Teach Stay with “Body Blocks”

Working Willie on sheep in preparation for tomorrow’s trial reminded me of the first time I made a connection between the way Border Collies herd sheep and dog training in general. As you all know,  BCs control sheep by what I call “space management.” They don’t bark, rarely bite, but “take the space” away from sheep in the direction they don’t want sheep to go, leaving only one route open for the sheep to move. It’s a bit like the way sculptors define their art: the work is as much about the space around the sculpture as it is the object itself.

When you learn to work dogs on sheep, you  learn a lot about managing the behavior of another animal without any physical connection. Dogs have no leashes on sheep, and dog handlers have no way of physically effecting their dog’s behavior (unless they don’t have a clue how to train a herding dog and, ugh, use an electric collar). You learn early on that one way to influence your dog is to control the space around it. If she dashes toward the sheep, you need to be ready to block her access to them with your body. If you want her to run wide and free, you learn to back away from both the dog and sheep (oh so hard at first) and create an opening for your dog to move within freely.

It’s that early work that started me on what I called Body Blocks as a way of teaching dogs to Stay. When I started in dog training in the 80’s, we were all told to immediately run back to your dog if he broke his stay, grab his collar, jerk it as a correction for his disobedience, and then drag him back into place, usually grumbling your displeasure as you did.  After working with dogs on sheep, I simply started asking for a stay and then using what I call a Body Block to “manage the space” and teach a dog that wonderful things happen if they stay still. As the years went on, I got better and better at combining understanding canine ethology (in this case, their innate understanding of how to respond to you “taking the space”) and the use of positive reinforcement. (Early on I used to give a treat when I released the dog. Now that seems so foolish! What were we thinking!)

Here’s a video, also on my website along with some other videos, of me using treats and Body Blocks with the lovely dogs of a dear friend, Beth. I should mention that what you see here — me tossing treats behind me after putting the dogs on stay — is an intermediate step, not a beginning one! Both dogs have learned the basics of stay, but now are learning to hold their stay even when distracted. Notice how close I am and how short the stays are: always set your dog up to win when you are working on something new. Make it fun, and they’ll want to do it again.

Speaking of “fun” and setting up to win: Willie and I are in our first herding dog trial tomorrow. It’s a very small one, which is perfect for his first trial. Yesterday we worked sheep on a trial course, and [warning: proud owner with expanding heart speaking now] Willie was so good I could’ve carried the car home. No matter what happens tomorrow, I know that he and I have both improved immensely on what we’ve been working on this summer, and that’s all I really need to know. He is working on pace (slow but continuous), I am working on timing and blowing my whistle consistently.

I don’t expect we’ll do as well tomorrow as we did yesterday. I’m a terrible competitor, getting idiotically nervous for no reason whatsoever. Why I can give a speech to 1,200 people with my image projected three times my size on either side of me and only be mildly anxious, but be so nervous in a competition that I want to throw up, I’ll never know, but there it is. So it’s somewhat inevitable that my foolishness will spill over to Willie, but we’ll both do the best we can, and most of all we’ll cherish being together, me and Willie and Jim, on a gorgeous day with wonderful people and amazing dogs.

But enough about that; I’d love to hear if you’ve had a training breakthrough, no matter how small, that you’d be willing to share. I think that trainers, and dog lovers everywhere, are so often frustrated with ourselves for not being perfect, that we all need to remind ourselves sometimes how far we’ve come. I’m hoping to savor some of your stories soon. And if you don’t want to write a comment, do take minute to ask yourself what you’ve done with your dog that you are proud of . . .  even if it’s resisting strangling them when they won’t stop barking when you’re on the phone . . .


  1. Hope Rider says

    Ooh thank you for this! I am having a very hard time teaching Miikka to stay for any length of time. Something I am doing (and I am pretty sure it is some unconscious cue I am giving – Patricia, I so wish you were able to visit for just 5 minutes. Where is the teleporter when you need it?) has taught him that “stay” means start jumping like a kangaroo. It actually isn’t a problem at home (of course) when I am trying to teach him, but becomes a huge problem in our obedience class (which is for the ring – not quite what I thought/hoped it would be when I signed us up). The teacher there keeps trying to get me to use a pinch collar – something I AM NOT going to do. I don’t really care if he sits perfectly by my side – I just want to be able to make him stay if a guest walks into the house. I have been trying, albeit not as consistently as I should, to work on sit at home, but can’t seem to get beyond 20 seconds, if at all.

    Do you have any suggestions about how to use a body block for the kangaroo problem – on a smallish (20 lbs, part doxie) dog?

    Thing I am proud of in training: resisting the pinch collar, even though it does make him calm. I just don’t want to do that – he is so good-natured, if hyper.

  2. Frances says

    Not exactly a breakthrough, but several occasions in the last week or so when my dogs have just been very, very well behaved, without my having to do much at all. Last week there was a professional photo shoot for charity at the kennels we go to for agility – Poppy and Sophy sat, individually and together, posing beautifully for the camera (so much so I was asked half seriously if they were pros!). Then there was Sophy very carefully and politely approaching a dog-reactive dog, so carefully that he was actually able to greet her happily (I did ask first). Poppy running through the closed tunnel at agility on her own. And the chap we met out walking who commented how extremely good they were when I stopped to chat for a few minutes. Little things, but the fruit of many hours of gentle encouragement – and I was so proud of them!

  3. says

    I will have to try this!

    I was noticing only this morning as I walked my dog Blue over to my uncle’s place (because he has been howling during the day and disturbing the neighbours, sigh… but that’s a separate issue) how nicely he was walking on a loose leash without prompting! It was our second walk of the morning, but I was juggling an umbrella and my purse and lunch bag and the leash and I suddenly realized he wasn’t giving me any trouble at all. (Except for when the bus came by and he sat and watched it hoping we could get on, but hey, it was a sit.) He is a very bouncy Airedale who is slooooowwly calming down (now aged 4 1/2). We still have a long way to go, but a pleasant walk is pretty huge.

  4. Kat says

    Probably the thing I’m most proud of is teaching Ranger I’d rather he sit when greeting me. At home it’s routine that when I’ve been gone and get home he’ll bound over and sit so I can pet him and make much of him. Where he made me so proud I had tears in my eyes was after 23 days of boarding and we’d come to pick him up, he trotted eagerly over to see me, started to jump on me and then sat instead. Everyone else in the family got jumped on. I should note that Ranger doesn’t really “Jump” on people, he stands up and gently puts his paws on their shoulders for balance and after 23 days of separation I would have been glad for that kind of doggy hug but the sit instead made me want to burst with pride.

