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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tuesday's Training TIP: MAT

FLD Mike stands in alert before I even hear the knocking on our door.  Gypsy blasts by him, howling, singing, and otherwise announcing the arrival.  Mike pursues in a black-lab-pant.

Mike. Mat.  I command, in vain.  When Gypsy is wound up like this, it is challenging to get Mike to pay attention to me.

But I persist.  I tell Gypsy, Quiet, and take Mike by the collar to put him on his mat in the kitchen.  Mike.  Down.   Now he looks at me and drops.  

Good boy, Mike!  Stay.  This is trying for FLD Mike.  Gypsy races by again to grab a Nylabone or Kong from the living room; whichever is closest will do.  She prances back, verbalizing as best she can around the Kong in her mouth.  I'm always amused at how many sounds she can make with a jaw-full!

Our friends enter.  Gypsy circles them, toy-in-mouth, and leads them into the living room.

The extra work on "mat" we've been doing pays off.  FLD Mike rocks his rear end onto his side and settles, content to watch.  Settling like this on "mat" is an excellent exercise in self-control, especially with the stimulation of someone new entering the household.


  • A "mat."  This can be a bath towel folded in half, or a door-mat, or a carpet scrap.
  • Treats (I use bits of my puppy's food--which are included in his daily total).

  • Start with your puppy on-leash.
  • Place the mat against a wall.

  • Your puppy should know the "down" command in low distraction settings.
  • Your puppy should "settle" well and hold a "down-stay" for several seconds.

  • That your puppy understands he or she must walk onto the mat at the command "mat" (some say "go to your mat").
  • That once on the mat your puppy should lie "down" and wait for further instructions, or release.

has two components, SEND and STAY:

1.  SEND
  • On leash, stand in front of the mat with your puppy on your left side.  (When I taught "mat" to clients, I frequently had them heel their puppy over the mat first, to make sure the puppy was not adverse to stepping on it.  It's up to you.)
  • Move toward the mat with your puppy and point to it.
  • As soon as your puppy touches the mat, drop a treat onto the mat.
  • Do NOT give the treat from your hand--you want your puppy to think the "mat" is the source of the treats.  Do not "lure" with the treat.  Drop the treat on the mat.  Treats on the mat will leave an enticing scent on the mat, attracting your puppy to the mat.  It won't take long for him or her to get the idea.
  • Release and repeat.
  • After a few times, add the word "mat" as you point.  Say the command ONLY ONE TIME.
  • Keep things fun and your puppy's enthusiasm up by encouraging him or her as he or she walks to the mat.
  • When your puppy is eagerly heading to the mat, try stopping a step away to "send" your puppy to the mat with your point and command.
  • Treat, release, and repeat!
Congratulations!  Your puppy is getting it!   After 15-20 minutes, release your puppy and take at least a one-hour break from any more training.  This exercise can be repeated several times a day (with breaks in-between).

Progress slowly!  If your puppy reliably (80% of the time) steps on the mat when you stop and point from one-step away, increase the distance to two-steps.  Stay at that distance until your puppy is reliable (80% of the time), and then increase by one more step.  You should also approach the mat from different directions, from the same distance.

Leave the "mat" in the initial place for at least a week, even when you are not working the command.  Anytime you notice your puppy going to the "mat" on his or her own, give praise ("Good mat!") and be ready to drop a few treats on the mat as a reward.

After practicing at least a week, try moving the mat to a different location.  You may find you'll have to start the exercise as if your puppy forgot what to do--that's because your puppy can't generalize.  (For more on generalization, see my "Definitions" page.)

Rosie & her "wubbie."
The mat should be a pleasurable place for your puppy.  I used a folded towel to teach my first Future Leader dog, Rosie, "mat."  Rosie so enjoyed her "mat" that soon she carried it everywhere--here in the sun in the kitchen, under my writing desk upstairs, next to the couch at the end of the day.  We dubbed it her "wubbie."   

FLD Mike thinks being sent to his "mat" is a game--I "hide" his mat upstairs, down in the basement, in the bathroom, wherever...and he searches until he finds it.

2.  STAY
  • After your puppy is reliable (remember that 80% of the time rule?) going to the mat on command from a step or two away, and from different directions, command your puppy into a "down" on the mat.
  • Drop a treat where he or she can get it without moving out of the "down."
  • Have your puppy hold the "down" for a few seconds.
  • Release and repeat!
  • Gradually increase the time your puppy holds the "down" position.
  • Introduce distractions to insure that your puppy will stay.  For instance, have someone walk by, or play with a toy just out of reach.  Remember to praise and reward the correct behavior!

  • Gradually reduce the treats.
  • Remove the leash if your puppy is reliably going to the "mat," but be prepared to re-clip the leash in a new setting, or when there are bigger distractions.
  • If your puppy seems "lost" when you try to send him or her to the mat from a distance, you might have increased the distance too quickly.  Guide him or her to the mat and next time move closer before sending.
  • Give your puppy a special treat, such as a peanut-butter-filled Kong, when you want your puppy to stay on the mat for longer periods.  Eventually, your puppy should be able to stay on the mat until he or she is released.

FLD Mike on his "mat."

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