Focus Fun April Week 1

Mealtimes are great opportunities for us,
the trainers,
to get in additional training.

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Use of Reward Markers

WHAT: I teach my dogs a “REWARD MARK” so that they know they are doing something correctly.  A “REWARD MARK” is a verbal word/phrase to “mark” or “capture” a desired behavior.  Words such as “good”, “super”,  “yes,” etc. work well.  Make sure that your “REWARD MARK” word or phrase is not something that you use often in normal conversation.

Initially, the “Reward Mark” is a meaningless word or phrase.  However, that word/phrase becomes significant to your dog when you pair it with something that your dog enjoys such as food or play.

WHY:  The “REWARD MARK” serves two purposes.

First, when your dog hears it, your dog knows that he has made a correct choice and that a reward is forthcoming.

Second, a well-timed “REWARD MARK” enhances your training, gives valuable information, and they tell your dog exactly when he is correct and offering the behavior you are requesting.

Reward Markers, both positive and negative, do not mean the dog is bad.  Instead, positive means you are adding something, and negative means you are taking/withholding somethingWhen training, I use a number of markers and cues to give my dog information.  These cues communicate when I am pleased with my dog’s effort.

POSITIVE MARKERS: These are verbal cues that I use to express my pleasure, and to reconnect and engage with my dog when we train or show.  I spend a lot of time building a history of reinforcement on these words.  After all, that is what will make those words rewarding when used in the show ring!

Words with special meaning.

  • I use words such as “yes”, “boom”, or “awesome” to mark good attempts and efforts from my dog.
  • When teaching, I pair these words with loads of treats or a great game of tug.
  • While training, I use these words to reward my dog’s efforts.  Also, I continue to randomly pair these words with loads of treats or tug.
  • In the ring, I use these words to reward and mark effort or correctness.  Hahaha.  Solo, my golden retriever, was so conditioned with these words, he would often drool when we were in the ring and I used a positive marker.  Now that is a conditioned response!
  • Take your time and BUILD the VALUE to your words.

Applause can be rewarding!  Yes, this is a great one.

  • Pair rewards your dog loves with applause.  YES, clapping your hands.
  • Easy, my border collie, LOVED applause.  Hahaha.  He often puffed up and became even more animated as people clapped for dogs in other rings.
  • Super fun to watch.   :>)

Smiling at your dog.  A smile can go a long way, as long as you really mean it!  A fake smile is lying to your dog and he will pick up on it quickly.

  • When you smile, feel the love and warmth you have for your dog.
  • Start to teach this with verbal comments that will bring a smile to your face.  “You’re AWESOME.”  “What a great boy you are.”
  • Pair the smile, verbal comments with a reward your dog loves.
  • Later, when using it in the ring, think in your mind “geez, you are wonderful” or “wow, what an awesome dog you are.”  Don’t say it just think it.  I have used this in the ring when my dog would do something WONDERFUL and you could see my dog puff up with pride.

When using a positive marker, I use one or a combination to reward my dogs.  Laughter is often added to.  Whatever you use, make it FUN and add loads of energy in the rewarding.  Take your time and work on these MARKERS in every training session.  The more fun your dog is having, the more excited he will be when the word or action is used!  Practice makes perfect!

Video Notes:  Sly and I are first in this video.  As you can see, Sly LOVES the markers that I use.  He loves applause and smiles too.  Sly is use to words, applause, and smiles, as I use them all the time during training and showing. 

Riker is next in the video.  He likes to bark, especially when he gets excited.  I want to be able to use all my markers when showing, so he is learning in that being “quite” is a rule when I use markers.  A simple “quite” or “shhhhh” command is used and the marker stops.  When he is quite, the marker training begins again. 

Karrde is last in this video.  He is still learning about positive markers, but you can see, he already loves the use of reward markers.

Be aware of the One-Cookie syndrome.  That is where the trainer, no matter how great their dog is, only gives ONE treat.   :<(   Shameful trainer, poor, poor dog!

NEGATIVE MARKER, is a word or phrase, to let your dog know this behavior or response was not correct.  In other words, the cookie drawer is now closed.  This is a counter balance to my Positive Marker.