    I’m also really proud that Ranger knows when he can play it for the laugh and when he needs to be a model citizen. In a classroom he can play it for the laugh, I’ll ask him to sit and stay then turn my back and walk away, he gets up and follows me quickly sitting and pretending he’s been staying all along anytime I glance over my shoulder. Kids absolutely eat this up probably because they’ll all do exactly the same thing given the chance. But when we’re really doing a demonstration of manners–Ranger would be a failure in the obedience ring but he has the kind of household good manners that make a dog a welcome addition–he doesn’t ever play it for the laugh. As far as I can remember the only training he had was the children laughing and me giving him a mock frown the first time he broke his stay to follow me (I’m pretty sure the fact that I put my hands behind my back is what confused him) in a classroom and the real frown he got the only time he ever tried to break his stay in a real demonstration also in a classroom of kids I might add.

  5. shirley says

    i have my dogs sit at steps leading to the entrance to my apartment building while i open the door to the outside. i have to start from scratch with every new foster but after a while they all get it and sit beautifully while i swing the door wide open and sometimes have a chat with any drunk couples sitting in the way.

    body blocking and conditional opening of the door (while they sit/stay) have been great methods to proof the behavior in this situation. for long stays and at great distance i have been considering the use of an e/remote collar & a long line. having a discrete signal available at all times (whether or not i’m close by) as a training tool is such a great advantage. my only real problem is finding a trainer who i can work with to use this tool who uses it correctly…

  6. says

    Good luck at your first trial! I totally understand when you say “[warning: proud owner with expanding heart speaking now] Willie was so good I could

  7. Marguerite says

    I found Pamela Dennison’s “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Positive Dog Training” transformative and it has affected every aspect of my training.

    But my proud moment is that last night I took Bridget and Devlin, both rat terriers, with me as I stayed overnight at a friend’s. My friend, who is 85 years old, 99% blind, and lives alone by firm choice, had surgery for melanoma near her eye (again) and doctors and family insisted someone else be in the house overnight. Geographically, I’m closer than her kids, and was happy to do it. She made supper (I couldn’t stop her) and both dogs stayed quietly on the floor at the far end of the table, not underfoot. Devlin, who is older, must have kept his down-stay for about an hour. Bridget did fidget up and down, but apparently understood that she was supposed to remain generally where she was put. For terriers, that’s a significant performance. They both got little bits of chicken while they were behaving.

  8. says

    I often get caught up in perfection and need to remind myself that I have a really, really well behaved dog! I use the body blocks you described. I find myself blocking dogs with my body all the time, for example when we’re out for a walk and the dog wants to go one way and I want to to another. I just block the dog with my body and then tell him how great he is when he switches directions.

  9. says

    Oh, thank you, this will help immensely. Yes, the CGC class I am in with my foster Black & Tan Coonhound mix boy does encourage one to put the dog back in place but I love the body blocks much better. It lets them “think!” I need to let my dogs think more often but with 19 to manage and corral, sometimes I can’t even think. I am debating about adopting this B&T for myself; he is a foster for American Black & Tan Coonhound Rescue, for whom I have fostered multiple dogs before and currently have two other adults, a Redbone and a Black & Tan besides those in my own sanctuary. But Justus I have had since he was 4-5 months old; he is now 10 months old and seems like one of my own…..oh, dear. Will check out your website as well so Justus and I can work on his stay – as a teenager, he prefers not to….

  10. says

    Your body blocking is similiar to using a crate to teach stays (Susan Garrett’s Crate Games method). So instead of blocking with your body, you block with the crate door. The dog eventually learns to sit calmly and quietly while the crate is opened and not exiting until given the release word. I have a very nice start-line stay for agility using that method, and it builds tons of value for the crate as you work through the various games.

    A recent proud moment, calling my younger CWC off of an approaching deer. It was coming through the brush toward us, Jimmy started to chase, I turned away from the deer, started walking and called. He stopped in his tracks and came flying to me.

  11. says

    I really liked the video of the body block technique. It’s amazing how easily dogs respond to our body language.

    We’re working on consistent loose leash walking with Honey–very tough with a squirrel every 10 feet. But I am learning how much more attentive she is off leash than on.

    When we’re connected by a leash, she takes me for granted. Honey knows I’ll be attached and she doesn’t have to look for me.

    But off leash, we’re mentally connected. Honey will continuously look back for me. I’ve started “hiding” periodically so she has to wonder where I am.

    And can I offer a suggestion to Hope Rider? I struggle with calm greetings for my golden retriever puppy. She goes insane for people’s attention. I finally realized I was expecting too much by having her sit and stay and had to take it back a step. Now I get her to touch a visitor’s hand with her nose or bring a toy to them. It gives her something to do besides jump and it’s easier (more active and less passive) than sitting and staying .
    Don’t ask me how long it took me to come up with that solution, though!

  12. says

    Best tip I’m finding as I train this new puppy – set a mini goal for each session. We are working on water stuff and last week he made it up to his elbows to fetch, today’s goal get to the little island in the pond (no swimming required and really no deeper than the bottom of his chest but the water is getting colder by the day). We got there and if we don’t get back into the water till spring I’m good with that!

    Oh and don’t underestimate how smart your dogs are!

  13. Giselle says

    A long in coming, stealth breakthrough; Having a quiet little dog, that can amuse himself or rest quietly beside me!
    The result of many, many, many hours of ignoring his default behavior (long established b4 I adopted him) of anxiety barking, barking for attention, barking for wants/needs, barking whenever anything didn’t suit him.
    And of rewarding him for being quiet.
    And rewarding him for using his other skills – pointing or running to what he wants, or using a short sharp bark to say “Yes, that’s it!” for responding to questions with cue words, like “Do you want to go potty?”, do you want to go outside?, go out on the deck?, want your coat on?, want to play chase the ducky (squeaky toy), want liver? want heart?, want a drumstick?, want a chewbie?
    He even responds positively to “Little dogs that can’t stop barking have to come in the house!” – by running madly into the house to get his goodie!
    He’s still a busy boy, full of wants and needs, but he IS much quieter!

  14. Alexandra says

    Good luck with the herding trial, and I hope you and Willie both have fun no matter the outcome. I can speak in front of a group of people, even on local TV for work, with only mild butterflies, but competing in horse shows as a kid used to make me so nervous that I’d occasionally throw up.

    When I was working with Izzy on her reactivity, I initially didn’t know very much about dog behavior at all. Working with a trainer was a real eye-opener, and I still remember the day when I looked at Izzy’s face and actually understood without a doubt that my dog was scared, not angry or aggressive. It hadn’t really clicked with me how to “read” dogs before then. It really changed the dynamic of how I thought about her behavior and how I managed her environment. Definitely one of those lightbulb moments for me.

  15. AnneJ says

    One of my puppies is in the “I don’t want to come if it possibly means going in my kennel” stage. Today our small breakthrough was that she would come to me when I was in the area of the kennel.

