Basic Behavioural Training

kers1. Animal Handling

2. Types of Training

    2 a. Food Motivated

     2b. Play Motivated

     2c. Prey motivated

     2d. Tactile motivated

     2e. Verbal Motivated

3. Adolescent Dog Training

4. Adult Dog Training

5. Breed Specific Training

     5a. Working Dogs (Police, Patrol, Security, Guard Dogs)

     5b. Retrieving Dogs (Dogs that love to hunt and retrieve or play and retrieve)

     5c. Bull Types (Dogs within the Bull baiting and fighting breeds)

     5d. Herding Dogs (Two distinct styles herding small stock and herding large stock)

     5e. Toy Breeds (The group of small dogs that are most likely to be housebound)

     5f. Hound Dogs – Sight (Focus on Sight)

     5g. Hound Dog – Scent (Focus on the Olfaction)

     5h. Guardian Dogs (Dogs that guard flocks and territories)

6. Special Client Services

7. Canine Behaviour

     7a. Classical conditioning

     7b. Operant Conditioning

     7c – Extinction

     7d – Capturing

     7e – Luring

     7f – Shaping

     7g – PreMack Principle

     7h – Clicker Training

     7i – Verbal marking

8. Levels of Praise







1. Animal Handling – When handling animals of any kind it is imperative to note that any interaction is in fact shaping behaviour(Shaping by successive approximations – breaking down a behaviour into tiny increments, and reinforcing the dog at each incremental step until you have achieved the full behaviour.  This can be done delibrately or by accident)  When we consider that the dog is the most successful and adaptable species besides that of humans, we have to consider that the dog is very capable of reading human behaviour, vocal and biological signs.(Our physical actions, our sounds we make and all chemical and bacterial smells we emit).  To put this into context, the dog in its wild state before it became the semi-domesticated village dwelling dog and then finally on to its present position – the domesticated canine, was capable of reading a myriad of different species from the smallest being insects right through to their largerst prey the bison.  This range is immense and very clearly shows why the wolf was successful in etching out a totally new niche to follow for success.

When we consider humans are not normally within the dogs hunting targets but we are well within the size range and we do now have constant dealings with wild and domestic dogs, it is necessary to understand that the dogs we deal with do successfully read us.  The second way that dogs read us is by what we class as voiceprint.(This is described as the dog utilising its extremely sensitive ability to hear which is approxamately 2.5 times better than humans, and able to pick up intricate voice octave changes and pitch changes in a way to confirm their ability to visually read human behaviours and actions.)  This allows the dog to hear the voice of the human it is dealing with and to confer that their voice and to confer that their voice is actually changing slightly as their body language changes giving them a much more successful and accurate way of reading humans.  The third way that dogs read humans is that we as humans shed almost 40 thousand tiny skin particles every hour – these are known as skin rafts or scurf that are both heavier and lighter than air and are dispersed in our immediate environment and at the time that they are dispersed our body chemistry is also present at levels that the dogs are capable of smelling through their olfactory ability to successfully confirm again the other two points of reading body language and voice print.  This now allows the dog to have a much more successful and precise ability to correctly read humans and also a great avenue to be able to read them enough to manipulate human responses and actions.

whilst often people are trying to do the best practice for their animals, they do not identify that whilst it is a viable technique for humans to reason in order to be able to help them overcome some challenges or fears, dogs do not possess the same deductive reasoning capabilities as humans hence talking, touching and anything that the dog percrives to b positive or beneficial will usually be taken as a form of reinforcement rather then reassureance. This usually will cause a communication breakdown or misplacement of sound communitcation that will mean two totally different outcomes in the mind of the human compared to the animal.

If you were lucky enough to experience a pack of wolves hunting or watching this unbelievably intricate situation on a documentary, you would notice that not all wolves within the pack are accepted on the actual hunt and kill. you would notice when they are hunting smallar prey or even larger prey that they do not have the opportunity to vocalise as if to say “het, do you see the weak, the newborn, injured , the edlerly or the infern over there that we should hunt?”. They all have to hunt in synergy to be successfull and wild dogs are amongst the most elite and succssfull hunters on earth, even despite thier small size and weight compared to so of thier prey. we do noy see these same dogs barking, howling and vocally communicating as this would alert the hunted prey to their presence causing them to flee in fight or flight syndrome. This would definitely not enhance the success rate of the wolf or wild dog in the hunt.

so again, it is imperative that whilst you are in the company of a domestic canine, you must idenitfy that every action do is resulting in the shaping of behaviour wheater it be good, bad or indifferent. Our very actions if they are correctly timed and targeted can disinish unwanted behaviours so that we can maximise shaping wanted behaviours. Overpayment for an average job or even poor response may set you up to paying much more for gaining much less. it is important when working with dogs to consider the same as working with people that a good job must get a fair to good pay and a poor job should not elicit payment from the human otherwise very quickly the dog is in control of the shaping of behaviour, namely yours.


When deciding on the type of training that ,ay be best to utilise to try gain the best behaviours from your puppy or dog. It is always imperative to be aware that like every human is an indervidual, so is every dog. With this thought in mind, you now need ti idenitfy correctly the type of training that would best suit any indervidual dog or puppy. It is often a case that there will be more training that can be used in conjunction to gain the best results in the quickest time to ensure the best possible learning outcomes for that particular dog or puppy. We acquaint it to having a job to do and having as many tools in the toolbox ready to be able to use to help us make the job eaiser, safer and more successful or professional. When we think about differnt types of training, there are some interesting points that we need to be aware of. The first being that not all dogs will be motivated or interesting points in a particular type of training and if tht is truly that case it would be the inncorrect type of training to use with that particular puppy or dog. so, we csn break the training types down into several different groups.

-Food motivated training

-Play motivated training

-Prey motivated training

-Tractile motivated training (touch & bonding)

-Verbal motivated training

Before we start on the different types of training and how they can be beneficial, it is probably extremely important to be mindful of the following facts. for thousands of years, dogs have worked succssfully for humans having without humans having the knowlegde of pavlov or skinner or any of the other great behavioural scientists. There are still many dog sports or endeavours that the dogs willingly throw themselves into expending immense amounts pf physical and mental energy over extremely gruelling distances snf enviorments without any outside introduced strong motivators being used throughout nearly the whole process and still they strive and give thier all to work with thier human companions to harness and even sometimes conquer unbelievable challanges and hardships just for the sake of doing the job. The first one i would like to bring to your attention is the Australian Kelpies and Cattle dogs that kilometres over several weeks to just be involved in the job with thier human counterparts often risking being threatened or injured by much larger more powerful animals that they must herd. The second situation is the sled dogs that race across frozen terraians, sometimes for well over one thousand kilometres over periods of longer than a week. Both this and the last dog described, i can never remember seeing the handlers stop, reach into a food pouch, pull out a clicker and feel they had to do this to bolster th dog’s personal motivation to succeed.

Food Motivated Training

In the last 10 to 15 years, food based taining has become extremely popular in mainstream dog training. this technique is based on the theory of Pavlov’s dog from the early 19th century, which was how the Russian behavioural scientist provided an enviorment for dogs under tests siuations. This test consisted of dogs being put into rooms that had a chute for food to drop down once the bell was rung. The dogs would hear the bell and then receive food dropping down the chute, which condtioned them to expect food after hearing the bell. Pavlov then discovered that once the dogs were truly conditioned and he rung the bell without porviding the food falling down the chute, the dog’s body systems would also be conditioned to expect the coming down and they would salivate. The next step along in this training principle was to come from marine mammal trainers whom would use food to motivate and condtion thier marine mammals for shows and tricks as well as husbandry training. Approxmately 15 to 20 years ago the cross from maire mammal traniers to the dog training world brought with it the belief that this is the best anf usually only way to train dogs humanely. Naturally not all dogs are food motivated and even those ones that are; quite often the level of motivation from the food tehniques can also be lower than some of thier other motivators that sre more active. There are some basic rules with food-motivated training that many poeple do not consider. Number one – that even if the dog is food motivated if it were extermely hot this impinge on the dogs desire to eat food or treats, which could directly affect the level of motivation at that partiular time. The second thing we need to be aware of is should a dog not be feeling completely well or even quite sick it could very well affect the dogs performance and disire to work for food. The third imporant point is if the dog has just been fed and has a full stomach. This could again directly affect wheater the dog is intrested in working for food and may need to have the actual type food changed to help to try to build the motivation and desire to work for food. Generally we have to also take into account that if we constantly use food use food you will probably only serve to teach the dog to truly desensitize to the value of food as a reward and this also will greatly affect the result that you can gain utilizing the food as a reward. When utilizing food as a reward or motivator there are several differnt way this can be done – they differ slightly in these two points. number one you can just use food and your voice as the basic princple. this would be to use the food as bait or bribe to at first use your actions and movements in the shaping of the very behavviour. then you would use the food at the process once successful behaviour had been taught or shaped. with this technique you can use your voice as either verbal cue or command and as a seconary reward during a successful display of wanteed behaviour to lift the level of performance. This is an extremely simple and easy reward based training technique as you do not have to balance as many outside forces such as clickers, disks, whistles, bells or any other exteral object that requires timing and dexterity to get a correct response. The second style is to use all or any of these exteral-brighing devices such as clickers, disks, whistles, bells or any other devices around at the momet. This technique usually involves the old pavlovion style of making the sound and then providing the reward as soon as practical and possible. The dogs will quckily learn that the production of this sound is associated with a positive via food reward. This is known as the imprint to the bridging device. Once this has been achieved, the animal will truly be comfortable with the process and the production of the sound that it’s imprinted to will mark a correct response and finally can even be associated as a true positive in itself. With this process and training technique, often trainers will break down the full behaviours they want to teach in tiny little sections and teach them one at a time fianlly to link them all together to get the full behaviour. At the present this is probably the most preferred and used type of training through out the dog training industry and world. My personal opinion on food motivated training is that it is a great tool within an entire toolbox instead off the only way to try training. Food motivated training is also one of the most cumbersome to manage and be very successful with as the greater majority of all trainers using the technique do not correctly teach their students all of the skills that are necessary or anywhere near enough background on how to understand the process in the way that a dog understands it. Often people who openly try to use this and push this as an excellent technique are still in the extreme basics of knowledge and skills and are very unaware of many pf the imperative tricks of the trade which would make them much more successful. At first food motivated training looks extremely successful but within a short period of around 21 days there will be a remarkable difference in the dogs learning curve and compliance often causing inexperienced trainers and handlers to have to use more reward for less work  or risk the lost of basic control and manners and the dogs becoming what would be described as too excited or boisterous .This extremely useful training tool can be completely frustrating to dogs and their trainers or handlers if they are not aware of all the extremely important points and aspects that must come into plat to be truly successful.

Play Motivated Training

In this excited training technique it is best described as finding a toy or play object that the dog loves and is at its maximum motivation to gain or work for. You will note in this we have stated play not tug of war because this is specifically prey motivated which is not good as it builds chasing in a more assertive and active manner which usually is followed by the bite, fight ,shake and kill or known as predatory instinct. So we are being very specific when we play motivated, This will be toys or objects that excite the animal but they do not cause guarding or possessional problems. The animals must be in play mode, which would be best described as happy to past the toy or object over to the handler in a non possessional manner to again elicit play to make the toy or object come alive to again be able to retrieve. There is often a fine line between play and prey motivation in many dogs and it must be ensured that it is definitely play otherwise you may be activating hunting skills that could lead to all levels of aggression. Now hat we have established that we are in play mode , typically this would be used to motivate the dog to do obedience , tricks or performance based task to gain play. You always have to be constantly aware when using any type of motivation for training that incorrect timing may very well reward not only good behaviour but probably also bad behaviours and the timing  only has to be split second out when the dog has changed or is changing from the wanted behaviour and the positive motivation is given telling the dog a totally incorrect training message . Naturally not all dogs possess play drives as not all dogs possess food and other motivational drives .If a dog appears to have lower drive in play then one of the other motivating drives , we say this is a secondary drive rather than a primary drive and it is possible with good and correct training and timing to build secondary and primary drives to higher levels to maximise their use. At this point, you must be aware that building drives sometimes can cause the animals to become either more dominant and possessive or more into a realm of being over excited greatly diminishing the workable use of these motivators for their original purpose and rendering them an unworkable or extremely hard to mange. So as you can see with all drives it is a case of first correctly identifying exactly what you are dealing with, then ensuring that they are not going to be destructive or built to the point where they become destructive and then controlling and managing them to maximise performance and environmental enrichment to a happy balance. The building of any drive must be managed successfully and to the dogs level but rather to the handlers abilities. This will ensure that we don’t get and unsafe or incorrect balance of too much drive to be handled by the dogs partners or controlling members keeping the dog healthy, happy, and safe within the community at the greatest levels. Some high performance working and competition dogs such as agility competition , flyball dogs , are often but not always exclusively trained using play motivation. Good and great trainers can offer excellent abilities and techniques to use both play and prey in conjunction with each other to gain the greatest peaks of performance that seems extraordinary tot he average person. Natural forms of this would be present to many of the retrieving trials dogs that are happy tot run through often harsh environments, search out hidden objects, swim through the coldest sometimes murkiest water conditions and then run back to their handler and happily given them back to their hand the retrieved item whether it be man made or in real life hunting situations.


Prey Motivated Training

Prey motivated training can look extremely similar to play motivated but differs towards the end of the repertoire by the dog displaying a need to control the game by not releasing the object, wanting to practice or rehearse bite, fight, shake and kill in a tug of war manner or eliciting the chase game where the dog will possess the object and try to encourage the person trying to gain the object back from the dog to chase them. Usually this same dog will try and possess the object as often as possible and rehearse maximising the amount of times that it actually gets to win and achieve its goals over its handler or person trying to interact. This method of motivation is extremely hard to mange for the average dog owner or lay person and we strongly recommend this never be used or taught as we have  found over many tears and thousands of verbal surveys of dogs that start to become extremely dominant and even elevate their dominance into both minor and major aggression displays that this prey motivated training or play which was incorrectly identified was an underlying problem that was enhanced through building prey drivers directly associated with the greater majority of rehearsed and real learned aggression problems. Prey motivated training is how the best and most competent knowledgeable trainers build sporting dogs or guarding dogs from very young puppies via a way of using this highly motivational technique to build a dogs drives and especially confidence. many Family pets and great majority of dogs do have some level of prey, Many herding dogs and especially breeds that have to hunt from sight will display prey drives. It is recommended that any type of motivational work or even environmental work or even environmental enrichment that utilises any prey drive rehearsed in conjunction with human interaction be discouraged immediately and stopped on the humans part so there are no further rehearsals which will stop the possible lifting of these very dangerous motivational drives. Apt trainers with good knowledge, skills and experience can often use these drives safely but we never teach or suggest pet owners, companion dog lovers or any other dog people except very experienced persons who have a legitimate need and use for this type of motivation ever experiment or utilise this due tot he high risk that it poses to humans and the community.


Tactile Motivated Training


Tactile motivated training is best described as dogs that extremely enjoy being touched, patted in any way that they would find exciting. It would need to be evident that should this technique be incorrectly timed at any performance of a behaviour , that it would encourage the dog to repeat that behaviour or performance again or more often with minimum same level of enthusiasm or a slightly lifted enhanced level of enthusiasm. When this technique is used properly it should be viable to build and strengthen training task successfully. As with all training , this could be a secondary or primary motivator and the level of workable use it will present will be on par with the dogs enthusiasm for this technique compared to other motivational drives or tools . Often with the greater majority of dogs this motivator is of a lower level of yield than more active types of motivational drives or tools. One exception to this rule is dogs are extremely attention seeking and do very much enjoy reinforcement. We always advise people who own highly attention seeking animals that they should never touch, pat, caress in any way their dogs when they are doing unwanted behaviours. They should definitely target touching ,patting or caressing the dog as soon as a wanted behaviour appears and then intermittently repeat their action only whilst the wanted behaviour is present to build the best result. Some dogs are definitely not tactile reinforcement motivated and would greatly prefer not to be touched at all as they do not find it pleasant , exciting or motivational. Dogs that are highly defensive and extremely assertive dogs often make up a large proportion of these dogs that do not enjoy or seek tactile reinforcement. As trainers and shapers of behaviour, we must be aware that should a dog have a high tactile drives as motivation , that if we were to constantly touch the dog in any way and more regularly without thought or purpose, that his process could quite easily cause the dog to feel that tactile reinforcement has lost its significance for the animal. This would then severely diminish the benefits of having a tactile dog , as you will only serve to desensitise this viable training principal.


Verbal Motivated Training


This Training technique is best described as utilising the human voice to reinforce the dogs behaviour of those dogs that do truly enjoy being spoken to. Naturally , some dogs are not at all verbally responsive and do not appear to see the spoken voice reinforcement as anything beneficial to themselves. These particular dogs hopefully will have some type of motivational drives that can be utilised for training and shaping behaviours, Dogs that do truly enjoy being spoken to will usually show obvious signs of being verbally motivated  such as focusing towards you when you speak, coming in closer when speaking to them, showing excited behaviours such as becoming more animated and excited. Often intensity, speed and shape of their tail wagging should they have one, will be very evident with verbal reinforcement. Again, verbal reinforcement is usually going to ne of a much lower level of yield than some of the more active types of motivational techniques such as play, prey, or food motivated training. Usually these three will be more so primary types of motivational and both tactile and verbal will be more often secondary types of motivators. Often again highly attention seeking dogs are prime candidates for vocal praise more do than most other dogs. As with all forms of motivational training and shaping the handler or trainer must ensure they get themselves under complete control when it comes to utilising voice because if they talk to the dog whilst the dog is not doing correct behaviours or even is doing unwanted behaviours, they will definitely reinforce non productive behaviours via their voice. The vocally reinforced dog is probably the one that suffers the most from handlers interaction inappropriately timed causing the dog to see this type of reward or reinforcement as insignificant. It is also good to recognise that even if you are using vocal as some form of negative reinforcement on some severe attention seekers they may very well learn to do bad behaviours to actually attention seek via way of gaining voice reinforcement even although you believe this to be negative whilst the dog sees it as still a form of positive.