  • Pick a simple word(s) or phrase(s).  Some examples of what I use are nope,” or “excuse me,” or “try harder,” and my favorite “you’re fired”.
  • I use different words or phrases, and teach my dog that the word/s mean “your fun has just come to an end” or “the reward drawer has just closed, and you have missed your opportunity”.
  • When using this word or phrase, I pair it with something that my dog finds unpleasant, and wants to avoid in the future.
  • You can use anything from the U-Missed It Game, with-holding rewards, stop training, a leash pop, putting your dog in a crate, or have your dog watch you train another dog, etc.

When and How to Use

  • Use a negative marker when your dog is wrong, or is not giving you effort.
  • The tone of voice is calm and definite, not mad or frustrated.
  • When your dog is learning a skill, this word might simply mean that your dog will not get a reward.
  • As your dog understands the skill, the negative marker might mean anything from no reward, or the training session is ending, or I will train another dog.
  • When using a negative marker, it needs to be paired with something your dog wants to avoid.  The meaning needs to be of value to your dog.  Something like with-holding broccoli from your dog when he doesn’t really care about broccoli would be pointless.   :>0

Video Notes:  What fun!  This video Sly, Riker, Karrde, and I show various ways I use verbal and physical markers in training that I can later use while in the ring. 

Sly and I start out the video training markers that we can use when showing.  We work on the “continue on a command” concept.  I.e. when I give a heel command, Sly is not given another command. Rather, he is expected to move when I move.  While heeling, Sly forges a bit.  My response is a freeze of motion, a verbal marker, and a leash pop.  During our session, I expect 100% focus when in or out of the ring set up.  He loves the extra training challenges and receives loads of rewards for all his effort. 

Riker is next in the video, and like Sly, Riker is new to a continuation of a command.  Shame on me!  When heeling, and he doesn’t move, I pull on the leash, and laugh at him.  Gradually, he catches on and begins moving with me without an extra “heel” command.  I use verbal praise to let him know when he is correct.  At marker 5.04, Riker hit the gate with his butt.  I laughed and acted like it was a great thing to do.

Next, outside for some contact training.  Karrde is first on the video.  He is still learning to do the bottom behavior of the dog walk, a drop with his body on the plank.  When he does a good job, he is rewarded with either treats or a ball. After two bad attempts, I “fire” him and send him back to his box.  This is where he waits and “watches” others train.  Next, Riker gets to train while teasing his younger brother.  After, Karrde gets another opportunity to be correct.  This training session taught Karrde a consequence for failure to perform.  In addition, this is a marker that I will be able to use later when showing.  Last in the video is Sly.  He wanted to play.  :>)

Questions? Ask DebbyQ

Using Meal Time for Training

You only think of your dog’s dinner bowl as a useful container that is useful for keeping your dog’s food gathered and off the floor. Well let me tell you that your dog probably has a very different viewpoint for that bowl. For him, the bowl is likely to be a highly valued object. Why not use this time to build desire and focus in skills.

Mealtimes are great opportunities for us, the trainers, to get in additional training.   As a wise trainer, it is our job to utilize regular meals to train and test our dogs.

So how and what should we start using mealtimes for training?

I know many trainers often ask their dogs to sit and wait while they sit the food bowl on the floor. I feel that meal time is a great opportunity to build and SEE what desire really looks like with a dog.

Your Task for the April

This month’s challenge will take you through my routine meal progression in my non-routine way.

  • First, I always start easy.
  • My dog waits until I place food on the ground without being asked.  I will stand up with the food bowl IF my dog tries to start eating.
  • Haha, with a focus twist.  My dog must look and FOCUS on me before getting a release cue to eat.
  • What! Your dog will not look at you?  Wait him out.  Also, if he goes for his food without permission, i use my foot and sweep it over the food bowl discouraging him from helping himself.
  • That means he needs to be THINKING about me and not his food.
  • Video and post!

MORE to come next week!

Video Notes: Poe is reviewing focus on me while his food bowl is on the ground. He offered the sit,it was not asked or commanded. As you can see, once I praised and he looked at his bowl in anticipation of release. Haha. This means his focus is split. He is thinking about the bowl but looking at me. Poe is really HIGH food drive. The concept of not diving into a bowl of food has been a real challenge for him.


Meal Challenge -Teaching Checklist april week 1

Questions? Ask DebbyQ

ReadySetGo – for Agility and Obedience & Rally

This week all the NEW game may be done anytime your are leaving your dog.  Think of all the times you walk away from your dog in training OR showing!