    This puppy is a funny one- she did not want to go in her crate for dinner for a long time, until I started putting the other dogs out of the room first. Then she’d go in her crate but only if I was standing no where near it. Now she’s the fastest one to run and get in her crate when I’m getting the food ready. I think she had the idea that she’s the bottom dog and did not want to seem like she was competing with anyone over the food. So now she runs to the crate before the food even gets there. I haven’t gotten that to transfer over to the outdoor kennel though. She doesn’t live there, but I put her in when I go to work other dogs so she doesn’t come and “help” us in the field. She’s not quite old enough to train on sheep or I could use that as a reward for going to the kennel.

    Good luck in your trial! Tundra and Diesel on the video are just beautiful.

  16. JJ says

    The video was really helpful. What was new to me was seeing how quickly you rewarded them when they went back to their sitting position – rather than waiting and then giving them the treat. That was a good intermediate step to see. Thanks!

  17. Deanna in OR says

    A breakthrough at our last agility trial:

    Willow the Collie does great in agility, I’m so proud of her and our partnership, but her start-line stay (SLS) has “broken”, been fixed, then broken worse, then fixed….until in September there was no stay at all in a trial. She would sit at the start, then slowly stand up as I walked out on the course, looking nervous. Sometimes she would take a tentative first jump, starting the timer and usually dropping a bar.

    When we first started in agility, her SLS was perfect…I could lead out 20 or 30 feet away before telling her “Go!” (which gave me a head start with her–she is pretty fast, for a Collie).

    And of course she has always been perfect in practice in class, as solid a SLS as possible. Only in trials would she get up at the start.

    I watched a Susan Garrett video where she talked about how we train SLS’s from 5 feet or 8 feet away, and then expect our dogs to stay when we lead out 25 feet. Light bulb moment! I started working with her in agility practice, putting her in her SLS, leading out various distances (including short and very long), looking at her like we were going to run, then running back to her, giving her lots of dried liver or fresh chicken, releasing her, playing a bit, then repeating—and only actually running the course every few times (4-8 SLS rewards for each course run). I did this for a few weeks, and then took advantage of a NADAC agility trial (training in the ring is allowed, with an elimination score). We went to the start, she sat, I led out only a few feet (I wanted it to be successful), then I ran back, told her she was awesome and ran out of the ring (without running the course) to a big pile of fresh chicken. I did that randomly for 5 of 11 runs that weekend.

    The next weekend, in a different venue with twistier courses (no long lead-out needed on most courses), I just worked on a couple of very short steps away before starting our run, and had to run hard to keep up with her! Then the break-through came on our last run.

    Snooker is an agility game where you make up your own course. Obstacles are worth different points. The goal is to get as many points as possible in the allotted time. And most often, the highest point obstacles are far away. The plan I wanted to run would require me to lead out all the way across the ring, which she stayed, then call her to me past several other obstacles, and start running. I decided to go for it (with a Plan B) if she got up). We did our start-line routine (around behind me and come between my legs so she pointed the way I want her to run). I removed her leash, told her to “stay”, and walked away with her in my peripheral vision. She stayed! I turned around, from 75 feet away, and said “Willow, Come!” and only then did she bound up, took the first red jump, and we were off! We completed the course I wanted to run, with no faults!

    I know we’ll have to keep working on reinforcing the SLS, but I’m so happy with this breakthrough.

    Deanna in OR

  18. JJ says

    Duke and I both had a breakthrough moment this morning. Every time I have ever had to teach Duke ANYTHING, it has been an agonizing process with Duke “not getting it” every agonizing step of the way. This morning, we had a brilliant moment just a week after starting a new trick.

    I decided my winter project was going to be teaching Duke to “take a bow” – which I defined as looking something like a play bow in slow motion. I started last weekend. As usual, in the first few days I was astounded at how little Duke seemed to be getting it despite delicious treats and several reps 5 or more times a day. Then, this last couple of days, he was doing it more quickly, with less errors (less often plopping his whole butt down after his front went down) and with less dramatic hand gestures (some hand luring down to the ground) from me.

    My initial goal was to work up to the point where I do a bow where I put my hands in formally across my waist and bend at the waist like a buttler. I want my bow to be the gesture trigger (for now until we add the voice cue) for Duke to do his bow. This morning, I didn’t have to put my hand all the way to the ground even to start. Then, after only two reps with a partial hand lure turned into a formal bow, I just did a straight human bow–and Duke copied with his doggie bow. Then he popped up, wagging his tail so hard and looking for the treat. I got tears in my eyes. He was so brilliant (for himself) and after only a week of trying.

    Of course, we have a ways to go before he really knows the trick, but I was really proud of him and me too. I think Duke is getting better at learning, and I’m getting better at teaching.

  19. says

    Have fun tomorrow! Remember that more important than doing well is making it a fun experience for both you and your dog!

    I also get very nervous when I am in a trial, so I tell myself that I will be thrilled if we can accomplish one attainable goal.

    Tessy and I do canine musical freestyle. At our last trial all I really wanted was for her to stay focused on me and to have a good time. Here is a video of that trial:
    We qualified and got our beginner title with that routine. In March we are dancing to Jump in the Line and we will be wearing a chichita banana costume. Canine musical freestyle is a wonderful dog sport, I am so glad we found it.

    As for a training breakthrough; as you can see my little dog has a lot of energy so getting her to learn any new stationary behaviors can be tough. I keep my training sessions very short (2-3 minutes) and if I feel I am getting frustrated I revert to known behaviors so that we can both relax. Just yesterday Tess figured out that “paws up” does not mean jump-up at me like a lunatic, but rather put your front paws on whatever and hold them there. I did nothing new, it just clicked for her. Keep training sessions short and sweet. I swear by it.

    I will be thinking of you tomorrow!


  20. Susan Mann says

    I was really proud of Arie at USDAA (agility) Nationals. We’ve had issues with her getting way too excited/high in stimulating environments (especially agility trials!) and doing silly stuff like completely bypassing weaves (which she loves and does incredibly well) or going into orbit (running and jumping very wide, no collection at all, like the distance of the ring!). I resisted “marking” these errors and instead worked on her being calm (mostly Control Unleashed stuff, like mat work and Look at That) and she was a STAR! Warning- mama brag: Made in into Grand Prix semi finals, and had lots of other lovely runs, no craziness at all, great contacts, made every weave entry, etc. though her stay in this video isn’t what it should have been!

    – here is a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1-jvlnd3n8

  21. Beth says

    Ah, stay is one of several commands that is so much easier to teach to a taller dog than a short one! I have two Corgis, and actually treating them with their butts on the ground is physically very difficult. It takes so long to lean over (in the dogs’ eyes) to deliver the treat that their butts pop up and you are rewarding the wrong thing.

    I use my marker word to reward the stay and then treat them after I release. I realize it’s probably better to treat them on the stay, but as I said…. short little dogs means a long time bending and you can’t give that instant reward anyway.

    One of my training breakthroughs was to realize how much my dogs look at my face.

