After reading Barry Eaton’s new Book “Dominace in Dogs: Fact or Fiction?” we were inspired to update our essay on the same topic.

When the profession of dog training started taking off in the 1960s, people thought of dogs as domesticated wolves and believed they had to train them as if they were wolves being raised by their human “pack.” When L. David Mech first studied captive wolf packs in the 1970s, he concluded wolves operate in a hierarchy, generally dominated by alphas through aggression. From there, many dog trainers concluded that since dogs are related to wolves and order is maintained within a pack by dominant or alpha wolves, the same must be done in the domestic dog’s home with the human taking on the role of alpha.

Further research has since shown us although dogs are indeed descended from wolves, they are more like distant cousins who, due to evolution and selective breeding by man over the course of 14,000 years, are now very different creatures. Dogs have smaller brains, weaker jaws, altered motor patterns and many breeds are no longer able to communicate in the same way wolves do. The wolf meanwhile has remained unchanged over the span of the dog’s evolution. Consider that a wolf has 60 distinct facial expressions while a German Shepherd, one of the most wolf-like dog breeds, only has 12. Pugs and similar breeds have even fewer facial expressions.

More importantly, Mech and many others have since studied natural, free range wolf packs and have discovered that unlike the captive wolves, there are very few if any battles for dominance. The reason for this is that a natural pack generally consists of a mating pair, that year’s offspring and perhaps a couple of stragglers from previous litters. The “dominant” wolves are the parents. They protect and provide for their young, dependent cubs. Similarly, humans usually protect and provide for the domestic dog, resulting in the human naturally being the dominant creature in the relationship. Humans control access to all of the things dogs want or need, from food and water to access to exercise and mental stimulation. Just as there is no struggle in a natural wolf pack for dominance, there should be no concern that the modern domestic dog is trying to plot to take over the household.

So if behaviour problems don’t stem from dominance, where do they come from? Dogs are opportunists. This is what first contributed to the evolution of the domestic dog from wolves. The ones that were less fearful of humans saw opportunity in the garbage the humans threw away. Dogs simply perform behaviours that benefit them. If you are seeing a behaviour increase, whether you like the behaviour or not, it is somehow rewarding to your dog. This can include the dog that learns to sit in front of a closed door to get the human to open it, to the dog that learns if they snap at people who approach their food bowl, the people will retreat (if even for a moment).

Why should we dismiss dominance theory when it comes to dealing with our dogs? When we think our dogs’ actions are performed in an attempt to gain rank or status, it sets us up for a relationship full of conflict and we don’t get to enjoy our dogs for what they are – dogs! This does not mean that your dog should live without rules or boundaries. Dogs need to understand how we would like them to behave just as our children also need to learn what is expected of them. However, if we get away from dominance theory we can stop wasting our time applying rules that really have no relevance or meaning to our dogs. Consider the following rules that are usually associated with establishing yourself as the “alpha.”

Always eat before your dog does. Wild wolves from the same group or family often eat from the same kill at the same time. If food is scarce, the parent wolves will actually feed the cubs first. If we always have to eat before our dogs, does this mean every member of the family must gather and eat before the dog does so no human in the house is seen as the dog’s subordinate? This could be very challenging given the busy schedules of most families today.

Do not allow your dog on the furniture or bed. Your dog does not see itself as the leader because it is on your couch. Your dog may learn that the sofa or bed is more comfortable than the floor and if access is suddenly denied, they may begin to resource guard the furniture. If you don’t want your dog on the furniture due to cleanliness concerns, provide a comfortable dog bed instead. If you do want your dog on the furniture, it is OK. Simply train the dog to get on or off the furniture when you ask so they are easy to move when necessary.

Never let your dog pull on leash. Although this is a good rule to live by to help prevent injury to you and your dog and to make your outings more enjoyable, it does not result in you gaining status over your dog. It was believed the alpha wolf always led the pack from the front. However, more thorough observations have shown that the alpha doesn’t always lead the pack and it is more likely the young, exuberant wolves are the ones out ahead when they travel as a group.

