Mat Training for Cooperative Care
Updated: Dec 6, 2021
A mat is a fantastic tool for cooperative care training!
It gives your dog a way to say “Yes, I’m ready!” or to say “I need a break.” Eventually, your dog signals this by getting on or off the mat.
Your mat can be a way for you to make your training portable and bring it to the vet clinic or groomer.
First, you’ll train your dog to enjoy being on his mat. (He can be sitting, standing, lying down, whatever he wants.) Then, you’ll begin your other cooperative care exercises on the mat.
To do this, you'll need a non-skid, portable mat that your dog is comfortable on. Many people and dogs use yoga mats! They're easy to clean(Just trim the mat so it's long enough for your dog's whole body when he's lying down, plus a few extra inches.)
Choose a place to do your training regularly, where your dog has plenty of space to move away if he wants to.
Put your mat down on the ground wherever you want to do your Cooperative Care training in the future.
Lure your dog onto the mat using treats in your hand.
Once your dog has all four feet on the mat, place treats, one at a time, on the mat between his front feet. (Some dogs may be fearful of the mat, you can start by rewarding just coming near the mat, then only one foot on the mat, then two, etc.)
Repeat for several treats, then say "Okay!" and encourage him to walk off the mat.
Move back to the mat and repeat!
Your dog should start to get on the mat as you approach it or put it down. This is great! The cue for him to get on the mat is it being placed down or you moving toward it. (You don't have to say anything. If you need to, you can ask, "Do you want to go on your mat?".)
Begin stretching out the time between treats. For example, you may have needed to treat every 1-2 seconds. Now, try for 3-5 seconds, then 7-10 seconds.
Mark and treat quickly enough that he can stay on the mat.
If your dog moves off, wait until he gets back on.
Release with “okay” and encourage your dog to get off the mat frequently at first.
If he makes two mistakes in a row, make the next repetition easier. Build on success :)
Once your dog can stay on the mat for 10 seconds between treats, you’ll change how you reward! We want to keep him motivated, and it’s not very motivating if things just get harder and harder. Throw in some easy ones! Sometimes reward at 5 seconds, then 15, then 8, then 14, and so on. Keeping it unpredictable once he has the concept will keep him engaged and motivated.
Gradually increase the maximum time your dog can go while keeping his rewards unpredictable.
The end goal (before adding other training) is that your dog can stay on the mat for a minimum of 5 minutes with up to 20 seconds between treats.
A fantastic resource and way to really maximize your puppy's chances of feeling good about body handling and vet procedures is Deb Jones' Cooperative Care Certificate Program. There is also a helpful Facebook group and a book!
You can work on this on your own, and/or we're happy to integrate whatever you like into your dog's training program!