    I was in a CGC class with Maddie, and she is not good yet on stays. We had worked hard, it was the end of the class, and she was just done. We had to do a stay while I walked to the middle of the room. I turned around and she was sitting there, practically melting into the ground, ears at half mast and looking so miserable. I smiled just a little, proud that she was trying so hard to be good. The second I smiled she broke her stay; apparently I keep a stern face on the “stay” command and then smile when I say “ok” to release, and she had learned to associate the smile with the release.

    Now I pay more attention to my facial expression.

  22. jennifer says

    I had a recall breakthrough with Agnes last week. It was the day after Halloween, and on our morning walk, we came across what looked like a quilted stuffed football (part of someone’s costume?) and Agnes, who has a fondness for stuffy toys, chomped on it and refused to let it go. After multiple attempts at “drop it” and trying to make her release it (she wouldn’t trade for a treat, because we’re doing an allergy food trial, and the only treats she can have are low-value pieces of kibble), I dropped her leash mid-scuffle, and she, thinking it all a game, bolted away from me in the opposite direction toward the street.

    We’ve been working on her recall especially lately, so I tried not to panic and called her name in a happy voice and clapped my hands. She thankfully turned back around and raced toward me, and I was able to grab her leash. She was still unwilling to drop the plush item, so she carried it in her mouth for the duration of the walk. Which ended up being a good thing, because then she couldn’t scavenge off the ground (another challenge we’re working on).

  23. says

    Body blocks have been great with my Shepherd mix, Sophie. True to her herding genes, controlling space works very well with her. Not only did body blocks help with stay, body blocks really made it easy to teach Back Up. She would bolt out the door each and every time if I hadn’t taught a good Stay and Back Up. Now I can stand on the other side of the storm door when I’m outside and she’s inside, and get her to back up and stay so that I can go in without her bolting out.

  24. Amy W. says

    Love the short video clips you’ve added to the website. Really very helpful.

    Small breakthrough – both dogs waiting inside the car until they are released vs. bowling me over as I open the tailgate. And I used body block techniques to help train the wait.

  25. says

    Maia has stranger-danger issues. My proud moment was yesterday – we have started taking a clicker class at a new training facility but my agility instructor is the teacher, who Maia of course knows and likes. I was inside the office without Maia, filling out paperwork and meeting the owner, and then Dana (my teacher) arrived. I decided to bring Maia in right then so that she could greet Dana with no other dogs around. Maia greeted Dana and then, completely of her own volition, went around the desk and started nose bumping the owner for attention and treats. I’m not sure that she has ever met a new person in such a relaxed manner, and she has definitely not initiated contact like that before. So proud.

  26. Kathy says

    Fifteen minutes ago, Mico just learned to find Scorch, the scorpion we got from your stock of toys! He loves that thing inordinately and we’ve been working on “wait,” so I got the bright idea to take Scorch away from him, put him in a sit, tell him to wait, and go “hide” Scorch. I started with putting Scorch on the ground a few feet away, body blocking Mico as he tried to go get it, and then saying, “where’s Scorch?” and letting him have the toy. Now we’re up to putting Scorch in another room while Mico sits and cranes his little neck to see where I’m going. He doesn’t break (most of the time) until I say, “where’s Scorch?” Not too bad for a 6 month old puppy! We’ll see if he remembers the trick tomorrow.

  27. says

    I suspect this works better with herding dogs than some others. I have basenjis; if I move into their space, they’re just as likely to bolt around me as to go back. They weren’t bred to move stock in a controlled fashion, they were bred to run down and kill small game. The object is to move as fast (faster, actually) and as erratically as the prey, and to get it before it gets to a burrow.

  28. Min says

    My breakthrough: last September, I adopted a beautiful Pit Bull mix who was almost a year old from one of our wonderful local shelters. After she’d been with us just a few days, we discovered she was fear aggressive toward anyone not in our family. At the shelter she had been shy and cautious, but once Pip got to know us she was very playful and affectionate, so it came as something of a surprise when she started barking, growling and lunging at people. At first, we were afraid it was aggression, but once I calmed down and read her body signals, it was plain as day she was terrified.

    So we got to work, and let me tell you–it’s been a lot of work! We live in an apartment, so we have to take her out 3-5 times a day. So, every single day, 3-5 times a day, we worked on her fear. We used some of your methods. We used some of Victoria Stillwell’s methods. We used some of Grisha’s BAT training. We worked with trainers and behaviorists. We mixed and altered and applied as needed depending on the situation and what was working. There were good days and there were bad days. There were days when I thought we were finally past the worst, and days when I cried and worried we had a decade of managing Pip’s aggression ahead of us.

    But breakthroughs can be sneaky, quiet things, like a ray of sunlight moving across the floor. A little over a year later, I can now take Pip out and she doesn’t bark at strange men, growl at joggers, or lunge at running children. She’s still a little nervous, and she still doesn’t want strangers trying to touch her, but we can walk down a crowded sidewalk and even go to a crowded street market and she is calmer, less afraid, and I’m so proud of her. She’s still young, and we still work every day, and while she may never love strangers, I am confident that soon everyone will be able to clearly see what a loving, friendly, brilliant dog she is.

    Thank YOU for your help in saving my Pip’s life. We wouldn’t have gotten this far without you and trainers like you.

  29. Susan says

    I’ve been working on teaching Mancha to sit when she is off leash on a trail. I like to have her sit when she is ahead of me going up a hill . That way I can walk ahead of her and see who is at the top of the hill. To get her to sit I have to use a visual gesture with the verbal. Mancha does not always listen. But if she has not responsed to the verbal I add the visual when she looks at me. Some days she will spend quite a bit of time thinking about when she wants to sit. But I try very hard not to repeat. Just wait for her to do it. Once she is sitted I will walk up to her and then past her until I am at the top of the hill. I will then call her, give her a treat and then release her to go off exploring again. So she does get a double reinforment. Some days she is spot on sits right away and stays put. I have had her sit at the top of the hill to find out when I get up with her that someone is walking up and she has stayed put. And she loves people. Very… proud her when that happens. But I work on this every day we are out walking, She may have to it once or 10 times that walk day.

  30. MJ says

    *sigh* I hear you Liza. It feels like so much training theory is done on herding dogs who are interested in paying attention in the first place. BTW, I know Pyr is guarding and independent but that body blocking example leads to my next frustration …. I find body blocks of an 11 inch dog to be nearly impossible. Most attempts at blocking (particularly if the focus is another dog) takes many many steps, dancing side to side. It isn’t pretty and doesn’t feel effective –my ankles and shins seem to have little impact on the dog.

  31. Dana says

    Thanks for the reminder not to reward a “stay” by rewarding the release! I have a small victory to share: Reilly (6 month old shepherd mix who has no sheep) is teething, and so wants to bite my hand whenever we are playing. Last week, when he started gnawing on me, I got his attention and told him “go get a toy!”, pointing at some of his favorites. To my amazement, he got up, found a chew toy, came back to me, plopped into my lap, and started chewing (appropriately, this time). I have to say, I love that this dog (my first ever) has given me so many reasons to appreciate small victories and simple pride.