Do not play games of tug and never let your dog win. It was believed that alpha wolves would wrestle and tug food out of subordinate wolves’ mouths. However, upon closer examination it was discovered that wolves usually tug on meat for a very practical reason – to more easily eat their prey. They work together as a team and each wolf eats whichever piece they end up with. This does not mean that you shouldn’t have guidelines for your dog when playing tug or that you shouldn’t teach a release command. You still need to make the game enjoyable for both parties!

Alpha roll your dog to correct unwanted behaviours. One of the most commonly misunderstood element of dog communication, the alpha roll would be more accurately called the submission roll. Normal, healthy, socialized dogs do not force others onto their backs and pin them there to correct unwanted behaviours. Rather, submissive dogs will often display the posture of rolling on their back as a signal of appeasement. When humans alpha roll their dogs, they run the risk of eliciting defensive aggression.

So how do we live happily with dogs if pack rules don’t apply? First, do your breed research and make sure you pick one that suits your family’s lifestyle whether you are adopting or buying. If you are buying, select a good breeder who breeds stable adult dogs and socializes their puppies from a young age. Teach your dog what is expected from them in a fair manner using access to the resources they want or need to reward the behaviours you like. Finally, learn to read canine body language and postures so you can start to have a conversation with your dog instead of being a dictator.


There is so much to learn in the world of dog training and it is never more evident than when you start to explore the world of Susan Garrett and Say Yes Dog Training in Ontario, Canada. For those of you who don’t know her, Garrett is a world-renowned agility and flyball competitor. Here at the Clicker Leash Co., we are passionate about teaching our dogs new things and agility has proven to be one of our favorite extracurricular activities because there is ALWAYS something new to learn in the sport. Over the years we have learned a lot from Garrett’s videos and books, not just with regards to agility but dog training in general.

Garrett’s book “Ruff Love” is the perfect foundation for any person and their dog regardless of whether dog sports are on the horizon or not. This book is especially meaningful to people dealing with dogs that are easily distracted and overly energetic. Relying on learning theory, not dominance, Garrett shows you how to establish boundaries and provide structure in a meaningful way that will actually result in a more confident dog and a strong connection with the owner.

“Shaping Success” is next on our recommended book list. Here, Garrett describes the trials and tribulations and the lessons learned from her over-the-top Border Collie Buzz who went on to be a world-class competitor. You will come to understand the benefits of “errorless learning” and the importance of setting your dog up for success. Your dog will love to learn and you will love being its trainer with the methods laid out in this book!

Garrett’s “Crate Games” DVD isn’t just beneficial in teaching your dog to LOVE its crate, an important tool for home or on the road, but also lays an excellent foundation for dog sports. Crate Games will give your dog the skills to have self control in highly arousing situations, the drive and confidence to work away from you (so important in advanced agility courses) and will also illustrate any holes that may be present in your current training style from your timing to your ability to fade out rewards.

For people considering agility but worried about limited practice space (let’s face it, we don’t all have acreage), Garrett’s “Success With One Jump” DVD has a ton of exercises that only require one jump! These exercises will help your dog’s understanding of your positional cues when out on the agility course while building a great desire to perform jumps. Since most agility courses are comprised of at least 80% jumps, this DVD will contribute to your ability to smoothly and effectively navigate your dog even if you have limited space to practice at home.

Finally, one of the agility obstacles most people and dogs struggle with are the weave poles. People have tried to overcome this challenging obstacle with channels or wire guides that set the dog on the correct path or by simply luring the dog through the poles. Both methods require hundreds of repetitions to become reliable and it is often difficult for people to fade themselves out of the picture. Garrett’s brilliant solution – “2 x 2 Weave Training.” In her video, she demonstrates how quickly you can teach the weaves in just a few minutes a day, over the course of six days with a dog that doesn’t even belong to her! The 2 x 2 method results in thoughtful, independent, fast weaves as your dog comes to understand them as a series of entry points to drive through. We have tried a lot of methods to teach our dogs to weave over the years but we have never had as much fun as with the 2 x 2 method.

If you like what Susan Garrett has to offer, you may also want to check out her camps that she hosts at the Say Yes training facility in Ontario, her entertaining and informative blog and You Tube videos or her e-books that are jam packed with great articles and information. Thank you Susan Garrett for your contribution to the world of dog training and the human-canine bond!

