Mat training is really becoming a popular technique to teach dogs. This involves having a mat or elevated bed to command your dog to relax when a lot of commotion happens. Rather than using a bed or other familiar item that your dog associates with sleep, they will quickly learn that the mat is a timeout spot and a place for them to relax.
There might be some anxieties or trouble getting started, but soon, you will have a well-trained, mannerly pooch who knows just how to use the mat. To make things easier, here’s how to teach your dog to use a mat.
Dog Mat Training in 8 Simple Steps
1. Buy the Right Mat or Elevated Bed
The first step in mat training is getting the correct mat or elevated bed. This should be something that you deem comfortable enough for your pet.
Some owners choose to get elevated mats because larger dogs or those with longer hair can get overheated. This helps to keep adequate airflow underneath your pooch.
Other folks choose to get a flat mat that lays on the floor. Most of these mats are slip-free, so they will stick to the floor without moving around. We highly recommend slip-free bottoms, as you don’t want a lot of movement happening while you are training since this can be distracting.
Each bed should have different sizing options, so be sure to get the right one for your dog. You can find tons of options on sites like Chewy or Amazon. Remember to get the correct size to keep things comfortable, too.
2. Build a Solid Comfort Level
Your dog must check out this new item to see if it passes inspection. Make sure to support it fully! You can gleefully show your dog the mat, using positive inflection to motivate them to check it out—and often this works best if you join in for the first few introductions.
To keep everything within the realm of your dog’s attention span, keep intervals between 3 and 5 minutes. Some dogs might require more motivation and others will take a bit longer.
Once your dog starts sniffing around, you’re halfway there. Next is to encourage your dog to use it on command. After all, it’s just a mat on the floor with no special tricks or gadgets, so they might need some direction.
3. Use Rewards
There’s nothing like using a tasty treat to get your dog’s attention. Scatter a few treats on the mat or encourage them to sit on it before giving out the goodies. The key here is to give your pup little attention while they eat the treats. Simply allow them to associate the treat with the mat—and not with praise.
We recommend using dry treats that you can stash in your pockets for easy administration. After all, when you command your dog to go to its mat, you’ll initially need to convince them to obey.
4. Add a Command
When you are teaching your dog to go to their mat, you will need a simple phrase to get started. You can say something short and clear, for example, “Mat” while pointing your finger in the right direction. The simpler you make it, the easier it will be for your dog to catch on.
You want to use the same phrase every time, as giving different directions can confuse your dog and prolong training. So, no matter what the reason is for wanting your dog to go to their mat, the command will sound the same.
Rather than handing your dog a treat while they’re on their mat, it’s best to toss the treat down instead.
5. Use Release Cues
When you are ready for your dog to go do their own thing, make sure to use a release cue to tell your pup when training time is over. Like commands, release cues should be simple and consistent. You can use whatever phrase you’d like, but words such as “All done”, “Go on”, or “Free” can work.
It’s vital to use these cues in combination with all commands early in training. Your dog will be used to these verbalizations in no time.
6. Test the Waters
The more you think your dog is getting the hang of it, the more you want to test the theory. One successful way to do this is to increase distance, add distractions, and increase the duration of time on the mat.
The more you add in these elements, the more challenging training will become. However, it will also teach your dog to handle real-life situations when the excitement in the home might be overwhelming. It’s something that you will want to start small and end big.
Here’s an example of how to increase time on the mat:
After each interval, you can use your release cue to dismiss your dog and reward them. You can slowly replace the treats with a toy, so your dog doesn’t always rely on treat training as a form of reward.
You can move at your dog’s own pace, as every pooch will learn differently. The idea is to keep your dog’s attention and to alleviate a lot of frustration associated with training.
The entire idea is to get your dog to perform this action regardless of what’s going on in the environment. So as many distractions as you have to add in to make sure that they’re getting the hang of it, you may do so. However, if it seems like your dog needs help, or you need more support with training, take as many breaks as needed.
7. Try It Out Away from Home
It’s one thing if your dog obeys you in your own home. The real trick will be getting them to listen when you are elsewhere. You can start small by taking your mat outside or to a dog-friendly facility to practice.
You can start small by using the mat in the backyard, on the front porch, or even at the local park.
8. Be Consistent
When you’re training, it’s important to be consistent during the process. If you don’t repeat the necessary commands followed by actions consistently, it can take your dog a lot longer to catch on. There’s no need to create any confusion along the way.
Benefits of Mat Training
Mat training provides a calming alternative for your dog when things are chaotic around them. Whether it be a passerby, a knock on the door, or another kind of stimulation, mat training helps excitable dogs take a breather.
Much like teaching your dog to use a kennel, mat training can be equally beneficial in your home. It creates a consistent routine where your dog knows their boundaries.
In a nutshell, mat training:
Teaching your dog to go to a mat is equivalent to teaching your child to go to their room. It creates a safe space where your dog can relax and recuperate from whatever stimulation is happening in the home.
Don’t Use a Dog Bed
You won’t want to confuse your dog’s sanctuary with their learning space. If you try to combine a dog bed and a training mat, it can have negative connotations. We want our dogs to always know that the mat is associated with specific behaviors depending on the command given.
Getting your dog used to their mat mainly consists of ensuring that they’re comfortable. Once your dog is relaxed, you can slowly start the training process, utilizing different commands and training techniques. Once your dog familiarizes itself with the mat, that will be a safe space to continue learning.
Before long, your dog will use them whenever they’re instructed to do so. Remember, you should never use their bed or another napping spot, as this can confuse or impact their relationship with their peaceful spaces.
Featured Image Credit: Olga Alper, Shutterstock