  32. KT says

    I read a book called “Listen”..a young adult book about a dog…but..in the book the girl was trying very hard to “tame” this stray dog. Her breakthrough moment was when she decided to tell the dog exactly what she was going to do..ie..put a collar on him..and he seemed to understand. I have since been talking to my dog, trying to form some mental image for him of what I really want and need from him..and he seems to be more responsive to me. I also allow him to have his way once in awhile on our hikes. We go wherever he wants and we’ve found some wonderful things in the process. I think it’s a give and take situation when training. I also think that listening to what our dogs are telling us by their subtle cues and body language makes for a better training relationship. To dogs, body language is an essential part of who they are. Instead of being a dictator in training, be a co-creator. I think that by using body language to communicate with them we can earn their respect and trust…and cooperation!

  33. says

    I dunno about herding breeds (having never owned one), but I can tell you my pointing breed, a Brittany (Spaniel), is also very aware of space. Mick seems to always want me behind him, particularly when he’s “hunting” tennis balls, squirrels and ducks; and I can change what he’s doing simply by moving or shifting my body.

    Our big breakthrough was with “emergency downs”. I’ve been working really hard to try and get solid, high-difficulty downs from Mick, mostly to be used to stop him when he’s chasing things. Well, two nights ago I was out with him at the soccer field and Mick went on point for some sparrows that were on the field. I released him to chase them (he’s a VERY well-bred field dog. I’ve done no hunting training with him, but he’s naturally steady on point) and midway through a very intense chase I called out “DOWN!”. Mick dropped like someone had taken his legs out from under him, I was overjoyed! Let me tell you, he got the ultimate reward of four throws with the squeaky tennis ball.

  34. Alexandra W says

    My “breakthrough” was a tiny thing, but when I was first trying to teach Romeo to recall, I had no idea how to go about it, really, and spent a lot of time and effort bellowing his name while at the same time waving hot dog in his face.

    After a bit, though, I noticed that if I sat down on the floor, he always came over for a cuddle, and suddenly something “clicked” in my mind: my very visually-oriented beagle most wanted to be near me when I was in a non-threatening posture, ie, low to the ground. It’s a bit like how at the dog park, other dogs are more willing to approach one another when one assumes a low body posture, right? And since my dog definitely thinks of me as more high-status than him in the house, I’m less threatening to him when I speak in a high-pitched voice and lower my body than when I bellow and stand tall, for all that I’m waving hot dog in his face!

    Right now, his cue for recall is me kneeling, body perpendicular to his, with one arm outstretched; I built it off of the “touch” cue I learned in obedience class. It’s a true joy to see your dog recall to you across a wide-open field, and while it’s not perfect, I happen to think it’s really good for a beagle adopted with no training whatsoever, at three years old, less than a year ago.

  35. Lacey H says

    I’ve seen lots of wonderful little breakthroughs in socializing foster dogs, but my favorite was years ago with my last big dog. He was one of those who had been punishment “housetrained”, so that he believed he must never let anyone see him. He had no idea that the place of release mattered. At last one day when I found his dropping I scolded it firmly, and took it outside and placed it down and cheered. He looked and looked, and I saw the “light bulb” turn on. For a long time thereafter, though, he wanted to use only that specific spot, and when he finally joined in on a male pee session before an obedience class I cheered. Funny looks from some bystanders!

  36. Angela says

    Thanks for the video! I laughed at your description of correcting stays – we’re working on training for (novice) obedience, so when my BC Dax occasionally breaks a long stay, putting him back and muttering my displeasure (What are you doing?!) would be a pretty accurate description of my response :-) We did start with training stays closer to the dog like you did, but I had not heard it presented as “taking up the space” or “body blocks”. Your demonstration had more active management of space than I’d seen done (or perhaps as a novice I just wasn’t able to see the finer points of space management as I was more focused on the basics).

    I feel that most of our training breakthroughs (not getting tangled in the leash on a right finish, not tripping over him on left turns and pivots – note how these are about my clutziness) come when Dax suddenly just *gets* what we’re trying to do, and once he figures it out, then I can focus on improving my part of the exercise. We’re both new to dog training, so we’re learning together, and he LOVES figuring out some new activity – some new game! I think any successes we have are more due to Dax being a smart dog and a hard worker than to any talent I have as a trainer.

    I am most proud of Dax for sitting automatically when he sees a moving car. I know he still has the urge to chase cars, and we are super vigilant about working on it, but I am proud of him every time he ignores that urge. I don’t know that there was a “breakthrough” with that, though – just loads of repetition. And treats.

  37. Aly says

    Two breakthroughs I’ve had over the years with my older dog:
    1. realizing all the body movement I use when training. Often when he doesn’t respond to a cue, it’s because I’ve accidentally taught him to respond to other or extra body language. He now learns cues much quicker because I’m aware of my own movements and posture.
    2. I don’t need to drill as much as I think I do. I’ve been very lucky that he loves to work and will keep doing the same thing over and over again . . . but he’s smart and has a much better time if we do it twice and then make it more difficult.
    And with my new dog:
    3. Nothing is to trivial to practice, even dropping a cookie on the ground and asking her to get it.

  38. says

    I’m celebrating that my 7yo rescued English Setter is finally showing some toy drive. He’s not only learning to play with a toy, he’s learning that we can BOTH play with it at the same time, that he doesn’t have to leap away from it the moment I reach for it, that we can even gently play tug with it! Yippppeeeeee!!!!!

    Right now it’s just one specific toy, only for a short time, & I have to be careful to not try to take it away too hard, but I can see the behaviour building!

  39. Elizabeth says

    Like Pamela, my older BC rescue also works much much better off leash than on – and better on a long retractable leash than on a short leash. i’d like to know more about that phenomenon.

  40. Marianna says

    Looking back my breakthrough seems silly now. Going to classes with my border collie we struggled with walking nicely on a leash. I learned that when he carried a frisbee he was much better but still pulled. I had always learned that dogs must walk on the left. When I started walking my two dogs together, I started walking him on the right and the pulling stopped. Why did I ever buy into that? Let you dog be who they are and tell you about it. Once you listen, it becomes crystal clear.