Having your dog understand a nose touch is a powerful tool that can be used to accomplish a variety of things. It is particularly useful with fearful, reactive and rambunctious dogs because it gives you a way to safely interact with the dog to remove them from furniture or get them out of undesirable situations, to distract them in stressful environments and to help them meet dogs or people in an appropriate manner. Many agility competitors will also teach their dogs to do a nose touch to a “dot” which is typically a plastic lid from a yogurt container or something similar. This makes for excellent contact training on the A-Frame, Teeter and Dog Walk. If your dog is reactive and/or aggressive, please see a reputable trainer who understands clicker training for help with your dog.

Your goal with the nose touch is to have your dog touch the palm of your hand with their nose. To accomplish this simply hold your hand a few inches away from your dog’s nose. Most dogs will have a natural inclination to reach their head forward and sniff your hand. When they sniff your hand, click and give a treat with your other hand. Once your dog consistently reaches out and touches your hand with their nose after you have clicked and treated a few times, begin moving your hand and getting your dog to follow it, eventually ending with a touch.

If your dog begins mouthing your hand, it means you are clicking and rewarding too late and your dog is becoming frustrated as a result. If your dog begins to do “phantom touches” where they do not quite touch your hand, you are clicking too soon and should wait until your dog accurately touches your hand before you click. The fussier you are with this exercise, the more accurate your dog will be with their nose touch! You can even get specific as to what part of your hand you want touched.

Once your dog can easily follow your random hand movements, you can label your dog’s action. We simply call it “touch” but as with any verbal cue you can call it whatever you would like. You can also give it different labels when you use it in different situations.  You can use it to get your dog into “heel” position next to you and to help teach them to walk next to you by holding your hand at your hip and getting your dog to follow it as you walk, clicking and rewarding when your dog is nice and close. You can also use it to safely get feisty fidos off furniture. To do so, first get the dog to follow your hand up onto the furniture, click and reward, then get them to follow your hand target off the furniture, click and reward. If your dog enjoys guarding the furniture, this will be effective but you must make sure you have built up a significant reward history with the nose touch before introducing it in these situations because it will have to outweigh the value of the comfy couch, bed or chair. You should spend at least three weeks working on developing a solid nose touch before using it in this type of situation.

The nose touch is also effective when dealing with reactive dogs who do not like encountering strangers (people and other dogs) on their walks. Once you have built significant value for the nose touch in a low distraction environment, you can take your show on the road and start to use it to distract your dog from incoming strangers if they have a tendency to meltdown. To do so, simply ask your dog to touch your hand the instant they see an incoming stranger, before they have a chance to react and then calmly get them to follow your hand target in the opposite direction, across the street or up a nearby driveway to create distance between your dog and the offensive passer-by so your dog will be more comfortable. You can then continue to ask for a nose touch as the person and/or dog is passing by to help keep your dog happy and calm. If your dog does have a meltdown they are simply too close to the thing they don’t like and the next time you will know to provide them with more distance. Gradually you should be able to get closer to the stranger and your dog should be able to stay calm because they will associate the stranger with a fun game of hand targeting.

If your dog is a bit shy with strange people or dogs but not reactive, you can use the nose touch to help boost their confidence by giving them a new way to interact with strangers. You can label the nose touch as “go say hi” and instruct approaching strangers to present their open hand to your dog. Your dog should approach, touch the stranger’s hand with their nose and when you click, come back to you for their reward. You can also experiment and see if they will take the reward from the stranger so your dog will develop even more of a positive association with their new friend. When you are dealing with a new dog, preferably one who is confident and calm, you can instruct your dog to “go say hi” and then place your hand near the hind end of the dog to help your dog perform a polite meet and greet. Again, once you click your dog will likely come back to you for a reward so if your dog presents some lovely greeting rituals on their own, do not interrupt it with your clicker. Eventually, you can fade your hand target out of the situation and simply ask your dog to “go say hi.”

If you are interested in learning more about why targets are so effective, there is an excellent section in Karen Pryor’s recent book “Reaching the Animal Mind” that discusses in detail why targets work to help animals cope with stressful situations.

