Places! Mat Training for Multiple Dogs

Assigned mats!
Assigned mats! Sorry about your front legs, Summer, but I clearly haven’t been firm enough about “on the mat” criteria, have I?

I recently got a new reader with multiple dogs (Seven of them! Hi Donna!) who was very complimentary about my posts on that topic. I respond very well to positive reinforcement, so here is another “multiple dogs” post.

The previous post I am most proud of discusses our work on individual releases. They come in so handy! And thinking about it made me realize I’ve never written about our specific mat training for the kitchen. Perhaps it may be helpful for some others. It has been very useful to me.

Last year as I was struggling along with pushy Clara, I decided to create “Assigned Seats” in the kitchen. I train all my dogs to get on mats and stay there, both on cue and as an offered behavior. I generally have mats strategically placed all around the house (i.e. strewn around). Most of the time it is “finders, keepers” for who gets what mat. But I wanted to get Clara out of the way of the other dogs and decided to teach them each to get on a particular mat when in the kitchen.

I bought Clara a special elevated bed, and she liked it right off, which was great. It’s a little less convenient to jump off of than just a mat on the floor, so it helped with the stay as well as designating exactly where her place was. Summer and Zani got to go in their long-term preferred places in front. Later Clara chewed up one of the four plastic legs of the bed, so it is propped on three, but she still likes it. I’ll get another bed one of these days.

I actually wrote a training plan for the behavior, and mostly followed it, although the dogs all progressed faster than I expected.

I chose a unique cue for the behavior since it wasn’t just go to mat, it was go to a particular mat. My cue was “Places!” in a singsong tone. Here’s the training plan.

Training Plan for Places in the Kitchen

Behavior: Dogs get and stay on assigned mats in kitchen on verbal cue until released. Goal duration 15 minutes.

 The point of this behavior: Give each dog an assigned place, with Clara positioned so she can’t harass the other dogs or resource guard me. Work up duration methodically and in a disciplined way with a new cue. I haven’t been methodical enough with their generic go to mat cue.


  1. Use high value treats. Shape each dog, separately, onto their assigned place without other mats or dogs in the room.
  2. Practice repetitions.
  3. Teach them the new cue for going to this specific place: “Places!”
  4. Work each dog, separately, up to a 5 minute stay at their place, including moderate kitchen distractions.
  5. Switch to a different physical mat in the same place so the dog knows it is the place, not the mat, that is assigned. Remove cue if necessary to reshape the behavior.
  6. Take cue off. Add the other dogs’ mats into the room and reshape the behavior, only rewarding when they get onto their own place. Move myself and the dog around the room for different approaches.
  7. Put the cue back on when they are very solid about ignoring the other mats: 80-90%.
  8. Run a test with each pair of the three dogs. See how well they can perform their behavior with one other dog in the room. Decide if anyone needs more practice by herself. Do repetitions.
  9. When everyone is at about the same level, practice going to place with each pair with the cue.
  10. Also have one dog in there already and send another in on cue.
  11. Practice duration up to 5 minutes with each pair.
  12. Run a test with all 3 dogs together. Decide if any individual needs more practice at a lower level or if any pair is a problem.
  13. Repeat Steps 8-11 with all three dogs.
  14. Work behavior duration up to 15 minutes with period between treats up to 5 minutes.

Possible distractions besides the usual body  movements: walk into main kitchen area. Stand still looking at them. Open fridge, drawers, cabinets. Sit on floor. Stand staring into space. Sit down at the table. Drop food. Put things on the floor. Keep back turned. Leave kitchen. Treat another dog. Pet another dog. Act like I’m done training (without release).

Here is the finished behavior.

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

By now duration is not an issue. They are often there for 40 minutes or more while I cook. Clara is so good about staying on her place that if I throw her a treat without releasing, and the throw is bad, she just stays on her bed and watches Summer break her stay to go running after it. (Obviously, I reinforce Clara heavily for staying put!)

Oh by the way, I love having behaviors that are cued by actions and situations rather than verbal cues, and I have experimented over the years with having my walking into the work area of the kitchen be a cue for everyone to get on their mats. It often happens that way, but it is not a strong cue since I tend to walk in and out so much. So if I am going to be in the work area for any length of time and they want to be in the kitchen, I use the verbal cue.

Gratuitous adorable picture of baby Clara on on mat
Gratuitous adorable picture of baby Clara on a mat

I do have to be vigilant, because if I forget, Clara will start drifting forward and get on one of the front mats instead. But the good news is that she will yield if she is on another dog’s mat if that dog approaches. You can see her do that in a couple of the takes in the movie.  (Yay Clara! I never thought I would see the day!)

