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.

Steps

  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