Goal – To continue to teach and build focus and desire with your dog by adding the new game as you are leaving your dog.  Once your dog knows a game, mix and match them while training.

Your Task for April Week 1

Game 5: Crouch and Throw After your dog has learned the Crouch & Throw, the verb “Get It” is weaned off and the crouch alone becomes the release cue.   Making the release cue a visible only will increase your dog’s focus on you when leaving.

  • Tell your dog to sit.
  • Take a few steps forward, crouch and then throw a treat/toy out in front of you and away from your dog.
  • When first teaching this game, tell your dog to “get it” so your dog will learn that the “crouch” is the release cue.
  • Your dog will release from position, run past you and grab the toy/treat, and turn quickly to run back to you for more treats or play.
  • PROGRESSION – As your dog gets better at the game, wean off any verbal “get it” command.  This release becomes a crouch signal only, i.e. there is NO verbal cue.
Balance your training by going back and rewarding your dog’s sit periodically.  The BALANCE depends on your dog’s temperament.   For dogs with impulse control issues, it may be necessary to reward the sit more frequently than calling and releasing your dog.

Video Notes: Poe is first in the video.  He is learning this game.  He was having a tough time staying in his sit, so I went back and rewarded him while he was on the sit before progressing in training.

Crouch and Throw –  Karrde is next in this video.  He has done this game a few times but is still learning this RSG Games.  I will stay close to him when doing games, so he is confident and we build DESIRE and he can remain in an active state.  Karrde does a great job “bolting” off his sit when released!

Riker is last.  He understands the games and we are starting to build distance.  It will take a while before I leave and go a long way from him before breaking into a game.  Riker is ready to start heading to new locations to test his focus.


RSG 5 Crouch and Throw Checklist

Questions? Ask DebbyQ

Adding COME to our Balance list.  Since a reliable recall is such an important skill, I have added a variety of drills I use when teaching and building desire for my dog to COME.   This behavior is what I consider, a “LIFE” command.  That means, that my dog’s life might depend on his ability to respond to this command. 

Goal – To continue to build “balance” to your dog by going to a crate or bed.  In addition, this drill starts to become a great self-control skill.

Building Desire – The most important thing to teaching a RELIABLE Come command, is building your dog’s desire and the HABIT of always coming to you.  When first starting to teach this skill, I utilize the release off the bed/crate.  We are now starting to work on a BALANCE of my dog going away from me as well as coming toward me.  Balance is IMPORTANT!

Your Task for April Week 1

  • A crate or bed.
  • A dog that will go to a crate/bed from a distance.
  • Soft treats your dog enjoys.

FUNdamentals Balance COME

  • Have your dog and bed in a low distraction location.
  • Stand with your dog close to the bed.  Since we are adding a new skill, we will simplify by being close.
  • Send your dog to his bed.
  • Toss a treat on the bed to reward your dog.
  • Release your dog by giving your “come” command.
  • As your dog gets to you, have your hand out to take your dog’s collar.  This is especially good if your dog keeps a distance from you when coming OR resists your handling his collar.
  • Praise and feed your dog a number of treats, one after another.
  • Release your dog’s collar and send him back to the bed.
  • Repeat the sequence a few times building distance only once your dog is going to the bed and coming back to you on your “come” command.
  • Each time your dog comes to you, take his collar if conditioning and then feed him a few treats.   Your dog should stay with you once you let go of his collar AND should not go back to the bed unless you have sent him.
  • NOTE: I back up when my dog is ON the bed to test and make sure he will stay on it as well as it helps me gain distance.  If he comes off before you ask, mark incorrect and simply take his collar and put him back on the bed.

COMMON ERRORS – Handlers Make

  • Giving a recall command AS your dog is leaving the bed.  I.e., you had not called him until after the fact.  Sometime a dog will anticipate coming to you.  If your dog does leave the bed before released, place him back on his bed.  NO second commands.
  • Hand feeding treats when your dog is on the bed.   Resist feeding your dog when he is on the bed.  Tossing the treat onto the bed rewards the bed itself, plus it enables you to get more distance.

Video Notes:  Sly is the first in this video. He has done this drill many times and is used to going and coming from the bed when asked.

Riker is next, and while he does a good job, he is UNbalanced.  That is, he LOVES his bed, and chooses to go back to the bed, even when he isn’t asked to.  When this happens, marker 1:35, I go get him by his collar and take him back where we started.  Once there, I praise him.  Each time he thinks about leaving, but stays, I praise and reward.  As soon as he was comfortable remaining near me, I send back to the bed.

