Target Training Your Dog: Go to Your Mat

A Teachable Moment
By Sandra Mannion, March 2010, Updated June 2021

The ability to target a specific place is a valuable skill for your dog to have and will pay for the teaching time invested many times over. The finished exercise looks like this: On your cue—let’s use “Go to your mat”—your dog moves out to find her place, lying down and staying until the release word is given. This behavior is very useful for times when she needs to take a little break, or perhaps get out from underfoot while you’re busy or have guests.

Note that your dog should have a good “Down” and “Stay” under her collar before you begin. This exercise is a behavior chain in which we will initially reward for several different steps, or links.

1. As you give the cue, “Go to Your Mat,” step toward the target (in this case, her mat) and use a treat to lure your dog toward it; mark with “yes” and reward as soon as she steps onto the mat. Immediately follow with the cue “Down” and reward again. Release and repeat.

2. In small increments, gradually increase your distance from the mat, encouraging your dog to step out ahead toward it and anticipate the down once there. It may be helpful at this point to toss the treat onto the mat as you give the cue. This will encourage your dog to seek it out and complete the behavior on her own.


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3. Once your dog is showing that she grasps the concept by moving out ahead to reach the mat and anticipating the down, add the last link in the chain by cuing her to “Stay” after the down. When all the behavior links are in place, continue to strengthen the exercise by reinforcing increased targeting distance, increased stay duration and tolerance to distraction while staying.  

Here, Sandra teaches Bark dog Lola to go to her bed!

Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 59: Apr/May 2010

Photos by Mark Compton; video by Daniela Lopez