  41. Liz says

    My simple but joyful breakthrough with Helix: Adopted at three and a half months, Helix knew “sit” pretty well already. He seemed like a biddable pup, so we quickly started working on “down.” Luring to the ground worked fine, but anytime I tried to link it with the verbal cue he became standoffish, like he wanted nothing to do with the word. Took my a while, sigh, to realize I needed a different cue. All it took was for me to say “sleep” instead of down and we were able to drop the lure in no time! Good boy, and better trainer…

    My happiest breakthrough with Nala: Calling her off of a deer chase with running. She’s an energetic gal, and trying to reward her with treats or ball play just wasn’t cutting it. I’d have her attention, then lose her time and again. The ball play just seemed to rev up the chase drive, and she would seem to say, “Why chase the ball when I can chase deer?” You could practically see her weighing her options. So I finally realized that once I have her attention, the best way to keep it is to run the opposite direction from the deer. She gets to chase me first, then she gets either treats or play once we’ve left the deer. Fun, and I feel proud for realizing what she’s about.

    Best overall breakthroughs: Any day we through the ardent schedule of walks and/or training out the window to be spontaneous, play, and do something new.

    Thanks for this post! Great to think about.

  42. Faith says

    My “a-ha” moment came with teaching retrieving. I have hunting dogs and I am in the minority as I don’t force-fetch (negative reinforcement) my dogs. I prefer to use positive reinforcement to teach reliable retrieving. I used to scold my dogs for retrieving unwanted items to me. I have children so my dogs will grab toys, clothes, etc and bring them to me. Well, I finally said, “Duh, why am I scolding them for retrieving?” Now, when they have something they shouldn’t, I call them to me, and then quietly ask them to give me the item. (My dogs are taught to sit and hold an item until asked to release.) Then I give them very mild praise. I don’t want them to be hesitant to bring me things, but if I can’t stop them in the act of picking up something I don’t want them to have then I have to change my attitude when they bring it to me.

  43. says

    I feel for you on the competition nerves! I was so terrible when I was running agility with my malinois girl until I started saying aloud to her while we walked to the start line: “we’ll probably flunk, we’ve flunked before, it really isn’t a big deal, let’s have FUN!” Then we started winning :-)

    I don’t know if it is a training breakthrough per se, but, not once but twice in the last week my heeler has started to go after my jack (previously she has put holes in the jack’s neck on 4 or 5 occasions) but I was able to call the heeler off the jack AND keep the jack from retaliating (which is usually where we get into actual trouble!)

  44. says

    To those who worry that body block stays only work for herding dogs – take heart. I’ve used this as the sole method to teach stays in group obedience classes for over 10 years… and it works… for a variety of different breeds and types.

    Occasionally I’ll have a dog who is keen to dart around the handler. If that’s the case, we just door-tie the dog (tether the end of the leash to a doorknob or the like) for the first day or 2 of homework (four 5-minute sessions), so that they learn running around the handler is not an option. This also gives the handlers an opportunity to read their dogs’ intents and body language and learn to become body blockers. My experience is handlers with “erratic moving” dogs like the Basenji owner described above are accustomed to erratic movement, and so disregard much of the movement they see in the dogs. This modification (only for dogs who need it) helps both dog and handler understand body blocking better.

  45. em says

    My proudest training breakthrough came while on vacation with Otis this summer. We visited a dog-friendly beach in Maine. Lots of other dogs, some leashed, most not. As we moved down a fairly empty stretch of beach, Otis dashed around as usual, gamboling on the sand, playing with dogs, circling back to us every minute or two, but in a very relaxed ‘fly by’ mode typical of his off-leash behavior. When we got to a busier section of beach, with many non-dog patrons around, I asked Otis to walk ‘with me’ (his cue for off-leash heeling). He spent forty minutes doing the best heel I’ve ever seen as we moved up the beach. He politely greeted people who approached us, ignored people who did not, (including shrieking children, runners, frisbee players, picknickers and teenage boys playfully wrestling and roughhousing) and needed only the slightest reinforcing cues to pass dogs, leashed or not, without any attempt at interaction. The crowd helped, keeping him from fixing his attention too strongly in any direction, but I was enormously proud of my beautifully behaved dog. Three separate people asked me if he was a service dog. I have never been so flattered in my entire life.

  46. em says

    I agree about body blocks being dependent on eye contact- my great dane is generally easy to communicate with by manipulating space, but if his gaze is fixed on something, I’m sorry to say that size doesn’t matter. He will snake that long neck around me without so much as a blink-I actually have to physically bump him aside to get even a fraction of his attention, and not even that will actually ‘block’ him for longer than a couple of seconds. Generally, though, I can use my posture and motion very effectively to tell him how I want him to move or not to move, as the case may be, and I agree that it is much harder to control space with a small dog who doesn’t require much room to move freely and with whom it is hard to make eye contact at close range.

    It was a big breakthrough for me a year ago to realize that though he won’t break his gaze to look at me, Otis can still hear and respond to me when he’s fixating. In those cases, an effort to ‘block’ or divert his attention only fuels the fire, adding frustration and excitement to the mix. It works better to ask him to ‘wait’, allow him to stare a bit, then say “Ok, that’s enough” and begin moving in a different direction. Otis may not look away right away, but from the corner of his eye he does register that I have considered the object and am moving away. For some reason a moment of stillness, followed by a verbal cue coupled with a ‘break it off’ motion works 95% of the time-I can SEE him shake off his trance, dismiss it from his mind, then turn to trot after me. I hesitate to anthropomorphize, but it’s like he needs to see me take the situation seriously before he will listen to my opinion about what to do. Addressing myself to him merely annoys him and makes him anxious about the situation, “Knock it off! There’s a strange dog over there and if you get in my way he’ll surely run over here and bite us! Hey dog! I’m big and loud and tough! You better not come over here!” *

    *note: it did not matter if the dog DID come over, because at close range, Otis is and always was very confident and socially appropriate, but from a distance he had a very regrettable tendency to get nervous and flip out while on leash. Very upsetting to people and dogs, but more sound and fury than anything else.

  47. says

    Wow! I tried this–without throwing the food–and I think we are both getting the hang of it. Would you consider having someone video you doing it the “beginner” way so we can see your timing/rewarding when you aren’t tossing the food? I’ve read several of your books and have learned a lot from each. Thank you.

  48. malaney says

    Do you think your anxiety/nerves are inversely proportional to your comfort level?

    I love your books and blog! keep up the dialog and thanks for sharing!

    I have a rescued border collie. Got her about a year ago and she is about 10 years old now. I figured out she was deaf, or at least cant hear me clap or call her. But, I’ve still manged to communicate with her well. (sit, stay, come, got out of the kitchen and lay down!) All hand signals!!! She loves fetch. (I don’t have sheep) Sometimes she looses sight of the frisbee. Any suggestions of how to teach her to circle right of left?

    Also, do your BCs heard balls? I can roll a soccer ball 30+ ft away from me and she noses it all the way back, switching sides based on which direction the ball is rolling. she amazes me!

  49. Ruth says

    Thanks for the reminder for us all to take stock of our progress. Every few months, I have to remind my husband and myself of how far our basenji rescue has come. We are always setting small goals and fine-tuning Cooper’s training.