Karrde is last in the video.  We have recently started adding the two skills, sending to and calling from the bed.  He too is UNbalanced BUT it is understandable since he has more history going only to the bed.


Balance – Come Checklist April week 1

Questions? Ask DebbyQ

Watch2Win (W2W) is another of MY SECRET TRAINING TECHNIQUES.  This game teaches your dog that when he looks at you, something fun and wonderful will happen.  That is, he will “WIN” with FOCUS!

Why is W2W Important?

Often when training our dogs, WE work very hard to keep our dogs engaged and focused on us by constantly playing with them and feeding them treats.  We do this to make sure our dogs don’t leave or disengage from us.

Unfortunately, as soon as we are still or break eye contact, even for a few seconds, our dogs are off sniffing the ground, going to say HI to someone, or doing whatever our dogs find rewarding in the environment.  As a result, by the time we finish a training session, we are exhausted from working so hard to keep our dogs engaged!

Goal – To teach our dog to stay engaged and focus even when we are in an inactive state.
The Watch2Win Game is a simple way to teach our dogs that whether we are playing and having fun, or standing still and not being silly, our dogs still need to remain focused and engaged with us because something fun might still happen!

Your Task for April Week 1

The Find My Face Game is the first step for the Watch2Win Game.  As you train in my classes, you will find that all the fundamentals I teach are the foundations of many other skills.   All the steps and criteria of the fundamental skills are VERY important!

What You Need

  • A small room or leash on your dog if in a large area.
  • Soft treats that your dog loves and can eat quickly.
  • Toys for tug.

FUNdamentals – Focus = Fun.

  • Have your dog on leash or in a small room where he cannot leave you.
  • Put some treats in your mouth or in your hand.
  • If treats are held in your hand, hold your hand next to your face as we want your face to be the focus area.
  • As soon as your dog looks at you, give him your “reward mark word/phrase” and spit or hand him several treats one at a time.  If you hand your dog treats, the treat hand comes from your face to your dog and is delivered close to your body.
  • Let your dog offer looking at you again.
  • The second he looks to your face, praise and reward.
  • Repeat this several times in the session and then break and play with your dog before ending the session OR repeating the session again.
  • Do not move to the next step until your dog is readily looking at you.
  • ONLY if your dog readily re-engages and looks at your face, start to move slowly backward, rewarding a lot with treats and praise.
  • When you are finished training,  give your dog a “release” word, but remember that a release word means skill is over BUT that your dog can NOT leave you.
  • When you finish training, use tugging, or clapping and talking to keep your dog focused on you as he goes into a crate.  Make the engagement before and after training a HABIT!

COMMON ERRORS – Handlers Make

  • Your dog will not look at your face.  Some dogs are shy and have to learn that it is OK to look at your face.  Put a long piece of visible food, like string cheese, hanging out of your mouth.  Sit in a chair on the ground to simplify the skill for your dog.  Praise and give a treat for any effort to look at your face.  Over repetitions, stand up, and start training the steps above.
  • While training, your dog is inattentive and uninterested in the game.  Make sure your dog is hungry for the treats before starting to train, REWARD a lot and keep your training session short.  Also, a short time apart from you or in a crate before training, often increases the desire for fun and attention.

Video Notes: In this video, Poe is learning the Find My Face game. He actually did a great job in this session and we started walking slowly straight backward. I spit loads of treats as well as gave him input of his successful tries. I was VERY pleased with his effort.

Video Notes:  This is a spontaneous training session with Karrde and me.  Karrde is learning the “Find My Face” Game.  He has never done this game before. 

Bad mom, this location is actually too distracting to start to learn this game.  We were out training and I felt it would be an interesting challenge with Karrde.  Overall, I am very pleased with his effort.  When he becomes distracted and does not stay focused on me, I simply abort the repetition.  I do not ask for him to look at me.  Instead, I turn away, signaling to him that the opportunity for reward is over.  Karrde quickly re-engages with me.  Note how I mark a good response and deliver the treat close to my body.  He looked at my hand about halfway through this session.  Since I want him to look at my face, the next treat was then spit to him to show him that reward may be delivered several ways.


Watch2Win – Find My Face Checklist April week 1

Questions? Ask DebbyQ