Focus Fun October Week 2

Do you want to Improve Your Training? Part 1




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Many trainers ask “how can I improve training my dog?”

There are many reasons to enhance and improve training sessions with your dog. However, often the main reason is to improve the rapport with your dog so that you can be more successful when you are in the ring.

The first great rapport building training is playing with your dog.

Part 1. Play Tug
Playing tug with your dog is one of the most important skills you can have. Playing tug provides great value in your training sessions for many reasons:

  • Playing tug keeps your dog excited throughout the session.
  • Playing tug helps develop transition skills so that you can easily go from one exercise to another with your dog focusing on you.
  • Playing tug helps balance rewards between treats and play.
  • Playing tug teaches your dog to alternate between play and work.
  • Playing tug keeps your training sessions fun and interesting for both you and your dog.
  • Playing tug gives both you and your dog a mental break and a relief from the stress of doing a skill or exercise.
  • Playing tug is a wonderful way to maintain attention and focus.

Play a lot with your dog in training and keep a good balance between treats and tugging when rewarding your dog. A good rule of thumb is to play with your dog about three times more than your work your dog. So in a 10 minute training session, you should play 2/3rds of the time or about 6 minutes.

Increasing Play Desire – Do you need more ways to increase your dog’s play desire?
It is difficult to train your dog without rewarding your dog. I feel that the more reward options available to you, the better. With my dogs, I focus on developing toy drive and balancing the value between food and play. I like to maintain an equal value between the two. This enables me to choose which reward I what to use and when during a training session.

Food is a good reinforcement for giving several rewards during a short period of time, such as while heeling or when you don’t want to break your dog’s position as in stays. On the other hand, play is great when you want build your dog’s drive and speed. Tug is also good to keep your dog engaged with and focused on you. Therefore, it is important to be able to switch between food and tugging during training sessions.

I prefer that my dogs play tug rather than chase a toy. A dog that is chasing an object is occupied and focused only on the object. When a dog is playing tug, the dog is engaged and focused on you! If the dog likes to chase a toy, but won’t tug, try to develop the dog’s love for tugging by tying a long string on a long fluffy toy then dragging the toy on the ground. This will help arouse the dog’s prey drive and get the dog crazy about chasing the toy. In the long run, the advantages of playing tug with your dog are worth the effort and time to teach your dog to play tug. For some dogs, tugging will be the ultimate reward in training. In this case tugging becomes the thing that he will die for. For other dogs, food will be the main reward but they can still enjoy playing tug. Who knows, with time and persistence the dog’s priorities might even change.

When starting to train young dogs, I plan an end goal. Ideally, my goal is that my dog will grab the toy when it’s presented, tug enthusiastically and release the toy when asked. If I throw a toy or release the toy while tugging, I want my dog to come right back to me and “push” the toy towards my hand to start another session of tugging. This action is starting a “game” of tug (i.e. the dog is inviting me to tug with him). Dogs delivering the toy to my hand and “starting” the tug game are my end goals. Keep in mind that this behavior is what I want for training. Therefore, at homes, toys are NOT left out for my dogs to play with on their own. Toys are used ONLY for the interaction between my dog and me.

Here are some tips to help get your dog crazy for playing tug;

  • Keep tug sessions short.
  • Stop playing at the height of his excitement.
  • Ignore your dog during the day (no attention or petting) to get your dog to “want” your attention. Require your dog to spend time away from you (in a crate or in another room) before you train or play.
  • NEVER push the toy at your dog or shove a toy in his face. Make the toy simulate the actions of a small animal trying to get away from your dog. This will excite your dog more to chase and grab the toy.
  • Crate or tie your dog to a fence and let him watch you play or interact with another dog. If you don’t have another dog, then tie him to the fence and let him watch you play with the tug toy by yourself. Make sure that your dog and anyone watching thinks that you are having a WONDERFUL time.
  • Tease your dog (something your mother always told you not to do) with the toy then put it up where your dog can’t reach it (somewhere in your house, I like on top of the fridge). Every time you pass the fridge, play the “what is it” game. Pick up toy, saying “wow what is this” and then putting it back on top of fridge again. After a while, the dog will be jumping to see the toy.
  • Be persistent and patient. Once your dog enjoys play, don’t let the dog decide whether he wants treats or tug. Balance the enthusiasm for both!