North American dog owners are becoming increasingly obsessed with “control.” Commonly seen in dog sport enthusiasts trying to be top of their game as well as everyday dog owners who have bought into dominance theory, the need to control canines seems to be on a lot of people’s minds. In pursuit of control, dog owners will limit access to various resources such as “human” food, comfy couches, four-legged friends and other people. This often leads to what we call “Forbidden Fruit Syndrome” (FFS). 
The first symptom most FFS sufferers exhibit is an unnatural obsession with something. Most frequently it is an intense drive to get to other dogs or people and can also be directed towards toys or obsessive food begging. Another symptom occurs when dogs are forcibly removed from furniture or if prized chews or toys are taken away without properly conditioning the dog to be receptive to human interference when they are engaged with their favorite things. FFS tends to rear its ugly head in the form growling, snarling, snapping and sometimes even biting as dogs try to keep humans away from valuable “possessions.”
We are blessed with a wonderful local resource who has been truly enlightening when it comes to dealing with FFS. Silvia Jay, a trainer who shares her passion for pooches at has brought the concept of “Mindful Leadership” to our community. Silvia points to dogs’ needs for social inclusion and emotional security as the fundamental requirements for successful human-canine relationships – not the need to be dominant! When dog owners provide these two resources to their dogs, they eliminate frustration, stress, fear and confusion in the dog’s mind and as a result behavior issues are generally resolved.
How does Mindful Leadership relate to FFS? Instead of limiting your dog’s resources in an attempt to gain control, Silvia recommends your dog live in a land of plenty. We have seen the benefits of this theory first-hand both in our own home and in the homes of our customers’ dogs. When a dog perceives a resource as being limited, they are more likely to guard it which can quickly escalate into serious aggression if owners confront their pets in the name of dominance. When dogs are provided with plenty of toys, chews, comfortable resting places and playmates they will be far less likely to try and keep their people away and will not be as obsessive when it comes to meeting other dogs.
You can use your Clicker Leash to help your dog see you as a gateway to these resources in a positive light. This will ultimately provide people with the control they crave without the fallout that often accompanies dominance-based training strategies. Have a dog that is obsessed with four-legged friends? Click and use the other dogs as a reward when your dog offers you attention. If your dog loves to chase squirrels, put away your hot dogs and give your dog permission to go on a squirrel hunt after you click your Clicker Leash when they do something you like. Silvia suggests you take it to the next level and actually join your dog in the fun, pretending to chase the squirrels at their side. Be a team!

We love Silvia’s kind and effective approach to dog training. If you are faced with the challenge of a resource guarder or an obsessive dog, remember when you provide your dog with plenty, not only will you be perceived as a mindful leader but you will also have the luxury of a world of rewards to use when you are training.

 Learning theory does not generally provide the punch line to many jokes or get much attention by the media, but occasionally it finds its way into today’s pop culture. A recent example of this is compliments of one of our favorite sitcoms, “The Office.”

If you are not a fan, the Office portrays life in a quirky paper company that accentuates some of the less than ideal working conditions most people have to endure at some point in their lives. A subpar boss, the office lush, eccentric coworker etc., make this show highly entertaining.

At the beginning of the episode titled “Dwight Helps Michael Prepare,” mischievous office prankster Jim conditions Dwight to want an Altoid every time he hears Jim’s computer boot up. Jim accomplishes this in much the same way Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov did back in the early 1900’s when he first noticed his experimental dogs would start to salivate as soon as they saw people in lab coats. With limited stimuli in the environment, the dogs realized most times they were approached by a person in a lab coat, they were subsequently fed. Pavlov (who was initially just interested in studying digestive systems) noticed this and began experimenting to see what else could get the dogs to salivate. He knew it was the dogs’ natural response to salivate in the presence of food to help with its digestion so he paired it with a completely unrelated event, the ringing of a bell, and found that once the dogs had made the connection between the two, they would start to salivate as soon as they heard the bell. You can play a game here thanks to the folks at that will take you through the steps of getting a dog to salivate when they hear a previously irrelevant sound.

So what does this have to do with dog training? Well, from Pavlov’s research stems clicker training. Similar to how Jim conditioned Dwight to respond to the noise his computer makes, we also condition dogs to respond to a click from a clicker. This is often referred to as “charging” the clicker and it is the very first step you must take for clicker training to be effective. Pavlov’s experiments showed us the most effective way to create associations between previously unrelated stimuli is to make sure you click before you present the food and to make the delay between the click and food delivery as short as possible so the dog will easily connect the two events. Once your dog understands what the click means, you can start to use it to shape amazing behaviors and to effectively countercondition your dog to things he may be nervous or afraid of.

