How to get your dog to beg to work!

A lot of people have asked for ideas on how to do if you don’t want to ask your dog to work. In all training, my first goal is that the dog asks me to work with him, not the other way around. One part of this is of course to have great rewards. Developing good toy and food rewards is a really important job to do if you want to have a good working relationship with your dog, but it usually doesn’t fix the problem in itself. A lot of high drive dogs that are easy to reward are still relying on the handler to tell them to work and are easily distracted from their work.

I use shaping when I teach my dogs new things. Shaping relies on the dogs own initiative and I don’t use lures or promts to get behavior. This is a huge benefit if you want your dog to beg to work. The dog will learn to beg you to reward him by offering behavior right from the start. In addition, the dog that is used to shaping will learn to come back from not getting rewarded and to keep offering behavior. This will make it easier to work on longer sequences without rewards.

Doing a lot of shaping with your dog is really good, but it is also important to keep this attitude when you combine behaviors to exercises and exercises to sequences. With my puppies, I do a lot of training where my goal is to reward the dog for spontaneously following me and begging to work. I play tug with the dog (or use another good, active reward), snatch the toy from the dog, hide it and walk away. When the dog catches up and gives attention, the play resumes. As the dog gets more experienced, I will wait for longer before I give the reward back to the dog.

In all training, even when preparing for trials (or in a trial!), the dog has to make the first move to get the game to start. Coming to heel position should be automatic for the dog, I don’t even have a cue for it with my two-year-old dog. To start an exercise, the dog has to come to heel and give attention. It is so easy to start nagging the dog when the training starts to look more like obedience trials and less like shaping tricks. The trick is to keep the same division of responsibility all the way. Make sure that you never use cues when the dog doesn’t ask for them. Cues should not be “commands”, they should act like green lights and reinforce good behavior.

Good luck with training and please comment if you have any questions.


A few people asked me to write something about go-outs, so I’ll give it a try.

In FCI obedience, we have the send to a square. This is a good video that shows you how the exercise is done in the elite class. The dog is sent to a marker 10 meters (33′) in front of the handler where he is asked to stand. He is then sent abpout 23 meters (75′) to the left or right to a square made up by four marker cones. The outer limits of the square is marked with a visible line. The dog is told to stand in the square, then to lie down. The whole dog has to be inside the square to get points on the exercise. The handler walks towards the dog, turns to the side and then back to the start. About 10 meters from the start, the handler recalls the dog and the dog comes to heel. In the lower classes (class II and III) here in Sweden, the dog is sent straight ahead of the handler to the square. The Square is 10 meters away in class II and 25 meters away in class III.

In North America, the send out is across the ring, about 12 meters or 40 feet. (If I have read the regulations right, please correct me if I’m wrong). This is a good video of how the exercise is done. When the dog reaches the end of the ring, he is asked to sit and is then directed to either the left or the right jump, coming back towards the handler. When the dog is back at the handlers side, the exercise will be done again, this time doing the other jump.

I start working on send-outs early with young dogs. I want them to be comfortable and have fun with running full speed away from me. To get them started, I teach them to target a big mat (I often use car mats as they are a good size) with their paws and work on going out to the target. I want to focus more on the running out than on the targeting and try to place the reward in front of the dog. Always clicking and treating as the dog is targeting and turning towards the handler can create a dog that is always thinking about stopping, because all the value is in that behavior. When the target goes away, the dog will often stop short. I don’t use the target for much else than to make the puppy love running a long distance away from me, so I’m ok with the dog just running over the target. I try to mostly reward with a toy thrown over the dogs head as he is running away. I also leave the dog standing in front of me and send him to the target left or right, as in the send to square in elite class.

As I work on targeting, I also teach the dog to load when I restrain him by holding his collar (this can also be taught in other situations, like when doing crate games or teaching the dog to “get it”). When the target is out of the picture, the signal for the dog to go out will be me loading the dog by holding his collar.

Next step is to get the same behavior without a target. To get this, you can try different things. You could start by using the target and then taking it away in the same session. If the dog is excited and understands the collar load, he will probably start to go out even when the target is taken away. Reward him starting the go-out by throwing a toy over his head. You could also work on this while you’re out walking with your dog off leash. If your dog behaves likes to run straight forward when you release him after a recall, you could reward this with a thrown toy. After a few repetitions, add the collar grab and let the dog load before releasing him. Reward him for starting on a go-out and gradually increase the distance. Another way of getting the behavior is to throw a ball to the dog on a straight line, until the dog starts to anticipate the throw and runs away from you before you throw the ball. When the dog is getting the idea, start restraining him by the collar and work on longer and longer distances before you throw the ball.

