Teaching your cat to go to a mat is an easy behavior that supports exercise, enrichment, and engagement for you and your cat. The goal of this exercise is to teach your cat to run to their mat when given a verbal cue such as “go to”. Using “go to” gives your cat a correct choice that can be rewarded rather than sitting on books and laptops, running through open doors, or counter surfing. This behavior is invaluable for health and husbandry and a foundation for teaching your cat to voluntarily enter and exit the carrier.
- Clicker or verbal marker like “yes” (Kitties should be familiar with a clicker or verbal marker before beginning the exercise.)
- Small, high-value treats
- Small blanket, rug, or flat fleece mat, about 12” to 18” square
- Deliver the treat where the behavior should happen.
- Create short, exciting sessions of 10-15 repetitions.
- Alternate the difficulty of repetitions within each session to keep it interesting.
Step One: Get the Cat on the Mat
Stand or sit facing your cat, place the mat between your feet and your cat. Place a treat on the center of the mat, and mark using the clicker or “yes” to reinforce as your cat walks onto the mat. To keep the exercise fast-paced and exciting, toss a treat one to two feet off the mat, then place another treat on the mat, marking when your cat walks back onto the mat. Tossing treats off the mat is used to move the cat quickly off the mat for speedy, exciting repetitions. Practice this exercise until your cat runs to the mat with all four feet on the mat for at least eight out of 10 repetitions, then move to step two.
Step Two: Mix It Up
As your cat becomes more skilled, toss the treats away from the mat in different directions and distances. Continue to mark and treat when all four feet are on the mat. This shows the mat behavior is understood, not simply walking toward the owner to access treats. When the cat understands moving back and forth on and off the mat in all directions and successfully performs four out of five repetitions reliably, go to step three.
Step Three: Put It On Cue
When your cat crosses the edge of the mat, add a cue like “place” or “mat” in a happy tone of voice. This pairs the cue with standing on the mat and a food treat. Several sessions of pairing the cue will ensure your cat understands that cue equals “go to mat” and “have a treat”. Always use a happy voice; happy cues equal happy cats.
Step Four: Use the Cue to Solicit the Behavior
Begin by placing the mat on the floor when the cat is very close by and give the cue. Mark and treat for going to the mat. Practice at easy distances, gradually working up to greater distances or added distractions, but not both at the same time. If your cat ignores the cue, make it easier, and if that doesn’t help within five repetitions, repeat step three.
Step Five: Generalize Mat Behavior
Practice placing the mat on the floor, and when your cat runs to the mat, mark and treat. Practice in numerous places around the house, including places of differing heights. Always choose a secure landing spot.
“Go to” can be taught for any place you would like to send your cat. Using the steps above, identify each place with a unique name such as “go to” mat, carrier, or cat tree.