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Prepping for Training — Mentally and Physically

In This Chapter

Before you begin training, you need to do a little prep work. Part of it’s physical; for example, you have to get all your training gear in order. And some of your preparation is mental — getting an idea of how your dog thinks, for example, and figuring out how all your training gadgetry works.

Although your dog isn’t born knowing the English language, you can teach her just like you’d teach a baby — speaking in a clear voice and repeating a word until your dog makes the connection. Some of life’s little consistencies can light your way, too. For example, dogs like to know things. They focus on anyone who acts like a teacher: If it’s you, they’re in! Dogs also like to play and have fun, and most dogs are motivated around food or a favorite toy, so you can use these prompts to encourage your dog’s cooperation as well.
And thank gosh modern technology has reached the dog world! The list of helpful training tools has gone way beyond collars and leashes to head collars, clickers, and targeting sticks. These gadgets can add zip and fun to your time together as your goals come across in half the time.

Fortunately, teaching a dog is not as complicated as solving complex equations, and it’s a lot more fun. As long as you remember to speak to your dog in the right way, make your position as the teacher clear and consistent, understand who your dog really is, and use the right tools, you can teach your dog all sorts of things and have fun together at the same time. Okay, so maybe that does sound complicated, but in this chapter, I unravel the mystery behind the basics of dog training.

Turning Your Dog onto Learning

Before you teach that dog of yours how to serve you breakfast in bed, you have to make sure you can get her attention. Otherwise, she’ll be the one teaching you tricks — ever see the owner-chasing-the-dog routine? It’s hysterical but very unsafe.
Dogs think a lot like humans in some ways. They like to learn about activities that excite them. They pay attention to routines that result in positive rewards and the people who provide them. They’re willing to watch them for clues on what to do. They also have favorite things that you can offer to encourage their eagerness and cooperation. (Although a $20 bill may not get them going, wave a hot dog or a squeak toy in front of your dog’s face, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.) In this section, you find out how to appeal to your dog — to her desire for attention and approval, her joy of adventure, and her enjoyment of physical affection.


Dogs often perceive negative attention as confrontational play. Dogs are very keyed into what gets your attention and, like children, they don’t seem to care whether the attention they’re getting is negative or positive. Rather than subduing a dog, yelling or using physical correction excites them or, worse, creates a gripping sense of fear. As you flip through this book, teaching your dog skits and routines, remember the adage: You attract more dogs with praise than punishment.

Praising your pooch

Like humans, dogs will go to great lengths to please someone they love. Although I wouldn’t look to this book to teach your dog how to give you a foot massage, dogs will pour themselves into tricks and adventures if it means getting to spend more time with you. When you praise your dog, you encourage her cooperation with your enthusiastic verbal coaching, and you may supplement it with other reinforcements like food and toys.


The intensity of the praise you should give your dog is a very individual thing: Too much can excite an active dog. A shy or hesitant dog can miss too little encouragement. And some dogs actually get frightened when humans bend over and pet or hug them enthusiastically. To find out what works best for your dog, offer praise and watch her response:

If she’s so thrilled with herself that she has troubling focusing again, notch it down.

If she’s hard to motivate, ratchet up your praise and find a toy or treat that gets her attention.

If your dog freezes or pulls back when you bend to touch her, don’t take it personally; your dog is conflicted. What is praise to you may seem to be a dominance display or a threat to her personal space. Use food and verbal praise to reward this dog.

Choosing rewards

Not sure how to reward your dog? Some people swear, “Only treats!” Others exclaim, “Only praise!” I say the best advice is to ask your dog! To discover what makes her tail wag, do this little experiment using the three different types of rewards (praise, treats, or toys) individually to see which your dog enjoys the most!
1. Pick a well-known command like “Sit.”
2. Do five “Sits” in a row, rewarding each success with praise only.
3. Three hours later, do the same thing, but reward your dog with a toy only (no praise).
4. The next day, do five “Sits” again, making treats your dog’s only reward this time (no praise or toys).
Your answer should be clear: Although praise is a given, if food or toys excite your dog, use those rewards, too. The following list offers you some guidelines on these reward options:

Treats: Figure out what excites your dog. Is it food? If yours turns up her nose at dried kibble, test her with a tiny piece of hot dog or a more exciting snack.


