If you want a fun glimpse into the mind of your dog, train in a different posture
than you have up until now. If you’ve been standing up, sit in a chair and do
some verbal discrimination. The new position you’re in will more than likely
throw your dog completely off. Don’t despair. First, marvel: you read the word
“sit” regardless of whether the speaker is sitting, standing, or in the middle of
a cartwheel. You instantly grasp that the relevant feature of the entire package
is the word, and not the position the person saying the word is in. Your dog, on
the other hand, has incorporated the picture that comes with the verbal command as part of the relevant package elements. If you change this picture, it’s
as though the word isn’t quite as it was before. It’s kind of like me saying “Sid”
to you instead of “Sit,” and you think, “Hmm, that’s a bit familiar and I think
it could be ‘sit’ she means but it’s not perfectly clear…” For this same reason
we will be spending time on adding new trainers and training in new locations
in a little while. Dogs are fascinating creatures indeed.
The second thing to do instead of getting depressed is to do some quick
review of slightly earlier steps in the process. Do a set with nice big broad hand
signals and lots of praise and rewards. Then one set with smaller hand signals.
Then add your verbal cues back. The important thing to notice is that although
the dog didn’t instantly read your verbal cues when you changed your posture,
it took only a few review sets, rather than a full retrain from scratch, to get her
back up to speed.
Lying on the Floor
Once you’ve got your dog responding to verbal Sits and Downs with you
perched in a chair, try lying down on the floor. Most dogs will think this is
tremendous and start licking your face or trying to play with you. A few dogs
will find this spooky if they have never seen you like this before. If your dog
spooks, give her a few minutes to get used to this new picture, then try your
commands. If she’s just licking your face, let her do it for a minute, then get
started issuing commands.
The review procedure is a bit different now as it is difficult to give readable
hand signals to a dog from this position. The key to teaching this quickly is to
have the unknown new cue (the one given while you are lying down) predict
an already learned cue such as a hand signal. Do the following while lying
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92 Maintaining and Improving
1. Give the verbal cue for Sit or Down.
2. Wait two seconds.
3. If your dog does it, praise lavishly and pay. You can get out of your
down to feed for position. If she breaks her position when you move,
just reposition her before paying. Great kudos to both of you if she does
it this fast, by the way!
4. If she doesn’t do it, break out of your position just enough to give her a
readable hand signal, something she’s very likely to respond to.
5. Pay, even though you had to help.
Practice until your dog can do smooth position changes with you
lying on the floor giving verbal cues.
Back to the Dog
Another fun variation is to stand facing a corner so your dog is behind you.
Once again, you’ll get a peek into how her brain operates when she struggles
initially. The “picture” of your back is very different from the “picture” most of
us train in: standing, with the dog within a sixty-degree radius in front of us a
few feet away. Change any of these elements and you have a generalization
challenge. Once again, the key to getting this version of verbal response online
is to have your verbal cue in this position predict a cue your dog will easily
recognize. The sequence, therefore, is:
1. Give the verbal cue into the corner, without turning your head.
2. Wait two seconds, paying immediately if your dog responds properly
3. After two seconds, turn around and issue the hand signal for the position you cued.
4. Pay, even though you helped.
5. Repeat until smooth.
Taking It on the Road
Taking it on the road is trainer slang for behavior generalization: can the dog
perform for a new person, such as a family member who didn’t participate in
the training, and in new places? Dogs are sensitive to these changes, much
more so than we are. You may be amazed at how a dog’s trained behavior temporarily falls apart when you do something as simple as practice in a new location in your house.
TRANSFER TRAINING RESPONSIBILITIES
In spite of sermons you may have heard in obedience classes about the need for
perfect consistency and for all family members to participate in the training,
the reality I’ve found over the decades is that one person is inevitably the
keenest and ends up being the workhorse. It can bog things down, in fact, to
try to coordinate efforts and parse out training duties. The more people
involved, the less gets done, very much as it is with committees. And, although
others don’t actually undermine the effort, having one primary trainer do the
initial legwork is perfectly fine from a broadened responsiveness perspective, as
it is absolutely possible to add other people late in the game. You just need to
know the tricks of the trade.
The occasional dog will seamlessly transfer all his training to any person
who issues commands, but most dogs will need some transfer exercises. This is
because dogs are very specific-case oriented, as far as their learning apparatus
is concerned. There are two parts to this:
● Dogs readily learn when—and from whom—there are going to be real
consequences and when there are not. Anybody who would like a dog
to be responsive to them needs to start getting themselves strongly associated with consequences.
● Your dog may not “read” a cue from a person who hasn’t worked him
until now because it looks or sounds different from the original trainer.
The following exercises will address both pieces to dogs being specific-case
oriented: motivation and comprehension, the why and what of dog training.
Transfer Training I
1. Set up the new person next to you somewhere quiet in the house—you
want it to feel easy to the dog. Arm the new person with most of the
bait in a bait pouch or plastic bag.
2. Now run the dog through all his basics: Sit, Down, Stay, Leave It, Come,
and also come when called away from a food reward on the counter or
table, and a short loose-leash walk toward a small pile of food. Pay the
first couple of times each behavior is done correctly, pointing out to the
new person whenever you feed for position. This is the first task for the
new trainer. After a few warm-up demos, every time the dog gets it right,
say something like “Pay” or “Reward now” so that the new person can
dispense the reward to the dog at the right time.