All of these methods require that you have good mechanical skills. It is very easy to teach if you convince the dog right away that the easiest way to get the toy is to keep staring ahead. A lot of dogs have already learned to always look back at you in anticipation of the toy. This makes training a lot harder and I wold recommend that you keep the target for a longer time, so that you get a lot of repetitions where you can throw the toy over the dogs head without him ever looking back at you. You will probably need to stay close to the target and also sometimes reward the dog for actually targeting, so that he keeps his focus forward.

When I have a good send out to nothing, I add the square right in front of me and reward the dog for running straight through it. I then run to the square and play with the dog in the middle. I move the square a lot so that the dog is not just running on the same line over and over, and I make sure to vary the distance to the square all of the time. It usually doesn’t take long before you can see the dog getting excited by the sight of the square.

The dog also needs to know a good stop and a good down at a distance. This is something I train separatly, it’s a nice thing to work on while out for walk with the dog off leash.

There are a lot more things to say about the send to square, but I can’t write too long today, so this short text will have to do for now. What about the North American go-out then? Well. You can surely benefit from teaching your dog to run away from you in a straight line, but I would think that the easiest way to teach it is to teach the dog to just target the fence that marks the edges of the ring. It’s always there and it’s not a very long send. Combined with a well generalized “sit”, I don’t think you need to put much effort in to get a really nice performance.

Good luck with training and please comment below if you have any questions or comments.

How to prepare your dog for obedience trials

Training the obedience exercises to perfection is of course important, but it is not enough. Without preparing your dog for performing at a trial, you risk getting a dog that is “ring wise” before long. This happened with the first dog that I competed with to the highest level. She did great in the first trials, but after a while, her performance in trials was about half as good as in training. And when I finally realised that we had a problem, it was not easy to solve it.

Now, preparing the dogs for trials is a big part of our training. There are different aspects of trialing that can be worked on separatly. Most of it can be done already with a puppy or young dog. Here are some of the things we work on before trialing:

  • Prepare your dog for doing longer sequences without rewards. The biggest difference between training and trialing is usually that we reward our dogs much more often during training. This is usually what make dogs “ring wise”, they will find that difference out and stop performing as well in trials. Make sure that you do longer sequences without rewarding (of course, there is always a reward at the end of the sequence) in training and not just rewarding every exercise. My goal is to have the dog do 50% more (than what is required in a competition) before getting rewarded in training before we go to a trial. Sequences as a concept can be trained as soon as the puppy knows a few behaviors. Instead of rewarding every cued behavior, you might ask the puppy to “down” after coming to heel position and then reward. As the puppy gets used to that, you will sometimes start asking for more. I would say that this is the most important thing to do before trialing. If you do this well, you probably don’t have to worry about your dog getting ring wise.
  • Do your training in a trial like setting. Arrange training that looks a lot like a real trial. Preferably, you’d set up a ring in a unknown location with new people and new dogs around. Let people act as judge and ring steward. This is the optimal set up, but I also find that just bringing in one or two of these elements into my training helps a lot. I might be at home, but have a ring set up and someone new telling me where to go in the ring. Or i might go to a new place and do trial like training with our usual training group. It all helps a lot!A common mistake is to make trial-like training boring for the dog. As soon as we do training in a trial-like setting, we want to try hard things to see what the dog can do. We reward more seldom than in our regular training and we add too many difficult tasks for the dog at once. Then all of this training is bad for our furure carreer, just as if we’d already taken an unprepared dog and trialed. You risk making the dog ring wise before even entering a trial. So make sure that you give your dog pleasant memories from the “trial”. Do easy stuff that you know that your dog will be good at. Make sure that your rewards are extra good. The most important thing is that the dog starts liking trials. The really hard challenges can be saved for training at home. You will of course at some point do hard things in a trial-like setting, but by then your dog should be at an even higher level while training at home.
  • Do a lot of training on heeling the dog into the ring and heeling the dog between exercises. A lot of people tend to only train on exercises before trialing, but that would not make the dog fully prepared for the trial. In a trial, you also have to walk into the ring and heel the dog between exercises. Working on how to enter the ring is important for many reasons. I would get very nervous if my dog wasn’t with me while walking into the ring and my dog would probably not do as well in the exercises if she had to start the trial with something we never trained for. This is also your chance to give the judge a good first impression of you as a team. So train your heeling into the ring and between exercises. Don’t always reward when your dog finishes an exercise, do some heeling before rewarding from time to time.
  • Proof for distractions. List all the distractions that could happen at a trial and train for them: A clumsy ring steward, dumbbells right by the jump, cones in your way while heeling, loud speakers, people commanding their dogs in a loud and aggressive way, food on the ground, bitches in heat, judges that follow you close by while heeling etc.
  • Train for more than what is required by the rules. Few will perform as good in a trial as they do while training. Make sure that your dog can do a little bit more than what you will be doing in a trial. Longer distances, harder challenges and tough distractions. This will allow you to perform worse than in training but still be perfect in a trial. This will also make sure that your dog fins trialing easy and fun.
Good luck!