Thank you Ivan Pavlov for laying the groundwork for the best dog training practices available and thanks to the folks at the Office for putting a funny spin on the science behind conditioning!

Here at the Clicker Leash Co. we believe you can shape the dog of your dreams through positive reinforcement training but we also recognize that sometimes our dogs’ personalities or natural instincts may make some of our goals unrealistic. We have all felt moments of disappointment when we realize we are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. That is why we found this video of a dog who had been bred and trained from birth to be a service dog so touching. This special dog’s instinct to chase birds unravelled her handler’s plans but instead of giving up on the dog completely, the inspired handler transformed her into a “Surfice Dog.” This is an inspiring story for anyone dealing with a challenging dog. Sometimes they won’t be what we want them to but they may make an even greater contribution to this world than we could have imagined.

We’ve all seen them – the dogs who take their owners for a walk as they pull them down the sidewalk at break neck speeds. When puppies are very young, they are not capable nor do many want to pull their people down the street. In fact, we often hear the complaint that a new puppy doesn’t want to walk at all. So how does it get from one extreme to another?

The first thing to consider is it takes two to tango and it takes two to pull. When your young puppy becomes more adventurous, he will begin to enjoy smelling new smells and meeting new people and these will be very rewarding experiences for him. When you allow him to do these things while he is pulling or lunging forward, you are telling him he is being a good dog and you really like it when he pulls you toward things by giving him access to these things. If having a dog walk politely and safely on a loose leash is important to you, then you have to make sure your puppy does not get rewarded for moving forward on a tight leash. Timing and clear communication are important here. With a Clicker Leash, simply click as soon as your puppy offers you any slack in the leash and then reward by moving forward, being sure to stop again if the leash becomes tight. Make sure your puppy does not get access to people and places when their leash is tight. You may feel like you are playing a game of red light green light but with young puppies this method will typically begin to work quickly as long as your timing is good and you are consistent. If you allow your puppy to pull occasionally, they will try more and more often to do so in the hopes that they will get to whatever it is they want to explore even faster.

This method has proven to be effective with many puppies but the easiest way to train a dog to walk beside you and something that makes the red light/green light technique even more powerful is rewarding the dog for passive attention. 

Begin by clicking and rewarding any attention your dog gives you. Do not ask for your dog to “watch” or “look” or try to get their attention. Just observe them as you are walking and if they pay any attention to you, click and reward next to your side closest to the dog. For some dogs this may be as little as an ear twitch or brief glance in your direction. Don’t reach out with the treat, feed it at your leg to build some reward value for the space around you.  As your dog comes to understand that orienting to you and walking near you is a rewarding activity, he will begin to offer you more attention for longer periods of time. As you practice this activity, you can increase your expectations and begin delaying your click for longer periods of time, gradually fading out the click and rewards when your dog is conditioned to walk nicely beside you. Make sure to practice around a lot of distractions that your dog is challenged with on a regular basis, rewarding heavily if your dog can maintain their focus on you as you approach and pass the distractions.

We first learned about passive attention exercises in Leslie McDevitt’s wonderful book “Control Unleashed” and Jane Killion’s equally amazing “When Pigs Fly.” If you have a difficult-to-train dog, one that becomes overexcited and reactive or shuts down due to fear, these two books paired with a Clicker Leash will help you effectively nurture your dog through their issues.

It is always surprising how much people will protest the use of food in dog training. Time and again it is argued that the dog shouldn’t work for food, they should be working for YOU. It is true that some dogs enjoy working just for the sake of working (Border Collies come to mind). Other dogs are perfectly content to work for verbal praise or attention from their owner. We often call these the “what can I do for you” dogs. However, there is nothing shameful about owning a “what can you do for me” dog and more often this is the case. Dogs are reknown opportunists. If there is a way to create pleasure for themselves, they usually find it. If they see you as a reliable source of pleasure, whether it come in the form of food, praise or play, then at the very least you will have a nice foundation for a strong bond between you and your dog. This is a worst case scenario if your timing happens to be off with your rewards, if you don’t know how to fade rewards out and put them on an intermittent schedule or if you bribe your dog by always giving commands with food in your hand. At the very least your dog will still really like you!