When using food to guide or reward your dog (in dog lingo, this is called luring), break the snack into tiny pieces so she won’t get filled up and lose interest in the lesson. It’s not the size that counts; it’s the gift that revs the dog up!

Toys: Some dogs cling to their toys like a baby to a blanket. If your dog has a favorite, use this to reward her. Do what I call a burst: For each successful attempt, toss the toy either down on the floor or up in the air (let your dog choose which is most exciting) and shout, “Yes!”

 Praise: All dogs love attention. For some, approval alone motivates their interaction for hours. If your dog hangs on you like a noodle, turning up her nose at food and shunning toys, then you have yourself a praise junky, a rare dog indeed. Use your enthusiasm to propel her mastery of tricks and high adventure.

The million-dollar question is . . . drum roll . . . will you need to use treats forever to get your dog to respond to you? The answer is, thankfully, no.
Food and rewards are used in training to help you target the behavior that you’re teaching and condition a quick response to your command words.
After your dog knows the command, you should immediately start phasing off the physical reward, using just your praise and encouragement instead. To phase off treats, don’t go cold turkey, eliminating them in one day. Instead, gradually reduce your dependence — reward with food every other time your dog behaves, then every third time . . . then mix it up, giving two treats in a row, then one in three times, then every other time. The inconsistency of not knowing when the treat will come will keep your dog on her toes. Within two weeks, you can phase your dog off treat reliance entirely . . . though every once in a while, pop one in just for fun! Dogs love their treats like many people love chocolate!


Offering rewards is all about timing: Targeting your dog’s success makes your intentions more clear. If you miss the moment, your dog may get the wrong message. For example, when teaching a dog to dance (see Chapter Jumping and Dancing for Joy), you target her for standing on her two back paws; if you praise her as she’s coming down, she may think dancing means the opposite.

Communicating with Your Dog

Although dogs are very similar to people in some ways, they’re different, too. Recognizing what sets dogs apart can help you modify your approach to help your dog learn faster. First off, dogs don’t communicate with the same language skills. Their verbal range is limited. Sentences confuse them. Warm sweet praise, while fitting when your dog is calm or you’re rewarding cooperation, sounds whiny rather than supportive or directional when your dog needs a command to help her organize her thoughts.
When you teach your dog new skills, think of it as teaching English as a second language — work to translate English into Doglish! The sections that follow give you some ideas on how to make sure you’re communicating with your dog in her language.


When communicating with your dog, use a creative approach and a heavy dose of patience. You need to demonstrate a lot of what you envision, and repeat the word cues again and again. Though your dog can’t fully grasp the complexities of your language, she’ll sure try to figure it out. When your dog finally gets it, she’ll eagerly repeat the routine again and again.

Watching your dog’s ears

Here’s a simple way to tell what your dog is focused on: Watch her ears. They’re the canine equivalent of an antenna. Unlike people’s boring, stationary flaps, a dog’s ears rotate to capture and locate sound. Swiveling around, they help find food and alert to danger.
When you’re in charge, your dog must focus on you primarily. Ideally, the ears should be relaxed and angled toward you. When an unpredictable distraction alerts your dog, she’ll likely focus on it intently. This is ok . . . for a moment — call her back to you and praise her when she reconnects. If she gets more stimulated and her ears and eyes begin to track the distraction, tug on the leash, say “Nope,” and, when possible, move off in the opposite direction. As soon as your dog shifts her attention back to you, praise her calmly.