Adolescent Training

The Adolescent dog is between the stage of being a puppy that is like a sponge dying to absorb all new experiences that are exciting or motivational and the mature adult dog. When they were puppies and taught to socialise correctly to ensure they did not learn fears and phobias this was done in a motivational and pleasant manner as possible. The initial training was to build confidant, enthusiastic puppies that would grow into adult dogs that had enough background and experience to ensure they did not see their interactions as frightening or unpleasant. Now that these puppies have developed to the next stage which is adolescence, they generally will always require to be taught boundaries and rules to ensure they are not too over the top excitable or boisterous. This is best done by teaching the very basics of obedience which we call foundation obedience which entails teaching the dog to walk on a lead without pulling, to sit, and sit stay, to down and down stay, and to come when called from short distances. Also at this time puppies that are adolescent really do need to know the basics of the lifestyle skills in interacting with humans such as how to react when greeting new people on home territory and also out and about in unusual environments. This should entail showing them that they must not jump or be boisterous especially around children or the elderly. They should be given targeted positives when they greet somebody in a cool , calm, controlled sit or stand without having their front feet leave the ground, tread all over people or actively engage their mouth onto any body parts. The next basic rule should be to teach the adolescent pup when it is allowed inside the house or when it should stay outside without coming in even if doors and entries are left open. These pups need to be taught how to enter and exit doorways and gates in a calm and controlled manner without barging past people or through their legs so this limits both rehearsing of dominance and the possibility of accidents. How to enter and exit a car and the calm behaviour that they should be showing whilst in transit are also excellent basics to teach in this adolescent stage. We always advise all of our clients that it is a excellent safety tip to teach their puppies to either wait at the bottom and or top of stairwells until the humans are safely up or down or to walk in a calm non pulling heeling position to enhance and ensure the greatest safety around these dangerous environments for both humans and dogs. It is imperative that food regimes and feeding principals be rehearsed from puppy hood through to adolescence to ensure we portray the food and deeding systems and structures in a manner that the dog will understand. It cannot be possessive, guarding or aggressive over food. This is definitely best taught from early puppy and throughout adolescence and is much better to be done on a lead and  collar to ensure the handler has maximum control and will be the most successful enhancing safety of all family and visitors. During this adolescence period, this is an excellent time to start the dog to retrieve and play hide and seek games which are very stimulating tot he dog without the worry of building any unwanted natural drives and instincts which could turn into  mouthing, biting, or aggression. This adolescent training is where we start to offer the young dog greater challenges so that it will learn to grow mentally into the adult dog that most people are striving for. At this time , it allows you to formalise anything that you have not done well as a tiny puppy so that you have a sound complete development program to ensure your puppy becomes a wonderful companion.

Adult Training

Just because a dog has reached full maturity does not mean that the trainer is finished or ever should be. In actual fact, dogs that  live with families or work for a living even older dogs still require their owners and handlers to be a ware of the behaviour they are showing at any one time and to mange this by being an excellent leader and communicator and showing the dog exactly what is wanted behaviour and what is unacceptable behaviour. This is merely a process of having a basic set of rules and boundaries that you teach and keep with the dog. Adult dogs regardless of how old they are can always learn new behaviours that are beneficial to themselves and to human and society as a whole. We prefer dogs to have reached at least late adolescence to early adulthood before we go on to the most advanced of training. We also ensure that the dogs have had plenty of good training in the basics such as come when you’re called, walk on the lead without pulling, do not jump on people or be boisterous. Also other boundaries like you must not take liberties such as coming inside the house or jumping on the lounge and beds unless invited, you must lie on the mat and be calm and comfortable whilst remaining there, wait patiently for your food and do not rush in to take the food until invited. These are only a dew of the basics that we would expect to have in place from puppy hood through adolescence  and on towards adult hood before we start on the advanced training. Adult dog training would be best described as progressing the dogs well established basic behaviours that give the handler a sound level of control on lead or under minimum stimulation of lead. Now the advanced adult training would start to build on top of the well established patterns already in place. Now we would employ higher levels of distraction and stimulation while still on lead and only progress at the level that is the best practice for the dog to stay under control whilst slightly building on the distraction or stimulation. Only when the dog is totally calm and confident do we start to slightly increase the distraction or stimulation in an ever increasing manner that is slightly less than the level of control that the dog is displaying. This technique allows us to greatly challenge the dog over a period of time to ensure we have control and confidence in their handling when there are high levels of distraction or stimulation so we never have a lost of control that could be dangerous to us, the dog or the public. naturally when we are first starting to do this process the dog will be on a shorter lead and we will increase the distance from us away from the dog. Once we have the dog at the point where it is very comfortable and controlled even with moderate or above  distractions and stimulations we then start to increase the distance between the dog and ourselves on the lead. The distance I would like to achieve would be on a 10 metre long lead. I would want the dog to come successfully when called even under distraction from this distance. I would also want the dog to sit and sit stay for up to three minutes from the same distance and to do the drop and drop stay for up to 15 minutes from the distance even under moderate distraction. Once these skills are taught it is a requirement to constantly check that they are still working and being maintained so the dog is reliable in as many places and situations as possible. We recommend always doing the training and testing on the long lead for safety and especially for success purposes. These are only the very basics of adult training made easy for the average family pet or companion animal to ensure it is a great ambassador for canines within our society. As with most endeavours in life, the level that you can go with advanced or adult dog training is usually totally up to the owner handler and the amount of time and effort they will be willing to put in to gain success and the level of trainability and compliance that the dog is willing to give in order to work as a team.



For the purpose of this publication we will break this session down into approximately 7 groups, which are constructed as follows.

1. Working dogs (police, patrol, security, guard dogs)

2. Retrieving dogs (Dogs that love to hunt and retrieve or play and retrieve)

3. Bull types (Dogs within the cull baiting and fighting breeds)

4. Herding dogs (Two distinct styles herding small stock and herding large stock)

5. Toy breeds (The group of small dogs that are most likely to be housebound often)

6. Hound dogs (two distinct styles- the scent hound who focuses on olfaction and the sight hound)

7. Guardian dogs (dogs that guard flocks and territories)


The construction of these groups was designed to cover the greater majority of dogs that are in our society today. Whilst these groups are similar to some of the groups within the ANKC these were designed to look at natural drives and instincts and attributes that are in the mind or psychological range rather than anatomical or physical as in the ANKC descriptions.


Working Dogs

The first group we will talk about is the working dog group, which we describe as dogs within the police, patrol, security and guard world. These dogs behaviourally have to have certain attributes to best affect them in the work they are required for, such as stronger characters that are able to handle stress without breaking down. These dogs would need to have prey drive, the desire to chase and predatory instincts described as bite fight , shake and kill. They would also need to display guarding over their seized objects and finally defensive drives to fight to protect the seized objects from others. It is this defensive drives that often people want to build up to much and can cause control and sociability problems. The same dogs should also be very sound in temperament and have good social exposure within the correct social exposure window. To be best suited for this job the same dog should also have confident sometimes even a dominant personality that is definitely compliant for the handler to work with. Many of these qualities are definitely not best suited for family pets so these particular dogs are probably not the best to recommended unless a person has good knowledge and experience in handling dogs and situations.


Retrieving Dogs

On the other hand the next dog group we are going to explore is the retrieving dogs. These dogs are best described as dogs that enjoy to go out and hunt utilizing their nose to locate downed birds or small prey. They then pick up and carry then straight back to their human companions or handlers with a soft mouth and then happily give them up to the human companions without trying to guard or possess them. These dogs by their very nature are usually very interested in human interaction and particularly in the range of play type behaviours. This does not imply that there is no dominance or even aggression issues from this group ever – but rather generally they ate more suited to be family pets in society than some of the other dogs that have huge hunting and instincts that in the wrong hands could become dangerous. These dogs lend themselves best to sporting dogs in the retrieving world and obedience and agility dogs that will well represented within the sniffer dog and search dog world and are often the prime candidates for assistance. hearing and therapy work. The type of training that is best suited to these dogs is motivational training usually within retrieve motivated and play or food motivated and often they are partial to verbal and tactile praise.


Bull Types

The bull breed or type dog was originally designed for bull baiting and quite often many of these dogs were designed for fighting in their early roots. When we think about bull breeds we have to consider these points which would steer us into suggesting with this group lots of social exposure as very young puppies before 16 weeks of age with all types of puppies dogs and animals so that the most social attitude that is conductive with fitting into society as successfully as possible. Often these dogs are quite driven in all of the natural drives and instincts for hunting as well as often play drives. These dogs are usually quite tenacious when it comes to guarding homes and food if they are not taught to be non assertive and reliable. Due to their character and lack of body sensitivity, they can appear to be quite dominant and usually lay people will find them reasonably hard to train unless they can harness motivators and have a very structured training program that is based on consistency. Often these dogs once well trained maintain their training very well and can achieve some excellent results in obedience and agility trails.


Herding Dogs

The herding dog breeds we usually break down into two separate sub groups within the groups. The first of these two sub groups is the sheep herding or small stock herding dogs. These dogs usually are lighter in stature and build and have a more inhibited drive base as they are required to be less assertive or aggressive to small stock that is more easily damaged and stressed. This particular subgroup is usually required to have energy and stamina to work long hours in harsh conditions. These dogs often lead themselves across to obedience, agility, tracking and several other motivational dog sports at a high level due to their nature that has been purposely designed to work. Often in the laypersons hands on suburban blocks these dogs can easily present many problems usually in the range of nuisance from chasing and often on to barking and escape. Generally these dogs need good social exposure with a higher level of obedience than just basics – usually at least intermediate or even advanced to make them fit into our society more successfully.

The second of the subgroups in the herding dog is the large stock herder which usually used on deer and larger animals such as cattle which requires stronger more assertive dogs that when required to physically encounter the stock would need to be stronger in their mouth action than the first herding dog. Because larger stock is much more dangerous and harder to control, usually these dogs will need will need to be more robust and more assertive and dominant in nature. Again these dogs will need to have strong drives and be capable of working long hours in harsh conditions sometimes even extreme heat. As with the first group often they do not  fit into society well on small suburban blocks unless the owners provide plenty of exercise and especially great  social exposure from puppy hood with a bare minimum of basic and intermediate obedience with excellent structure and consistency in the handling and management. Both of these groups often can do well in obedience trialling, agility , fly ball and even tracking. They are also well represented in search dog numbers and sniffer dog numbers.


Toy Breeds

Many of the toy breeds were originally designed as hunters for robust and varmint as well as some for bird dogs. Whilst these days this particular group of dogs is very rarely used for its first intended purpose, often the natural attributes, instincts and drives and tenacity have still somehow flowed through to our more modern toy dogs. Most toy dog’s these days are now companions and lap dogs and usually extremely spoilt. This group often suffers from humans treating them as surrogate children, which often makes them extremely dependent causing stress when the human companions cant be available. We often see guarding issues come to the surface with these little dogs usually more so guarding the owner than food or possessions but sometimes they do guard food and possessions as well. With the advent of puppy kindergartens now these dogs generally receive more social exposure than they used to which has helped immensely with building more social attitudes. The best training for this group is to teach them social exposure and basic obedience and then to have good structure and consistency in the home environment which ensures these little dogs behave better and suffer from a lot less stress.


Hound Dogs-Scent

With the hound dog group we have broken this down into two subgroups. The first is scent hounds which are dogs that are totally interested in olfaction ( which is sense of smell) and most of their life is spent living through their nose. Scent hounds are quite often reasonably stubborn and often described as easy distracted by scents and smells making training much more challenging for the layperson. When it comes down to training these dogs for what they were designed for which is using their nose to detect all manner of scents, they can often excel. These dogs as with all dogs are best to have an excellent social exposure program before 16 weeks of age and a minimum of basic obedience with excellent structure and consistency in their home life. Often these dogs will be interested in escaping and roaming at large following scents that they’re incredibly sensitive nose draws them to. They usually appear to be fairly aloof and often want to do their own thing even although they are correctly bonded to their human companions. Often these dogs to be very successful at their intended purposes would need to have a stronger character and being able to  handle working out in front.


Hound Dogs-Sight

The hound group are best described as dogs that hunt primarily from eyesight and are extremely keen sighted. These dogs were designed to use a keen sense of sight to locate small prey and then run and chase it down for the human companions. Some sight hounds in their countries of origin have worked with Falcons and other prey birds in conjunction in the hunt. When it comes to our society sight hounds are probably a little harder to manage for the layperson due to their active natural drives and instincts for hunting. Often they will want to hunt small domestic and native animals in their environment due to their natural attributes. Because they are active in their natural drives and instincts for hunting they can present more problems to manage in chasing and also rehearsals of chase along fence lines. Again these dogs would best suit our society when they have had correct social exposure as puppies and at least basic obedience in conjunction with a structured lifestyle and handlers that are extremely consistent to manage them.


Guardian Breeds

These are breeds of dogs that were designed and bred to guard flocks and livestock from large predators. Whilst they can be extremely trustworthy with animals that they are raised and comfortable with , they are still designed to ward off other species of predators. To do this job well they would need to have generally a stronger character to be able to handle the stress of confrontation with a large predator and also to live out in the elements with the flock they guard. These dogs are quite often large robust animals and usually possess quite thick coats to offer them protection from both the elements and from injuries should they get into a confrontation with a large predator. Generally these dogs are raised with the host species that they are going to be in charge of guarding so that they are tightly familiar and see them as part of their group offering the greatest of protection. For these dogs to fit well into society it is imperative that they have extreme social exposure as puppies before 16 weeks of age with everything that they would be expected to be comfortable with as an adult dog? If this were in a normal family situation this would include vehicles, people both male and female, children and adult as well as every conceivable environment and animal they will be expected to be around throughout their life. These dogs would also need basic obedience and at least intermediate obedience with an excellent structure program outlining all the rules that are necessary for the dog to understand and those extremely confident and consistent handlers.


Following is a general rule for best practice to fit all dogs into society at the best level with a maximum safety and benefit to the human companions whilst ensuring they are excellent ambassadors for canines within our society. We would suggest all puppies receive as a bare minimum puppy kindergarten or an adequate social exposure program that covers everything that the puppy would be expected to be good with as an adult dog by the time the puppy has reached 16 weeks of age. We would suggest ongoing exposure to all things  that the dog is going to be expected to be around as an adult dog. We would also suggest a minimum of basic obedience training of heeling, sit, sit stay, down, down stay, come on lead. Where possible we would also suggest the dog be taught basic rules in the house environment such as do not push or rush through gates and doorways both entry and exit. Also to only come inside buildings and dwelling when invited and to leave and remain outside when told – even with the door open. This should also be taught with vehicles so the dog recognizes not to get into the vehicle unless invited and not to leave the vehicle even if the doors are open unless invited. The dog should be taught to be comfortable with sitting and waiting for its food to be put down on the ground and then commanded that it is allowed to eat and not try and take food before released from this position. The dog should also understand that its only allowed to get on top  of beds, lounges and chairs or people if invited and must also get off as soon as told happily. Owners should be taught that they must always eat before their dog so they portray themselves as an excellent leader as this is what would happen in the wild or feral dog groups.


Community Awareness / Services


As a professional within the Industry, the general public look toward you for direction when it comes to advice for their pets. This could be medically , behaviorally, or suggestions as to the correct breed for their particular family. As ambassadors in your chosen career, it is imperative that you have an awareness of the industry around you. Your referrals will reflect on you and the surgery that you represent.

When it comes to community awareness, you can aide your clientele by organising to have a local trainer visit your puppy kindergarten course on the concluding week. Ask the trainer to do a quick five or ten minute presentation with an older dog showing the next progression for your clients to achieve after graduating their puppy class. Ensure that the trainer gives a clear and easily understandable explanation of the methods they use to train, cost and duration of the course they are offering and the age that the pups will be accepted to begin the next level of training. There are obedience classes in most areas and it is also best to enrol into a small group class so that the young dog is taught in an environment where there are other distractions for the owner to overcome. This is more realistic for the pet owner and it is imperative that if they have any problems the trainer will be there to assist them, hence demonstrating what they would need to do to gain control out in the real world. By having the trainer attend your puppy class, you are giving your clientele options to progress and keep up with the training regime that you have already started preparing the puppy for with your socialisation. It will also help to keep the softer owners on track by maintaining a level of control over their canine companions, hopefully before you have to tackle their unwanted and unruly behaviour as they travel through adolescence to adult hood. We always say the only thing the dog needed to end up with the behavioural problems it has is” the right owner” meaning the owner that shaped the behaviour to end up causing the problems displayed.

It is also a good community service to try to educate the public into being more aware of the issues that are involved when owning a dog. Contact your local Council to learn of their local by-laws and how you can get involved in promoting responsible pet ownership. The local business that gives to the community will always be supported more often. We regularly deliver educational nights to the community where we will offer solutions to various behavioural issues that are prevalent in that particular Council area. If you charge gold coin donation for entry, you could donate this to a local animal welfare group and when advertising your event, this could attract attendees. You can include various industry relevant presenters or even set up stalls for all the different products for pet owners to visit in break times. This is a way of networking with other like-minded businesses and promoting each other within the community to show a united front in the area of reducing behavioural problems for the neighbourhood. Council statistics nationwide show that noise and barking related problems are a growing concern representing the highest level of complaints and burning up Council resources.

The local school education program is another way of sending to the community that you have a community minded agenda. Naturally , the animals you need to use for a program like this have to be well socialised and trained so that there is little to no risk of any incidents with the children you would be visiting. We also must be aware that when you have animals and children together there is always a risk of accidents of some kind, as you can never underestimate the behaviour of children. Even when you have an awesomely trained animal, there will always be the one or two children that will not follow direction well or at all. It is up to you to provide safety to all that are involved in the program. If you have any doubts about the animal you are using for this program, it would be best to err on the side of caution. The message you deliver is of course ‘responsible pet ownership’. You should cover such things as basic health and hygiene issues, children and animals interaction and how to approach and behave around dogs. It is amazing how children spread the word. How many parents race out and buy smoke detectors once the fire brigade has visited the school. I know we did! Deliver a responsible and important message to the kids, get them interacting and make it fun. You’ll be surprised exactly how many family members you will educating through this one visit.


Special Client Services

The dog world is extremely large and diverse and encompasses so many areas such as working dogs for police, army, navy, air force , customs, quarantine, local government, state government, federal government, just to mention a few as well as private companies that offer security or search and recue dogs.

If we look at the basic pet dog market we have people that love animals and take them on to enhance their life when they are in poor circumstances. We have to identify the people that have gone past a pet shop or some other place where cute puppies are up for sale or adoption and then take them on an emotional basis. We also have people that require their dogs for companionship or support of some type. These could include small children, adolescents and mature adults that have disabilities in either range of physical or mental and sometimes both, Within this group you’ll also find people that are isolated sometimes by distance or by circumstances that have a dog or dogs for company and companionship often also requiring the dog to give some sort of early warning system of intruders or even protection. These days aged care facilities are now employing the loving and caring properties of the facility dog to offer their resident’s greater comfort and psychological support whilst they are in the facility. Many older persons that are now living on their own due to losing love ones from illness, accident or age often will fill this void by having a pet to love and care for.

Now we should consider other major pet owner’s such as the show dog world which has tens of thousands of members all throughout Australia and is highly represented in every state and city and most towns. Often this group will be multiple dog owners and the most prolific breeding stock usually will come from this group of dog owner’s. The next large group to consider is the competitive dog trialists. They comprise of the obedience dog world and again often this group will have larger numbers of animals in their care and will also add to the population often by breeding practices for the purpose of providing the working stock for others that want to compete. Ability dog competitors will also fall within this group and again will often add to the population numbers via their breeding practices. There are many other dog sports both old and new some that have only just been invented recently such as rally obedience which is like circuits set up to test performance. In approximately 1899 there was a dog sport developed by two Germans to ensure that the German Shepherd Dog breed became the best all rounder in the world and the system included testing and training as well as breeding criteria to help ensure that this particular breed would become the largest breed populace in the world in recent times. This system is widely accepted throughout the world especially in the European countries as an excellent sport for both dogs and handlers to compete whilst keeping the best attributes of the German Shepherd Dog available for herding purposes and police and guard work. This system is known as Shutzhund training and has been adopted across many of the large German type guarding breeds. The next dog sport we should quickly explore is retrieving dogs trails where many different breeds of retrieving type dogs compete out in the field in real hunting conditions requiring them to be able to traverse large areas of ground, sometimes even quite harsh environments including water and extreme temperatures in both. There are also several types of hunter dogs that are used throughout the country that help their human companions find and hunt all types of quarry from small birds right through to deer and pigs which can be quite dangerous to both dog and human. We must also consider the dogs that work on the land with our farmers helping them to find their flocks of sheep and other livestock and those dogs that deal with the largest of the livestock such as cattle in their everyday life with often quite challenging jobs and conditions. This is a basic look at the dog world in Australia and some facets that make up the majority of this dog world where the clients will generated from.