Here at the Clicker Leash Co. we enjoy watching trainers like Victoria Stilwell and Zak George on Animal Planet. In Stilwell’s case she is normally called in to deal with unruly behaviour. She uses positive reinforcement to teach incompatible, desirable behaviors to replace the stuff that drives most owners nuts. On George’s new show Super Fetch, he teaches really cool and practical tricks to dogs, again, using positive reinforcement. George refers to the rewards as “currency.” We like this because it helps people see the reward for what it is. Most people don’t love their jobs and wouldn’t perform daily tasks if it weren’t for the pay cheque they receive every two weeks. Of course people would probably be more productive if their rewards were tied more closely to the individual tasks but that just isn’t practical for most employers. Fortunately it is practical for most people to do when they are training their dogs!

In one of his recent blog posts on Dog Star Daily, Eric Goebelbecker discusses “5 Myths About Training Dogs with Treats.” Check out his post for some great arguments on why it is OK to use treats to help teach your dog new behaviours. If you have been having problems with your dog training and haven’t tried rewards to motivate your dog, what have you got to lose? Remember, only your dog can determine what is rewarding so experiment to see what really gets the tail wagging! Happy training!

A popular example among positive dog trainers to illustrate the ineffectiveness of punishment is traffic tickets. North American culture tends to focus on punishing unwanted behaviors like speeding instead of recognizing desirable behaviors like driving your car at the appropriate speed. Now Cape Town Traffic Services in Africa is experimenting with positive reinforcement to see if it can improve road safety.

The department will be rewarding motorists for “gold star” behavior with engraved pens and key rings. Good behaviour will include not getting angry or upsetting other road users, signalling well in advance when changing lanes, slowing down on freeways to allow space for motorists entering from an on-ramp, keeping intersections clear in heavy traffic, and raising a hand to thank fellow motorists instead of using the emergency flashers. Of course, this is creating debate almost as hot as a Victoria Stilwell vs. Cesar Millan dispute with the nay-sayers chiming in with their usual pessimism.  Hopefully the department will measure and publish the results of this experiment.

Cape Town police are not alone in thinking positive reinforcement can change behavior. Volkswagen launched their “Fun Theory Campaign” this fall and it is already a viral sensation with millions of views on You Tube. The car manufacturer’s ad agency DDB Stockholm, based their new campaign on the idea that “fun is the easiest way to change people’s behavior for the better.” For example, the team set out to see if they could increase the number of people who would opt to take a set of stairs instead of a nearby escalator by making it fun to take the stairs. They changed the stairs into a giant, functional piano that was activated when people stepped onto the stairs. They found a 66% increase in the number of people who chose the stairs when they were made “fun.” You can view this and the two other videos the company has created in the first stage of their campaign at

What does all of this have to do with dog training? Well, if we can change people’s current perception about rewards and punishment in human learning then it will be much easier to get people to Train Humane with their pets. Once reward-based principles become mainstream, we will see an increase in people treating their dogs with respect and love and getting great results.

Halloween can be a spooky time especially for nervous dogs. Many dog owners cringe at the thought of dozens of costumed children repeatedly ringing their doorbell while their pooches do their best to protect the house from intruders or hide in a corner to get away from the ghosts and goblins. However, Halloween doesn’t have to be a night of terrors with a bit of prep work beforehand. It can actually be a great training opportunity to get the behavior you want when guests come visisting.
Start by situating your dog’s favourite bed or a mat a comfortable distance away from the door. If your dog has a habit of bolting out open doors, you may want to install a baby gate in the doorway for extra safety and security. If you have not already established a strong reward history with the resting spot, begin by clicking and rewarding any time your dog looks at the bed, walks towards it, sits on it and final jackpot (five times normal amount of treats) if your dog downs on the spot.
If your dog is hesitant about offering you new behaviors, you can lure them onto the bed and into a down with a tasty treat in your hand. Make sure you do not give a command if you have food in your hand. This is considered bribery and often results in a dog that only listens when they can see their paycheque is available. Food is a preferable reward for this exercise because it tends to relax most dogs and we are looking for calm behavior here. You may have to experiment to find something special to motivate picky eaters – don’t be afraid to try “human food!” Help your dog to relax on the spot with some massage and relaxed patting. There is a great selection of canine massage books and DVDs at Dogwise including the popular “Energy Healing for Dogs”  by Nicole Wilde .

