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Peaceful Meals & Get Togethers - Teach Your Dog “Go To The Mat”! – Putting It All Together!

For the past week, you have been working on adding the “Down” position to the Place”, “Go to Mat” or “Park It” game (whichever you have named it). Your dogs should be offering the “Down” position or at least beginning to offer it before you give the “Down” cue.


It’s now time to build duration!  Like with all of the other steps, 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.




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, again, being mindful to drop the food in between their front paws so they stay in the down position. 


With your dog in the “Down” position on the “mat”, wait 1-2 seconds and mark and reward again.  Stand back up, wait 1-2 seconds, mark and reward.  Stand up, wait 2-4 seconds, mark and reward.  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.


Repeat the above sequence but this time, after the “2-4” second rep, mark and reward after 1 second, then 3, then 4, then 1, then 3, then 5, then 1, then 1, then 2, then give your Release word and start again.


Repeat the variable reward sequence one more time and then end your training session.  You can pick it up again later in the day and start back at the beginning of mini duration sequence.


When your dog is doing well staying in the “Down” position for 5-7 seconds (remember to vary the time between 1-7 seconds as you progress), it’s time for the next step – beginning movement.


Start the game as you have been and when your dog is in a “Down” position on the “mat”, rock back on one foot and then bring it right back.  Mark and reward your dog staying in the down position.  Repeat this with the other foot. 


Next, step to the side with one foot and bring it right back.  Mark and reward your dog for staying in the down position.  Repeat this with the other foot.


End with a short duration of 3-5 seconds with you standing still – mark, reward, release.


For some dogs, this will be challenging as movement can be a trigger for them to move. That’s why I start with one foot planted and the other foot either rocking back or stepping to the side and bring that foot right back in.


Repeat this set again and end your session for a short period (5-15 minutes).  Repeat the entire sequence again and then end your session until later in the day.


It won’t take long for your dog to understand that staying in the “Down” position brings reinforcement. 


When you feel your dog is doing well with this, begin to take 1-2 steps backwards and/or to the side, coming back to center, marking and rewarding.


If at any point, your dog gets up from the “Down” position on the bed, give them a non-reinforcing marker (“no” “uh-oh”) and then repeat the “Down” cue. Have them wait 1-2 seconds and then mark and reward.  


If your dog is getting up often, you may be going to fast, asking too much or training too long.  Always end a training session when you like what you see and your dog is doing what you want – this way they are leaving the training session with the memory of what to do, as opposed to mistakes they made.


Continue to vary the amount of time as you continue to increase it (2 seconds, 5, 3, 8, 1, 3,2,10, 4, 2, 8, 5, 10, 3, 1, 5, 2, 9, 6, 12, etc) in between marking/rewarding, remembering that as you add duration and/or increase distance, it gets harder for your dog.  Set training sessions up so your dog is practicing what you want them to remember as opposed to correcting what you don’t want.


Pro Tip:  Work on building small amounts of duration / distance with the “down” position separately from the Go to Mat game to give them more opportunities to learn this! 

Playing this game a couple of times a day and building duration and distance slowly (at the rate your dog can learn) will help them learn how reinforcing staying on their “mat” is.  You can practice this in the evening as well while you’re winding down, watching TV and keeping their “mat” near you.  Give your dog a toy, bully stick or chew toy to occupy themselves and continue to mark and reward periodically for them staying on their “mat”.  Keep these sessions short as well (commercial breaks work great for this).  It won’t be long before your dog will go to their “mat” and hang out while your eating dinner or talking with guests!


Happy Training!



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