    Our biggest and most recent success has been a slow work in progress. Our first son was born in June, and I spent a lot of time walking and training with Cooper while I was pregnant, anticipating behaviors we would need to have solid before the baby came (sitting for getting his leash on, laying down at the post office while I check our mailbox, an automatic sit when I stop on walks, going to his bed…). With the holidays approaching, we’ve had a number of small packages to pick up from the post office (a half mile from our house), and I’ve been able to carry my son in a front carrier while walking Cooper on a loose leash and carrying boxes. This feat is even more amazing considering my dog is somewhat dog-reactive and we live in a small town where dogs are forever barking at us through living room windows or while tied out. I’ve also recently gotten Cooper to lay down on the sidewalk while I adjust the baby or mail or have him calm down when we see another dog, no small task for a basenji in cold weather!

  50. Mary Beth says

    Faith, hurray!!! I judge AKC pointing dog tests, Weimaraner retrieving tests and shoot to retrieve field trials. I constantly see under-trained dogs with handlers that have over-expectations. The dogs act out under the stress of their handlers panicking in competition. Its hard to watch talented dogs fall apart under the pressure. I have a soap box I try not to drag out too often, but its hard to bite my tongue. I want to scream out how effective inducive retrieve training is and I equally want to scream about body language. If every retreiver handler could listen to Trisha talk about how she and a friend brought two strays safely across a freeway using only body language, their eyes would be opened. Who wants to retrieve to someone who is screaming, staring, bent forward trying to grab you. Not very welcoming!
    I am facing competition nerves myself and I hope I don’t fall prey to all those silly things we do when we compete. I’m taking my 2 year old coonhound puppy in to the AKC Novice obedience ring. Gulp. He will be the first treeing walker coonhound to ever Q in formal AKC obedience if we are successful (Oh please please please let us pass the test!). I love him dearly and I’ve had a blast using the “choose to heel” method of training with him, but I’m so terrified that the trial distractions may be too much and I’m terrified that my nerves will get the better of me. I’m a far better competitor than I was 10 years ago, but still.
    BTW, my dogs “beg” by retrieving odd things to me. One day we were eating peanuts and my Weim really really really wanted some. So, he reached out, picked up the TV remote and put it in my hand. I laughed and lived up to my end of the bargain and gave him his peanuts. My partner’s Lab who was force fetched long before I knew them and who is more likely to pick something up and play a mild keep away at this point(she’s retired now), watched and watched, and talk about modeling…she picked up my cell phone and put it in my hand! She too got some “people food”!!

  51. Darin says

    I had a proud training moment when I realized something I take for granted is actually quite unusual (and very useful).

    We were having a holiday dinner with lots of family and one of my two lovely goldens had gotten a little closer to the table than she is really allowed to be. I was getting up to get something from the kitchen so gave her a quick hand signal to come with me and then dropped her using a hand signal a little further from the table. No fuss, no interruption in conversation, etc.

    Later, my dad (who used to train GSDs long ago) told me how cool he thought that was and how proud and impressed he was with the training we’ve done with the girls.

    I may get him converted to positive training and away from correction yet!!

  52. trisha says

    Oooooh. So many inspiring comments here about breakthroughs and proud moments. I’ve read and savored every one. What jumps out at me most is how each of us, and each of our dogs, is at a different place in training, and how valuable it is to take our dogs as they come, for who they are that moment, and appreciate how they are doing compared to how they did the day or week or month before.

    And let me second the suggestion of Pamela for Hope Rider, to give the dog something to do beside sit and stay while greeting. After all, what could be harder than staying in place when you’re compelled to move? Teach something active: go get a toy, touch a hand, etc, and I’ll bet you’ll have better luck. (How successful would we be if we askede other people to sit down and stay when we approach with our dogs? We can’t even get them to not pet our dogs, even if we say: “Please don’t pet my dog…,” right?).

    And yeah Liz and Tess, and Susan Mann’s Agility run! The first free style I ever saw was Sandra and Pepper, and I actually got tears in my eyes! Free style is one of my fantaties for when I retire. And agility, oh my, it’s so exciting and such a rush to watch. Gorgeous run!

    Re Body Blocks and breeds: I use them on all dogs, tall, short, herding and anything else. What varies most in my experience is how sensitive a dog is about ‘personal space.’ Some field bred labs won’t stop moving until you move almost into them, while a sensitive Sheltie, perhaps, needs you to be 3 feet away and all you need to do is learn forward a bit. Basenji’s? Sure, you just have to be that much faster (and not too close, you have more control if you are back a ways rather than too close — the first thing you learn in herding!). Same with small dogs, they easily respond to body blocks, but boy does it teach you timing and in this case it’s all in the lower legs!

    And the comments about eye contact are good, and important. It is much harder to get attention, or know what a dog is concentrating on, if they are not making eye contact with you, or not looking even in your direction. If a dog is continually looking away, I’d probably stop working on that exercise and figure out what else is going.

    Better off leash? I see a lot of dogs that are. Just a guess, but I suspect that being on leash takes away a dog’s feeling of control, and makes him or her feel more vulnerable, thus more nervous and less able to attend and to learn. Make sense? Could also be a history of leash corrections with dogs who have been rehomed?

  53. Kerry L. says

    I experienced a very proud moment two weeks ago when someone brought a dog into my workplace unannounced and unexpected. Walter walked with me to the door of the office where the new dog was located, but then stayed and waited outside the door while I chatted with the dogs’ owner. He then accompanied me back to my own office without meeting or greeting the other dog. I was so happy he listened so well.

  54. Catherine says

    Here’s one I thought offered an interesting window onto canine cognition and self-control: my husband has been working with our coonhound Bobby on self-control. He’ll ask the dog to go “lie down” on his bed across the room and “wait” there while my husband scatters kibble across the floor, some of it gliding right by the dog’s bed. Then he asks Bobby to come past the kibble to him for a reward, before releasing the dog to “go find” the kibble scattered around the room. Our dog has pretty well mastered this now, but my husband told me that during the learning process, once Bobby got up and took the longer route around the back of the couch rather than walk through the “mine field” of kibble. It reminded me of how we hide the leftover Halloween candy so we won’t see it and be tempted!

  55. says

    YES, YES, YES.
    I’m always trying to convey this concept to my clients. It’s fantastic and deserves much attention as a means of moving people away from using their hands and their leash. It’s magical to watch people finally make this work, as body blocks get more and more subtle, graduating to mere movements of the slightest intention.

    When people start realizing how much more effective this is in creating a dog that is reliable on AND off-leash, we will be lightyears away from the tugging and pulling mess that seems to pervade much of the training in the media at present.

    THANK YOU :)

  56. Angel says

    I can’t think of any one particular training breakthrough, but when I stop to look back, I am amazed at how far Bear and I have come together. We went through a period last year when Bear and I rarely went for walks, because he would get too aroused and frustrated, and redirect all that pent up energy on to me, jumping, growling, biting (play biting, but still painful). Now we can walk every day, anywhere we want. He still sometimes gets too jacked up, like after seeing a few dogs he is unable to greet and a couple of squirrels, but he is easily redirectable and calmed with a short time-out and a few basic obedience commands.

