One of the most useful behaviors you can clicker train your cat to do is to go to a mat, or "parking spot," on cue. This behavior has many practical applications and is one I recommend training early on.
Your cat's "spot" can be a mat, blanket, or cat bed. You want something that is easily portable and can be moved around different areas of your home. I personally just use my laptop case.
5 Reasons to Train Your Cat to Go to a Mat
1. Prevent your cat from jumping up on the counter (aka "counter-surfing").
Counter-surfing is a problem behavior that many cat owners experience. Cats jump on the counter because every so often they find something exciting up there to make their search worthwhile.
If your cat has a parking spot where they can find tasty treats when they visit, they will be more likely to forget the kitchen counter and head to their mat instead. You'll even be able to ask them to go to their mat on command whenever you're in the kitchen and need to keep them out.
2. Prevent door-dashing.
Does your cat try to make a break for it whenever the front or back door opens? This is obviously not a desirable behavior, and you might be racking your brain trying to come up with a solution. The simplest one is to train your cat to go to their mat! Whenever you leave the house, you can tell your cat to go to their mat and sit as you go out the door.
3. Use the mat to teach your cat to go into a carrier.
Once your cat knows to go to their mat on cue, you can gradually start to place it into their carrier. Click and treat your cat for going on the mat, and before you know it, your cat will be going in their carrier on command!
4. Use the mat to finally get your cat off your keyboard.
As cute as it is when our cats jump on our keyboard, it can also be kind of annoying when we have to get work done. Once you teach your cat to lie on their mat, you can put it right beside you as you work. All you have to do is reinforce them every so often, and they will get the benefit of being close to you and spoiled with some rewards. Win-Win!
You can use this same technique to keep your cat off anything you don't want them on - your keyboard, desk, you-name-it.
5. Use the mat when training multiple cats at the same time.
Training multiple cats simultaneously has the potential to be quite chaotic. If each of your cats is trained to go to their "parking spot" and wait for their turn, it will make your multi-cat training sessions go much more smoothly!
How to Train Your Cat to Go to a Mat
Phase 1: Teach your cat to put their paws on a blanket.
- Work in a narrow space such as a hallway or doorway. Place a big blanket down so that it intersects your cat's path when you toss a treat away. Click and reward your cat for placing four paws on the blanket. Practice until your cat is very comfortable stepping on the blanket after retrieving their treat.
- Repeat Step 1 while gradually making the blanket smaller. Your cat should barely notice the change in the blanket. If your cat doesn't fully step on the blanket, click for two paws touching the blanket but use the treat to guide them further towards you.
- Aim for five correct responses in a row before making the blanket smaller.
- Always reward your cat for sitting on the blanket.
Troubleshooting: If your cat doesn't fully step on the blanket, click for two paws touching the blanket and use the treat to guide them further towards you. After the click, always feed your cat their reward on the blanket.
Phase 2: Seeking out the blanket.
In Phase 1, your cat learned to put their paws on the blanket when it was directly in their path. In this phase, we will place the treat in different positions to encourage your cat to seek out the blanket.
Warm your cat up with easy treat tosses to encourage your cat to put paws on the blanket. Consider your treat tosses like a clock, and straight ahead is 6'o clock – the easiest direction for your cat to access the blanket.
Challenge your cat by tossing the treat off to the side (5 and 7 o'clock). Reward your cat for returning to the mat.
Challenge your cat with the treat tosses to 4 and 8 o'clock, and eventually 3 and 9 o'clock. These positions are more challenging because your cat can bypass the blanket and come directly to you. If that happens, back up a step and continue to reinforce your cat's correct choices with easier tosses.
Once your cat does well with those exercises, you can make the blanket smaller and repeat the previous steps.
Phase 3: Moving the blanket around.
In this phase, you will challenge your cat by moving the blanket to different spots and eventually other rooms. Your cat earns rewards when they go to the blanket.
- Pick up the blanket and move it a few feet away from your current training location. Click and reward your cat for going on it.
- Repeat the previous step, gradually moving the blanket to new environments.
- The goal is for your cat to see you put the blanket down and go to it.
Note: Put the mat/blanket away when your cat is not in training so when you bring it out, it becomes a more apparent signal.
Troubleshooting: Help – my cat doesn't notice the blanket! Using your finger target to guide your cat on the mat can cause this issue, and the cat's attention turns towards your finger. I recommend letting your cat learn that putting down the blanket is the signal to go on it. Return to the earlier training where the cat learns to seek out the blanket.
Phase 4: Putting the blanket/mat ON things.
Now that your cat is well-versed in going on their blanket, we can use the blanket as a way to tell your cat where you want them to go. For example, if you want your cat to jump on your lap, you can place the blanket there.
In this lesson, you will be switching to a smaller, more portable mat. The mat should be small enough that it can fit in your cat's carrier.
- Find an object, low to the ground to begin, and place the blanket on it. Click and reward your cat for going on the blanket on the platform.
- Repeat the previous step, moving the blanket onto new objects at various heights.
- Transfer to a smaller mat. Place the new smaller mat over the blanket on the object and encourage your cat to go on that.
- After five or so successful repetitions in a row of your cat going to the smaller mat, remove the blanket underneath and see if your cat can still target the mat without the larger blanket present.
- Move the smaller mat onto various objects and repeat the training.
- The final goal is for your cat to see you put the mat down on any platform and know that it's time to go to their spot.
Troubleshooting: My cat doesn't automatically go on the mat! When I see this happen, it's often because the cat is waiting for a hand signal. To help your cat learn that the mat is the signal, you need to back up to the earlier stage of the training where they automatically go on the blanket because it's in their path.
Cat Mat Training Tutorial Video
If you need further assistance or feedback on your cat's mat training, enroll in our Cat School training program! In Cat School, you'll have access to step-by-step training tutorials for teaching your cat multiple behaviors, skills, and tricks, AND you'll have direct access to Cat School teacher Julie for personalized help and feedback.