Although often overlooked in basic obedience, “place” or “mat” training your puppy can be as crucial and helpful as teaching your dog to potty outside or come when they are called.
Although it should always be used in conjunction with adequate exercise and playtime, place training is a helpful command that can stop various behavioral problems.
For instance, one study shows that the two most significant causes of separation anxiety in dogs are lack of exercise and hyper-attachment to the owner. While exercise is essential, place training is crucial to teaching your puppy to cope with the anxiety of being separate from you.
What is the “place” or “mat” command?
The place or mat command is simply the practice of telling your dog to go to their bed, elevated cot, mat, or crate and to stay there until you release them.
It is not a punishment. Instead, it is a way to teach them the following skills:
- The self-discipline they need to follow commands over a certain period of time
- Be comfortable staying on their own
- And secure knowing that you will always come back, so there’s no need to feel anxious
It also gives them a job to do or an alternative behavior to engage in when they might feel triggered or aroused. Which is perfect for over-stimulated puppies.
Instead of charging the door when they hear the doorbell ring, they can learn to go to their mat instead and wait for your release.
Instead of nipping at your heels while you are working or cooking, they can also be told to wait in their place.
Place training should never be negative.
That is why it should always be done calmly, gradually, and with loads of positive reinforcement.
If your puppy has worked up to stay in their place for a more extended period, say a half-hour or more, be sure to give them toys or chewies to keep them stimulated while they wait to be released. (Which is why we created the place training mat, the Puppy Play Mat which is available on Amazon.)
Unless, of course, they fall asleep, then feel free to let sleeping dogs lie!
Remember, place training should never be used on its own as a way to settle your puppy down. It always needs to be used in conjunction with exercising your puppy and providing them with enough mental stimulation throughout their day.
After this, going to their place becomes a natural part of their resting routine.
Here is a video of our very own Alex Writz explaining the “Place” command:
Why train your puppy to go to their place?
There are multiple psychological benefits to training your puppy the “place” command.
- It helps keep them out from underfoot when you are busy or in potentially dangerous situations, like cooking with hot food.
- It teaches them a straightforward routine that delineates between exercise time, playtime, and time to settle down.
An out-of-control puppy can learn to calm down using the place training technique. But also be sure to read our guide to calming down your puppy.
- Place training also teaches your puppy that it’s okay to be separate from you and gives them security in that fact.
Ultimately, it is one of the best tools to avoid behavioral problems like separation anxiety.
The routine use of “place” training helps create a disciplined routine for your puppy without you ever having to resort to punishment or negative reinforcement, which may damage your relationship with them.
Or if you feel you’ve hurt your relationship with your puppy, then you might like to read, my puppy doesn’t like me.
When to use the place or mat command
There are countless reasons to train your puppy to “go place” or whatever command word you choose that your puppy will recognize.
Some of them include:
When you are eating and you don’t want your puppy to climb all over you.
When visitors come over, and your pup is a bit overeager in their greetings, it’s helpful to tell them to go to their place rather than jump all over your guests.
If your dog is showing signs of aggression or you don’t trust them with children, it’s best to be able to send them straight to their crate than risk an unpleasant situation.
If your puppy suffers from separation anxiety and needs to learn that it’s okay to have some distance between you and them rather than act out and become destructive.
When you are cooking, you need your puppy to lay quietly on their mat rather than harass you for a treat and risk an accident.
If you visit the vet and you want to simply point at the scale to have your pup climb on themselves to get weighed.
If you are working from home and your puppy is often a distraction from getting anything done.
If you are outside in a park or on a hike and need your dog to stay put while you set up a tent or keep them out the way during some other activity.
As you can see, place training your puppy has great versatility and can be super helpful in everyday life.
Training the mat command to your puppy
Steps to place training in the beginning: Starting slow and setting your puppy up for success
Get a clicker, or get your puppy used to a high-pitch sound like “Yes!’ so that they know this sound means they have done something right and are about to get a reward. You can learn about starting clicker training by watching this video:
Prepare your house by placing mats, elevated cots, dog begs, or crates at strategic places that you may want your puppy to go to on command. This can be outside your kitchen, in a living room corner, or at the side of your bed.
Wherever you feel your dog should be able to lie safely out of the way for short to medium stretches.
We of course recommend our Puppy Play Mat with Teething Chew Toys as this gives them more bits and bobs to keep their interest and chew on than a standard dog bed, plus it has a memory foam mat to keep them comfortable.
We actually made the puppy play mat for this exact reason, as we found with our dogs that the “Place” command has been the most useful training tool, and we wanted to design something that kept them engaged in the same spot.