    We’ve also gone through several classes together, both of us learning new things in every one. Whenever I get frustrated or think that he should be further along than he is, I just have to look back at how far we have come together and all that we have done and can now do.

    I’m not sure if this is a fluke or a breakthrough, but today after he’d finished his dinner, Bear went and laid down on his blanket, his “settle” place we’ve been working on, instead of sitting next to us, staring and sniffing at our plates. One can hope this is a breakthrough – yeah!

  57. Teri says

    When my Riley approached 2 years old he seemed to realize how big (110lb lean field lab) he was and decided that all rules no longer applied to him. My wonderful goofy pup turned into a horid teenage monster! He started bluff charging other dogs and just overall being a super jerk. After one particularly bad weekend with lots of tears I made the decision to start working with a trainer. We did some private sessions, worked super hard and changed a lot of things around his routine and about 6 weeks later we attended our first outdoor group obedience session. My boy was an absolute star!!! Did absolutely everything I asked with a happy attitude. We left the session at the end and drove straight to the nearest pet store where he got a brand new toy. I smiled for days afterward.

    That was just the start of a road that has brought me back my super goofy boy and opened a whole new world of dog training. We are registered for our first rally trial and volunteer to help our trainer by walking with fear agressive dogs that seem to love my boy’s happy confidence.

  58. Donna in VA says

    re: body blocks – so important to have in the owner’s repertoire. In my case I have used it on strange off-leash dogs. 4 times in the past 2 months we have encountered unknown off-leash dogs. I put my dog behind me and take up a strong blocking stance to keep the other dog from approaching me and my dog. Then we find out if the dog stops and approaches respectfully, I can then allow the meeting. The last time involved a boxer approaching us at a run. I blocked and also had to yell NO! He stopped in his tracks. Then I gave him the shooing gesture (back of hand, fingers down) and said GO BACK! and sure enough he turned around and trotted away. Note the owner was behind him callin for him to come and he paid not the the least attention to her. Grrrr.

  59. Kristin says

    Tricia – I attended a seminar you taught in the Chicago area several years back where you demonstrated body blocking. At the time I had an adopted 2 year old lab in a basic obedience class that used leash corrections and treats. I came home from the seminar and began practicing with him off leash using body blocks, first in my basement, then in my fenced leash, and then (with a long leash for safety only) outside of the yard. Going “hands-free” in training was a complete breakthrough! We both enjoyed training so much more with no leash corrections and he ended up winning the class competition. I’ve trained a few other dogs since then and have always used body blocking and positive reinforcement – so thanks!!!!

  60. jackied says

    Your description of distance body blocking and the sheep thing inspired me last night!

    My dog had caught a hedgehog and I know from bitter experience it is impossible to catch him once that’s happened – crashing around in a completely dark, large, overgrown garden is a lot easier if you’re a zippy 17kg collieX than a Ahemkg human. But I found I could ‘herd’ him into one area of the garden without chasing him, and keep him there, and then I threw him pieces of cheese sandwich and slowly lured him towards me. Brilliant!

    Tiny improvements are definitely worth celebrating. I am on a rescue dog forum that has a permanent thread on just that topic.

    For us a huge breakthrough has been managing to do some agility training – just getting him into the training arena without him freaking out would have been impossible a year ago, let alone actually enjoying ourselves within the sound of other dogs and sound/sight of humans.

  61. Angel says

    Just had to add another proud moment here. Bear and I are currently taking an off leash class (indoors). Last night, we were working on sit and down stay with distractions. The trainer said I was relying too much on the leash (we leave the leashes drag just in case), so I tucked Bear’s into his collar so I couldn’t hold it but could grab it if needed. Not only did Bear do excellent with sit and down stays while other people and dogs walked around us, my proudest moments were when we were the ones walking around the other dogs. Bear walked with me, in an almost heel postition (slightly behind me), paying good attention to me, looking at the other dogs occasionally but right back at me when I said his name, all with no leash at all! It brings tears to my eyes just writing about it now!

  62. Rachel C. says

    I’ve been working on a lot of Look at That, and fun clicker training games with my two-year-old reactive blue heeler mix, Wrigley, and this weekend we were able to attend a dog seminar! He had great focus on me during exercises, happily met lots of people (with a “Go say hi” cue he can now go up to sniff people and then quickly turn back for a treat), and was able to keep his calm around a lot of strange dogs. I am so proud of him! Thanks for the tips about body-blocking stays. I’ve never tried it intentionally, and since we are working on ours now, this will come in handy!

  63. says

    Just had a new breakthrough this week with my boyfriend Bill’s seven-month old black lab pup, Boomer. We could not figure out how to teach him to shake. (Neither of us are trainers!) My Shepherd mix, Sophie, used her paws so much that it took nothing to capture Shake and High Five and put them on cue.

    In Boomer’s group class this week, Bill and I asked our trainer what to do. She put a treat in her hand (definitely a way get Boomer’s attention!) and let him sniff it until he started pawing it. He immediately understood that we wanted him to use his paws — and presto! Boomer is shaking and giving high five!

    By the way, I am so glad I spent the time to teach Sophie these kinds of things. She wound up in the hospital overnight two nights last weekend. She’s very skittish and nervous at the hospital, and I left her there scared and muzzled. I worried about her all weekend. When I picked her up, I had hospital staff running out to tell me how much they loved spending time with her. Someone figured out she knew things like Sit, Down, Shake, High Five, etc. That endeared her to them and made her much more comfortable in the hospital. Phew!

  64. Savannah says

    Breakthrough…wow. I am a crossover trainer (never a professional, but always an avid hobby trainer with dreams of going pro.)
    My big breakthrough was discovering that dogs don’t need to be “dominated.” I had been led to believe that the nature of dogs’ social structure required us to be harsh leaders. When I found that far more effective results can be obtained through positive training, that was huge. I could see my poor beleaguered Standard Poodle breathe a sigh of relief over the following weeks and months. Flash and I both stopped being frustrated with training, and started to love the process. My dominant, reactive dog magically became an affectionate, eager-to-please companion rapidly working through his anxieties.

    Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot The Dog was my gateway drug, and The Other End Of The Leash clinched it. Now I’m a lifelong promoter of positive training. I’m reading everything I can get my hands on, and loving every second of my new obedient dog!

  65. Ignacio says

    Thanks for that video, I’m definitely gonna use it to teach long stays to our pooches!

    I was getting frustrated about how little I thought I accomplished while training our older dog, until we adopted the second puppy and realized how much better he responds to what I say, compared to her. Sometimes, all you need is a good point of reference to realized you DID have a breakthrough.

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