Being the one to watch

All animals respond well to authority. The member of the group who stands forward with attitude and pride and says, “I know what to do!” or “Here’s the plan!” emits confidence in everything he or she does, from gathering food to playing to directing other individuals in the group. To encourage the most cooperation from your dog, you need to step forward — you need to be the one to watch.
If your dog looks to you with eyes that are trusting and eager, you’re on your way. If you can’t get a blink from your dog, you’ll have to do some preliminary respect work by teaching some basic commands, as outlined in Chapter Encouraging Self-Control before You Launch into Lessons.


I have a mantra I get my clients to repeat: “The more you look at your dog, the less she’ll look to you.” When you’re teaching your dog tricks or directing her behavior, the goal is that she watch you for signals and directions. If you’re looking at her, she’ll just be confused: Why are you looking at me? I don’t know what to do . . . . Look at your dog to reward her cooperation and to confirm that everything is okay.

Using body language and hand signals

People use body language to support their words. For dogs, the opposite is true — body language is central to their communication, and their vocalization backs it up. Remember, your dog is always watching you for direction.

First of all, training calls for a relaxed and patient body posture. As you teach new tricks and skills, use one of the following positions:

– Stand upright and proud when directing your dog from a standing position.

Kneel down or use a chair if an exercise calls for you to be at the same level as your dog.

If you hunch over or get frustrated, your dog will think something is distressing in the environment, not in her behavior. Because dogs can’t reason that way, an angry reaction from you will only cause hesitation in your dog.


To capitalize on your dog’s attention to body language, use hand signals, choosing one for each new direction you teach your dog. Throughout the text, I suggest a hand signal for each trick, though you can modify each if you choose — just be consistent. To direct your dog in front of a crowd without saying a word is rather impressive!

Paying attention to vocal tones

With dogs, how you sound is more important than what you’re saying. When you yell at your dog, you either freak her out or look like a fool, depending on your dog’s personality type. If you speak sweetly, you encourage playfulness.


When giving commands, use a clear, direct, and nonthreatening tone — think of it as a set-the-table tone. Use your regular voice with an ounce of over-enunciation, as though you were speaking to a toddler or directing a foreign tourist to the nearest gas station. After your dog learns a particular behavior, you can use hand signals or whisper commands. But in the beginning, speak clearly.

You can use your voice to both steady and direct your dog. Think of each command as a short bark. Powerful (not whiny or questioning) verbal directions give your dog confidence in you and the situation at hand. When your dog is unsteady, distracted, or anxious, use familiar words to direct her. A recognized word cue can steady a dog, which quickly organizes a chaotic scene, modifies mischief, and, with tricks, lightens all interactions!

Outfitting Your Dog for Training

The goal of tricks, agility, and other sporting adventures is to direct your dog off-leash, encouraging her to focus on your hand signals and verbal commands. If the thought of having your dog off-leash makes you nervous, take a deep breath. You don’t have to unclip your dog before you’re ready. I cover basic training and off-leash lessons in Chapter Encouraging Self-Control before You Launch into Lessons. This section gives you a thorough understanding of the equipment you use toward that end.


Buckle collars are a staple. They fit like a belt around your dog’s neck and carry her rabies tag, license, and name tag. Some dogs behave just fine in a buckle collar; others sense the restraint like entrapment and pull hard.
If you muscle a puller to your side, the dog learns that being near you causes her to choke, so she pulls harder. If this sounds like your situation, consider one of the following collars for your training:

Martingale collars: These collars come in two types: all fabric and a fabric-chain combination. Safer than chain collars (also called slip collars or choke chains), Martingale collars circle the neck and have a slip section that offers a corrective tug when a dog pulls away. The chain version also offers a corrective zipping sound that discourages pulling and misbehavior.


Use positive encouragement as your dog walks at your side. Reward your dog when she’s walking near you with food/toy rewards and verbal encouragement. This will help her recognize and rely on you to lead her. Explore the clicker and target stick too — these tools will speed up this very basic understanding. If your dog darts off, stop calmly — when she hits the end of the leash the collar’s quick tug will be enough to remind her: Walking with you is good. Darting away, not so good!