Another way to teach your dog to play tug is to transfer the value from food to the toy. Although this method can be tricky and good timing and training skills are needed, it can work. It is important the criteria is raised as quickly as possible and your dog is really engaging in a game of tug before given a treat. Sometimes using a lower value food treat (dry treats or kibble) is better than high value treats. Your timing is important, make sure your dog is truly engaging in tugging before saying a reward marker or giving a treat. As with any play, remember to be exciting and active. When watching dogs play together, think of how they interact with each other and mimic their actions. Jump around, laugh, play growl, and present different sides of your body to your dog. Snatch the toy and run away with it, let your dog grab the toy as he catches up to you. ENJOY yourself, and the dog will have fun too!

Here are a few last tips that will help build tug in your dogs:

  • Start all your training sessions with a game of tug. Energize and excite him.
  • Play tug with your dog for an average of three minutes for every one minute of training. Playing should be a part of your training.
  • Once your dog will play tug, play with him in new environments and different situations. This will generalize the tugging behavior.
  • Find “fun” toys to play with including long fuzzy toys, balls on ropes, etc.). Mix and match the toys and use a variety of toys during training sessions.
  • Grab the toy away from your dog if he loosens his grip (rip it out of his mouth). Tease him with it before letting him play with it again. Be a little kid and enjoy yourself.
  • Stuff squishy smelly food (roll over, chopped meat, cheese, etc.) into a webbed toy or on a toy with ridges. Tie a string on the toy and let your dog smell and lick the toy then as he starts to nibble the toy, slowly move it away from him so that he tries to grab it to stop it and get the food. Make it a teasing action and praise him for putting a paw on it or biting on the toy.
  • Pick up all toys in your house and never give your dog free access to toys without you interacting with him.
  • Always reward your dog for the good choice of playing and NEVER reward your dog with a treat if he refuses to play. Worse comes to worse, give your dog a training time-out by putting him in his crate and reattempt to play tug later.

PART 2 next week!!!


Questions? Ask DebbyQ

Monthly Drill Progression

Instant On is one of my training SECRET drills and it is a valuable tool that teaches my dogs to go from feet up in the air a sleep to work on a second’s notice.

Your Task for this October Week 2


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Introduction Instant ON

  • First, make a plan of what skills you are going to do during the training sessions.
  • Keep the skills easy, short, and fun for the first few times training this drill.
  • Preplace any equipment needed such as jumps, signs, toys, or treats around the training area BEFORE taking your dog out of the car or crate.
  • NOTE:  With a young or inexperienced dog, I will play with my dog using the KrazyKookie Game or a game of tug, to teach engagement immediately out of a crate.  Only when my dog plays immediately, do I start to teach the “training right out of the crate” concept.
  • Get your dog out of the car/crate and immediately start training.
  • Work your way to your training area with transitions and place your dog on a settle.  This is a relaxed, down with your dog on his hip.
  • Once your dog relaxes, quickly ask your dog to do a skill.  This can be a trick, lining up next to you, etc.  Use something easy that your dog knows well.
  • Reward effort!
  • Work a number of settles into your training session, but do not overwork your dog.  This is a mentally intensiveness skill for your dog.
  • Engage with your dog back to his crate.

COMMON ERRORS – Handlers Make

  • Expecting too much too quickly.  When working on this skill, keep sessions short and fun.
  • Using the skills the dog does not really know or do well.   While teaching this drill, keep all skills used simple and pick ones your dog will be successful with.

Post your session on the Facebook group!