We need to be able to cater for all of these facets within the dog industry and the dogs that are produced from within. One of the most important things we can help with is to ensure people do not slit their puppies from the litter at the wrong time causing psychological phenomena. The correct time splitting puppies from the litter is between seven and nine weeks, This is the most opportune time to make sure that the puppies received enough interaction from their mother and siblings to ensure they understand dog etiquette and rules and regulations of the pack. Once these puppies are split from the litter we have to endeavour to get the owners to enlist a puppy kindergarten or social exposure program. This has to be done correctly before the puppies reach 16 weeks of age as the social exposure window of opportunity closes at this time and then everything will be a matter of desensitization rather than broad spectrum social exposure. This means there are excellent opportunities for puppy kindergartens as one of our specialist client services.

Remedial problems solving is another specialist client service that will grow in the next decade. This we do usually at the clients house so we can view them and their animals working in unison in their own environment to see firstly what problems exist and secondly, other constructive techniques we can offer to ensure the humans and dogs work in synergy without causing undue stress or any damage to the home environment. The area of most concern are getting the feeding regime correct and the place where this should happens to limit risks to children and visitors. To Teach the family basic rules that will best help them gain an excellent canine ambassador – such as the dog is only allowed inside the house when it is invited by a human. The dog is only allowed on lounges, beds and places of elevation and comfort again when it is invited by a human. it is also important to teach the humans to correctly interact on exiting and entering into the dogs area as often people do not realize that shaping behaviour begins as soon as they interact with the dog and at this point is usually excited out of control behaviour that they are reinforcing.

In the last decade to 15 years there has been a remarkable increase in dog behaviour problems within society. Local governments report that the largest resource earning problems they have is dog behaviour problems. This can range from noise and nuisance complaints to dogs roaming at large or chasing and hunting small prey including our native animals or even causing fear to human’s right through to severe aggression and dog bite incidents. The situation has led to the increase in behaviour problem consultations, which we call behaviour clinic consultations. This is another specialist client service that is extremely necessary and is growing considerably all the time. Typically the behaviour clinic is best described as an experienced Trainer or Veterinarian goes into the person’s house armed with a comprehensive program that is built on several facets to firstly investigate what the true problems are with the dog and human interaction. To record these problems in their true context so that the course of these problems can be identified and addressed to relieve both the problem and the stress the problem is actually causing. Once all of these factors have been correctly gathered and identified it is time to start to put together an individual program for this particular dog and family in their own individual environment as every human, dog and environment is very individual. After this has been done the humans are then told and taught the training techniques that need to be put into place to stop the problems and then to maintain best possible behaviour and manage the dog’s ongoing behavioural outcomes. These behavioural clinic consults can only be done successfully as a private situation and not in a group due to the fact that every dog environment and lifestyle is individual. These behavioural clinic consultations usually take around three hours or more and the fact finding survey has approximately 300 questions.


7a – Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is how we learn to associate a neutral stimulus (like a sound, or a light) with a consequence. Classical conditioning means “basic learning”. That’s it. It’s one of the simplest ways dogs (and all animals) learn.

You may also hear it referred to as Pavlovian conditioning or associative learning. Once you understand this principle you will be able to truly see what is going on behind some “mysterious” pet behaviors.

For example, have you ever heard (or maybe even experienced) that dogs have a “sixth” sense?

_ “My dog gets so excited when I pick up the leash, he knows we are going for a walk!.

_ “My dog knows when my son is coming home before he gets through the door!”

_ “My dog knows when she did something wrong! she hides under the table with her tail between her legs before I even say anything!”

These classical conditioning examples (and million others like that) are not because dogs have a “sixth” sense. Dogs can predict what happens because they learn through classical conditioning.

How does classical conditioning work?

Classical conditioning examples, infographic


3 steps to learn an association

First: there is a signal (something the dog hears, sees or feels). This is called “neutral stimulus” by physiologists because without any learning, it doesn’t mean anything, it’s neutral. For example:

  • the sound of the leash clicking
  • the distinct sound of your son’s car engine (which your dog can hear better than you)
  • the subtle but clear (to your dog) body language signals you give away when you are upset (short breathing, tense muscles, etc.)

Second: right after the signal appears, something else happens. This event is called the “unconditioned stimulus or US” by psychologists because it triggers an “unconditioned response or UR” in the animal.  These are events that naturally, and without training, elicit a reaction in the animal (a feeling, an action, an internal state, etc). For example:

  • Going out for a walk (US): exercise, social interactions with other dogs and people, interesting smells are all things that produce hormones that make dogs “happy” (UR).
  • Your son arriving at the door and feeding the dog (US): social interactions with a family member and eating are all events that also trigger happy feelings as well as the feeling of hunger/eating (UR).
  • You scold or punish your dog (US): elicits the feeling of fear and the actions of tail in-between the legs, ears back and maybe whining (UR).

Third: after these events happen in that same sequence several times (repetition is key!), classical conditioning happens. The dog learns (is conditioned) that the signal predicts an event. Now the signal (which is now called the “Conditioned stimulus or CS) alone will elicit the particular reaction (now called conditioned reaction or CR). For example:

  • the sound of the leash (CS) predicts going out for a walk and makes the dog feel excited (CR).
  • the sound of the car engine (CS) predicts your son is arriving and will feed the dog which makes him feel exctited (CR).
  • your particular set of “upset” body language signals (CS) predict you are about to get really mad and punish your dog, he feels fear (CR).

The dog has learned to associate two events.

During classical conditioning our brain connects the two events to make them “feel” like they are the same thing! For example:

  • The sound of the leash clicking will make the dog just as happy (for an instant) as being on the walk itself!
  • The sound of the car engine will make the dog just as happy (for an instant) as greeting your son and eating!
  • The vision of your particular “upset” body signals will make the dog feel just as afraid as if you were actually punishing him!

What does this mean to dog trainers?

You will be able to train your dog to “feel good” about a particular signal. For example aMarker word or a distinct sound like a clicker. Then you can use the signal as the reward itself!

You must be careful too, or you can accidentally condition your dog to be fearful of certain things. The classic example is leash-aggression. When dogs are young and you first take them out for walks, it is natural to feel a little protective of your new furry friend. When other canines approach you unconsciously pull on the leash and tense up. Your pooch feels your reaction and eventually will see other dogs and tense up just like you do. Then, a handful of intense encounters might set your dog off, and now you have a dog that reacts only when he is on the leash.

Pavlov’s Dogs

Dog training and classical conditionin


Classical conditioning is also known as “Pavlovian Conditioning”. Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, discovered this learning principle by accident. He was a scientist interested in gastric function. He used dogs to study salivation.

In his experiment:

First (signal): he rang a bell

Second (event): he gave the dog food and measured salivation. He repeated the experiment many times with the same dogs.

Fourth (conditioning): This is what he discovered. Dogs only salivate after food is delivered to them, not at the sound of a bell. But after many repetitions of his experiment, dogs started salivating when they heard the bell (and before the food was presented to them!). The dogs learned to associate the bell sound with food and salivated in anticipation.

Classical conditioning is:

How animals learn to associate two things. The first predicts the second.


7b – Operant Conditioning
“Using positive vs. negative dog training methods correctly”

Operant conditioning…
What does that mean? … It means learning (conditioning) that -what I do- (operant, as in operator) has a consequence. You might have heard about positive vs. negative training methods, or using reinforcement or reward vs. punishment.

All training methods, no matter how they call them, are based on the principles of classical and operant conditioning. Both punishment and rewards are an integral part of this theory that explains some of the most basic ways of learning, and it applies to all of us, animals.

When you learn the psychology behind dog training through operant conditioning examples you will be able to more effectively teach your pooch to do what you ask.

Let me tell you a little extra secret too: this concept will also become handy when dealing with unruly kids, a difficult mother-in-law, a messy husband/wife or a misbehaving cat! It is basic animal psychology and that is why it applies to all species.

Positive vs. negative dog training techniques explained

Dog trainers and people in general use the term “positive” to imply that they use rewards as the main dog training technique. They use “negative” to imply an obedience method based on corrections.

But the reality is that both groups will use “positive” and “negative” along their training history with their dogs. Here is why…

Operant conditioning is how we learn to associate our own behavior with a consequence.

There are 4 possibilities

1- Positive Reinforcement (+R)

2- Positive Punishment (+P)

3- Negative Reinforcement (-R)

4- Negative Punishment (-P)

Let’s break those 4 possibilities down into their basic components.

Positive and negative..

…do not mean “good” or “bad”.

Positive means to give (i.e.: give a treat, give a jerk on the leash).

Negative means to take away (i.e: take away your attention, take away the pressure on a choke chain).

So, you see? positive can be “good” or “bad” depending on what you are giving your dog. And negative can also be “good or bad” depending on what you take away.

Reinforcement and punishment…

… do not mean “good” or “bad” by your standards.

Reinforcement means that the behavior will happen more often.

Punishment means that the behavior will happen less often.

Reinforcement and punishment are defined by the outcome!


Here is an example:

You give (positive) your canine friend a pat on the head (reinforcement?) every time he sits next to you. So you can assume that is “positive reinforcement”

Well, no, it’s not what you are thinking…

You notice that your dog does not sit next to you more often, it actually happens less often!
You rewarded him with a pat! why isn’t he sitting next to you? …

… because the pat on the head was not a reward for him. He actually hates when you pat him on the head! (some dogs really do, if this is your case, rubbing down the chin is better).

So, you did give (positive) him something – the pat on the head – BUT there is a behavior that happens less often (punishment).

You just used positive punishment!

A reward is only a reward if the animal increases the likelihood of the behavior!

An aversive event is only a punishment if the animal decreases the likelihood of the behavior!

More operant conditioning examples

If you are following this so far, you will come to realize that these 4 possibilities are often different sides of the same coin. For example, a dog barks at the dinner table begging for food, the owner gives the dog food. What is going on?

From the point of view of the dog, he was given (positive) food for barking, so in the future it is very likely that he will continue barking for food at the table (Reinforcement).

On the other hand, from the point of view of the owner he hated the constant barking but as soon as he gave the dog food, the barking stopped (negative), so it is likely that the owner will continue giving food to the dog at the table to keep him quiet (Reinforcement). You see? you have two events happening simultaneously but they are two different squares of the quadrant.

It all also has to do with how you phrase things because a dog that barks less often (punishment: behavior decreases) is also a dog that is quiet more often (reinforcement: behavior increases).

Also, the way each possibility is defined depends on the timing at which the punishment or reward are given. If you give it late, you might be rewarding/punishing something completely different from what you thought you were. In the example above, if the owner chooses to give food when the dog is quiet instead, then the quiet behavior will increase instead.

Operant conditioning examplesThis are made up examples, you can see how you can probably sort every action you do and its consequence in one of these 4 operant conditioning quadrants.

You could use either of the 4 possibilities of Operant Conditioning.

The idea is to use the most effective one for each particular behavior.

7c -Extinction
How to get rid of problem behaviors in dogs

Behavioral extinction is a learning principle that can be very helpful solving some dog behavior problems like: Jumping on people, begging at the table, pulling on the leash and whining when placed inside the crate.

It is important that you understand how it works, because although it seems like a very simple concept…

…there are some things you need to know or you will be teaching your pet the opposite of what you wanted her to do!

Extinction is a psychology term to explain how we can learn something new about a situation. It is not the same as forgetting though, and that is why you will learn that the animal can reverse to the undesired behavior sometimes.


When you stop reinforcing a behavior, the behavior fades away.

For example: if your dog begs at the dinner table (with a cute puppy face) but you stop giving food to her (no matter how cute or sad he looks) eventually she will stop begging.

I emphasize the word “eventually” because this takes time. It will take even longer if your pet has been rewarded for begging (or jumping or anything else) for a long time!

Even though the concept is simple, “stop reinforcing the bad behavior”, in practice it can get tricky for several reasons:

  1. What is the reinforcer? Sometimes it is not plainly obvious what the reward that keeps the bad behavior going is. You will need to become a detective!
  2. Extinction burst: The behavior will get worse before it gets better.
  3. Spontaneous recovery: During each training trial you will see an improvement but on the following trial (usually 1 or more days later) it will seem like your pet didn’t remember anything!
  4. Partial reinforcement extinction effect: Extinguishing a behavior will be easier or harder depending on how it has been reinforced.

What is the reinforcer?

If a behavior happens frequently it’s because it is being reinforced. In some cases it is obvious what the reward is, for example, begging at the table. All you have to do is stop giving your pet food at the table.

Other cases are not that obvious, for example jumping on people or barking.

When dogs jump on people they want attention. Most dog owners think attention is talking and petting the dog. However to the dog attention is any kind of interaction: eye contact, pushing away, kneeing the dog or yelling NO! (even if negative, these are types of attention). So, to extinguish a jumping behavior you must completely ignore your pooch! No eye contact, no touching of any kind. The person must look away, turning around if necessary and keep his/her arms folded.

When dogs bark it could be for many reasons, most of which we can’t see (or hear). Some dog bark because they are bored, so the act of barking is reinforcing in itself! Which means you can’t extinguish it! (because the reinforcement is an internal emotion of the dog). In this case you can try distracting the dog or teaching him other ways to pass the time.

In summary, when extinguishing a bad behavior you first need to find what the reward is. Then, if possible, remove it completely.

Beware of the “BURST”!

When you first take away the reward the dog will try even harder! (For example: he will start pawing at you or barking!)

That is called an Extinction Burst.

For example: You go to work every day, take the elevator to your office and every time you push the button to your floor, the doors close and the elevator goes up. Right?

One day, you go to work, get into the elevator and press the button…but nothing happens, the doors remain open!

What do you do?

You actually push the button again….and again…and harder this time!

Until eventually you give up and take the stairs.

When you are trying to extinguish a behavior…stay focused through the burst! Don’t let your dog win!

What happens if you give in once in a while?

It can’t really hurt, right?


Now your canine friend will learn that sometimes she will get the reward. So he will keep trying, because…

…you never know…sometimes it works!

This is how slot machines work…people keep trying because sometimes you win! To get your dog to STOP doing a behavior you don’t like you have to be strict and consistent. No food at the table period.

Spontaneous recovery

Extinction is not the same as forgetting. When you (or your pet) forget something, it means the memory faded away. During extinction there is new learning, but the old memory is still somewhere in our brains.

When you start extinguishing a behavior you will see the dog getting better during one training session (which can last several hours in the beginning). When you come back the next day though, your dog’s first trial will be so bad it will seem he didn’t learn anything the previous day!

This is normal.

Don’t dispair.

Keep going, keep training, be consistent.

Eventually with many training sessions, the bad behavior will become less and less prominent until one day it will be gone.

Spontaneous recovery can happen after several circumstances:

  • A long period of time happened between training sessions (several hours, 1 or more days).
  • Change of location.
  • A different person is training the hound.
  • Change in time of the day when the training happens, etc.

Partial reinforcement extinction effect

This keeps the pet guessing and trying harder, which eventually makes the behavior reliable and strong (even without treats).

Unfortunately, if a behavior has been reinforced in this way (randomly), then it becomes really hard to extinguish it. This is because the pooch already knows that sometimes doing the behavior doesn’t pay, he has to keep trying.

The solution is the same: be consistent, patient and keep on training.

When do you use behavioral extinction training?

Every time you want a behavior to go away.

Easy tips:

  • Find out what is the actual reinforcer.
  • Completely remove the reward.
  • Repeat…repeat…repeat! As always, practice is key!
  • If the behavior doesn’t go away with time, you probably did not find the reinforcer or the behavior is the actual reinforcer.
  • Be patient, especially through the extinction burst and spontaneous recoveries. Behaviors take time to “sink in” and they also take time to “sink out”

7d – Capturing

Capturing a dog behavior is the best training method to use with your pet. It requires the animal to “think” about the situation and it uses only behaviors freely offered by your canine friend. It also depends upon your patience and skill…

This method is based on the concept of operant conditioning, is how animals make an association between their own behavior and a consequence. In this case the consequence will be a reward.

For this technique, you wait for your hound to do the desired behavior and then instantly reward it. The key is to have great timing, be very consistent and repeat until your dog starts doing the behavior as soon as he sees you.

Capturing a dog behavior is how most people, without realizing it, tech their pets to sit for them to place the food bowl on the floor. They wait until the dog is sitting, and only then they lower the food bowl for the dog to it.

Capturing a Dog Behavior Tutorial

  1. Grab a piece of Yummy treat.
  2. Sit patiently and watch your pooch.
  3. When he does the behavior you are looking for….Mark (add a command) and reward.
  4. Repeat many times. The behavior should start happening more often.

You can use capturing to turn any behavior your dog does into a command.

  • Bark: It’s hard to have a dog to bark on command but you can capture it very easily! Then just add a verbal cue!
  • Walk nicely on a leash: You could use luring, but then you would have to bring treats with you when you go out for a walk. Instead when your puppy pulls on the leash STOP! As soon as he looks at you or releases the pressure on the leash, start walking again.

How to add a verbal command to a Captured Behavior?

Before you add a verbal command, after capturing a dog behavior, make sure your canine pet is doing the behavior you want often and with a good posture. Otherwise your command will mean to do the behavior in a sloppy way…and you don’t want that!

There are 2 ways in which you can add a command to a captured behavior”

1 – Say it before he does it!

The idea is to say the command word (i.e.: “Sit”) right as your pet is sitting. It’s OK if in the beginning you say it as he is sitting down. But you have to start saying it before he does it more and more often.

This requires you to pay careful attention during a training session.

Only mark and reward when your dog sits right as or right after you say the command. DO NOT reward your pooch for sitting down if you didn’t give the command!


2 – Only reward sits after you gave the command!

During a training session, say “sit” then mark and reward the next sit that happens (even if you had to wait several seconds).

Then watch your canine friend, but do not give the command and do no reward 1 or 2 sits that happened during that time.

Then say sit, and reward the next sit behavior.

And so on, making sure you reward every sit that is followed by your command (reinforcing sitting after a command) and ignoring every sit that is followed by your cue (extinguishing sitting without a command)!


When do I use Capturing?

You can capture any dog behavior you see your pet doing.

Here is a list of some behaviors you can capture and then add a verbal command

  • Sit
  • Down
  • Stand
  • Bark
  • Pee outside
  • Come when called

7e – Luring

Luring a dog behavior is a dog training technique to get your pet to do something, without having to push him around or use a leash. This method is highly effective to teach dogs basic commands in just a few minutes.

Luring a dog behavior is the best technique for beginners because your pet will happily follow you. It doesn’t require a lot of skill, although some practice will improve your efficiency.

This method was popularized by renowned dog trainer Dr. Ian Dunbar and is one of the best positive techniques to train a family pet dog. It is even easy enough for most kids to try with their canine friend.

How to use Luring?