Head collars: A head collar lays over a dog’s nose and secures behind her ear. Although some think the head collar looks like a muzzle, head collars act more like a halter placed on a horse — you use them to guide movement, not inhibit it. The benefit of a head collar is that it can condition cooperative skills if you reward your dog for walking at your side. Gently guiding a dog instead of yanking on her neck, it can work wonders if you’re trying to restrain a hyper or headstrong dog.


Harnesses fit over your dog’s back and chest. They can be used instead of a neck collar to guide and contain a dog, though a neck collar should be used to carry a dog’s identification tags. Here are two types of harnesses:

Traditional harness: This basic harness can incite pulling when you’re reviewing basic training, but it may be ideal for directing your dog through active or complicated exercises, such as the retrieving skills found in Chapter Go Fetch! Finding and Retrieving Tricks and sporting games like agility and flyball.

No-pull harness: A no-pull harness is helpful to condition basic cooperation skills such as leash-walking and household calmness. This contraption discourages forward motion by applying pressure to your dog’s shoulder blades; however, the no-pull harness must be removed when practicing tricks and active sporting lessons. There are two types of no-pull harnesses: One affixes over the shoulders and around the armpits and the other crosses over the chest. You can explore either option, though both must be fitted properly to ensure effectiveness and safety.

Leashes, short and long

Good leash skills are the basis for a happy off-leash relationship. Think of leash-walking as holding a child’s hand, not as a tug-of-war exercise to determine who’s in charge. If your approach is nurturing and positive — a “here, let’s go this way” or “follow me, and I’ll show you” — your dog will respond with enthusiasm each time you’re together.
Here are some leashes that can help you train and guide your dog:

– Teaching Lead: This patented leash is a little invention of mine. The difference between the Teaching Lead and garden varieties? You have the option of wearing my leash like a belt instead of holding it. I know that may sound funky, but it’s pretty cool.

For dogs in training, this hands-free lead communicates leadership passively and allows you to teach good behavior indoors and out without a chaotic scene. Indoors? Yes. A young dog doesn’t know how to act in everyday situations: The lead can help you guide good behavior — especially important when formatting good habits like greeting and sitting still for mealtimes. The leash–belt combination allows you the freedom to engage both hands while your dog learns to walk calmly at your side. In addition, the Teaching Lead encourages the most humane handling techniques without a lot of jerking and constant restraint. Designed in both leather and nylon and available with an extension for people and dogs of any size and shape, it can be used with dogs of any age. It has three applications:

Because dogs get more direction and less confinement, they love this lead, too. To get information on where you can purchase one, visit me online at

Drag lead: If you supervise your dog, she can wear a lightweight puppy leash or a thin, 4-foot nylon leash indoors so you can offer gentle guidance or redirection if she acts up or ignores a direction. As you give your dog freedom to explore with her drag leash, use the commands you’ve been practicing (for example, “Sit,” “Down,” and “Stay”) and reward her with food and attention. If she ignores you, pick up the leash calmly and physically position or direct her.

Short lead: This 8- to 12-inch lead hangs from the buckle collar for guided direction if it’s needed.


Short leads are incredibly useful when teaching tricks or for other sporting adventures. The light weight on the collar helps your dog maintain her concentration (it feels like a leash is on, though nothing is dragging underfoot) and allows you to handle your dog gently without grabbing at her body or collar, a startling move that elicits an innate defensive response.

Finger lead: This is a miniaturized short leash: a tiny loop attached to the collar for small or accomplished dogs who may still need guided direction.

Long line: This 30- to 50-foot line gives you the freedom to let your dog run or work at a distance outside without the fear of losing control — which is especially important if you’re practicing in an unconfined area. These light lines are essential for off-leash work. You can choose to let your dog drag the line provided you’re able to keep track of it, or loop the end and attach your normal leash to the end of it to maintain contact at all times.

Retractable leash: These leashes stretch and retract and are useful for exercise and trick training that calls for such controlled freedom.


