Wouldn’t you just love to have a dog that settled on a mat, no matter where that mat was?
Teaching the settle on the mat is wonderful for all dogs, particularly the excited, anxious, nervous and energetic ones. Imagine enjoying a lovely tête-à-tête with your loved one instead of trying to manage a dog begging and barking at the table. Can you picture your dog chilling out on his mat while you work out in your home gym? Or how about simply being able to prepare a meal without having your furry companion in the way?
With just a little bit of effort, your dog can learn to settle on a mat no matter where you are – the veterinarian’s, the car, the dog training school, or the dog sitter’s. We recently took our dog Everest to my parents’ place for the weekend. He had a wonderful weekend and I believe it was mostly thanks to mat training. Because it was a new environment for him, the weekend could have been a stressful, unpleasant and exhausting experience for everyone. Instead, it was quite the opposite. The “magic” ingredient was a comfy mat that he’d learn to chill out on. It allowed him to have his safe place in a house where nothing was familiar to him. Instead of pacing back and forth, or following us around, he just hung out on his mat. Instead of getting in the way, he relaxed on his mat and chewed on his bone. Instead of getting into things he shouldn’t be getting into, you guessed it! he took a long nap on his mat. After we left, we received a message from the hosts (my parents) saying that Everest had an open invitation to come anytime and lie down on his mat.
Teaching your dog to enjoy being on his mat is easy and it will pay off. If you’re starting from scratch, your first task is to teach your dog to go over to the mat. You can point to the mat, then reward generously once your dog is on it. You can then increase the distance from which you stop, aiming to be at least 5 feet away and able to send your dog to the mat. The next step is to wait for your dog to lie down. This can be prompted once or twice, but if you have also been doing a lot of down stays, it should come fairly easily. If it doesn’t, then you know what you’ll need to practice!
Once your dog is going happily to the mat and lying down, you’re ready to work on building the duration of the stay. Stay close to the dog during this training phase . Once your dog can stay on the mat for a minute or two, then you can start working on increasing the distance. Make the training fun, include mini training breaks, play sessions and a general attitude of lighthearted enjoyment rather than a drill-instructor attitude.
More than just teaching the dog to lie down on a mat, the goal of mat training is to teach the dog to be super relaxed when on the mat. I call this part the “do nothing” exercise. It may feel a bit awkward, but getting comfortable sending your dog to his mat to do nothing is a key to helping him settle down. Mat training is a wonderful way to work on impulse control, as well as teaching the dog to be calm.
I can assure you that investing a bit of time teaching your dog to relax on his or her mat is something you won’t regret doing.