  1. Grab a piece of Yummy dog treat.
  2. Show it to your furry friend (which means put it right under his nose!)
  3. Then without letting go of the treat, but letting your pooch lick it a little bit…move your hand slowly around.
  4. When you get the behavior you wanted, Mark and Treat

Note that even though you are using a treat as both a lure and a reward, a lure is used to produce a behavior but a reward is used to reinforce the behavior. A reward is given after the behavior is done!

Did your dog follow your hand? Good!

Now you can move your hand around and make your pet do different things. Try a few!

  • Sit: move the treat up towards your dog’s eyes, very slowly. You will notice that he will sit as his head goes up (and his bottom goes down). Yes! mark and treat! He deserves it!
  • Down: Start with the dog sitting. Move the treat down to the floor, slowly. your pooch will follow the treat down and might just plop down all the way. Yes! mark and treat! He deserves it!

Important Tip!

Luring a dog behavior is a basic method to start training your pet.

Luring a dog behavior should only be used the first 3-5 times you start training a new command. After that, switch to Capturing or use a hand signal or verbal cue to elicit the behavior.

Dogs are opportunists. What does that mean?

It means good news for you!

It means that they will eat pretty much anything they can and when they can. That is why Luring a dog behavior works! You can use food to your advantage by Luring a dog behavior!

How to fade luring into a hand signal?

I must repeat this: Do NOT use luring a dog behavior more than 3-5 times!

Here is an example:

Training your dog to do sit.

  1. Move the treat up, towards your dog’s eyes, very slowly.
  2. You will notice that he will sit as his head goes up (and his bottom goes down).
  3. Yes! Mark and treat! He deserves it!
  4. Repeat steps 1-3, three times.
  5. The fourth time do the same without the treat in your hand! (but your hand still smells good so your canine friend will follow it).
  6. Repeat alternating treat-no treat.
  7. Use the non-treat lure more often (i.e.: treat, no-treat, no-treat, treat) until you completely fade the lure away.
  8. Change the luring movement of your arm into a hand-signal. The hand signal usually derives from the luring movement of your arm. So in this case it could be if you start with your hand down (palm facing out) move your hand towards your shoulder bending your elbow doing so.
  9. From now on prompt your dog with the hand signal only. Give him a reward every time he responds to your cue and ignore him if he sits without you doing the hand signal.

If food does not work try a squeaky toy.

7f – Shaping

Shaping dog behavior is a training technique that builds on Capturing.

It is an advanced method because it requires the trainer to pay attention to the dog’s movements and have excellent timing when rewarding him. It is also a higher-level training system because the end result is a complex dog command. The nice thing about it is that it breaks down the complex behavior in smaller, easily achievable parts for the dog/trainer team to succeed.

It is a powerful method because you can train your pooch to do incredible things like:

  • Turn the lights on or off
  • Open a door
  • Find the remote control and bring it to me!
  • You can also use shaping dog training for dog tricks: spin, roll-over, play-dead and many more!

It is a positive method because you accomplish a complex behavior without ever inflicting pain or discomfort to your canine friend. You can combine clicker training with dog shaping or use a praise word/food reward instead. Either way, you canine friend gets to use his brain intelligently.

How to train a dog with Shaping

Shaping dog behavior uses Capturing to train advanced behaviors the animal will not produce on its own. Capturing is a training technique in which you wait for the hound to do the task (i.e. sit) and reward it when it happens. The use of rewards make the behavior happen more often, which enables you to then add a word command or dog hand signal to it.

In shaping dog training, instead of capturing the full behavior (“sit”) you will capture successive steps towards the final behavior.

Here is an example to train your canine pet to “Ring a Bell”:

  1. Set the bell where you would like it to be (i.e. next to the door, to signal to go out to pee).
  2. Start the training session near the bell area. Wait and observe!
  3. If your furry friend “looks” at the bell – Mark and reward. This means to praise your pooch with a word followed by a food treat. You can also use a clicker instead of a word.
  4. Reward a few looks at the bell. Then raise your criteria for rewards, not the dog has to take one step towards the bell to get the treat.
  5. Be patient! Some hounds might walk straight to the bell, while other will take a while to figure out what it is they need to do.
  6. If you pet moves a little bit towards the bell – Mark and reward! Even if it was only one step.
  7. As your pooch gets better, keep raising your criteria and reward only as he gets closer and closer to the bell.
  8. Here you need to understand the concept of a “random reward”. The first few times your canine friend does the right behavior you must mark and reward every single time. However, after a few trials, you should start giving out rewards randomly, in a way in which the pooch can’t predict when he is getting food and when not. This is the most important concept in shaping dog behavior. By rewarding at random times, your puppy will keep on trying. As you raise your criteria you reward every single time, then randomly then raise your criteria again, reward every time, then randomly…and so on.
  9. When your dog is close to the bell raise your criteria: mark and reward only if he touches the bell.
  10. Repeat step #8 but with this new criteria. Reward every time for a handful of trials, then back to random treats.
  11. Now that your pooch is touching the bell consistently, start rewarding only the trials in which he makes the bell ring loudly and not the feeble ones.
  12. Finally, you can add a command by only rewarding if your hound rings the bell after you prompted with the cue. If instead, you want him to ring the bell to go pee outside, then use going outside as the reward instead of a food treat.

In Summary:

  • By rewarding your dog for doing a behavior that will eventually lead to the final goal, you can train him to do many things!
  • The above recipe on shaping dog behavior can be tweaked and changed depending on how fast or slow your pooch catches on.
  • You will notice that the more commands you teach your pet using dog shaping, the faster he will start learning them!

Tips for Shaping Dog Behavior

  1. Shaping dog behavior can be done in a million different ways! If you thought about a particular way of getting your end behavior but your canine friend is not progressing…Think of a different way!
  2. Stay focused through a training session. Turn off your phone, TV and any other distractions…focus only on your dog!
  3. Try to finish each training session in a positive tone! If your puppy gave you a great behavior…End the session! It is better to end on a high note than when the animal is tired and frustrated.

Troubleshooting Shaping

  • I keep waiting for the next step in my shaping plan, but my dog is not doing it. I know he is capable of doing it!

Solution: If your pet is not doing the behavior you expect him to do, he is not getting enough rewards and will get frustrated. Think of a smaller step to reward him. Shaping dog behavior has to be done in small increments the animal can and will do!

  • My dog is not reliably doing the behavior I am rewarding.

Solution: are you rewarding only one aspect of the behavior? if you are sometimes rewarding for speed and the next time for posture your hound won’t be able to figure out what he is being rewarded for. When you are shaping a dog behavior you should pick one aspect and work on it. Then move on to the next and so on.

  • My dog gets frustrated when I jump to the next step. He won’t do anything else or give up!

Solution: before you can move on to the next step in shaping dog behavior you need to make sure you are randomly rewarding your furry friend for the current behavior. This way he is used to being rewarded only some of the time and he will keep trying.

  • My dog learned faster than what I thought! What do I do now?

Solution: Always have a plan – written or at least thought out. Write down what small behaviors you expect to reward to reach the end goal. If you have a plan you will be prepared if your pooch learns faster. Quick thinking is key in shaping dog behavior!

  • I trained my dog to jump high, but now that I am training him to jump high -through the hoop- he won’t jump as high!

Solution: Sometimes dogs will relax what they have learned in order to learn something new. Don’t worry about it, keep working on your new aspect of the behavior, once it’s mastered your pet will be able to put both aspects together as one! In this case start with the hoop low and raise it slowly.

  • I am shaping a behavior and the dog is doing very well, but he won’t do it as well for my husband.

Solution: You should try to avoid changing trainers in the middle of learning something new. Have your husband (or any other person) train a completely different behavior. This will help your dog stay focused on each task, since different trainers often train differently!

7g – The Premack Principle

What is it?

The Premack Principle states that high-probability behaviour reinforces low-probability behaviour.  That means that a preferred activity can be used to reinforce a less favoured activity.  The principle is often considered in teacher/parent/human behaviour situations, such as ‘If you clean your room you can go and play outside’ or, ‘eat your greens and you can have ice cream’.  As a result it is sometimes called Grandma’s Law. 

What is its relevance to dog training? 

  1. In real life

High-probability behaviours are what the dog wants; low-probability behaviours are what you want.  To apply the Premack Principle in real life, you need to think of all the things in daily life that your dog wants, i.e. his natural reinforcers.  These high probability behaviours do not have to be the obvious things like getting his dinner or his walks.  They can include eating rabbit droppings, chewing grass, investigating smells, paddling/swimming in ponds, having his tummy tickled, lying on your lap, going in the car, jumping up you on his hind legs, etc.  However, exclude activities you do not want to reinforce like stealing the cat’s tea, eating socks, chewing shoes, chasing sheep, etc.; and also discount things you do not control, like having a squirrel at your disposal willing to be chased, because it is important that you can deliver what the dog wants e.g. the ‘ice cream’.  For any of these high-probability activities to be used as a reinforcer, it has to be something the dog wants at that particular moment.

A few examples:

  • walking on a loose lead (the greens) gets you to the park for off-lead runs (the ice cream);
  • or a short loose lead walk gets you a pee on the next lamp post;
  • or give me a ‘check in’ and you can go and sniff that new smell;
  • or sit and the back door will open;
  • or stop barking for the car journey to continue.

So, in effect, what he wants (the high probability behaviours) becomes dependent on him doing what you want (the low probability behaviours).

Sometimes, these things your dog wants are called ‘life rewards’.  If you look at life from a dog’s point of view, they may well ask themselves what’s the point of complying with all your instructions: ‘shut up barking’ (why), ‘stop pulling on the lead’ (why), ‘stop jumping and barking to go out the door’ (why), ‘walk to heel’ (!!), ‘stay’ (!!!), ‘sit’ (what, again).

To use these high-probability behaviours to affect the sort of behaviours you want from your dog in daily life situations, you need to have a clear idea of how you want your dog to behave.  These are low probability behaviours and could include, for example:

  • to not bark in the car,
  • to sit before rushing out the back door,
  • to not pull on his lead,
  • to put the ball in your hand and not drop it on the ground 10 feet away,
  • to lie down before you put his dinner bowl on the floor.

Dr Ian Dunbar likens this to teaching a dog good manners or canine courtesy.  For example, the dog offering a calm, controlled sit by the back door is the canine equivalent of saying ‘please can I go out’.  So, you can begin to think of ‘sitting’ as a canine ‘please’ before

  • you open the door
  • take off his lead
  • throw his ball
  • put his dinner bowl on the floor
  • agree to him climbing on your lap.
  1. In training

You can incorporate this principle into your training sessions by ensuring that your dog’s every enjoyable activity that you control, has a short training activity first; and every lengthy training session should incorporate several short training interludes.

Because of these associations, a dog begins to enjoy the behaviours you want him to perform, as much as the things he wants to do.  By this means, dog training, the trained behaviours and the places and situations where it occurs, become so enjoyable that they become self-reinforcing.

To get our dogs to respond reliably to our requests, we use rewards, but the best possible rewards are what the dog most wants at that moment and in a training session what the dog wants is most likely to be the biggest distraction (or attraction) e.g. a smell on the floor, an escaped piece of cheese, the attractive little brown bitch training next to you, or your son playing football nearby, etc.  If you train your dog to understand the Premack Principle, ‘if you do what I want (yes, sit again), you can have what you want (that escaped piece of cheese).  Then, once the dog grasps the connection, what was previously the distraction and was working against your training, can then be used as the motivator and reward to reinforce the wanted responses in training.


7h – Clicker Training

There are various styles and types of clicker; from the more usual box clicker to the i-click and even an electronic one which has different tones and volumes.  When the ‘tongue’ or button on a clicker is pressed it produces a click-click sound. This sound is unique and is partly why the clicker can be so effective in teaching animals. Dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs, pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, rat, mice, iguanas and many more species have been successfully trained using a clicker.  

The clicker can be a very fast and effective method of training, which can produce an animal that is capable of problem solving. The clicker enables us to use operant conditioning to effectively train any species that we want. A word can be used almost as effectively, but it doesn’t always sound the same, and it isn’t devoid of emotion in the same way that the clicker is. A whistle can be used (but use a gundog one of a known pitch so that you can replace it exactly), a light/torch can be used to teach deaf dogs or you could use a ‘thumbs up’ signal and so on.

How it Works

Once an animal has been conditioned to a clicker, the clicker can be used to indicate to the dog exactly which behaviour has earned him a reward. It effectively ‘marks’ the behaviour we like. I think it helps to think of the clicker as a camera, taking a picture of the exact behaviour that we want, and enables us to communicate this to the dog. It’s much more effective than saying ‘good dog’ as saying good dog takes time and in that time the dog can have shown several behaviours; which one were we rewarding?  Using ‘good dog’ isn’t as ‘clean’ as using a clicker and can cause confusion in the dog’s mind. 

The clicker needs to be ‘charged up’ using a reward that the dog finds reinforcing, this can be food, toys or whatever (and will depend on the dog!). Often in the early stages, food is easier to use as throwing a toy or having a game reduces the number of repetitions that can occur in any given time. Ideally, in the early stages, the dog should be rewarded every 6 seconds or so. 

The clicker is for teaching new behaviours and, when the behaviour has been thoroughly learned and is ‘on cue’, the clicker can be faded out.

So what’s so special about the clicker?

·        The clicker accurately identifies the correct behaviour. It helps use to isolate exactly what we want e.g. a sit with the dog sitting square with all paws on the floor, looking at us, rather than a sit where the dog is flopped onto one hip and is lifting one paw.

·        The click sound is like a photograph of the behaviour which is stored in the dog’s short-term memory so he has a mental picture of what he was doing when he heard the click.

·        The sound of the click is always followed by a reward. Rewarding the behaviour makes the dog want to repeat it.

·        The dog works out what he needs to do to make the click happen, to receive another treat, so the dog is trying to ‘make the click happen’ by doing what the trainer wants.

·        It gives the dog a good reason for paying attention to its owner, but it is not used to attract the dog’s attention, it is used to ‘mark’ the moment the dog gives us attention.

·        The absence of a click can convey as much as the sound of the click does, because it can encourage the dog to try something else to make the click happen.

·        The clicker works well at a distance. It is impractical to try and toss a treat into a dog’s mouth at the exact moment a desirable behaviour occurs. The clicker bridges the gap between the instant the dog performs the correct response and the time it takes to actually deliver the treat.  

·        The clicker can take your dog’s mind off the actual reinforcement. Some dogs are so focussed on the food that they cannot learn new behaviours in the presence of food reinforcers until the clicker is established.

·        The clicker helps to define the end of the behaviour. For example, when teaching a dog to stay, delaying the click encourages the dog to remain in one spot until he hears a click and receives his reward.

·        Clicker trained dogs have great self confidence (because they are not afraid to experiment) and great problem solving abilities.

The Clicker Process

1.      Get the behaviour

2.      Mark it (i.e. ‘click’ it.  The click is a reward marker, it means a reward is coming)

3.      Reward it (e.g. give a treat, ideally something tasty, small, soft and easily swallowed)

Remember, ‘Click’ means 3 things:

1.      Yes, that is the right behaviour.

2.      A reward is coming

3.      It ends the behaviour (so it doesn’t matter if the dog drops the dumbbell when you click or gets up out of the stay – the click has already told the dog which behaviour was correct)

Other things to remember:

·        Click (in-out/click-click) first, then reward.

·        A click guarantees a reward will follow, even if you click the wrong thing or click by mistake.

·        The click does enable a short delay between the click and the treat (which can build anticipation) and makes it easier to get the treats off of the trainer’s body.

·        One click, one reward, never multiple click.

·        If you want to express your joy for an extra-special response – give just one click but give multiple treats (one after the other not all at once) with enthusiastic vocal and physical praise.

·        The click ends the behaviour.  It does not matter what the dog does between hearing the click and receiving the treat. 

To avoid a dog becoming confused or ‘switching off’ during a clicker training session, it is important to maintain the dog’s interest and involvement in the learning process by working on a high frequency of reinforcement, i.e. clicking and treating often to encourage the dog to keep trying. 

Clicker training is mentally tiring for the dog, so keep session short to begin with. If your dog is not making progress and your rate of reinforcement is dropping, then make the criterion that you are working on easier. Once the dog has started to be successful at that criterion, move onto the next, but don’t make the jump too large.

Before we introduce our dogs to the clicker…

Familiarise yourself with the different types of clicker and use whichever you are comfortable with. 

When you press the clicker, you should only be making a click-click noise; there should not be any movement of the clicker visible to the dog (i.e. it’s not a TV remote or a car central-locking key).  Don’t click it near a dog’s ears. 

Practise holding the clicker and some spare treats in the same hand, so that your other hand is free to take and throw a treat.  Also practise having the dog’s lead looped over the arm of your clicker hand – the lead is only for security purposes and when you are at home and in a secure, distraction free environment, you do not need to have the dog on its lead. 

Practise delivering a treat from your hand either into the dog’s mouth either directly or by throwing; and also dropping a treat onto the floor. 

Timing of the ‘click’ is very important.  What you click (and then treat) is what you are training your dog to repeat.  So the timing of the click should be the precise movement that you want your dog to remember and repeat.  Click the action, not after it has ended.  Don’t worry about occasionally clicking the wrong thing (we all do it), but you must give your dog a treat (a ‘click’ always guarantees a treat), and then ‘undo’ the wrong click by ensuring you follow it with several correct clicks & treats.

To practise your timing:

·        Bounce a tennis ball on the floor and click at precisely the same moment as the ball hits the floor.  Click every bounce.  Then try clicking as the ball reaches the top of its bounce.

·        Bounce a tennis ball off a wall and click as the ball hits the floor. You can also do this the other way round and bounce the ball off the floor onto the wall and click as the ball hits the wall. 

With each of these methods, if your timing is good, you will not hear the ball hit the ground as your click will occur at exactly the same moment. If you are hearing the ball hit the floor or wall, then you need to work more on your timing.

Getting started with clicker training

Step 1.  “Charge up” your clicker

·        Click the clicker once (in-out) and give your dog a treat from your hand.

 Hint: Use something your dog really likes at first.  Small pieces of soft, easily-swallowed yummy food (hot dogs, cheese etc) are best because the dog can enjoy it and be ready for the next thing quickly.

 ·        Repeat this until your dog reacts to the clicker (by startling, pricking her ears or suddenly looking for the treat).

·        Now you are ready to start teaching a behaviour

 Technical note: This is called “establishing a secondary reinforcer” but most people call it “charging up the clicker.

Step 2.  Getting the behaviour

There are various methods of ‘getting’ a new behaviour, including luring, shaping, capturing, eliciting and targeting.  I prefer to use shaping, so I will click for each tiny increment (criterion) that the dog offers that will take us to the target behaviour. So if I want the dog to sit from a stand, I will look for the slight shift of the weight backwards, the bend of the stifle and hock joints, the lowering of the back end etc.

Step 3.  Add a Cue Word

·        When your dog is repeating this new behaviour/response reliably, to the point where you can predict when she’s about to do it, start adding a cue.  

·        For example, if you know she’s about to sit, say “Sit”.  If you know she’s about to lift her paw, say “Wave!”

·        Match this cue immediately before this behaviour many times.  

 Hint: dogs don’t know what “commands” are.  But your dog will learn that if she performs this behaviour when she hears this cue, she’ll get a reward.

 ·        Warning: if you get in the habit of repeating the cues, your dog will think the cue is “Sit-sit-sit”, and she’ll always wait for you to say it three times before responding!

