We are huge lovers of teaching “go to mat” to manage behaviors that are troublesome, safety risks, or just plain annoying. For example, for a dog who goes nuts when people come in the door.
Ender used to respond to anyone coming in the house by turning into a little windup toy of barking. Everybody received barking: family, friends, and strangers! And although he’s tiny, his bark packs a punch! We recommended to his family that going to a mat would be a great thing for Ender to do instead. They liked the idea.
Ender had a mat four feet from the door, but that was too close for many situations. The home has several stories, We ended up adding another mat one floor up, and one that is two floors up. The family sends Ender to whichever mat most fits the situation at hand—usually having to do with who was coming in the door.
Ender now rocks this behavior: he gets OFF the couch and goes up the stairs to get on the mat. Mom and Dad are working on being able to verbally cue him to go to his mat from different parts of the house.
The four-year-old in the family is crazy about Ender and his mat. She wanted very much to be in on the training, so she got to be a distraction for Ender (just like in real life). Ender, can you hold your stay on a mat while a toddler jumps on and off of it? Yes, he can! The youngster has also learned to cue Ender to lie down by throwing both her hands in the air. The cuteness is pretty much overwhelming.
Ender’s reliable “go to mat” behavior is the perfect solution for a small, excitable dog in a busy household with an infant, a toddler, and frequently, her playmates. And people can now come in the door in peace.
Lots of owners struggle with their dogs’ door manners. Why use corrections and aversives when you can teach an alternative behavior instead? The humans get a dog they can manage, the kids are safe, and the dog is happy to do the behavior—all without the risk of increased fear and aggression that comes with aversives or corrections. Win-win-win-win.