This training tip is supplied by dog trainer Julie Norman Jenkins, training director at Paws4Ever in Mebane, N.C., and captain of top-winning flyball team, Fur Fun. In addition to flyball, Jenkins is an accomplished competitor in agility, freestyle, and disc dog.
“Go to place” is an extremely useful behavior for the family dog to learn. You can use any mat, bed, or defined area to teach this behavior, and it is easily generalized to other locations. The finished product is a dog who immediately goes to his mat, assumes a stationary position (sit or down) and stays there until released. It is extremely useful for exuberant greeters, dogs who get under foot in the kitchen, or table beggars. A dog who knows that staying on his mat earns him all the things he wants is a pleasure to have in the house.
Get out your mat, your dog, and some tasty treats. As with any new behavior, using a clicker or a marker word like “yes” comes in handy. Position yourself near the mat, and mark (with YES or a click) any time your dog touches the mat. Toss your treat onto the mat after marking. The more feet on the mat, the more you mark and reward. Once your dog is happily standing on his mat for rewards, step away and use a release command like “Okay!” and toss a treat to encourage your dog to come off the mat.
When your dog steps back on the mat, continue to mark and reward, then wait a moment or two for him to offer you a sit or a down. Do NOT give a sit or down verbal cue – it should be the dog’s idea!
Lavishly reward the sit or down with a few more treats, then toss another treat away and give your OKAY release. Continue this little game until your dog is happily running back to his mat and assuming a sit or down position all on his own. At this point, you are ready to add a cue like “Mat” or “Go to your place.” Do not give extraneous cues like “Down” or “Stay.” The mat behavior is inclusive of down/sit and stay until released. Adding extra cues muddies the waters. Be consistent about using your release cue to let the dog know his mat time is finished.
My dogs have all learned that the mat is the BEST place to hang out whenever I have food (cooking in the kitchen, eating a meal). I make a point of rewarding them for being on the mat during these times. It certainly works well to get them out from under foot and keeps them from begging.
Have fun teaching this new behavior, and get creative about using it in every day life with your family dog!
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