Step 4.  Test the Cue

·        Try saying the cue word.  If your dog responds correctly, click and give her a “jackpot” — a whole bunch of really good treats!

 Hint: Whenever you really like something your dog does, identify it with one click and reward it with more or better treats.

  ·        If she doesn’t do the action when you say the cue word, you were introducing the cue word too soon.  Work on more repetitions for a while longer.

·        If you’ve given the cue and the dog doesn’t respond correctly straight away, don’t repeat the cue or leave it open for the dog to choose when to do it – withdraw the signal, turn away, then return to your dog and repeat an earlier step to achieve a successful response.

Step 5.  Ignore Un-Cued Behaviours

·        When she’s reliably performing the behaviours when you say the cue, stop clicking & treating her for doing it at other times. Just ignore these “spontaneous” behaviours.  Continue to click & treat when she does it on cue. This helps to put the behaviour ‘on cue’ only.

 Note 1: You might find that your dog starts doing this trick a lot right after you stop rewarding her. This is normal. It’s called an “extinction burst”. (You probably do the same thing when a button stops working or your car won’t start.  Instead of trying something else, you just push the button several times, or turn the key several times, before you give up!).

 Note 2: Capturing is a good way to control unwanted behaviours, like barking or jumping up on you by putting them on cue. But be ready for the “extinction burst” (see Note 1).  To keep unwanted behaviours under control, it’s good to give the cue and reward the barking or jumping up behaviour every once in a while – have a little barking or jumping session!  

Step 6.  Generalise It

·        Now teach your dog that this cue will work everywhere. Move to different locations in your house and try it. Go outside and try it. Try it with the leash on, and with it off.  Try it in the car, in the park, and at the vet’s.  

 Hint: You may need to go back a few steps, maybe even back to Step 2, if the distraction levels are too high.

Hint: you’ll want to make the rewards bigger for each new accomplishment.

 ·        Your dog will “generalise” the behaviour and she’ll learn that it’s the cue word that’s important, not the fact that she’s in the kitchen or it’s just before dinner or the leash is on or you are wearing your red ‘training’ fleece.

There you have it.  

 Clicker training is not just a training tool to teach a new trick. It’s a way of life that builds a better, stronger, happier relationship between owner and their dog because it becomes woven into everyday life and it becomes an extremely powerful form of communication and teaching.


7i – Verbal Marking

In technical terms marker training is operant conditioning.

Operant conditioning forms an association between a behavior and a consequence.


When a dog exhibits a behavior we like the consequence is a high value reward. In marker training that reward is either a high value food treat or a high value toy that the dog really loves. If a dog does not perform a behavior the consequence is “No Reward.” This is called a negative reinforcer. When a dog gets a negative reinforcer it must then repeat the exercises if it wants to get the high value reward.

No matter what anyone ever tells you dogs do things for themselves. Dogs don’t do things to make you feel good. They do things to make themselves feel good. They do things because they are motivated towards feeling comfortable in addition to doing things that eliminate feeling discomfort. This is a pretty profound concept and one that pet owners often miss. Pet owners are often lead to believe that dogs will eventually do things to make their owner feel good. The reality is that this is seldom if ever the case.

So the key to operant conditioning is to teach a dog that when he performs a behavior that we like he gets a reward that makes him feel good – the reward gives him a level of comfort. This reward can either be in the form of a food or it can be a toy he likes to play with or playing a game with the handler that he gets enjoyment out of or he gets praise from his handler(which he likes).

In the marker training system there are only two consequences to a behavior that we are trying to train. They are a reward or no-reward. Which consequence happens depends on the behavior the dog exhibits to a stimulus. A stimulus can be a command or a cue (or lure) from the handler.

For dogs to associate a behavior with a reward or with punishment the reward or punishment must come immediately after the behavior. We tell people the consequence should come within a 1/2 second of the behavior. If a reward comes 5 seconds after a behavior the dog has no idea why he is getting a reward. If a new dog owner comes home and finds a pile of dog poop in his kitchen and he proceeds to rub the dogs nose in it, that dog doesn’t have a clue why he is getting punished.

Now if the same dog has been on leash in the kitchen and peed on the floor and the handler had scolded him the instant he saw the dog pee – the dog would associate the scolding with peeing – because it came within 1/2 second  of the behavior.

In training it is not always possible to reward within a 1/2 second. In fact no matter how hard you try you cannot consistently reward a dog within 1/2 second. The get around this we bridge (or connect) the time frame between the behavior and the consequence that follows. This bridge allows us to extend the 1/2 second rule of consequences. That bridge is a word – we will call it a Marker ( use the word YES). Many people use the sound from a clicker. The fact is you can use any word or sound you are comfortable with as long as you are consistent.

A simple way to look at the mark as a bridge is that it is like telling your dog “Hold on a second – I like what you just did and I am going to get to you and give you a high value reward.”

There are positive and negative markers. The word for a negative Marker is “NO” or “NOPE.” It is important to mention that a negative marker is not a correction. It is simply a way of communicating to the animal that he just made a mistake and if he expects to get that high value reward he needs to redo the behavior correctly.

Through repetition the dog learns that every time he hears the positive Marker he gets a reward. Every time he hears the negative Marker he does not get a reward and he has to repeat the behavior or exercise.

Dogs that are trained with markers become problem solvers. They have learned (through the concept of negative reinforcement) that when one behavior doesn’t work they need to try something else and if that doesn’t work they just keep trying because if they try long enough they have a good chance of figuring out what you want and getting a high value reward.

The system allows trainers to reinforce correct behavior with “pin point accuracy” from a distance. It also allows dogs to make mistakes and then learn from their mistakes. The beauty of the system is that it also allows us to pin point the exact moment a dog makes a mistake, without correcting the dog in the process.

The beauty of this system is that it is a perfect way to train puppies because it is motivational training at its best and there are no corrections involved until you get into the advanced stages of training.

It is also a perfect way to retrain adult dog (even dominant dogs) because the consequences of a behavior are not conflict with the handler. So when it is done correctly it is a safe way to retrain the foundation of obedience work on a dominant dog.

The 5 Magic Words of Marker Training

The basic foundation of marker training involves teaching the dog the meaning of these 5 core words. Once the dog understands how these words are used to communicate with him they can be applied to every exercise you wish to train your dog.

5 Core Words of Marker Training

Those words are:

  1. READY or ARE YOU READY? is a word that tells our dog that we are about to start a training session. When you ask your dog if he is ready, you always have something on you to reward the dog with when he engages with you or starts to offer behaviors.As your dog gains experience you should never start training unless the dog demonstrates he is ready to play when you take him out, we call this engagement. Getting engagement from a dog is a learned skill.If he won’t play then handlers need to put the dog away and think about what they need to do to get the dog engaged the next time they bring him out.The relationship between you and your dog is more important than training. So if your dog isn’t engaged with you, if he doesn’t feel like playing today then you should not try and teach him behaviors or exercises. Put him away or take him for a walk.An interesting thing that seems to happen when dogs are trained to understand engagement is they view their handler as their own personal treat dispenser. In their eyes they simply have to do this silly little exercise to make you give them a high value treat or a toy.
  2. YES is the word we use as a positive marker. Its the word we use to bridge the time frame between a favorable behavior and us delivering a reward. Once the dog has been introduced to concept of “YES” (we call this CHARGE THE MARK) they quickly learn that EVERY TIME you say YES they know they are going to get the reward. With experience they learn that this can take 3 or 4 seconds if your not right next to them when you say YES.It is important that trainers understand that “YES” is not verbal praise. Trainers new to markers commonly misunderstand the difference between a MARK and PRAISE. They need to learn that they can MARK THE MOMENT and then praise the dog with “GOOD BOY” after they mark.When a trainer who get excited says “YES YES YES YOU’RE A GOOD BOY,” they only confuse the dog because in effect they are marking three moments in time. We will talk more of this later.YES is also a word that is used as a release command when the dog does something correctly. This means “YES” not only tells the dog that what he just did was correct, it also tells the dog that he can stop doing what he doing and he is now free to interact with you (IE get his food reward or play tug or chase a toy etc).
  3. GOOD is a word that means “I like what you are doing and I want you to continue to do what you are doing.”In other words GOOD is the word we use to add duration to a command. A perfect example would be to use GOOD when we are teaching the dog to STAY DOWN. When we teach duration for the down we would not mark the dog when he went down with a YES because the mark is the release. If we marked the down that would mean we just gave the dog permission to get up and get his reward.So new trainers need to understand that GOOD is not a release command. When we say GOOD the dog needs to understand that if he continues to do exactly what he was doing when we said GOOD he will get a reward at some point in the future.Unlike training the mark, when we first start training duration we can say GOOD a number of times in a row. We can say GOOD GOOD GOOD as many times as we need to get the dog to continue to do what he is doing.
  4. NOPE is a word that is used as a negative marker. It means you just made a mistake and you have to do the exercise all over again. It does not mean we are mad, it does not mean that he is going to get a correction, it only means that he needs to repeat what we expected him to do if he really wants the high value reward.If the reward is high enough in value to the dog it doesn’t take a dog long to figure out that NOPE means “DO IT AGAIN.”
  5. DONE or BREAK (as in “take a break”) is the word that tells the dog that our training session is finished for now. The session can be finished for 5 minutes or it can mean we are done for the day.When we say DONE the food or toys are put away. When the handler says DONE or BREAK and shows his dog his empty hands it doesn’t take long for the dog to know that this training session is over.With time this becomes very clear to our dog.

The beauty of marker training is that we can clearly tell a dog by using READY that we are going to start training and with DONE we are finished with training. It becomes very clear to the dog when we expect him to work.

The rest of this article deals with the applications of these 5 core words.

Dogs are masters at reading body language.

They are far more intuitive than we humans. They are always watching us and they instinctually recognize situations and read us like a book. They know when we are happy and they know when to leave us alone. They base ALL of their life’s decisions on what reinforces their level of comfort and what satisfies their pack instincts.

New dog trainers mistakenly think their dogs listen to them all the time. They think the dog automatically knows when commands are given. The fact is that dogs may listen but they don’t naturally pick up on our every word. In fact trained dogs don’t understand much of what we say. But they are very intuitive about reading and recognizing specific situations or pictures (of our body language). They are so good at this that we think they know what we are saying when in fact they don’t have a clue.

A perfect example of this is a dog that learns to sit in your kitchen. The dog can perform the sit exercise 200 times in the kitchen and you may think he has that concept of the SIT command down pat. Then you take him in your garage and say SIT and he looks at you like you are the man in the moon talking Swahili. He acts like you have two heads and he has never heard the word SIT before.

A better example is when the dog has always been given the SIT command when you are standing in front of him in the kitchen. Simply turning your back and saying SIT results in a blank stair, or kneeling down or sitting on the floor and saying SIT gets no results.

That is because the dog does not understand the concept of SIT. He doesn’t know what you are asking him to do. Oh you may think he knows the word SIT but what he really knows is that when he sees the picture of you standing in front of him in the kitchen he should SIT.

So when you see a dog do this you need to know that your dog has not yet grasped the concept of the SIT command.

Marker training is going to teach you how to communicate with your dog so they grasp the concepts of the commands you wish to train them and its going to do this is a way the dog enjoys.

Active vs. Reactive Dogs

Marker training turns a dog into what we call an “Active Dog” vs. a “Reactive Dog.”

This means the system creates a dog that actively tries to problem solve. These dogs try to engage their handlers by trying to do things that make their handlers play with them, give them a food or toy reward or ask them to do something that will lead to these two things.

Active dogs try to make things happen. They know they can do things that cause their owner to engage them. In essence they themselves become engaged with their handlers by bouncing around and trying to do things that result in their handler giving them a reward. As I have said earlier in this article, trainers need to learn how to teach engagement to their dog. Many new trainers simply think they have the wrong dog and their dogs won’t act like this. These people are wrong. They simply need to learn how to provide an environment that makes the dog want to engage the handler.

This is compared to a reactive dog that waits to be shown what the handler wants. Reactive dog are afraid to try new things for fear they will be corrected for making mistakes.

Every time you take your dog out you are teaching the dog something. You may not know what it is but our dogs are constantly watching and evaluating us. An active dog is trying to figure out how to interact with you in a way that benefit him. A reactive dog is trying not to step on land mines that result in his getting a correction. Marker training is the perfect method to produce an active dog.

We can use a ball reward to demonstrate the difference between active and reactive dogs.

An active dog will go out on the training field and engage his owner. He will focus on the owner and offer behaviors that he thinks may cause his owner to produce the ball. This is a dog that bounces around and willingly gives eye contact, lays down, sits up, goes into the heel position without being asked to do any of those things. He does this until the owner produces the ball and asks him to d something he has been trained to do.

A reactive dog is a dog that goes to the training field and waits for the owner to ask him to do something. He doesn’t offer any behaviors. He will perform a behavior and accept the ball as a reward but he isn’t going to try and second guess what his owner wants him to do. In other words, he reacts to what the handler asks.

Reactive dogs have learned that if they try and figure out what their handlers want and they make a mistake – they get corrected. So they quit trying. They back off and take the safe approach – which is “wait until he tells me what he wants because I don’t need another correction.”

The first step is called CHARGING THE MARK

The first step in training markers is to study the system. Know where you are going and understand the the details of how your going to get there. In other words study the details of how the marker system works.

We start teaching this system by showing our dog that every time “YES” or every time they hear a click from a clicker they get a really high value food treat. The system starts with food and not toys. The reason we start with food is that many high drive dogs can’t focus in the presence of a toy. They go into a zone where they can’t think. This doesn’t happen with food. So we set the foundation of markers with food and once that’s done we introduce the dog to the work for to rewards.

The first training step is called CHARGING THE MARK. It can be done anywhere, in your kitchen, your basement, or your back yard. The goal of charging the mark is to teach the dog to associate hearing YES with knowing he is going to get a high value reward.

When we start charge the mark training the dog does not have to do anything to get marked. We simply say YES or click the clicker and give the dog a food treat. He doesn’t have to sit, he doesn’t have to come to us, he doesn’t have to d anything. We just say YES and feed the dog, YES and feed the dog, YES and feed the dog.

New trainers need to understand that the only dog training going on during CHARGE THE MARK is to make the dog realize that saying YES means “my handler is going to give me a really good food treat.”

There are handler responsibilities in CHARGING THE MARK. It is important that the word YES is never said at the same instant you move your arm to reach for the food treat. For this program to work there must be short time lapse in time between saying the word YES and moving the arm to produce the food reward.

You will know your dog is getting it when you say YES and the dog looks at you like HEY, GIVE ME THAT TREAT!!! Most dogs pick up the concept of a CHARGED YES OR CHARGE THE CLICK in the first training session. If you go out and say YES to a dog 30 to 50 times in a row he is going to connect the dots.

What Kinds of FOOD REWARDS to Use?

Use Pieces of High Value Treats – What are they?

Steak – notice how small the pieces should be

The first goal for the handler in marker training is to figure out what their dog considers a high value food reward. Different dogs have different ideas of what treats they like the best. To get the most out of marker training handlers need to determine what trips their dogs trigger.

There are a couple of important points about treats.

Treats should be large enough to motivate your dog to want another one and small enough that the dog does not take minutes to eat.

I used to say that 2 or 3 treats should fit on a quarter. I have since learned that there is such as to small of a training treat for some dogs. If a dog eats a treat so quickly that it seems like he is inhaling the food and he then loses focus and checks out then the handler may want to increase the size of the food treat. In other words a slightly larger treat may be a high value for that dog to result in him staying focused for a longer period of time.

The concept of using treats is not to “feed the dog” but rather to offer a reward that has a high enough value that it keeps the dog engaged. When treats are so large they slow down the training because we have to wait for the dogs to chew them up we need to reduce the size or change the treat. I also have a classic example of this in my DVD on food.

The best treats are soft and don’t break up into pieces that fall on the floor. When the handler picks a reward that the dog loves it will stay engaged. This leaves the dog wanting more so his drive stays high. You can see the size I cut the venison steak above and below. These pieces are very small treats. This is where to start the training and then see if you need to modify the size for your specific dog.

Trainers may want to take the time to establish and prioritize a list of dog treats that their dogs really love. You may find that your dog becomes too distracted by the highest value treat. Some dogs can lose focus (just like some dogs lose focus in the face of a tug reward) and they can’t think. If that happens you need to drop down to a lesser value treat in training.

When you move your training into an area where there are a lot of distractions you can go back to the highest value treat because the distractions will offset one another. This is an example of how trainers need to constantly think about what they are doing in their work and be willing to adjust to fit the circumstances.

There is also not anything wrong with using different levels of treats in a training session. Use a higher value treat reward for a really good or really quick effort and a lower value reward for a so so effort.

Ask Your Dog What Treats He Likes

You can ask your dog to tell you what treats he likes more than others. Back tie the dog (tie him to a post). Let him smell a treat – hold it out close to his nose but don’t let him have it. Allow him to watch you lay it on the ground just out of his reach.

Do this with two treats and then release the dog. See which one he eats first. Then repeat the exercise several times

and reverse the position of the treats. This will tell you if the dog indeed likes one treat over the other. Try adding a third treat to the protocol. With work you will be able to assign values to respective rewards.

By knowing which treat is his favorite you can use this information in later training. Some training requires the highest level motivation than others and some things only needs the level 4 treat.

Assign Values to Various Treats
3 levels of treats

FOOD Rewards vs. Toy or Tug Rewards

Just as there are times when a food reward is the correct type of reward there are times a toy or tug is a better choice. Knowing when to employ both will make you a better trainer.

Many high prey drive dogs become over stimulated when they know a toy is the reward. They actually go into too much drive. These dog have so much drive for a toy that their brain shuts down and they can’t focus when they see their handler with a toy.

New trainers mistakenly think the more drive the better. In fact this is often not the case.

Before a toy can be used for a reward the trainer needs to take his dog through a training process that teaches the dog three things:

    1. It teaches the dog to engage the toy with vigor and the only fun about a toy is when he is playing with his handler. In other words we teach the dog not to self reward into a toy.


    1. The training teaches the dog to OUT (or drop the toy) when told to OUT. When you stop and think about it – if you have to fight with your dog or use undo amounts of pressure to get the dog to release a toy then you lose the value of the toy as a reward because the dog is thinking about the argument your about to have to get the toy from him and not about what you just gave him the toy for.


  1. The foundation training teaches the dog to bring the toy back to the handler when it is released. If a trainer does not have this established then we can only do one rep if the dog jerks the toy out of the handlers hand.

The training to do these three things along with how to play tug with your dog will be covered in the second training DVD that I do with Michael Ellis.

Many trainers will teach an exercise with a food reward and then switch to a tug or toy reward to increase speed in the exercise.

Toys are also used to teach a dog stimulas control

Using toys as rewards in dog training

Don’t Confuse Your Dog – Only Say “YES” One Time

The reason you should only say YES one time is because dogs see life as a series of pictures or snap shots. Remember how intuitive our dogs are, they know exactly what they were doing at the exact moment good things happen to them.

So when they look into your eyes and you mark that moment by saying YES followed by a high value food treat they quickly figure out the trigger to get you to give them another treat is to look into your eyes.

But when trainers get excited and say YES 4 or 5 times in a row they confuse their dog. The dog doesn’t know if they got rewarded for looking in your eyes or if the reward came from lowering their head to look at you hand or for something else.