Once your dog eagerly goes to their spot and downs you can start delaying your click and reward so your pup will remain in the down for a longer period of time. Remember to always toss your treat directly on the spot to avoid having your dog jump up to get rewarded after you click. If your dog has a habit of doing so, simply wait until your dog is down on the spot again before tossing the treat. It may take a few moments of deep thought on your dog’s behalf if you have been in the habit of rewarding out of position so be patient for the results you want.

You should also work on a release cue to let your dog know when they are allowed to leave the mat. If they get up before they leave the mat, simply guide them back to where they were and don’t expect them to stay for quite as long on your next repetition. Try to make your release cue a word or action that you don’t say or do frequently to avoid confusing your dog. After you say your release cue (we like the word “break”) hold a treat out to your side a few feet away from your dog and click when they get up to come get the food. After a few repetitions you should be able to release the dog and reward with some verbal praise for coming towards you unless you have a dog that would prefer to rest and relax in which case you may have to spend more time motivating them to leave their mat.   

Once your pup can maintain a down stay on their mat for 15 seconds or so, begin breaking down the rest of the steps towards opening the door and having guests enter while you increase the length of time you expect your dog to stay. Remember to always build on success by taking baby steps to wards your end goal. You may want to invest in an interchangeable 9 foot leash length so you can keep your dog secure and your clicker on hand while you build your distance. Begin by rewarding after taking one step away from your dog. Don’t forget to practice turning your back on them as well. It is often useful to check over your shoulder when doing so to make sure your dog doesn’t leave the mat. Click when you are far away and go back into where your dog is laying down to reward. Remember, if your dog gets up after you click it is often beneficial to wait for them to down again before tossing the treat on the mat.

You will want to take small steps in the door opening process as well. Click and reward as soon as you put your hand on the door, then for turning the doorknob, then for opening the door a little bit etc. until you can open the door all the way and your dog will remain on his mat. Remember, a baby gate will help keep your dog safe at this stage of the game.

Once your dog can handle the door being opened and shut without moving, you can start labelling the behavior of going to and staying on the mat. Instead of using a command like “go to your mat” you may want to make the door bell or knocking the cue to go lie down and stay. Begin by ringing the door bell yourself or recruit a close friend or family member to help. As soon as the knock or doorbell occurs walk with your dog toward the mat until they lay down on their spot. As soon as they do, click and jackpot with up to five times the amount of reward they had been receiving.

With each repetition of the doorbell or knocking try not to walk quite as close your dog’s spot so they will actually start to travel further away from you to get to there. If your dog hesitates, let them think without speaking so as not to interrupt their thought process. Try looking at the mat instead of your dog so they will know what they should be interacting with. If your dog becomes disengaged with you or gives up, take a break but don’t make the break rewarding and when you go back to it, start at your last successful stage. Remember to always keep your training sessions short and your dog wanting more by ending the game first. Your dog will learn faster with short, fun sessions. If you hear a voice in your head say “just one more,” quit while you are ahead!

Your final step to having a relaxing Halloween or any time you have to answer the door, will be the most challenging for many dogs. When you have people enter the house, it is best to work with a team mate who can make sure your dog is rewarded for staying on the mat and not jumping all over your guests as they enter. You should practice this with a close friend who does not mind taking orders from you before the real guests arrive if you do not have a team mate. It will be important that your guests understand not to pat or pay attention to your dog unless they are down on the mat. You may also want to provide your visitors with a treat to reward your dog as they get closer to the mat and your dog stays down. Once your guests are in the house and comfortable or if you have some trick or treaters who would like to meet your dog, you can release them from their mat and reward for keeping four on he floor. For some great tips on how to accomplish this check out the second runner up of the 2009 Canis Film Festival.

Hopefully this Halloween will provide you with a chance to practice the skills that will pay off over the approaching holiday season! Remember out of every frustration comes a great learning opportunity!