Video Notes:  The location is a closed restaurant near a Starbucks and a freeway, and a new area for all three of my dogs.

Sly is first in this video and has done “Instant On”.  Going from a relaxed settle to working mode is not a problem for him.  I picked skills he knows well, heeling, line-ups, drops, One Way Focus, and spins.  Praise is the main reward he receives during this session.  Sorry we went out of camera view for a few seconds.

Riker is next in the video.  He has done this drill a few times, but this location is a bit distracting for him. This tells me, we need to practice this drill more in the future.  We work on line-ups, heeling, fronts, and finishes, along with drops.  When distracted, I push him out of the way, and tease him with verbal taunting.  Again, I use petting and praise as his main reinforcement.  At 3.25 marker, I ask Riker to jump and get next to me from a settle.  He does not jump up into position as quickly as he should.  So, we spent a bit more time working on this until I see more effort from Riker.  Towards the end of our session, I do see more effort in his efforts.  Hahaha.  His tail keeps on wagging. :>)

Karrde is last in the video.  He has not had a lot of training on this drill, so we kept the skills we trained easy ones to help him with success.  At the beginning of the session, Karrde was very distracted.   As a consequence, I tweaked his butt and then praised when he focused on me.  Persistence paid off and he started maintaining focus on his job and me.  Again, the reward was praise and some treats.  Note though, he is not giving treats with every success during this session.  Overall, I was pleased with his effort.


Questions? Ask DebbyQ

Training and Showing can and should be the same!

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
I don’t ASK for attention, I expect it!  I want FOCUS to become a HABIT!  I do not use attention words like “watch me.”  Instead, I use commands to give permission for my dog to look away or go to visit.  Examples: “go play” or “go visit”.


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

Your Task for this Week 

I love the Sit/Get game, it teaches a fast sit, and keeps the dog in an “active” state while on a sit.   Also, it teaches your dog to have self-control as you are charging him up, and then quickly having him go into a stationary position.   Your dog does need to know how to SIT before playing this game.


    • Begin playing tug or KrazyKookie with your dog.
    • As you are playing, say SIT quickly.  If your dog has a toy in his mouth, he can continue to hold or let go to sit.
    • Your dog should sit fast and the second his rear hits the ground, tell him to Get IT and tug or play the KrazyKookie game.
    • If your dog does not sit quickly, move into him and abort the sequence.  This will be the consequence for failure to act quickly.  Wait a few seconds before releasing to restart the game.
    • While you are playing with your dog, again ask for a sit, break into a game the second his rear hits the ground.
    • Make sure your dog releases off the sit quickly and with enthusiasm.  If your dog is slow to react to your ‘Get it” command, break into the U-Missed It game.  Tease him with the toy/treat and show him what he will NOT get.
    • Repeat the game a few times before ending with a tug or the KrazyKookie game.

COMMON ERRORS – Handlers Make

  • Giving extra commands.  If your dog knows the skill but does not respond quickly to your commands, abort the repetition and reset the drill.
  • Allowing a slow sit when asked.  How fast do you want your sit?  A good rule of thumb is my dog should be putting his rear on the ground by the time the “T” of my sit is coming out of my mouth.
  • Not expecting a fast release when saying Get IT.  How your dog releases off the sit is just as important as how he goes into the sit.  If your dog is slow to react to your ‘Get it” command, break into the U-Missed It game.  Tease him with the toy/treat and show him what he will NOT get.


Video Notes: Here Karrde is learning the Sit/Get game.  Overall, he does a very good job.  A few times he doesn’t release the toy quickly enough.  I did repeat the command since he is learning this skill, but soon the consequence will become that I will stop training and just work on the release or I will add the U-Missed It game as a consequence. 

Once Karrde started to understand the drill, we went to a new location to practice and started adding down, spins, or twirls.  Adding different commands to the mix is a form of proofing or testing Karrde’s understanding for the drill.




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