Five things that will improve your training

When we teach seminars, we often start by giving some input on how trainers can have better quality in their training. These are some easy points that often make a huge difference:

1. Use Crate Games
Crate games has made a huge difference in my own training, and an even bigger difference in our classes. The crate games teaches the dog to engage in training, be fast, have self control and to relax. In a training session, crate games provides a perfect start and a perfect end to the session. You can get Susan Garrett’s DVD about Crate Games here.

2. Play a lot of Tug
Play a lot with your dog in training and keep a good balance between treats and tugging in your training. A good rule of thumb is to break it off and play for every third to fifth treat in a session. These breaks will keep your dog in optimum arousal throughout the session, helps with building value for both treats and tugging, helps with your transitions and teaches the dog to alter between play and concentration. It also helps with keeping sessions light and fun for both trainer and dog. Sometimes, we get so into training that the dog gets worried by our serious mood.

3. Keep Your Sessions Short
Trainers often train for way too long. We try to limit our sessions to three minutes (unless we do trial training with the obedience dogs, search and rescue training, or other activities where the dog sometimes has to work for a lot more than 3 minutes before he gets a reward). Any time we’re about to start training a new behavior, we keep sessions even shorter (like one minute), so that we are able to evaluate if our plan is right before doing anything else. We make adjustments to the plan and to a one minute session again. Only when we feel confident that we’re on the right track, we add a few minutes to the sessions. When I do agility with Shejpa (who has had issues with focus and speed), I mostly do 30 second sessions (or shorter). This has really made a huge difference in her speed and focus in agility. The length of a training session is determined by how long the dog is able to work with focus and enthusiasm and by our own need for evaluation and planning. Even if the dog is able to work for long periods of time, it is necessary to stop and evaluate the training often. If not, you might be going in the wrong direction for a long time without noticing.

4. Make Your Transitions More Smooth
Good dog training really has a lot to do with mechanical skills. If you want your dog to be fully focused during training and trialing, you must be fully focused and plan your training so that it is smooth, with no unmotivated breaks. A good training session is focused and active from beginning to end. Three minutes of pure joy and koncentration. This means that you don’t have time to search your pockets for treats, move equipment or walk from one place to another without planning it well. In my shaping sessions, I often keep treats in my hand to be able to reward the dog quickly. Breaking off trainign with a game of tug gives me a chance to pick up some more treats and get ready for a new repetition without any dead time for the dog. As soon as I tell my dog to drop the toy, I am ready to click and reward again. No transportations, no dead time. Plan your transitions, train your transitions, so that your dog can be as attentive as you would like. Send your dog to his crate any time you need to think, get something or talk to a friend or instructor.

5. Evaluate Your Training
A common misstake that dog trainers make is to forget about evaluation and just keep doing the same thing over and over again. There are a lot of things to evaluate after a training session. First: are you better of now than you were when you started? Did your plan work out? Do you need changes to your plan? If the session went bad – when did it go wrong? Did you train for to long? Could your transitions be more smooth? How many treats since your last game of tug? Did you stay for to long on one criteria? Or did you ask too much of the dog? Are you working with two critera at the same time (like training the retrieve and at the same time training the dog to focus during distractions)? What needs to be changed before your next session? What could get better? There are a lot of things to consider. Video recording your sessions can be a great tool. It helps your to evaluate your training from the outside and find new things to get better at. I love this quote by Bob Bailey: Video recording is the greatest invention since the secondary reinforcer.

Here is a video clip of Shejpa and I that might give you some illustration on what you just read:

Foundations For a Great Retrieve

Before I present a dumbbell to my dog, I want to do some foundation exercises. To shape the retrieve can be challenging for beginner trainers and we sometimes get students that actually have created a situation where the dog finds the dumbbell repulsing and aversive – through shaping! By doing foundation exercises before presenting the dumbbell, you can be more certain to get exactly the behavior you are looking for when the time has come for training with a wooden or metal dumbbell.