Please don’t use a retractable leash near a road; I’ve known dogs to race out in traffic and meet tragic ends.


If you’ve gotten into a battle of wills using your leash and find yourself having to haul your dog away from certain situations or people, reconsider both your training approach and your training collar. One good session with a respected trainer can give both you and your dog a new lease — or leash — on life!

Training with a Clicker

A clicker is a small, handheld, toy-like object with a metal strip inside; when you press the metal strip, it makes a sharp, very distinctive click, much like the sound of a camera. Clicker training is a clever, popular way to train dogs. It’s a fun, fast, and positive approach to encouraging good behavior and teaching obedience and tricks.
Some people (like me) use the clicker when introducing a new concept, especially with distractible dogs, and then phase off its use after the dog knows the trick or movement. Others use the clicker for training their dog full time, affixing it to their body like jewelry. Other people can’t master the coordination or just don’t like using it.
To use this gadget, you have to figure out the best way to use the clicker, and you have to work with your dog (very briefly) to help her understand what a click means. In this section, I discuss how clicker training works, give you some examples of the training process, and suggest an alternative if clicker training just isn’t right for you.

The click-then-treat approach: Associating the sound with rewards

When using a clicker, always pair the snapping sound with a tasty treat. The first time you introduce the clicker, just go one for one — click-treat, click-treat, click-treat — and before a minute passes, your dog will connect the sound with getting rewarded. After that, you’re ready to train with a clicker.
What’s the magic here — why do dogs learn faster with the clicker? The click sound is distinct from any other sound in the dog’s world. As soon as a dog discovers that the click is followed by a goody, guess what — the dog will want to hear the sound as often as possible, and you can use the clicker to highlight good behavior. For instance, say I want to use my click sound to get a dog to sit: Each time the dog chooses to sit, I click and reward. What do you think happens? That’s right: The dog starts to sit more often.

Technical Stuff

Clicker training is called inductive rather than coercive. Inductive training means the dog repeats behavior because she decides that doing so is in her best interest. Coercive training means she’s being positioned, corrected, or shown a behavior by an outside force, namely the dog’s owner. I’d like to give a 21-tail salute to Karen Pryor — a trainer and friend who brought clickers into the dog world and popularized the concept of inductive training. Believe it or not, the simple toy-like design of the clicker is revolutionizing the way animals (not just dogs but also dolphins, cats, horses, and farm animals) are being treated and trained.


Here are a few rules of paw for using treats in clicker training:

– No clicks go unrewarded! If you click, you must reward with a small treat. One click, one reward. Even if you make a mistake click, reward your dog.

All treats should be small and easy to swallow, so your dog can wolf them down and not fill up.

Don’t treat your dog when she’s not having lessons, or getting a reward won’t seem as exciting.

Using a clicker effectively

Here are some tips on how to use clicker training most effectively:


Use the clicker to reinforce each step of your dog’s trick progression. Think in terms of stage-by-stage training — break the lesson into steps, and click when your dog masters each one; as you build up to the full trick, the dog will have to do increasingly more for a click.

For example, say you want to teach your dog to make a left circle. You first plan to sit with your dog and click when your dog takes one step to the left; that’s stage one. Then you hold out your click for two steps, then three — then a full circle. Training this way definitely takes longer than pulling your dog in a circle, but after your dog figures out the sequence, she does a circle with far more zest and enthusiasm than if you were to tug her around and around.


Capture the exact moment your dog is doing something right with a click. If you want to give clicker training a go, timing is everything. A poorly timed click confuses a dog and can result in naughty behavior. Once you’ve clicked, the treat should be given immediately afterward, before requesting another behavior.