Often times new trainers mistakenly look at the YES as praise. This is absolutely wrong. Once the dog understands the system the mark will often become secondary praise but that will only happen if the trainer establishes the foundation of the mark correctly by only saying YES once and always with good timing.

So it is vitally important to understand the essence of marker training is to start with no obedience command and then only give the mark one time followed by a short pause before you give the dog a food treat.

A couple of points to mention here is that when the Mark has been properly established it will eventually become a secondary reinforce for the dog. This means the dog will eventually develop a level of satisfaction from you simply saying the word “YES,” but at the same time you will never get to the point where you expect the mark to be the only reward. Every time you ever mark a behavior you will always offer a reward for that behavior.

“NO MARK” is Valuable Information for Your Dog

Another concept to remember is that your dog will learn that “NO MARK” is information. By that I mean when you don’t offer a mark you are telling the dog that he has not yet performed the behavior you want. This is not a negative response on you part, it is simply a non-stressful way to tell your dog that he needs to “keep trying.”

Your Voice is a Powerful Training Tool – Learn to use it!

One of the most powerful training tools a dog trainer has is their voice. Trainers who learn to use their voice in a positive way make better dog trainers and have dogs that learn quicker. This is especially true in marker training.

If you are working with a low to medium drive dog you may have to take your dog through a short drive building phase before you get too far into marker training. This is done by teaching the dog that when you say “ARE YOU READY” he is going to have a little party with you.

There is nothing wrong with saying (in a very exciting tone of voice) “ARE YOU READY” every time you charge the mark. Make a game of it. If you get excited and your dog will get excited.

The way this is done is to say “ARE YOUR READY” and back away from your dog (moving away from a dog peaks the dogs desire to follow). You can say “ARE YOU READY ” more than one time.

When the dog turns to follow, mark the instant he turns. That’s the moment he chooses to engage you so you mark the moment. Then reward the dog and praise like crazy. Get the dog excited. Make him like the game. Teach him that engaging you when you say ARE YOUR READY makes fun things happen.

This drive building phase can be done during the charge the mark period. It can be done 5 or 10 times in a row and then put the dog away.

So just as “charging the mark” teaches a dog that the mark means he is going to get a reward. We can also teach the dog that by engaging us he has trained us to give him a nice reward.

Verbal Praise After the Reward

In the marker system while we only say YES one time followed by a reward, we can add encouraging verbal praise during the delivery of the reward and/or after the reward. In fact some trainers have to praise after the reward to improve engagement.

New trainers need to learn how to make a game of this work. They need to sound happy when they ask their dog if he is ready, they need to sound excited when they mark, they need to praise in a sincere way when they lavish praise after the mark. The more animated and excited the trainer sounds the more interested the dog will be. This is a learned skill and it’s a skill new trainers often have a difficult time with.

When new dog owners first start this work they get overwhelmed with everything they have to remember. They have to pick a behavior to Mark, they Mark the behavior, the reach for their reward, they offer a food reward and then they just LEAVE IT AT THAT. They act like they just gave the dog a reward and that was good enough. Well for a lot of dogs, that’s not good enough. It may be OK for high drive dog but it,s often not good enough for medium to low drive dogs.

Low to medium drive dogs get often get distracted and stop trying. When handlers make mistakes during engagement training their dogs can act bored, or simply shut down. Handlers find themselves standing there wondering what to do next. They feel bad because they really want their dog to work but they don’t know what to do.

Well when they see this happen they need to turn the work into a party. They need to act like they are having the time of their lives. They need to back away from their dog and in an inviting excited tone say the dog name (don’t tell the dog to come or don’t add commands. And if all this doesn’t work, put the dog away. Give him a time out. Let him sit in his crate and get bored.

Turn the Reward Delivery into a Party

When you actually deliver the reward try and do it in a way that turns the reward into a party. Make the dog move his feet. If this means you Mark the moment and then move away from the dog as you reward him then do it. If it means toss the food on the ground to make the dog chase it like a toy, then do it. If it means you pivot away from the dog and have him chase the reward hand to get his reward then do it.

Turning the delivery into a party increases drive and engagement. We spend a god deal of time in our food DVD showing how to do this. Trainers who simply Mark and hand the dog a food reward don’t get the full benefit from marker training.

Control Your Nerves

It is a very common thing for people to get nervous when they train dogs. This is especially true when they train in front of other people.

Those who do get nervous need to learn to relax and control their nerves.

Dogs know when you are angry, they sense it. They also know when you are nervous. If their pack leader is nervous then they think something wrong. When the pack leader is nervous they think they need to be on guard. When dogs are nervous the learning process slows down.

So if you have a nervous temperament by nature you need to practice controlling your nerves for the sake of your dog and it’s training. Take a deep breath; take a time out; meditate; try to mentally walk through what you want to do.  Video tape your training. The simple act of having a camera rolling makes many people nervous. This helps relax you.

Bottom line is that if you expect your dog to have emotional control then you need to be able to demonstrate  the same thing.

I relate this to people who ride horses. A horse knows if you’re a nervous rider. Nervous riders are those riders who end up on the ground.

Adding Distractions and Impulse Control

People who get into dog training quickly learn how easily their dog can become distracted and not perform a learned behavior. They often find their dog works great at home but forgets everything when they get into a class with other dogs or when the dog is taken into a new environment.

Adding distractions into training can easily be the topic of a book. It is certainly beyond the scope of what I am doing here other than to define how it factors into marker training.

New dog owners need to know that when dogs are distracted they don’t learn as quickly. In fact many won’t even try to work with you.

As a dog becomes proficient at learning a behavior it can be exposed to more and more levels of distractions. Distractions can be as simple turning your back on a dog and asking him to sit. Kneeling down and asking a dog to sit is a distraction for a dog that has just learned to sit with you standing in front of the dog. Stepping in another room and asking a dog to sit is a huge distraction for a dog.

Once you have identified an environmental distraction simply moving a few feet farther away from that distraction can often be enough to help a dog work through it. Dogs have a “bubble” or circle of comfort which is different for each dog. Through experience and practice in multiple training sessions the size of a dogs bubble of comfort can be reduced. Most of the time this work needs to be done on gradually. While one dog may perform comfortably 50 yards from a certain distraction another dog may not have a problem working 10 yards from the same distraction.

The “look command” is a very effective tool to use when our dogs become distracted. When we ask out dog to look we expect it to look into our eyes. When the dog become distracted we simply give a “look” command which makes the dog look at our face. This is often enough to break the dogs focus on what’s distracting him. Once the dog is looking at our face you can go on and ask for other behaviors.

This is the part of training many call proofing the dog. Remember marker training is more about allowing a dog to do something and less about forcing a dog to do something. When you hear trainers use the term “impulse control” they are simply referring to a dog learning to control himself and choosing to do the right thing in the face of destractions.

In old school training distractions and corrections go hand in hand. By that I mean a dog is asked to perform a behavior in the face of a new distraction. When it makes a mistake (because it was distracted) it gets a correction.

That’s not what happens with marker training. In marker training when a dog gets distracted and fails to perform a behavior it simply doesn’t get a reward and is asked to do it again, or it is put away.

An important point to remember on distractions and learning is that in training you only add or change one thing at a time. By that I mean you would not try and raise the level of distraction at the same time your tried to increase the criteria of learning a new behavior. This is critical.

Should You Use the Word “YES” or a Clicker?

Dogs can learn to work with both a verbal mark and the sound from a clicker. We train our dogs with both.

In normal training I prefer using the word over the clicker. I know I will always be able to say YES. I also know there may be times I don’t have a clicker with me. In addition I can say YES a lot louder than the sound a clicker makes. In more advanced training saying YES allows me mark from a greater distance from my dog than I could use a clicker.

In addition when a handler is actively training his dog he has a number of things to do with his hands besides holding a clicker. He often had a leash to hold, he has food rewards or toys to handle and he sometimes wants to pet his dog. He may have to hold a dumb bell. He doesn’t need to include a clicker into this scenario.

If a handler is involved with one of the many dog sports I don’t think the handler should use the clicker. Let’s take the example of attending an agility seminar where there are 5 different people who train with clickers. I will guarantee the sound of another trainer’s clicker is going to distract your dog. With that said no one saying YES is going to be misinterpreted by your dog as being you.

If you choose to use the word YES, it is important to learn to say “YES” exactly the same way every time you say it. Don’t add inflection or change the tone of how you pronounce the word. It must sound the same every time.

Changing the sound of how you pronounce a word will often change the meaning of what your dog thinks your trying to say. Let’s not forget how perceptive our dogs are. They pick up on our slightest body language. They most certainly pick up on the difference in the way you say YES.

If we find ourselves getting stressed over a training problem and we notice the stress is filtering into the sound of our voice when we mark we will move back to using a clicker. The clicker takes the emotion out of the process.

Also people who are easily excited and have a difficult time maintaining the exact same sound every time are people who should use clickers.


While marker training can be used to train virtually any behavior you need to start someplace and we like to start with targeting. We use a targeting stick with a YES markers (although our targeting stick does have a built in clicker).

It is a simple concept. Extend the stick and hold it out away from your side. When the dog looks at it Mark the moment (only one mark) and reward the dog. The reward can be delivered at the little ball on the end of the stick.

Repeat the process until your dog knows to look at the stick when you hold it out.

When the dog takes one step toward the stick, mark and reward the the step (making sure these two events do not happen at the same instant). Then mark two steps and then the dog sniffing the end and finally touching the end of the stick with his nose.

Targeting the end of a stick may seem like a useless behavior but in fact it has many applications. We can use the same concept to teach our dogs to go to their bed, to go into their dog crate. It can be one part of a learned chain of behaviors to trim the dogs nails or clean his ears.

Teaching a hand touch in clicker training
12 week old puppy doing “hand touch”

We like to expand the targeting into a hand touch command. This then becomes a fun game to play with our dogs but also a behavior we ask for to re-direct or dog away from dogs and people while on walks or when it’s getting into something we don’t want him to mess with.

Timing of the Reward

For a reward to have the best results it must come within 1/2 second of the behavior you want to encourage. Some people say that the reward must come quicker than a second; others say the reward must come within 1 1/2 seconds.

No matter how good you are you are not going to consistently be able to get a reward your dog in under a 1/2 of a second. You may occasionally do it but you will never get it done 100% of the time. Markers allow you to instantly mark a behavior and when the dog understands that a reward follows the mark you can take several seconds to reward the mark. This results in the dog learning much faster.

People who don’t train with markers don’t have that luxury. The longer they delay between the behavior and the reward the less chance their dog associates the behavior with the reward. If praise is delayed by 2 or 3 seconds after a behavior there is an excellent chance that the dog will associate the reward with a behavior that is different than what the handler wanted to reward.

This is why timing the Mark is so important in dog training and why marker training is so effective.

Through repetition and experience your dog will quickly realize that when he hears the mark he knows he is going to get a reward for what he just did. It may take a few seconds but he knows the reward is coming and he knows what he did to earn it. It becomes crystal clear to the dog.

During your marker training you do not have to jump to rush the the reward. When the dog understands that a reward is coming after the mark, the delivery of the reward becomes part of the satisfaction. Compare it to eating out at a nice restaurant. Watching the waiter as he brings you food and puts it on the table is part of the fine dining experience.

This concept becomes even more important when we are working on exercises where our dog is some distance from us. It allows us the time we need to get to the dog and reward him and still have him understand why he is getting the reward.

Learning to Time the Mark

New dog handlers must learn the correct timing on when they give the actual mark during training. The easiest way to understand how this works is to think like a dog. In a way your dog takes a mental picture (snap shot) of exactly what he is doing at the instant you mark a behavior. They relate the mark/reward to that mental snap shot they took when they heard the word YES.

A visual method to help you learn timing is to ask a friend to use a digital camera. Ask your friend to go out with you while you train. Have them take a photo of your dog every time you say the word YES. Tell them not to focus on what the dog is doing but only listen to your voice and push the shutter button on the camera when they hear YES.

So every time you say YES they need to push the shutter button. This is an easy way to evaluate what is going through your dogs mind when he hears the mark. The resulting pictures are what the dog thinks he is being rewarded for. You may be surprised about what you learn about your timing.

The correct time to mark is the instant the dog meets the criteria of the particular training step or behavior.

For example, when teaching the hand touch, where the dog is expected to touch his nose to your hand when you offer the hand – if it is the step where the dog is finally touching the hand with his nose. The point to mark is the “very instant” the dog’s nose touches the hand. Not 3 or 4 seconds after the fact.

If you are training the sit, the mark should come the instant the dogs butt touches the ground, not 2 seconds later.

If you are training the “down” the time to mark is the instant the dogs belly touches the ground – not 5 seconds after he has been down.

If you mark the down several seconds after the dogs belly has touched the ground the dog thinks he is being rewarded for the duration of staying down and not the actual movement of laying down. When trainers consistently mark the down with poor timing we see dogs that go down slower and slower because the dogs see the exercise as a “down stay.” They don’t see the reward as something they get for quickly dropping to the ground.

Successful trainers understand that “the act of going down” and “duration in the down exercises” are two independent exercises which are trained separately with different words. The act of dropping to the ground is marked with a YES. The act of a down-stay is encouraged with the duration command “GOOD.”

So when it’s done correctly and the dogs realize that the trigger to get the reward in the down exercises is to get his belly on the ground you will see dogs drop like a stone. We will talk about extending the down-stay later when we discuss adding duration to a behavior with the word Good.

The relationship between the Mark and the Reward:

I have already mentioned that it is critical to never move the hand or arm that delivers the reward until after we say YES. I want to revisit that issue now so you understand why this is so important.

Dogs are visual animals. While they may watch you all the time they don’t naturally listen to the words that come out of our mouth. The fact is don’t don’t understand most of what we say.

Your dog will always react to physical cues over verbal cues. When trainers give the verbal cue and physical cue at the same time the dog will always follow the physical cue. This means when you mark the exercise and move the arm at the same time – the movement of the arm is the cue your dog is following and not your verbal cue.

This concept was discovered by Pavlov a long time ago. He kept his dogs in cages and when it came time to feed a bell would ring followed by food dropping into food bowls. Pavlov noticed that his dogs would start to salivate when they heard the bell.

He then did some experiments. He would ring the bell while the dogs were eating. Those dogs never salivated to the sound of a bell. The bell meant nothing to them.

The moral of this story is DON’T REWARD AT THE SAME TIME THAT YOU MARK an exercise.

training dogs with markers

Unfortunately it’s not natural for people to have a pause between the YES and giving the food reward. Almost every new marker trainer reaches for food at the same instant that they say YES. They need to learn the skill of adding a pause in between the MARK and the movement of the reward hand. This is a very simple concept to understand and a very difficult discipline to learn. Those trainers who approach this as a learned skill get quicker results.

To improve your timing video tape your training sessions and then study your work. This is a great way to gauge your work.

How Long Should You Train?

I always used to say that training sessions are best kept to very short increments of time – 2 or 3 minutes. Now with marker training, where dogs are engaged with their handler, training sessions can be longer. How long depends on the dog, the motivation of the dog and the difficulty of what’s being trained.

When training is fun, the reward is high enough in value and the dog is not tired the time can be extended. It really comes down to watching your dog and recognizing his concentration levels.

Different dogs have different levels of concentration. As dogs gain drive their concentration will increase. To learn what is best for your dog start out by only putting 20 treats in your treat bag. When those treats are gone the session is over. When in doubt it is always better to leave a session with your dog wanting more.

Many times new trainers need get so into the work they need the signal of an empty bait bag to remind them that they need to stop. As they gain experience in the work this won’t need to be an issue. They will learn to end a session on a positive high note.

Placement of the Reward

There will be times during training where a reward needs to be delivered to a specific spot (IE a hand touch is a good example). There are also times when the delivery of the reward needs to be done in a manner that turns the delivery into what my friend Michael Ellis calls a mini-event.

To become an effective marker trainer you must not only master the art of timing but also the art of where and how to deliver the rewards. New trainers often underestimate how important delivery and placement of the reward is to the learning process. Correct placement of a reward can result in new behaviors being learned very quickly.

The importance of reward placement in the learning phase of marker training may be best explained with an example.

In the first steps of the “hand touch” exercise we will often mark the dog when he looks at the hand we want him to touch. The correct place to reward the dog is “at that hand the dog looked at.”

In other words you don’t just hand the dog a food reward. You place the reward on THE HAND that the dog just looked. If the dog actually puts his nose on the hand you mark the nose touch and place the food treat on the hand that the nose just touched.

By placing the reward in the palm of marked hand and letting the dog take the reward off the palm of that out stretched hand the dog quickly figures out that there is a relationship between the behavior and the reward.

That’s called proper placement of the reward. When you reward at the correct “place” the learning process is accelerated.

This photo demonstrates how to offer your hand to the dog
(without a command) to initiate the hand touch.

Another example of proper reward placement is seen when training the place command. If you want to teach your dog to go lie on his rug – or go touch his touch pad. The first steps of the learning phase for free shaping these exercises can be the handler Marking the dog just looking at the rug or looking his touch pad. The correct placement after the mark is for the reward to be put on the rug or on the touch pad.

If you are working on an exercise like engagement the correct placement of the reward after the dog is marked could be to toss the food reward on the ground to make the dog chase it like he would chase a ball. Or it could be to mark the point of focus and then pivot your body and make the dog chase the food hand around you (move his feet) to get the reward. Adding movement to the placement of the reward will build drive.

How to deliver the Food Reward – Without Getting Fingers Pinched

Just as proper placement of the reward is important so too is how the reward is offered to the dog. It is often a mistake to hand a high food drive dog a piece of food with the tips of our fingers. At least if we don’t want blood blisters and blackened fingernails.

Some dogs naturally take food gently. Some dogs can be trained to take food gently. Then there are those dogs that are so driven for food that a finger getting in the way is not much of a concern for them

The correct way to offer food to a dog is on the open flat palm of the hand.

We hold a food treat in an open hand by pinching the treat between our thumb and the base of our index finger. By holding the treat in this manner its a simple process to release the treat with our thumb so it roles into the palm of our hand. The dog can then take the food off the palm. When give a dog a piece of food in this manner your not going to get bit.

The correct way to hold a food reward – pinched between thumb and side of finger
Getting bit giving a dog food
Use Small SOFT TREATS in most marker training – they go down quickly and are easy to eat,
too often dogs HACK UP hard crunchy treats

hand bites
The incorrect way to give your dog food.
This is how food hound dogs bite finger tips.

This is a photo of a hand when a mistake in handing the dog a piece of chicken.
Food can be stored in a bait pouch which we keep on our belt in the middle of our back or it can be kept in a pocket of a training vest or jacket. Or we can pre-load our hand or hands with a food reward. This means we will have food in the hand before the exercise begins.

Dogs quickly figure this out when we have food pre-loaded in our hands. Some dogs will try to MUG your food hand.

When that happens simply close your hand into a fist and hold it flat against the front of your leg. When the dog continues to mug the hand we say nothing and do nothing but stand there. The dog will eventually give up and look up at you. When that happens – Mark the look and reward the dog with a food treat.

This goes a long, long way to teaching the dog that he holds the key to the food reward. They learn that they can get the food if they do something that you want.

protect your hands from dog bites
If your dog mugs your hand with food, hold both hands against your legs like this until
the dog stops and looks in your eyes – then mark the look and reward.

