St Bernard on mat

Hi everyone on this wet and chilly day in Kloof, KwaZulu Natal.  Too wet to work out of doors so I thought it was a good opportunity to introduce Bo, and you, to Mat work.  I was first introduced to a training game called “Go to Mat” or “GTM” by a Lesley McDevitt who wrote “Control Unleashed”.  I have been teaching my dogs to go to their mat for many years now and I love it so much that I include it in all my classes.  We will be spending the next two or three days on this challenge.

When this game is mastered it will give your dog a great behaviour that has clear expectations for him, no matter what distractions are present.  The potential applications are endless.  You can take a mat anywhere.  You can send your dog to his mat when you are eating dinner, when you are preparing a meal in the kitchen.  You can send your dog to his mat when your guests arrive or when the doorbell rings.

There are five parts to training the Go to Mat game:

Step 1:  Get on the mat

Step 2:  Find the mat.

Step 3:  Sitting or lying on the mat.

Step 4:  Teaching the release.

Step 5:  Adding Duration, Distance and Distractions.


Take any mat, blanket or towel that your dog hasn’t seen before and hold it for a while, examining it carefully (with your dog watching).  You will be using the same mat while your dog is learning the exercise.  Without a word and with a flourish, put your mat on the floor close to you where you think the dog will naturally be when she realizes you have food – probably right in front of you, but not too close.  She will come over and stand on the mat facing you.  As she touches the mat with her paws be ready to mark and treat 5 times while she is on the mat.  Toss the 6th treat OFF the mat so that your dog has to leave the mat to get the treat. Be ready to mark and treat 5 times while your dog is on the mat.    After eating the treat she will most likely come back on to the mat and when she does you’ll once again repeat the process.  Repeat this whole procedure 2 or 3 times over 2 or3 sessions.

Now we need to see if she can find the mat and get on it.  Even with the mat a little further away from you she should go straight to it.  What if she still doesn’t get it and persists in sitting in front of you (off the mat) and gazing hopefully at you.  Although it will not help her learn if you start tossing treats on to the mat you can move around the mat so that she responds to your body position.  No luring, gesturing, vocalizing – just wait… Remember, the art of training is in how you set things up to help your dog succeed.  The learning block might have happened because you raised your criteria too rapidly in the first couple of steps.  Remember – baby steps.

I did record Bo doing Step 1 today but it was so gloomy and dark that I decided not to post it.  No rain forecast for tomorrow so I should be able to get a better video.  In the meantime this is a summary of Step One which you should repeat at least over two sessions.  I know that you’ll enjoy this game.  And so will your dog.

GTM Progressions






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