Attach a spoken command to the behavior after your dog has figured out what’s making the clicker work. Use your command after your dog is already offering you the behavior. Initially, click and reward each time your dog sits in front of you. (You may show her a treat or reward to prompt her cooperation, but initially do not use the command.) Once your dog is sitting rapidly, attach the command to the behavior — say “Sit” as she’s planting her bottom on the ground. Once you’ve paired the two, a couple of days later you’re ready to prompt the position by saying the command ahead of time — just before you offer the reward. Command “Sit” first, then click and reward the good behavior. Soon you’ll be able to say “Sit” away from clicker training exercises, and your dog will be spot on.

As your dog masters each new command, begin phasing off the use of the clicker and rewards, but always praise your dog for a job well done. Use the clicker when introducing new concepts and behaviors to highlight their importance.

Looking at examples of clicker training

To help you understand how clicker training works, this section includes a few examples and exercises you can do with a clicker.
Consider an easy trick, teaching your dog to lick your hand on cue. Spread a dab of peanut butter on your hand and offer it to your dog. Click the second your dog licks you, and then quickly offer her favorite reward. Click the very moment your dog does what you want. Keep your clicker (and food rewards) with you, and click each time your dog offers a kiss. Once it becomes apparent that your dog gets the message, add the cue word “Kisses.”
Here are just a few more examples of how to reinforce everyday behaviors — basic stuff your dog probably already knows but exercises to help you understand how the clicker works. (I sprinkle clicker-hints throughout the book for all you clicker fanatics!)

Housetraining: When your dog eliminates in the right area, click and reward. After your dog associates the sequence, say “Get busy!” When she’s eliminating, click the instant she finishes, treat, and praise.

Not jumping: When your dog jumps on you, look away. Click, treat, and pet your dog as soon as all four paws are on the ground. You can command “Four on the floor” as soon as the dog understands the sequence.

Chewing on the right things: Anytime your dog is chewing an appropriate object, click, treat, and praise warmly. Put the word “Bone” or “Toy” on the behavior as soon as the dog understands the sequence.

And here are a few more ways to apply the clicker to common commands:

“Sit”: Click, reward, and praise the moment your dog plants her tush on the ground. Command “Sit” as soon as the dog understands the sequence.

“Down”: Lure your dog into position with a toy or treat. Click, reward, and praise. Command “Down” as soon as the dog understands the sequence. Good dog!

– “Come”: You first have to condition this command as a sensation of closeness. Throughout the day, click and reward anytime your dog stands near you. Next, encourage your dog to look up by sweeping your hands to your eyes. Click and reward. Command “Come” as soon as the dog understands. Gradually extend the distance and increase the distractions, working in a safe environment.

Checking out why it’s not for everyone

If clicker training is so effective, why would anyone choose differently? Honestly, I’m not a clicker-exclusive trainer. I use a lot of methods to teach dogs, and my approaches are all upbeat and fun. People have different skills, and dogs do, too.
For people who can coordinate the timing of the clicker and remember to use it, it’s a godsend. Dogs learn much faster — nearly twice as quickly — when it’s used properly. That said, in some homes a clicker can fall into the wrong hands or fail to fit into the daily plan. For families with young children or people who get discouraged easily or have trouble finding their car keys, just working the device can be an unnecessary frustration. Overclicking or clicking at the wrong time confuses dogs, and a clicker in the hands of a young child can give a dog career-stress overload. Don’t feel bad if the clicker doesn’t work for you!


Although I can guarantee the clicker’s effectiveness, it’s not the only way to teach your dog. If the preceding sections leave you turned off to trick training, don’t be; remember, there are many ways to teach dogs. A better option for you may be to insert a sharp word cue like “Yes!” or “Good!” each time your dog successfully completes a maneuver, and leave it at that. The take-home message here is that a sharp, declarative sound used to target breakthroughs in cooperation helps your dog understand what you want her to do.

Taking Training to Another Level with Targets

You’ll flip out the first time your dog completes a rollover or waves to you; it’s like getting an Oscar. But after a few days, you may wonder, “How can I get her to roll over without bending over her with a treat?” or “How can I get my dog to wave to my kids or a crowd?”
Fortunately, the answer is easy — there are some simple steps you can take to get you to the next level. This section describes some helpful gadgets you may use along the way. Because you have to train your dog to respond to these targets, I also explain how you and your dog can do that prep work together.