I spend my time developing a good tug with my puppies before thinking about retrieving. When the dog is tugging well, retrieving is much easier. Tug games teaches the dog to grab and hold firmly.

Retrieving Toys
I mostly work on retrieving toys because I want training with toys to be more efficient, with the dog returning to me with the toy any time I throw a toy or let the dog win while tugging. But I also feel that it helps my formal retrieve, since the dog is programmed to run fast back to me as soon as she picks something up. For my toy retrieve, I use hand targeting. The dog presses it’s nose to my hand with the toy in her mouth. This is really easy to teach some dogs, especially those who likes to carry things around a lot. For them, it is often enough to reward a hand touch a few times, and then present the hand when the dog is holding an object.

The most common problem that occurs in teaching this is the dog letting go of the toy as the hand is presented. My first solution is to take the hand away as soon as the dog lets go, then presenting it again as soon as the dog picks the toy up again (dog is only given opportunity to hand touch when she holds the object in her mouth). If the dog fails many times without improvement, I will teach the dog to hold the object in her mouth while I tempt her with treats, before trying the hand touch again.

What kind of object I start with depends on the personality of the dog. A dog that likes toys, but wants to keep them on her own, gets a boring object to start. A dog with less interest in toys, gets something easy and attractive. In the beginning, I do the play retrieve in separate sessions, but later start using it in play, with gradual increases in intensity and difficulty (indoors is usually easier than outdoors, some objects are easier than others etc.). While training this, I also introduce my puppies to different kinds of objects, like a few repetitions with a metal dumbbell if the puppy has a nice hold.

The start of the formal retrieve
When I start training the formal retrieve, I start with objects that isn’t a dumbbell, so that the behavior is good when I present the dumbbell for the first time. To start with, I use objects that are soft and easy, like a piece of rope, a thick leather leash or a fleece tug toy with two handles. The behavior that I want is similar to what I look for while tugging, with a firm grip and weight shift, but my priority now is koncentration and a calmer behavior. I want the dog to be able to sit down and grab, hold and weight shift (you will notice the weight shift even when the dog is sitting). The hold should be calm and feel heavy in my hands.

I have been a bit slow with teaching the formal part of it to Squid, so this is one of her first sessions:

Increasing Play Drive in Your Dog

Thanks to the very reinforcing comment from Russia in the last blog post, I decided to translate my latest Swedish blog post into English for my foreign readers. It’s about developing your dog’s love of tugging:

As we are seeing a lot of new students right now, we talk a lot about developing rewards and mainly tugging. It’s very hard to train a dog without rewards and we feel that you need more than one good reward. With our own dogs, we focus a lot on developing both food and play as a reward. This is something that we also want to share with our students. Food is a really good reinforcer if you want to give many rewards in a short period of time, maybe without dog breaking it’s position at all. Food is also often calming and is appropriate when teaching precision. Play is a good reinforcer when you want speed and intensity, or if you want to throw the reward a long way. Play increases arousal in the dog and brings out new sides to the dog compared to food. It’s therefore a great advantage to be able to switch between food and play depending on where you want to go with your training.

We often prefer tugging to chasing a toy, but often use both in combination. If the dog likes to chase a toy, but won’t tug, we try to develop the dog’s love for tugging so that the dog wants to end the chasing by grabbing, pulling and winning. At many times, we want the dog to grab the toy immediatly when it’s presented (or when the dog is cued to ”get it”). It could be because we want the dog to drive straight to the handler after a turn on the agility course, or to get full speed and focus towards the handlers left side on a recall. Games of chasing, where a toy is dragged on the ground by a piece of rope, can be a really good reinforcer in other situations, mainly as a jackpot for focus and endurance. But even then, the intensity and joy will be better if the dog really wants to grab the toy.

Not all dogs do automatically like a game of tug. It’s a reward that needs to be developed in many dogs. Our opinion is that it always is worth to teach the dog to play if you want to get the most out of the dog you have. The dog might not have to enjoy tugging as much as food, but he should play with high intensity when we present a toy. For some dogs, tugging will be the ”motor” in training, the thing that makes training worth while for the dog. For other dogs, food will be the ”motor”, but they can still learn to really engage in tugging between food rewards, so that you’re able to gain from all the great things that come with tugging. And with time and good training, the dog’s priorities might change.