Take two sets of treats. One should be a high-value treat your puppy might love, such as American Journey Salmon Recipe Grain-Free Soft & Chewy Training Bits Dog Treats, and the other should be your pup’s regular kibble.
For best results, start this training on an empty stomach when they are hungry.
Place the mat on the ground without saying a word. Wait for your pup to show interest and immediately click or give a verbal cue to mark the behavior and reward them with a scattering of treats on the mat.
As your puppy learns that being interested in the mat earns them rewards, start keeping the high-value treats when they do something clever, like lying down on the mat.
Use the low-value kibble for when they just stand on it. This should teach them quickly that they get the best reward for laying down on their mat.
If your puppy leaves their mat, all treats and cues end. Simply ignore them until they come back. You can also lure them back with a favorite toy if they are toy motivated and have a low food drive.
Condition your dog that the mat is the place to be for attention, praise, treats, and toys.
Introduce a release cue such as “all done,’ to let them know it’s okay to get off the mat.
To begin with, don’t ask them to stay in their “place” for a long time—only three to five seconds before you release them. Over time you will build up the length of time your puppy can spend in their place and how far away you can move from them.
Steps for advanced place-training
1. Add time on the mat and distance
When your puppy has learned that saying “mat” or “go-to place” is their signal to hop onto their mat, you can gradually start lengthening the amount of time you ask them to stay on it and how far away you are from them, too.
Remember, puppies have short attention spans. To begin with, never ask for more than a few seconds, then add five minutes for every month of your pup’s age.
So a three-month-old puppy should be able to stay on their mat for up to fifteen minutes. However, it’s a good idea to keep them busy at this time with a puzzle toy or a filled Kong to keep them from getting bored and going wondering.
Set them up for success by throwing a treat on their mat while they are lying on it and stepping away for a second. Step back quickly before they have time to think about getting up and following you and reward them for staying.
Do this intermittently (although not too often to avoid them getting bored by the repetition) and gradually increase the amount of time you step away.
If they get up and follow you, just lead them back quietly to their place and try again; this time, don’t move so far away or stay too long out of reach. Make a big fuss if they hold the “place” after making a mistake.
Stay patient and upbeat, never allow yourself to get frustrated, and always end on a good note. Remember, this is a marathon, not a race.
Gradually, extend how far you move away from your puppy and for how long. Always check back in regularly with a treat, or keep them busy with a toy.
This gives them the security that you are always coming back and makes the mat a positive place.
2 . Adding distractions
When you feel your puppy has a good handle on getting on the mat or bed on cue and only getting off when getting the release command, you can start adding distractions.
To begin with, you may want to keep your puppy in a long line to block them if the distraction proves too alluring, so you can check them and lead them back to the mat if they stray.
Start with something simple, like letting a ball roll past gently while they are on the mat. Reward heavily if they manage to resist going after the ball.
Allow for mistakes since this is how your puppy learns. If they do get off the mat, don’t punish them. Simply take them back to the mat and try again.
You can gradually increase more and more distractions, such as the doorbell ringing. You can also fill a plastic bottle with rocks as they grow more advanced and chuck it to land in their vicinity.
You want them to associate the mat with a safe place to stay even if there is a loud noise or something unexpected.
3. Take the place command to new places
When your puppy is reliable about their “place” or “mat” command and goes there naturally on cue and waits for your release, despite distractions like new animals, people, or loud noises, it’s time to take them outside.
Start by putting your mat in the garden. You may have to go back several steps as there will be new smells and distractions for your pup to contend with, and you never want to ask for too much too soon.
Once reliable in the garden, try taking them out on walks to quiet places and trying the command there.
Again, start with short timespans and low distractions and reward heavily for any progress.
Over time, take your puppy to busier and busier and busier areas, asking for the same behavior.
They should learn that even if they are somewhere exciting like a dog park or farmer’s market if the mat is on the ground and they are told to “go place,” then it’s their job to stay there until released.
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A final word
A “place” or “mat” command is not a punishment or a time-out for your puppy.
It should never be used as negative reinforcement for bad behavior.
Rather, it’s a crucial tool to teach your dog that it’s okay not to be stuck to you every second of the day, and teach them to settle down and emotionally regulate their more excitable impulses.
It helps give you some space while working and can also keep your puppy safe, such as when you are cooking and don’t want them underfoot.
Although it is often overlooked as a basic obedience command, you will wonder how you ever got by without it once you have a successfully place-trained puppy.
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