The tools of target training include target flags (a), target discs (b), and target sticks (c), as shown in Figure 2-1.

Figure 2-1: Use target training to guide your dog through new training exercises.

Delivering to a target flag

Target training is fun and very useful for teaching your dog how to work away from your side. You can maneuver a dog who learns to move toward a target flag in any direction. The target flag is simply a white strip of cloth you tie to a drumstick or dowel.
This tool is helpful in teaching dogs to deliver to a specific location, such as in the cleaning-up tricks in Chapter Adding Drama with Clever Tricks. Here’s how to teach your dog this game:
1. Hold the flag out a foot or so from your dog, and the moment she moves toward it, reward her (with a toy or treat, or a click from a clicker and a treat reward).

This is a fun game to practice.

2. As she catches on, move the flag to various locations directly around your dog’s body: first in front of her eyes, then to the side.

Add a word like “Flag” to the exercise, so you’ll be able to direct her in more-complicated trick sequences.

3. Practice placing the flag on or near an item, such as a plant or box.

Show your dog by moving with her how to navigate to the flag when you’re not holding it.


Practice one maneuver at a time when using target training — learning them all simultaneously can get pretty confusing!

Standing on a target disc

You can teach your dog to stand on a target disc wherever you place it, enabling you to place your dog in position happily before commanding her to do a trick. You can buy a target disc, though it’s just as easy to create one yourself, using something as small as a business card or the lid of a coffee can. After you choose your disc, here’s how to use it:
1. Place toys, treats, and a clicker (if you’re using one) nearby, in a fanny pack or pocket for easy accessibility.
2. Place your chosen disc on the ground right in front of your dog’s foot.

Watch her closely. She may sniff it, then shift it about. The moment your dog steps on the disc, click or say “Yes!” and reward her.

3. After 20 successful steps on the disc, you may assign a word to the exercise.

I say “Target” as I wave my right index finger to the side.

4. As your dog figures out the goal of this exercise, practice increasing the disc’s distance from you and giving simple commands like “Sit” and “Down” immediately after your dog steps on the disc.


Teaching your dog to navigate to a target disc may require some patience and self-control. Too much excitement can derail a dog’s concentration. Some dogs pick this up quickly, whereas others take a couple of weeks to figure it out.

Pointing the way with a target stick

With a target stick, you can direct your dog from greater distances or guide her through courses and over obstacles. Sound intriguing? I find it very useful. Think of an elongated pointer directing you along a mysterious pathway. That’s a good analogy of how a target stick can enlighten many of the routines in this book.

I’ve found that the best target stick is a tent pole or presentation pointer. Many are available in pet stores now, too. After you choose your target stick, here’s what to do:
1. Gather your rewards and/or your clicker.
2. Sit your dog near you and hold the end of the stick a couple of inches in front of your dog’s nose.

The moment she reaches out to sniff it, say “Yes!” or click and reward her. Practice this no more than five to seven times per lesson.

3. As she learns to move her head toward the tip of the target, gradually move the target greater distances from her nose.

Soon your dog’s excitement will build each time she sees her target stick.

4. At this point, you can use the stick to direct your dog with familiar commands, highlighting the movements as you say, “Sit,” “Down,” or “Follow me!”

Use your stick like a pointer. Gradually extend it farther away from your body as you signal with it as if it’s an elongated fingertip. Sweep it just above your head to direct “Sit,” drop it down between your dog’s front paws for “Down,” and hold it against your body (at your dog’s nose level) to encourage positive walking skills.

The target stick doesn’t work for every trick. For example, pointing it at your dog as you say “Speak” doesn’t make much sense, but when you use it for “Roll over,” “Crawl,” and agility exercises, it can help you reduce your physical involvement while still maintaining your dog’s enthusiasm.
by Sarah Hodgson
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