Shejpa was a dog that often would not tug. Not while food was around, not out doors, not if she wasn’t in the mood… I worked a lot with her tugging and it’s really good now. I can use 90 percent tugging in training (but she still needs that occational chicken neck to keep the engine running) and most of the time, you can’t tell that it’s a ”trained” tug. I’m convinced that she wouldn’t run half as fast if I didn’t use tugging in training. I can also see how tugging is getting more and more reinforcing for her, that she really does enjoy it more and more.

When developing our young dogs, we always have a goal in the back of our heads. We want the dog to grab the toy immediatly when it’s presented (or cued), tug intensly with weight shift and a straight top line (from head to tail). We want to be able to be passive (moving equipment around, talking to the instructor or student, filling up with more treats) and still have the dog tugging on the toy. If we tell the dog to ”out”, we want the dog to drop the toy. If we throw a toy or let the dog win while tugging, we want the dog to come right into us and deliver it to hand (we use a hand touch for this). At the same time, we want the dog to have fun and find tugging reinforcing.

This is a long term goal. It does not mean that all playing must look that way from the start. If the dog prefers to just chase a toy, that’s where we’ll begin. If we have to be very active to get the dog tugging, we will be. Our first priority is to get the dog to have fun with a toy. I think that good dog trainers have the ability to have a lot of fun with the dog, while reinforcing behaviors that will bring him closer to the long term goal. To reinforce behaviors while playing does not mean that you have to click and treat. It could be that you get more intense when the dog pulls harder, that you let the dog win when he weight shifts. You can find out what your dog really finds reinforcing when playing and use that to reinforce glimpses of what you’d like to see more of in the future. If you reinforce increased intensity in that way, your dog will be more intense and then also enjoying tugging more.

We feel that playing is addictive. You can starve a dog and get him to work better for treats, but it doesn’t work that way with playing. Play regularly with your dog to increase his love for playing. But don’t play for long. Always end the game when it’s at it’s best and make sure that you are ending the game, not the dog. You want the dog to be a bit disappointed when the game ends, dancing after you to get it to start again. That might mean that the first sessions are so short that the dog doesn’t even get to grab the toy, just chase it with high intensity, before it goes away.

Pick the right opportunity to start playing with your dog. You don’t want to present a toy and fail in getting the dog to play. It’s a common misstake to give up way to fast if the dog isn’t immediatly turned on to the game. Some dogs are slow starters in the beginning, but don’t give up. Don’t try to force the toy on the dog, rather act as if the toy is really valuable to you and you’re having a lot of fun with it. Experiment with different ways to get your dog started. Pick really fun toys and make sure that there is a piece of rope or a long handle on it, so that you can drag it along the ground and get it away from your body. Turn away from the dog and drag the toy away.

You can absolutely use food to reinforce tugging and transfer the value from one reward to another. It does require good dog training skills and it isn’t my first choice. It is really important that the criteria is raised fairly fast and that the dog is really engaging in the game before the food is presented. To use few, but really attractive food rewards is better than to use many pieces of low quality food. Timing is also really important; make sure that the dog is really into the game of tugging before the reward marker is used. If you use food to reinforce play, it’s still important for you to be active and have fun while playing. You want the dog to find out how fun playing can be even without food rewards.

This blog post could go on for ever. I’m making it shorter by ending with a few tips in a list. These points has helped me to increase tug drive in my own dogs:

  • Start all your training sessions with a game of tug.
  • Tug with your dogs for every 3-5 pieces of food you give him in training
  • Put running around with the toy on cue and use it to reward good tugging
  • Let the dog tug with you before he can have his food at every meal
  • Play in many different settings
  • Find really good toys (sheep skin, real fur, braided fleece etc.)
  • Snatch the toy away from the dog if he looses the toy. Tease him with it for a while before he can have it again.
  • Check out Susan Garretts ”How to create a motivational toy”.
  • Put sticky food (raw tripe, minced meat, liver pâté or similar) into a wool stocking and let your dog chase it. As he grabs the toy he’ll get a taste sensation directly in his mouth. (NB! Make sure your dog doesn’t get hold of the toy at any time, as it can be dangerous if he tries to swallow it).
  • Encourage interest in objects, grabbing, holding and weight shifting in your regular training sessions – train picking things up, retrieving, pulling on dead objects etc. and reward with food. But don’t forget the unrestrained, fun play. This is just a complement.
  • Don’t ever give your dog a treat if he refuses to play (rather put the dog away if you decide to give up).
  • Get your dog aroused before presenting the toy. Do restrained recalls, let the dog chase you or wrestle with your dog (if he likes to).
  • Believe that it really is possible to get your dog to tug. It is!