The Stages of Learning

To train your dog well,  take her through all of the stages of learning.  The first stage is acquisition. 


That means we want the dog to perform a behavior, on cue, the way we want them to do it, with some ease.   Sit for example, is a behavior that dogs are physically capable of on their own, of course, but when left to their own devices they don’t sit much!  Dogs would never sit for greetings or at the street corners if not taught that we want this behavior.  In fact, sitting is not a behavior dogs do much when humans are not around!!!

A key component of acquisition is learning that a behavior is rewarding.  Once the dog associates a behavior with reward he will do it more often.   It will be on his list of behaviors that are successful and worthwhile for him.  This is why during the acquisition phase of learning we reinforce frequently with high value rewards.

A note about corrections

If a physical correction is administered during the acquisition of a particular cue, it may decrease the dog’s desire to perform the cue at all.  This is sometimes called “avoidance behavior.”  Be careful and work a lot on reinforcement.


Second, the dog needs to generalize the behavior. Generalization is when the dog learns that even if the cue is given in a different location in a slightly different way, the response should still be the same.  Once he has learned sit in your kitchen, for example, he needs to learn to sit outside the coffee shop.

When you move from acquisition to generalization you may need to go back a step and make the exercise easier, with a lure or less distraction, for example.   It is key, when you are in the generalization stage, to keep the rate of reward high.  Many people will teach their dogs sit with the cookie in the kitchen or backyard, but then when they get to the front door or the coffee shop at the corner they do not reward the dog they forget to take their treats along!  This is a big mistake.  The dog learns that sometimes sit is rewarding, but it isn’t usually rewarding when you’re not at home.

So, when you teach any new behavior make sure to practice it and lots of new locations, even new locations around the house.  That’s another reason why it makes sense when you’re first training your dog to safely store treats around your home or to wear a treat pouch or stuff your pockets full of cookies.  It is also important to practice it with new and different people around you.

Another piece of generalization  is helping your dog learn that’s sit means sit whether you are sitting down standing up or lying down. Practice cueing your dog to sit when you are sitting in a chair or  looking up at the sky, or have your back to him.  Remember to make these drills easier if your dog fails to do the requested behavior more than twice in a row.  You’re does not being stubborn, you haven’t appropriately taught the dog to generalize the behavior.


To maintain a behavior, it Is a good idea to practice and occasionally reward the behavior throughout the dog’s life.  If you train a dog to do something that is no value to him and stop reinforcing it with a reward, gradually the behavior will go away!   A dog might stop sitting for company if you don’t occasionally practice and read that behavior.

If you really pay attention to your dog’s behavior, you can maintain a behavior by always rewarding the best examples of that behavior.  For example, when you go on walks, always reward for quick sits at the corner.  That will help maintain a good example of what you would like to see.   Always rewarding your dog for NOT pulling and being good when there is another dog around is also a good idea.

Dogs learning to live with humans and follow our many cues might be compared to humans learning another language.  You and your dog have to keep practicing to stay sharp, and sometimes you will need to go back and review.



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged ,

Sit to Say Please: Impulse Control and Negative Punishment

Sit to Say Please

Sit to Say Please is a life skill for your dog.  A dog who learns that she can make good things happen by sitting is easier to live with than dog that thinks it can get what it wants by jumping, or barking.  A dog that learns impulse control around his food bowl as a start can also handle more challenging distractions.

It’s a good habit to ask your dog to sit before it gets anything that it wants.  This also allows you to use real life rewards and not just food rewards in training.  Once you have practiced lots of sits in various locations with some distractions you are ready to implement Sit to Say Please.  Your dog needs to be excited about his food to make this drill effective, so if you free feed your dog or if you if your dog doesn’t like his food this drill will not work.

Here’s How

“Sit to Say Please” teaches the dog to stop getting up from a sit.  The way it works is you slowly lower the food bowl to the ground and then immediately take it back up if the dog lifts his tush up out Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized |

Recall Game: Touch with Find it

This is a great way to practice calling your dog by combining hand touches with the “find it” game.  It gives you a lot of successful repetitions in a short amount of time and helps build a great reward history for your dog coming to you.




Posted in Uncategorized |

“I’m Worth It”

I’m Worth It

As usual get some really delicious treats and start with a hungry dog.  Then go to your yard or kitchen.  A few mild distractions are good, so long as they are not too intense.  If you are outside have your dog on a leash or a long line, but only a foot or two away from you.  Let your dog sniff and look around.  Every time he looks at you tell him happily he’s a good dog and give him a treat.

