Training for your Fur Baby by Dr Elaine Cebuliak

Training your dog to settle quietly on a mat is one of the most important and valuable exercises you can teach your dog. It teaches impulse control and promotes calmness.

The benefit of mat training is that it can be applied in many situations and for the management of many different behaviour problems.

You need a mat, some treats and a little time put aside each day when you are both calm and without distractions.

 Step 1

Put the mat on the floor and place a treat on it if Dudley looks at it or sniffs it. Reward any intersection with the mat by placing treats ON the mat. Say your release word (free/ok/finished – your choice) and throw a treat away from the mat. Pick the mat up and move it a few steps and repeat. Once Dudley is comfortable with the idea, wait with placing the treat until he has at least one foot on the mat and GRADUALLY progress to all 4 feet on the mat.

Keep it short and fun, stop before Dudley loses interest. You can do 2-3 minutes session per day. Remember to remove the mat once you are done training.

 Step 2

Once Dudley happily steps on the mat you can wait and see if he will offer to sit. Reward if he does, as always ON the mat. If he won’t offer a sit you can lure, with a treat. Repeat several times as above by resetting the exercise with your release cue. Once Dudley is happy to sit wait and see if he will offer to drop on the mat, you can lure him if needed. Reset and repeat over a few days until Dudley automatically drops on the mat as soon as you put it down.

Step 3

Now we are going to increase duration of the behaviour. To do this keep putting treats on the mat while Dudley is laying on it. Place a treat every few seconds and gradually increase the time between treats. Once you get to about 10 seconds between rewards start to vary the time between treats. Also vary the time before you release Dudley of the mat. If Dudley moves of the mat, stop rewarding and wait until he drops on the mat again. Keep the next repetitions shorter and try to increase duration again at the next session.

Step 4

Once Dudley happily gets on the mat and settles you can add a cue such as ‘On your mat’ just before he gets on the mat – again your choice- just keep it consistent. After a few days you should be able to send his on his mat on cue.

Step 5

Now we can make the exercise gradually more challenging – remember ONE STEP AT A TIME. If Dudley starts to leave the mat without being released, you have progressed to quickly. Take the mat to different rooms in the house, then the back/front yard. Start moving around the room, and then start to leave the room for a short time. Vary the time Dudley spends on the mat. Continue to reward randomly by placing treats on the mat so Dudley never knows when the reward is coming.

Step 6

Now you are ready to generalise the behaviour to different locations and introduce distractions, such as strange noises, doorbells ringing, and making unexpected movements. Reward your dog for ignoring the distractions and staying calmly in position on the mat. When adding distractions, remember to reduce the duration and distance to start with.

  • Remember to use the release cue each time so Dudley knows he is free to leave the mat.
  • Once Dudley is comfortable with the behaviour, you can give a long-lasting chew or licki mat
  • Never send Dudley to his mat as a punishment as it should only be a safe, good place that the dog feels comfortable going to.
  • Avoid interacting with Dudley while he is settled on the mat other than calm massage if he likes it or whispering softly to maintain calmness.
  • Keep sessions short. Increase duration, distance and distractions slowly, going back to the last step if your dog moves, as you may be trying for too much too quickly.

For more information and to book a session please visit: www.animalwellness.com.au

Dr Elaine Cebuliak

Dr Elaine is a highly experienced holistic vet and pioneer of Animal Wellness in Brisbane. She also assists with many charitable projects in Australia and in Bali.

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