This photo demonstrated placement of the reward on the target after the mark.

Vary Your Reward Delivery

Food can come from the right hand, the left hand or occasionally your mouth. When you have a piece of food in your mouth you simply spit it at the dog to deliver the reward. Rewards from the mouth won’t work in all circumstances and they often take a little training with the dog to teach him how to catch them. But they do offer a change for the dog every now and then.

I have already mentioned that we like to use bait bag in the middle of our back. Some people don’t care for bait bags. Those are usually people who don’t understand how to use them in the marker program.

We don’t recommended wearing the bait bag on the front of our body. It becomes too big of a distraction for new dogs.

When the bait bag is in the middle of your back you don’t have that problem. The correct way to retrieve food from the bag is to us both hands to reach for the food at the same time. This allows the reward to come from either hands and it is important to vary the hand that rewards come from.

It is important to keep your hand away from your bait bag or away from the pocket you carry bait in. We don’t want the hand near the bait to become a distraction or a signal for the dog.

We also don’t want the dog anticipating a right or left handed delivery. We want value to be on the word YES and not on a specific hand movement. That’s why we do random hand deliveries.

With many exercises we try and deliver of the reward in a manner that forces the dog to move his feet to get his reward. Every dog that has prey drive gets more out of moving to catch a reward. Compare a dog that loves to case a ball vs. the same dog that is simply handed a ball. The dog places a lot more value on the ball when he has to chase after it.

The same thing applies to delivering a food reward in a manner that forces the dog to move to get the food.

  • It helps teach a dog that the MARK signals the end of the exercise or the behavior.
  • When dogs have to move to snatch a reward it increases the value of the reward to the dog. Compare this to handing a dog a ball or tossing the ball so the dog has to chase it.
  • The movement only needs to be one step back and away from the dog. So it goes like this MARK > MOVE > REWARD (being sure the movement does not come at the same time you MARK the behavior – there must be a gap in time).

To accomplish this after the Mark the handler moves his delivering hand down and away from the dog, kind of like a wand. The dog knows the hand contains the reward and will follow it.

How Many Rewards to Give? Jack Potting

In this system you only give the mark one time but there is nothing wrong with giving more than one reward. If a dog does an exceptionally good bob give him several rewards. In fact you can give several different kinds of food rewards in the same training session. A really good job could result in the several of the highest value food rewards. Usually the more rewards the higher in drive the dog stays.

So remember as long as you don’t say the mark more than one time you can give several really high value rewards right after another when he does a lightning fast down and then stays down. This is called jack potting.

It’s also important to end a training session on a high point. Some people will jack pot the last mark before the DONE or BREAK command.

Dogs with Low Food Drive

Some dogs have very low food drive. Food drive can be increased by using very high value treats and only feeding after you train. Even a dog with good food drive will value food rewards more by not feeding the dog until after our first training session for the day.

When you are doing a lot of training with young or small dogs you can redesign your feeding program and use all-natural food rolls for the dogs entire daily diet. Determine what volume you should feed for the entire day and then divide that amount into the number of training sessions you plan on having. In that way he gets all his food during training sessions.

I also believe that dogs can learn to acquire food drive. There is nothing wrong with “fasting” a dog for a day or even two days (never 3 days). I guarantee your dog will have food drive for meat treats after he has not eaten for a day or so. If you randomly fast low food drive dogs their food drive will increase.

I have also seen high prey drive dogs with low food drive develop a level of food drive by playing tug with a sock or toy that has food in it or a toy that has been saturated with the odor of the food.

Splitting and Shaping in Marker Training

In the marker system there are two concepts to training exercises. You can shape an exercise and you can split an exercises into small component parts, then train the individual parts. Once the parts are trained you link (or chain) them together to form the final exercise.

When an exercise is shaped the dog is mark/rewarded for behaviors that approximate the final goal behavior. These approximations can be very very small steps. (i.e. just looking at something could result in a mark reward)

We don’t look at maker training as “either you shape” or “you split” and exercise. Marker training is not an either or process. The people who are good at shaping are usually great at splitting.

It is a fact that people either shape and/or split an exercises or they manipulate and/or correct a dog into performing an exercise. Those in the later category are old school dog training.

With shaping the dog is rewarded for progressively more detailed behavior. For example: in shaping the hand touch exercise the dog would first be marked/rewarded for simply looking at the hand. Once he was consistently looking and being mark/rewarded, he would then not be marked/ rewarded until he took one step towards the hand. Then not mark/rewarded until he took 3 steps towards the hand. And finally not mark/rewarded until his nose touched the hand.

Simple behaviors are easy to shape but when exercises get more complicated they need to be broken (or split) into small pieces and these pieces trained separately. Those pieces can also be shaped.

When an exercise is split, the trainer either lures a dog or shapes a dog to perform the component part of the exercises. The split pieces of an exercise always need to be small enough that each piece has a reasonable chance of the dog being successful when we ask them to do it.

As a dog gains confidence and become better at offering the pieces of a split exercise you will start to link or chain the parts together before you mark and reward.

Learning to split an exercise is an art form. It is a factor of experience, training and skill. How to split is often not an obvious choice at least not as obvious as we would thing. But with this said splitting is the essence of dog training. To become proficient at splitting a trainer must become a master of observing what his dog is doing, what his dog has done in the past and what his goals are.

Variable Levels of Reward in Marker Training

A point of mention before linking two components of an exercise is the trainer should put his current portion of a split exercise on what is called a variable level of reward before linking two component parts of the work.

There are a couple of reasons for this. If we don’t put the component on a variable reward the dog could have problems when he expects to get rewarded for a behavior and the reward doesn’t come. Secondly if an exercise has been split into 10 component parts we can’t reward each of the 10 components every time we ask for the behavior.

During your training process if your dog starts to have problems and doesn’t show progress you need to rethink your training plan and find an easier way. Maybe you need to start from the beginning and reward the smallest of behaviors again. Maybe you need to find an entirely new plan. With this said this is an important part of every system of dog training.

shaping in marker training
Flow chart on Shaping the HAND TOUCH exercise

Luring in Marker Training

Luring takes place when we show our dog a food reward before an exercise and then use that food to lure or guide the dogs movements (as he follows the food in our hand) through an exercise. In my opinion there are clear cases to use lures.

Clicker purists will disagree with using luring. They call it a bribe. We would have to agree to disagree on this issue. In my opinion certain exercises result in faster learning when the dog is lured through the learning process The key to luring is to understand how to train a lure and then how to fade the lure.

When a trainer is establishing his foundation in markers he needs to actually teach a dog to follow a lure. This is done after “charge the mark.” It’s done by letting the dog smell the food in your hand (without actually getting it). Then moving the hand away from the dog. As the dog follows the food hand you simply “mark” the follow and open the hand to release the food. It doesn’t take long for the dog to understand a lure.

Luring is great for teaching touch pads and positions (sit stand and down).

It should be noted that when handlers use luring too long the lure can often be difficult fade the lure from training. Trainers need to understand that a dogs ALWAYS follow a physical lure over a verbal voice command. So when we use a lure we need to have an exit strategy for stopping it’s use. The quicker the lure is faded the better.

Lures are faded by adding the command for the behavior. The process starts when we feel the dog has reached fluency with the gesture for the lure. At that point we will give a command, offer the lure gesture then and mark-reward the behavior. The command must come immediately before the lure.

We do this 10 – 20 – 50 times (as many as we think we need). We then test the process by giving the command and not offer the lure gesture. If the dog performs the behavior it has learned the command.

If the dog hesitates and does not offer the behavior we simply say “Nope” reposition the dog to the point he was before the command was given and repeat the command-gesture again until we think he is ready for another test.

What trainers should not do when the command fails is to add the lure after they have found out that the dog is not going to follow the lure. This is the natural instinct for new trainers but it is the exact wrong thing to do. This only trains the dog to wait for a gesture.

So if the dog doesn’t perform the behavior, you repeat the command and add the gesture that the dog knows and then mark-reward the behavior. Do this another 10 or 20 times and test the command again.

A point on mention when training the lure. its recommended to begin your lure training by luring your dog away from you. It’s easy to get a dog to come to you. It’s harder to get a dog to go away from you. So, lure away to a touch pad out in front of you.

Gestures or Signals in Marker Training

The goal of luring should be to create a non-food supporting signal that helps our dog perform a behavior. Gestures are used to help a dog perform a behavior before the handler names the exercise by adding a command.

Here is something new trainers should think about. There is a fine but distinct line between a signal and a lure. If a handler wants his dog to go to his rug and points at the rug from behind the dog, that’s a signal. If the handler gets one foot in front of your dog to encourage him to his bed he is luring the dog to the bed with his body.

But if the handler stays one foot behind the dog and encourages the dog to his bed he is offering signals to help him make the decision to go to his bed, a subtle but important distinction. One that requires thought on the part of the trainer.

Dog is being LURED to the hand touch – see the food is on the hand

Lumping an Exercise

For the majority of my 50 year career of owning and training dogs I have been a lumper and I am not proud of it.

A lumper is someone who does not split an exercise into enough component parts. A trainer can easily become a lumper if they get ahead of themselves and don’t properly split an exercise. When someone lumps several component parts of an exercise together and then tries to train all these parts at one time he is lumping the exercise.

When I first started to train dogs to heel I simply put a choke chain on the dog and gave a heel command. If the dog got out in front I did an about turn and said Heel and corrected the dog back into position. If the dog went wide I said Heel and did a quick turn and corrected the dog into position. I lumped all the component parts of the heeling exercise into one training exercise. The bottom line is the learning phase was not pretty.

I feel sorry for my old dogs I often wonder how much more they would have enjoyed training had I known marker training. I think how confused they must have been and what it did to our relationship.

Unfortunately there are still many local obedience classes that still teach this way today. It is sad.

Body Signals (gestures) and Voice Signals

Signals or gestures are a very important part of dog training. There are both body signals and/or voice signals.

An example of a voice signal would be telling your dog that you are going to start training today. You do this by saying “ARE YOU READY” every time you go out to train. This is not a command, it is simply a voice signal that tells the dog we are going to start training.

Some purists will say that body signals can be called lures. For me this is splitting hairs. For the purpose of clear communication in this article I will define a signal as the use of your body when your not using food or a toy to lure a dog into performing a behavior.

An example of an advanced body signal is seen during heeling. Handlers learn to turn their head several steps before making a turn. They look in the direction they are about to turn. In formal competition heeling dogs are often trained to look at the side of the handlers face. They quickly learn that when they see “their handlers head turn signal” they need to get prepared to stay with you in the turn.

Trainers need to think about unintentionally adding a signal to their training because they can create problems. An example of this just came up in our home. Cindy is training her young Mal to STAND from a sit.

When her dog sat in front, she would signal the dog to STAND by stepping in closer to the dog as she put both hands up and under his chin. It didn’t take long for the dog to catch on and learn the signal to stand.

The problem developed when we realized the dog was reacted to the signal of her stepping forward and not the hands going under the chin. During the sit-stay when she walked to her dog it would stand. It took work to change the dogs thinking on this.

How do you Start Marker Training?

The first step in training always begins by getting your dog engaged with you.

By that I mean your dog must be focused on you, he must want to interact with you and he must want what you have (IE food or a toy). The image of a dog that is engaged with his handler is a dog that ignores everything in his environment when his handler takes him out. The dog bounces around and looks into the face of the handler as if to say “Hey lets play”. When you have that attitude you have true engagement. When you have that you have a dig that is ready to learn.

If you don’t have engagement you are going to have a real battle trying to teach a dog any behaviors.

There is a large segment engagement and getting a dog past environmental stressors in my DVD on THE POWER OF TRAINING DOGS WITH FOOD. This work is beyond the scope of this article.

One of the most difficult concepts for new trainers to grasp in the marker system is “WHERE DO I BEGIN TRAINING? HOW DO YOU START – WHERE DO I START?”

The answer depends on the exercise and if your going to shape the exercises, split the exercise or help the dog by luring it through the learning phase.



So when you think you are beginning to understand the concept of marker training take a bag of M&M’s and try training a human with markers. If you have kids, take a bowl of quarters and use them as rewards. They may look at quarters as a higher value reward than M&M’s. Pick a task and use the concepts of marker training. It is good for laughs and it is great to teach you how to mark a behavior.

The fact is you will learn more when you play the role of the dog and ask someone else to train you.

I can’t stress this enough – don’t underestimate the value of this little game in learning to have empathy for your dog in training. A word to the wise when you train a human:

    1. You will learn how important reward placement is to the speed of learning the behavior


  1. You will also learn how powerful simply looking at the target is to figuring out a new task.

So look at your target and reward at the target (even if the behavior is a long way away from the behavior)

If You are Not Giving Commands How Does Your Dog Know What You Want to Train Today?

In this system we never give commands until the dog fully understands the signal (or gesture) for a behavior along with the behavior.

When new trainers start this work they often ask “If I am not telling the dog what I want him to do, how does he know what behavior I want to work on when I take him out today?”

There are two ways to train without commands:

    1. Trainers can capture a behavior through what’s called FREE SHAPING, (meaning they simply wait for the dog to offer a behavior and then mark it)


  1. They can lure and help a dog learn a behavior with food and signals.

Capturing a behavior can take a long time. We have used it with our horses and it’s a very effective training method but it does take a time and patients. People who free really split exercises down into many many many small pieces. Once the dog learns the behavior he is very solid in its performance.

We prefer to help our dog by luring with signals (or gestures) for what we want him to do. This is a very important step in the marker training system. To really appreciate its full implication trainers need to also understand the relationship between the command and the reward in this system. I discuss that in detail in the next chapter.

Training with lures makes the process go much quicker.

training dogs without commands
Ways to start training a new command in Marker Training

The Relationship Between COMMANDS and REWARDS

In marker training commands are not added until the dog knows and understands the exercise. Commands are not added until the dog will perform the exercise 8 out of 10 times that the handler gives a signal.

Unfortunately people are verbal and dogs are visual. When it comes to commands this means people often name an exercise or use a command to try and induce a behavior before the dog knows the behavior well enough to associate the behavior with a command.

Our dogs hear us talk all day long. The vast majority of what we say is just background babble to the dog. The words mean nothing to the dog. The volume or tone of the words we use may mean something but the actual word means nothing. When people name a command before the dog associates that command with a behavior the command becomes part of the background babble. It’s the same as him not hearing you.

To best explain the concept we want to establish about adding commands in markers I will use the relationship between “markers” and “rewards.”

I have already explained that through repetition a dog begins to look at a marker as a secondary reward. When he hears his handler say “YES” he feels good, he gets excited, he knows the exercise is over and he is going to get a reward. He has linked the marker with the reward.

We want the same thing to happen with a command. We want the dog to hear the command and immediately feel good because he knows he only has to do this silly little behavior (which he really doesn’t mind doing) and he will get his high value reward.

We want the dog to look at a command as part of the linked chain that leads to a reward. We want the dog to look at a command as part of his trigger mechanism to get his reward.

This can only happen if the dog knows and understands the behavior he must perform when you ask him to do something. This behavior must be a “no-brainer” if the dog is going to look at commands in this manner.

When to Add a Command

In maker training we train the dog to perform a behavior with signals (or gestures) before the command is added. When the dog will perform the behavior 8 out of 10 times with the gesture you can start to add the command before the signal. Key here is that there must be a time split between the command or signal.

The concept of when to add a command in marker training is radically different than old school training.

In old school training commands were added before a dog ever understood the behavior or exercise. A dog would be given a command and then corrected when until it performed the exercise correctly.

Training the dog to “heel” is the perfect example. A new dog would be commanded to “heel” and the handler stepped off. The handler made a sudden turn and the dog got out of position. The handler would then repeat “heel” and then correct the dog back into position.

That is not the way things are done in the marker system.

How to Add a Command

When it comes time to name a behavior (add a command) we always give the command before we add a signal or gesture for the behavior.

It is important give the command a fraction of a second before adding the gesture to help the dog. This break in time is important. Remembering that dogs will always follow a physical signal over a voice signal. When they are given at the same time the dog will be following the physical signal and not learn the voice command. When these handlers then then want to drop the gesture the dogs will not perform. Those dogs have only learned to follow the signal and not the voice command.

The timing of commands to signals is very much like the timing for marking a behaviors and then delivering the reward. The command and the signal cannot happen at the same instant or the dog will always work off the physical signal and not the voice command.

adding a command in dog training
Flow Chart on Adding Commands to Marker Training

Anticipating a Command

When dogs begin to approach the point where we add a command we will see them start to anticipate a behavior. Anticipation in the learning process is a good thing. Anticipation tells us the dog is thinking, he is actively trying to participate in the work. Even if the dog anticipates with incorrect behavior it tells us he is trying to work with us and he wants to do what he thinks we want. So don’t discourage it too quickly.

Old school dog trainers give corrections for anticipation. They expected perfection all the times. Think about this from the dogs standpoint. He gets corrected for trying to do what “HE THINKS YOU WANT HIM TO DO”. He then thinks “Hey I am trying to do this – what the heck – I don’t understand what you want and your jerking me around!!! This sucks I am going to stop trying and wait until you show me exactly what you want!”

Stimulus Control in Marker Training

Stimulus control is the finishing tool that completes the training process for a command.

As you go through training you will reach a point where your dog has learned several behaviors. He looks at them as his little bag of tricks that he uses to make you give him his rewards.

During the learning process of a new behavior you will often see a dog reach into that trick bag and offer all of his known behaviors in his effort to get you to give his reward. That is OK during the learning phase but when the dog gains proficiency this needs to end.

At some point the dog should only perform the behavior he is asked to perform. He should also NOT offer this behavior when he is asked to do something else. Getting the dog to do this is called “stimulus control.”

The point to add stimulus control to you work is when dog performs a behavior on command 8 out of 10 times without a signal or lure. Let me repeat “WITHOUT A SIGNAL OR LURE.” New trainers miss that very important part of stimulus control. They jump the gun and start adding stimulus control while they are still using signals to help the dog Then when they drop the signal they confuse the dog.

It’s also unrealistic to wait for a dog to perform the exercises 100% of the time. Waiting until a dog performs 10 out of 10 times results in dogs that get bored with training.

A lack of stimulus control is one of the biggest problems many motivational trainers face. New trainers grasp the concept of markers, they enjoy the reward process, but they struggle with the refined process of stimulus control.

In this stage of training when the dog is asked to perform a known behavior and he reaches into his trick bag to offer a different known behaviors, you simply say “NO” and turn your back. Turning away for 5 seconds sends a clear message to the dog that he is not doing what you want.

When you turn back and ask for the behavior again you will see if he then offers the correct behavior or an unwanted behavior. If it’s not what you asked you repeat the process and again say “NO” and turn your back. It may become necessary to put the dog in his crate for a few minutes and then get him out and try again.

It’s not a bad idea to introduce the “done” or “break” command at this point. This tells your dog your done training for a few minutes. With experience this makes it clear to the dog that training is over for awhile.

An important part of stimulus control is to also take this behavior out of the dogs trick bag. This is called “extinguishing a behavior.” By that I mean the dog must understand that this behavior is not allowed to be offered when we introduce new signals and commands.

If we have taken the command “SIT” through stimulus control the dog offers a “SIT” when you are training the down we immediately say “NO” and turn our back.