Watching the movie made me a little concerned about Clara’s running to Summer’s mat first, even though she yielded. With a little experimentation, though, I found out that the only time she doesn’t run straight to her bed is when I call them all in from the front room (when they run in from the right). I did that for a little variety in the video, but never in real life. We can just go back to Step 6 and practice that approach to get a fluent response.

But there’s always Summer’s scooching forward and stretching the definition of “on the mat,” isn’t there? I’m never quite done, even when I think I am!

Any other multiple dogs tips out there?

Coming up:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

27 thoughts on “Places! Mat Training for Multiple Dogs

  1. Love this post Eileen! I’ve just added a 9 month old to the family and am sorting out how to work the new guy into our routines – or maybe make new routines. Training Places! is such a great idea. Unfortunately I haven’t done a very good job on duration with dog #1 so it might be a while before I get anything near a 40 minute stay with two dogs. Really 40 minutes?! Very nice. Do you have a video where you are training duration by any chance?

    On another note, I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your blog and how important I think the work you are doing is. I’m a relatively new dog owner. I spend (too) many hours on the internet learning how to train or solve problems or just figure things out. There is a lot of stuff out there! a lot of really awful stuff and quite a bit of really good stuff. Without people like you taking the time to post the good stuff, people like me would, well, we would be stuck with the awful stuff. I know this must take huge amounts of your time so just thought I’d let you know it’s very much appreciated.

    1. Colleen, thank you so much! Your thanks are my R+!

      That’s funny about duration because I normally hate training duration. But let me see if I can find a video about it that I like. There are lots of ways to do it. I get good duration on the mats in the kitchen because it’s just so easy to give them all a treat now and then while I am cooking. And the mats are more comfortable for them than hanging out on the floor. And yes, really 40 minutes. But just to be clear, that’s not 40 minutes on one treat. I probably give them something every 5 – 10 minutes. And sometimes it’s something REALLY good, to keep them interested.

      I’ll get back to you. Thanks again for your kind words.

    2. Hi again Colleen! This is my favorite video on teaching Stay. It’s very low-key, in a class, but shows the beginning stages of duration done in a lovely way. Here is another good one. A lot of people don’t use a clicker for duration behaviors, but what she does works just fine if you like that.

      If these aren’t what you were looking for, and you are wondering about extending duration, we can talk about the kinds of numerical schemes that people use to extend duration. Just let me know.

  2. This was a great post and I’d like to try this with my two dogs (10 month old lab/Pyrenees mix and 11 year old lab/pit bull mix.) All the steps you listed are a great path to follow. However, I have one stumbling block.

    I have been able to teach the puppy to go to her bed on cue (“Bed”) by using a leash. I don’t know how to teach the mat command. How can I shape the behavior? How do I show my dogs that I want them to walk over to the mat and lie down? Do you have a YouTube video that shows the step by step of shaping the mat behavior. I’m very new to this and need lots of explanation. Do you know of a post somewhere that would help?

    Thanks for your great blog. I’m learning a lot about treating my dogs in a more humane and dog friendly way. Please keep posting!


    Dave Chouiniere

    1. Hi Dave! Glad you like the post and the blog. You have a good point–this post is only useful if people have already taught their dog to get on a mat in the first place. I personally don’t have a beginning Go to Mat video, but I’m thinking of a couple I can probably find. In the meantime, the best instructions I think you can get for free are part of Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels. She has a book (print and ebook) but has left the “old” version on the web for people to use. Go to Mat is in Level 2, and here is the link. Just keep scrolling down until you get to Go to Mat (but it wouldn’t hurt to read the rest! Sue makes things really understandable and approachable).

      I’ll get back later with a couple of videos. Like I said, I know of several, but I want to make sure to get one that shows the very very early steps of capturing the dog stepping onto the mat. I can’t make that video myself until I get another dog (can’t believe I said that) since mats are like magnets to all my dogs by now.

      1. OK Dave, here is a video about teaching a puppy to get on a mat and lie down. And it’s by Sarah Owings, who just commented in this thread! She makes really nice, clear teaching videos. “Why Teach a Puppy Go-to-Mat?” She shows it step by step, and she has a really great method to get the puppy on the mat in the first place. Notice that the “mat” is obviously very different from the rug. Your pup may not lie down as readily as the one she is training, but one of us can give you some tips if you run into any problems.