Its great when our dogs to CHOOSE to pay attention to us.  That is why, for this drill, you need to be patient and WAIT for your dog to look at you.  Dogs will sometimes look at you for only fleeting moment.  Be prepared and catch that moment!

You can start this drill immediately, even with a young puppy. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized |

Feeding for Good Behavior

Here’s how to feed your dog for good behavior:

Every morning,  measure out the food your dog will get that day.   (or eyeball it if you are not that structured a person, just eyeball it).  Put a third of it in stuff-able food toys.  You can make two or three of them and store them in the fridge or freezer.

Take another third and put it in a treat bag, or your pockets, or bowls around the house out of the dog’s reach, for training your dog.

The last third is for using in your dog’s food bowl.   Couple the food bowl feeding with training “sit to say please” and recall!

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized |

The Name Game – Obedience and Recall

This game does two things:  it gets your dog to love her name first, and then it develops a motor behavior that we call “head whip.”  We want the dog to stop what she is doing and whip her head around to look at you.  Play this game to play to build your ability to call your dog away from distractions.

The first step in getting your dog to come to you is that she pay attention to you when you ask.  Play this game a lot and you will build reward history for your dog turning away from distractions and looking at you.  Thank you, Precious!


Posted in Uncategorized |

Walking Skills: Leave It on Leash

It helps is your dog already knows “Leave It” for an object in your hand.

Set up a few distractions.  Walk up to them, but don’t let your dog get to them.  Say “Leave It.”  When your dog disengages even a teeny bit from the item, click/yes and treat.  The treat needs to be better than the item you are asking the dog to leave, at least at the beginning.

Its even better if after you click/yes,  you step away from the object with your dog.

Another way to teach it is with luring.  Instead of waiting for your dog to disengage you can say “Leave it” then stick the treat at your dog’s nose, and lure him away from the object.  When he moves away say yes/click and treat.

Posted in Uncategorized |

Tether, Gate, Pen, or Crate

Set Yourself Up For Success: Tether, Gate, Pen, Crate

Management tools  — tether, gate, pen or crate —  prevent behaviors that dog owners DON’T like and dogs DO.  Chewing feels good, eliminating is a relief, and jumping means someone touches or at least looks at the dog.  That makes them self-rewarding — they have rewards built-in.  So its very important to prevent bad behaviors from starting so that that they don’t Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized |

Attention Game #1 – “Watch Me”

Load your pocket or pouch with treats and get your clicker if you are using it.  Go to a non-distracting environment.

Click/yes and treat 5-10 times as a warm up.  (It doesn’t matter what your dog is doing.)

Then, just stand there, ready and waiting.   As soon as the dog makes eye contact, click or yes and treat.  Eye contact can be fast and momentary !!!  Try to catch it when it happens.  Some dogs Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged ,

Supervised Separation – Canine Good Citizen

Supervised Separation

“This test demonstrates that a dog can be left with a trusted person, if necessary, and will maintain training and good manners. Evaluators are encouraged to say something like, “Would you like me to watch your dog?” and then take hold of the dog’s leash” — AKC website.

Try to assess your dogs  feelings about being without you.  Hand her to a stranger and walk a few feet away.  Does she pant? Freeze? Will she take a treat from the stranger?  Some dogs are fine left alone with a stranger.  Many, however, become at least a little nervous.  You will be able to tell your dog’s state of mind if you are good at  reading his or her body language.

How to Train It

The owner will go out of sight for three minutes. The dog does not have to stay in position but should not continually bark, whine, or pace unnecessarily, or show anything stronger than mild agitation or nervousness.

Start training this in small steps to successfully help an uncomfortable dog become comfortable being without you. Arm the person who is handling the dog with the best treats possible.  Remember that practicing in a familiar environment will be easier than in a new busy environment.

Disappear just a few steps away (behind a tree perhaps) as a start, for a few brief moments.    When you are leaving and out of sight, the handler starts giving treats.  When you return to sight and walk back to the dog, treats stop.  (The same counter conditioning and desensitization protocol we always use.)  If the dogs will not take treats that is a sign you have made the drill too hard.  Of course, if out have any reservations about safety do not jump into this drill without good training advice and preparation.

Gradually build up to three minutes.

Posted in Uncategorized |