Trainers will not see consistency in a command until they take their dogs through stimulus control. So if your goal is to enter a dog sport you will have to become a master of this concept. What’s interesting is that dogs are smarter than we often give them credit for. They learn the concept of stimulus control after you have taken them through the process a few times. They recognize what you are doing and pick up on it quicker and quicker each time.

In old-school training stimulus control is done with a choke collar or prong collar. If the dog performs an unwanted behavior it is corrected until it complies with the correct behavior. This is why they dogs stop offering behaviors they think their handler wants. It’s why they are not good problem solvers and it’s why they are reluctant participants in the training process.

The Problem with Adding Commands Too Soon

The first and most obvious problem of adding a command before the dog knows the behavior is we run the risk of confusing our dog or turning the command into background noise.

Our goal is to make the command part of the chain of events that leads to a reward. To accomplish this the training needs to be black and white. Adding a command before the dog understands a behavior is not black and white.

When we initially give a command we follow it with the signal we used to get the dog to perform the behavior. That signal is looked at as help. In training we help the dog with signals until we reach a point where we can stop using the signal and only use the command.

When we name an exercise we need to be prepared to do something to help the dog if it doesn’t perform the behavior.

You have your own tool box of possible options to consider when this happens:

    1. You can ignore “offered behaviors” until he gets it right.


    1. You can help the dog and by offering a signal or signals.


    1. We can say “NOPE” in an upbeat voice – not a MAD VOICE.


    1. If the dog refuses to perform a behavior you need to ask yourself if the reward you are using is a high enough value to motivate the dog and make him want to work. Only you and your dog can answer that question.


    1. If the dog won’t work off the signal then we need to re-evaluate our training plan. We could be lumping the training steps and the dog really doesn’t understand the behavior we want. So go back to splitting.
      • a – To get us out of the problem you can use a “screw up cookie.”


    1. 6 – If we know for sure that the dog knows the command, if he is being insubordinate we can put him back in his dog crate or dog kennel for a time out. Dog crates are better for time outs.Do this enough times and the dog learns a time out means something. I didn’t used to think this worked. I was wrong, it works. With many dogs it becomes a motivator. It frustrates the dog and frustration builds drive.If you have a second dog, get that dog out and work it in front of the crated dog. Use a little jealousy.


  1. As the LAST RESORT if we know the dog absolutely knows the command and is simply refusing to do it we can correct the dog.

dog refuses to mind
Flow Chart on Dog Not Performing Behavior
The bottom line is when the dog doesn’t perform a behavior you need to evaluate why this happened. There is no set rule of what to do every time. It will always vary according the circumstance.

Naming Component Parts of an Exercise

Something that new trainers can think about when they split an exercise is to name the component parts of the exercise.

An example of this can be seen in the Heel exercise. One of the component parts of the heel command is to teach the behavior of the dog LOOKING up at your face. Once the dog has learned the look up at your face behavior you can name it with “LOOK.”

Then when you link all the components of Heeling and the dog gets a little distracted and is not paying attention you simply say “LOOK.” This identifies an exact behavior to a dog. If the dog doesn’t comply you simply say “Nope – LOOK” and start all over again.

In other words this allows you to pin point with a great deal of accuracy what is expected in training.

Adding duration to exercises by using “GOOD

Up to this point we have not expected a dog to add duration of time to any exercises. This means we don’t expect a dog to perform a sit-stay or down-stay.

As far as we are concerned – and as far as the dog is concerned – in the SIT exercise as soon as a dogs butt touches the ground or as soon as the dogs belly touches the ground in the DOWN exercise we say YES and the exercise is over. The dog is released to come and get his reward.

We don’t think about adding duration to any exercise until a dog is consistently performing that exercises. When the time comes to extend an exercise we simply delay the mark. We remain calm and say GOOD in a soothing tone and when the exercise is over we mark the moment with YES and have a party.

Good is NEVER used as a release to end an exercise!

During the period when we begin extending an exercise we can say “GOOD” multiple times and jack pot the rewards – one right after another. This helps a dog to understand what you expect. Unlike the MARK (which is only said one time) the duration command can be said over and over depending on what the dog is doing.

You can “charge the word GOOD” command as the god grows up by saying GOOD when you pet him, or saying GOOD when you feed him. This is a similar concept to charging the mark – only we are adding a good feeling to the word “Good.” The end result is the dog knows when we say “Good” he feels good.

Duration in time is extended for random periods starting in seconds and not getting to minutes for a long time. In the beginning we only extend the time by 2 or 3 seconds and then MARK the behavior and end the exercise. Then we go 5 seconds and MARK; then 2 seconds and then 10 seconds etc. With puppies we don’t recommended going beyond 15 to 20 seconds.

Random Rewards in Marker Training

“When do I stop using a food reward for a command?” This is an excellent question and an important part of marker training.

The goal for every dog trainer is to reach a point of variable reinforcement.

It is unrealistic to think that trainers will give a food reward every time they ask their dog to perform a behavior for the rest of the dogs life. For one thing people can’t walk around with a bait bag for the rest of their lives. Although my Corgi that’s lying at my feet right now thinks that would be the best thing that ever happened to her.

When we start marker training we reward for the smallest of efforts. We reward for looking at a hand in a hand touch. When the dog knows and understands a behavior and will perform the behavior correctly 8 out of 10 times for a signal or a command the handler can begin to reward randomly.

A behavior needs to be put on a random reward schedule before that behavior is linked to a second split behavior, When you stop and think about that statement it makes sense. If a dog expects a reward every time it performs a behavior and then you totally stop rewarding for that behavior the dog could shut down.

So the way around this problem is to establish random rewards.

As a handler and the dog gain fluency in an exercise they can go longer and longer in between rewards. This becomes a factor of experience and a feeling for what works and what doesn’t work.

Using “GOOD” to Link Components of an Exercise

The concept of random rewards should be in place when handlers begin to link or chain behaviors together to form a finished exercise.

The beauty of the word GOOD is that it also lets you tell your dog that he just successfully completed a portion of a LINKED exercise. It tells him that he is doing a good job and is going to get a reward if he continues to do what you expect.

Good can also be used to link component parts of an exercise. It goes like this:

  1. The dog is asked to perform the first linked behavior.
  2. The dog performs the behavior.
  3. The dog is told GOOD.
  4. The dog is then asked to perform the next behavior in the chain.

When used in this manner the word GOOD becomes a powerful tool to communicate with your dog. The beauty is that it can be used at a distance to tell the dog he is doing a good job.

Using Food with “GOOD”

Let’s use the example of a down-stay in which the final MARK is rewarded with a game of tug.

When a dog is asked to down it is expected to stay down until released. After a handler gives the down command and the dog complies, the handler can say GOOD and offer multiple food rewards.

By jack potting a food reward along with multiple GOOD commands we encourage the dog to stay down. The exercise is not yet over because he has not marked the exercise as being finished. The dog remains down until the handler is satisfied with compliance and gives the MARK (YES) and presents the tug toy and a session of tug.

Allowing Your Dog to Make Mistakes Creates Dogs that are Problem Solvers

One of the harder skills new trainers must learn is that there will be times when you have to allow your dog time to offer behaviors and sometimes you have to allow your dog to make a mistake. Dogs become problem solvers when allowed to work through problems.

Many people look at confusion in their dogs as a problem. These are often people who come from old school dog training where they always want their dog to perform the exercise the correct way every time.

When a dog looks confused or makes a mistake the natural instinct is to step in and rescue the dog, try and lure it through an exercise. When in reality the dog should be given time to try and problem solve. That’s how dogs learn.

When this work is done correctly your dog will see value in performing. It is you job to allow your dog to make choices and if you have built enough value for the behavior the dog will want to perform correctly.

Negative Markers

When a dog learns a behavior to the point where that behavior can be put on cue (most of the time this means with a command but it could also be a hand signal) the handler can start to use a negative marker if the dog does not perform the behavior.

A negative maker is “NOPE” or “No.” It is important to understand that this is not a correction. It’s said in a tone that implies “look you can do a better job lets do it again.”

Handlers should never sound mad when they say “NO.” Sounding mad turns a negative marker into a correction and that’s not what we want. “NO” is simply a word that tells the dog that he has not performed a behavior correctly and he has to do it again.

The beauty of using “NO” or “NOPE” is we can use it to identify the exact instant the dog makes a mistake. Unlike a physical correction, which often takes drive out of the dog, a negative marker often has the opposite effect, it can add drive.

Now here is something to think about. With positive markers the reward must come within a short period of time after the mark. How long is a factor of the dog, it’s training and experienced. But dogs should get a reward within several second of the mark if the reward is to be associated with the behavior and mark.

Only say “NO” one time

If your dog makes a mistake and you say “NO” one time and immediately have the dog repeat the exercise or immediately put the dog away.

A negative marker can be looked at in the same manner as a positive marker (YES). The dog takes a mental snap shot in his mind of exactly what it was doing when it got the negative makers. If the trainer is consistent and only says “NO” one time the dogs catch on quickly.

When a trainer repeats “NO” several times this only confuses the dog because he must determine which mental snap shot you are referring to.

So just as you don’t say “YES YES YES” when you mark a behavior you don’t say “NO NO NO” when you give a negative reinforcer.

In addition you don’t wait before making the dog repeat the behavior, you do it immediacy. Waiting too long will result in the dogs mind wandering off and he will not associate the negative behavior with repeating the exercise.

If a dog continues to make mistakes and does not seem to be concentrating and your pretty sure the dog understands the cue then rather than repeat the exercise the dog is given a time-out and put in his crate for a few minutes (or even end the training session).

Putting a dog in a crate is a mental break for a dog. While some dogs may look at a time-out as punishment others need the break to allow them to refocus.

Screw up Cookies

The beauty of MARKER work is it’s pretty hard to hurt your dog if you make a mistake. Missing a mark is not like giving a prong collar correction at the wrong time. Give a soft dog a prong collar correction and the dog will shut down and quit trying. Miss a mark on the same soft dog and you have not hurt the dogs temperament. Oh in marker training he may be confused but you don’t shut the dog down.

There may come a time when your dog simply doesn’t offer the behavior you want no matter how long you wait.

This usually indicates one of the following:

    1. The dog got tired and just slowed up or stopped trying.


    1. The dog does not have that good of a relationship with the owner.


    1. The exercise was not SPLIT into small enough pieces for the dog to understand what you wanted (you lumped the exercise).


    1. The reward is not a high enough value.


    1. The dog is not hungry enough.


  1. You have not shown enough patience and allowed the dog time to work out the problem.

When your training and your dog doesn’t give you the behavior you want you need to get out of the training session in a manner that still allows the dog to feel like he is still learning. YOU ALWAYS NEED TO MAKE THE DOG FEEL LIKE HE IS A LEARNER.

Just because the dog fell short of YOUR GOALS does not mean that you should jeopardize your relationship with the dog to achieve your goals. Relationships should always come first over goals.

One option that allows this to happen is to use a “screw up cookie.” Here is how it works; the dog stops working, you realize the problem is one of the above, rather than give a correction or walk away you simply use a screw up cookie.

Using a screw up cookie means asking the dog to do something very simple that we are 100% sure he enjoys doing (IE a hand touch). When you use a “screw up cookie” you should use it two, three or 4 times in a row.

Screw up cookie not only get you out of a problem they redirect the dogs mind away from a frustrating incident. They redirect the dog onto a task that leads to a reward and then allows you to stop your training and put your dog away on a positive note. Once that’s done you can go sit down and figure out what went wrong.

Corrections and Marker Training

In my opinion there is no such thing as an all motivational system of dog training. Just as there is no such thing as an all force (or compulsion) system of dog training.

Purists will argue with me when I say there are applications for using corrections in the marker training system. Most of the time these are people who either lack experience; or only work with a very compliant non-dominant type of dog: or do not handle their dog in highly distracting environments; or are not involved with very high drive dogs in demanding dog sports; or they are not involved with competitive dog sports that require precise exercises.

One thing to keep in mind when thinking about corrections is the use of the leash. When people first start this work they should NEVER use the leash as a tool to correct until after the dog has progressed to through touch pads and learning positions. The only use for the leash is to keep the dog with the handler. In other words to stop the dog from leaving.

I recommend that initial training be done in a harness. This eliminates the handler making the mistake of giving leash correction.

In more advanced training (IE heeling) the dog will be trained to give to leash pressure. There is a very specific way to teach a dog to give to pressure. This will be covered in my DVD title TRAINING A COOMPETTION HEELING DOG with Michael Ellis. Give to pressure is not a correction based skill but it could be confusing to a dog that had earlier been trained with collar corrections. Hence – do your initial training with a harness.

The application of corrections in marker training should never be taken lightly. When corrections are used incorrectly there is always the risk of changing the relationship between the dog and handler. Especially on soft dogs.

Corrections should only be used in later training when you are 100% sure the dog understands the behavior you want and he is refusing to offer this behavior. This is past the point in training where commands have been added to the behavior. We need to see the dog consistently performing exercise without handler signals.

If we determine that the dog knows what we are asking and he is being disobedience then he either needs a negative reinforcer or he needs to be put away or he needs to get a correction. The correction on young dogs does not necessarily mean – take the dogs head off with a level 10 correction. More often than not its a slight tap of the leash that mean “Look you know better and you have to pay attention.”

In most sport dog training, corrections are a finishing tool. They are used to proof a dog to show him that he must work with us in every location, under every distraction every time. The more work a handler does on training engagement in the face of environmental stressors less problems they have.

The level of correction used is a factor of the dogs temperament (a hard dog vs a soft dog), the drive level of the dog and the distractions he is faced with and what kind of infraction the dog made. Obviously unwarranted human aggression would receive a stronger correction than not getting completely into heel position when asked.

A rule of thumb on obedience corrections is that we want the dog to be able to take food and play with us after a correction. If the dog will not do either of those things we have corrected too hard. That information needs to be tucked in your mind to remember next time out.

Many times new dog trainers get ahead of themselves. They don’t have the patience to let a young dog grow up. Trainers need to recognize the fact that corrections are self-reinforcing for the handler. This means they fulfill the desire to make the dog comply. When in fact that are often better ways to make a dog want to comply.

Corrections – Extinguishing a Behavior – Dominant Dogs

There is a difference between being disobedience and the need to EXTINGUISH A BEHAVIOR.

There are some things that dogs do that are self rewarding, like chase rabbits or squirrels. No amount of redirection or marker training is going to change my dogs desire to chasing squirrels. You can’t take the fun out of the chase. Even though they seldom if ever catch a squirrel they derive pleasure from the chase. Therefore the solution is that the fun needs to be taken out of the chase.

The beauty of the marker system is that because the training is so black and white the level of correction used to get compliance is much less than what’s needed in other old school methods of training. Because it is so black and white there is also less conflict with the handler.

Corrections vs Compulsion

There is also a difference between trainers who train with compulsion (IE forced tracking) and trainers who use corrections. Corrections involve fixing a mistake. Compulsion means the dog offers the behavior to avoid a correction (yank and crank training).

While this may seem like mincing words, there is in fact a profound difference. People who plan on training dog sports and doing so with a level of consistency are going to have to introduce obedience correction in their training. The beauty of marker training is that the level; of corrections are usually much lower than in other forms of training – especially forced compulsion training.

Anyone who has trained dogs as long as I have has trained with compulsion. When I started training there were no motivational dog training methods. Frankly I think back and feel sorry for my old dogs. Many were so good and I was so unfair. It’s sad. They deserved so much more than I gave them. Maybe in some small way this article and my marker DVDs are a way saying I am sorry.

How Long Do You Use Food Rewards

One of the arguments that inexperienced trainers expound on is to say that you eventually have to stop using food. When people say this it only confirms they do not understand the system or the power of marker training.

Intermittent food rewards can be used throughout the life of the dog. At the beginning of this article I wrote that dogs can be rewarded with a food reward, a toy reward or handler praise. It’s a handlers prerogative to determine what his dog needs at any one point in time. But to insinuate that you would stop using food is foolish.

Do You Ever Stop Marker Training?

There are several parts of this question.

Marker training is a method of communication with your dog. It’s not just used to teach new behaviors and exercises. Once dogs understand the 5 core words of the marker system they will always be used (throughout the life of the dog) to communicate with the dog.

Don’t Be Afraid to Scrap Your Training Plan

The best way to approach handler mistakes is to first accept the fact that mistakes are a normal part of dog training.

Mistakes in training need to be looked at as learning experiences on the path to training your dog. They don’t always necessarily need to be a bad thing.

The best trainers always look for points in training where they hit a wall and the dog just doesn’t seem to understand what you are trying to teach him. This usually means your getting ahead of yourself in training steps. You need to back up the work and split the exercise into smaller pieces.

Inexperienced trainers on the other hand always blame the dog and say that “THE DOG KNEW BETTER.”

A 13 week old puppy trained to give straight “fronts” with markers

Retraining Adult Dogs; Dealing with Dominant Dogs; Retraining Puppies and Pack Structure Training

In my opinion marker training is the perfect system to start training adult dogs. It is especially effective for dominant dogs or for people who adopt rescue dogs because it is stress free.

Marker training is the perfect way to interact with dominant dogs in a positive manner that will not cause a conflict. It’s a way to show a dominant dog that you can be interesting and fun.

A perfect example of the power of marker training is teaching a dog to down. The down exercise is a difficult exercise for a dominant dog. They resent being forced into different positions. When a dog downs in front of you it’s an example of submission, not something a dominant dog cares to do. In fact many owners of dominant dogs get dog bit when they try and force their down into a down position.

But by training the down with a high value food reward and shaping the exercise we can easily train a very dominant dog that there are benefits for him to down.

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying her. Marker training doesn’t eliminate dominance in dogs. It’s only a method to interact with a dominant dog with very little risk of getting bit. Because there is no conflict there isn’t a reason for a dominant dog to feel like you are challenging his rank within your pack. In the early stages of marker training there are no corrections so the dominant dog does not feel threatened.

With that said marker training is a way (through “NO MARKS” or “negative reinforcers”) to show a dog that you do have rules.


Rescue Dogs and Marker Training

As a general rule dogs that have been turned into rescue organizations have some form of behavioral problem. If these dogs have had any training it has been old school “yank and crank” methods that have used avoidance methods to train their dogs. In most cases this has not worked which is why the dogs were turned into the shelters. The dogs therefore come with emotional baggage.

Rescue dogs often require patience when new owner try to work with markers. Because of their previous avoidance training they are afraid to try new things. This is because they have learned that if they make a mistake they get a correction. Thee will often just stand and look at you because they are waiting for you to show them what you want. They are afraid to experiment.

The new owners need to be patient. They need to mark the slightest movements. These dogs really need to have behaviors split into tiny little parts. When they stop and stair it’s not because they are being stubborn. It’s because they are stuck. They either don’t understand what they are expected to do and are concerned about a correction – so use a screw up cookie.

When the light bulb goes off in the dogs head that they are being reward for trying, their true personality will come shining through. With effort you can bring true joy to these dogs’ lives.

What Exercises Can Markers Be Used For?

There is no limit to what exercises or parts of exercise that can be trained with markers. You are only limited by your imagination.

You can use it for things as simple as giving you eye contact on voice command (a very important thing for people who compete in dog sports) to something as complicated as teaching a police service dog or a Schutzhund dog correct positioning to bark at a suspect or bark at a helper.