  3. Thank you! Thank you! Your girls are ADORABLE – really love those expectant sweet faces. This post & video are very helpful – the kitchen is the craziest place because we’re usually only all in there for dog feeding. Being Fox Terriers they all have springs in their hind legs and are jumping up and down like mad – All will sit and wait as the dinner bowls are set in front of them and they are all released at once to go to their bowls and eat. It’s the feeding prep time that is so annoying and this type of training will be helpful! Thanks for taking the time to focus on multiples 🙂
    Donna & the Seldom Synchronized Seven

    1. Thanks, Donna! You know, I used to deliberately work my dogs up about their supper. Get them all excited and barking. That was fun, but I later decided that I would rather not reinforce all that barking. So I made myself a project of teaching the ringleader, my little rat terrier Cricket, not to bark as I was preparing meals. Poor dear, it turned her world upside down, but I’m glad I did it. You can see the before and after in this video. It’s right at the beginning.

      If you are interested in how I did it, I do have footage of it and could put together a post sometime. It would be harder with a big gang like yours though. Pretty sure you’d have to train them separately, or you would be waiting a Really. Long. Time. before their meals!

      1. What I sweet girl – you must miss her mightily! The video had all the Chi’s barking along with Cricket – whatever she was saying they had to comment on it. It’s encouraging to me to see the work you’ve done – makes me want to jump on it. Of course I’d love to see the “how you did it” footage!!

        1. Oh Donna, I miss her so much. Dear little dog. Hah. Got yours started up, did she?

          I’ll put it on my list to post about that process. It was one of the first things I ever trained on my own and I was so proud when it worked.

  4. Love the video !!! Especially when they all crash into each other !! Poor zani is trying so hard to get to her place .. its adorable. And 40 mins is AMAZING !!! Absolutely love it !!

    Baby Clara is precious btw !! ,

    Love reading your blog its so nice to read and see someone with such passion for training even if they don’t consider themselves a trainer. Although I would beg to differ !! I wish people would realize how much training they do on an everyday basis ….whether formal or not we’re both (dog and human) always learning !!

    But I do always appreciate how simply you are able to explain things, so often I read papers and posts that use these huge scientific terms and while I so understand them its so much nicer not to have to read between the bull 🙂

    Keep up the great work with your girls and keep blogging !!!

    1. Hi Ashley, and thanks for commenting! I love your point about how we are always training. I used to think that was rhetoric when people would say that. It took me a long time to figure out that it was literally true. 24/7, our dogs get consequences for their actions and learn what works.

      Thanks for your kind words.

  5. That was wonderful! What a nice group of dogs, and such an elegant trick/solution to kitchen antics.

  6. Eileen, this is so awesome! I just love how happy and excited they all are. The looks on their faces as they wait expectantly for their treats! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Lovely! We use this a lot at our house, in different rooms. My favourite visually is my bedroom, where “Go to bed” cues Dilly to get up on my bed and Tulip to disappear into her crate by the desk. As someone who is wheelchair dependent, I need to know the dogs are safely out of the way when I’m making 3 point turns in narrow spaces. I really like your “Places!” Cue. I’ve been thinking about one for the car, and that would work very well.

    The only multiple dog tip I’d add is one from Patricia McConnell’s book THE OTHER END OF THE LEASH to teach the dogs a collective name as well as their individual ones. In our house it’s “Doggos.” So if I call Doggos, they both come, or I can call them one at a time. Very practical.

    1. Thanks, Robin! Nice to see you here. That’s a great one about a collective name. I haven’t been methodical about that. There are several things I say when I want them all, but it would be fun to condition a single one as a recall/”come with me” cue. I should do that.

  8. I forgot–we also use this for mealtimes. Food is prepared in the kitchen. Tulip has a feeding mat in the family room right off the kitchen and Dilly eats in a different room off the other side. (25 pound slow eater and 75 pound fast eater made separate stations essential.) “Breakfast” is their cue to each go wait at their station. I don’t leave the kitchen until they’re both in place. This has worked really well for us. We did find the mats were critical, though–they need something to target TO while they’re waiting for the food.

  9. Oh, and one more tip from our trainer, who is brilliant–people tend to distinguish by colour, but dogs see colour differently than people, and it’s really hard to get this right. However, most dogs are great at distinguishing shapes like triangle, square, circle, oval, diamond, pentagon, and wavy line. For some reason my own dogs don’t distinguish square from rectangle, although they do see circle and oval as different.

    Anyway…we initially used this in training with different shaped mats for one dog, which was helpful when I was trying to train a Scratch behaviour and he kept lying down on the target!

    But you can also cut shapes out of blue painter’s tape and use them to direct individual dogs. I use a triangle for Tulip and a circle for Dilly. I can create stations for them anywhere without needing to teach each location individually or even carry familiar mats. So at my mom’s, we put down a towel for each and mark the spot with their tape symbol on the wall next to the towel and we have a portable Places behaviour. :). You can also put the tape on the towel itself or the floor.

    This is one you can have a lot of fun with. It’s good for both tricks and practical applications.

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