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Peaceful Meals & Get Togethers - Teach Your Dog “Go To The Mat”! – PART 3 - Adding "Down"

Last week I shared the next steps in naming this fun game with your dogs.  Some are calling it “Place”, “Go to Mat” or “Park It”, but regardless of what you are calling it, your dogs are now beginning to associate this new word with getting on the “mat”.  We are now going to add another step to this game!


If your dog needs a little more time with the “naming” step, that’s okay! It’s better to take a little extra time at this step than to create more confusion.


Keep sessions short and fun!  Use your release cue and the Get it game to repeat the fun during each session as I talked about in the first article.




By now you’ve been playing the game in different rooms of your home and having your dog come onto the “mat” from different directions using your new cue word.  The next step is to add the “down” behavior once they are on the “mat”.


Begin the game just like you’ve been doing with you on one side of the mat and saying, “Get it” and tossing food away from the mat for your dog to get it.


When your dog is about 3-5 steps away from the mat, give your cue word but this time, tell your dog to “down” as soon as they are on the mat. The moment your dog is in the down position, mark it (“yes” or clicker) and drop food on the mat, but this time be sure the food is in between their front paws so they stay in the down position.  Just like you were doing before, drop 4-6 pieces, one piece at a time.  This will help them learn that staying in the down position pays really well! Be careful the food doesn’t bounce off the mat causing your dog to get up. 


Just as you’re giving the last piece of food, give your Release cue (Release, Free, Beak) before your dog gets up, tell them “Get it” and start the game over again.


“But my dog doesn’t know the ‘Down’ cue!”


That’s okay! As your dog comes onto the mat, slowly bring your hand down towards the mat and wait for your dog to go into a down position without saying anything.  In the beginning, if your dog is off the mat a little bit, it’s okay.  We want to reward intention and effort.  After 1-2 sessions, your dog will be staying all the way on the mat.


When your dog goes into the “down” position, mark it (“yes” or clicker), and then drop food, one at a time, in between their paws as their reward. Again, we want to be careful that the food doesn’t bounce off the mat causing your dog to get up. 


Just as you’re giving the last piece of food, give your Release cue (Release, Free, Beak) before your dog gets up, tell them “Get it” and start the game over again.


You may ask why I refrain from using a “down” cue as you’re waiting for your dog to go into the down position.  Good question!  I want to build a behavior before I name it. Dogs associate words with behaviors so if I am saying “down” while my dog is standing, dipping their shoulders or even sitting while I am helping them learn this position, they may associate the “down” cue with whatever behavior they are doing at that time.


Remember, when we first started this game, we hadn’t named it yet, correct?  We built the behavior using the Get it game and having our dog come back to us and marking/rewarding when they came onto their “mat”.  Same thing with the down.  Once our dogs are going into the position more quickly and consistently, we can then name the behavior.  


Pro Tip:  Work on building the “down” position separately from the Go to Mat game as well to give them more opportunities to learn this valuable position!  Here’s a video on how I begin to teach “down” without saying anything until the dog is consistently doing the behavior.


My motto is, “Build the behavior and name it when you love it!”



Regardless of whether your dog knows the “Down” cue or is just learning to go into the down position, they will begin to understand that lying down on the “mat” is what brings the reward, and they will begin to start offering it on their own.


And that’s it! Super fun!  The key is to give your “Place” or “Go to Mat” cue before your dog gets to the mat, so they hear the word and then do the behavior and once on the mat, give your “down” cue (or help them), then mark it (“yes” or clicker) and then reward!


Play this 4-6 times and then pick up the “mat” and put it away.  Give your dog a short break to think about the game (about 3-5 min) and bring the “mat” out again and do another round and then put the “mat” away until later in the day or the next day.


Again, play this game in different parts of your house and change the direction in which you toss the food.

Playing this game a couple of times a day for a few days will get you and your dog ready for the next step!


Here’s a video of a client just beginning to add “Down” to the “Place” the game! You’ll hear her use the Greek word, “Kato” for Down.




Watch for the final step in this fun game soon!


Happy Training!



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