You give the cues, you make the decisions when to pay, but they do the
actual paying. Coach the new trainer to feed for position as much as
possible but don’t be bossy and superior, as it’s very bad for the cause.
No, “NO! Not like that, like THIS” is pretty crushing for someone trying something for the first time. There won’t be a second time. The
new trainer should come away with a sense of dog training being an
absolute piece of cake. This is your highest priority.
3. Spend five minutes doing this, thank the new trainer, and make a date
for another round in the next day or so.
Transfer Training II
1. Set up the new person with bait again, just as in Transfer Training I;
however, this time let them cue Sits and Downs, decide when to pay
and how to pay for position.
2. Focus your coaching on two things:
● Prompt the new trainer to be generous with rewards, to always pay
when the dog is right (“Pay now . . . excellent!”)
● Catch the new trainer whenever they remember to feed for position
(“Perfect—he collected his reward in a sit.”). When they neglect to
feed for position, say nothing.
3. After a few minutes, thank the person again, and set another time
within the next day or so.
Transfer Training III
1. Set up the new trainer with the bait and let them warm up the dog
with Sits and Downs. Catch them when they feed for position (“Nice
feed for position there!”).
2. Ask them if they would like to try Stay. If they say sure, show them a
walk-around stay, feeding for position at the end. Then invite them to
try. If they say no, stick with Sits and Downs.
3. If the dog breaks, address the dog but not the trainer (“Too bad! You
have to hold your stay for Richard the same way you do for me.”) to
emphasize that the dog made a mistake, not the trainer. Invite the
trainer to try again (“This is really good for him, but according to the
book, it’s also tricky.”). Prompt them to feed for position at the end of
their first successful exercise.
4. Show them a double walk-around and repeat the same coaching regime.
If they do a nice double walk-around, celebrate with martinis.
At this point, ask the new trainer whether they would mind running the
dog through his behaviors at a time when you are going out but they will be
home. Have a nice convenient bag full of fresh bait ready for them and tell
them you need to get rid of all of it. Then go away and leave them alone. When
you come back, ask how they did. If they report that they did well, or even
okay, say “Wow.” If they didn’t train, say nothing.
CHANGE TRAINING LOCATIONS
Aside from the obvious benefit of having a dog who performs in locations other
than the one in which he was originally trained, practicing in different locations gives you an appreciation of how your dog’s brain is unlike yours in this
regard, and it has the effect of overall strengthening of behavior.
1. Enlist a friend or family member who’s willing to have you and your dog
in their house for a ten- or fifteen-minute training session. Choose a
friend or family member who doesn’t have any pets, and, ideally, a
home where your dog has never been. Bring a small unexpected gift for
the friend. It’s a really nice favor they’re doing.
2. Make sure the dog has emptied both bladder and bowels before heading
over. Even well-housetrained dogs do not always generalize perfectly to
new places—the same generalization issue you’re addressing with this
trip applies to housetraining as well.
3. Head over well-armed with good bait. For the first five or six minutes,
let the dog off leash to wander around the friend’s house. Close the
doors to any off-limits rooms, but otherwise let the dog explore under
your supervision. We want the novelty to wear off slightly, and this is
far and away best achieved off leash.
4. After five or six minutes, call the dog over. If he comes, pay lavishly,
then ignore him. If he hangs around you (he might start throwing
behaviors at you—this is good), commence training. If he doesn’t come,
or comes, collects, and then goes off exploring again, no worries. Give
him another five minutes and try again.
5. Once he’s interested in you, run him through all his basics, in the
● Sits and Downs, in random order
● Walk-around Stays both while sitting and lying down
● Leave It
● Loose-leash walking to a pile of goodies
● Recall away from a prize on the counter
Be prepared to Drop, especially early on. If you need hand signals for your
positions, don’t worry. If you need to review the walk-around Stay two steps at
a time, do so. It is extremely important that you work at the dog’s level. Do not
feel disappointed if he is much weaker than he has been at home. Think like a
trainer. A trainer would think, “Ah! I’ve uncovered and worked on a generalization weakness. Brilliant!” Just this one session in a new place, provided the
dog wins a lot, is very, very productive in your overall training plan.
Quit training as soon as you’ve done a set or two of each behavior. It’s very
important that you quit before the dog feels like quitting. Leave him wanting
1. Repeat Locations I at the same place, if your friend doesn’t mind.
2. Do Locations I at a brand-new house, again one without pets. Do the
five- to six-minute saturation (letting the house get a bit old via exploration) of the ambient distractions before attempting to train. It is
much, much better to play hard to get, having the dog come to you
with some eagerness, than to try to cajole and get the attention of a dog
who is overwhelmed with new sights, sounds, and smells. He’ll get better at coping and focusing in these circumstances if you play your cards
right. And playing your cards right means biding your time and training
when your dog is ready. Training a dog without good focus and leverage
is known in the training biz as trying to push a rope. Once you’re training, be diligent about Push, Drop, Stick.
3. Come back to this second location another time.
4. Now train at a third house, still one without pets. Was your dog interested in you sooner? If he was keen to train immediately or almost
immediately, move on to Locations III. If it took him the whole five or
six minutes—or more—train at one more house.
If you run out of houses, train in a different room in the same house.
1. Arm yourself with really good rewards and go to a pet store, one where
you can bring your dog inside. Go at a quiet time, so that there are no
other dogs there.
2. With your dog on leash, enter and stroll the aisles for five or six minutes, letting your dog sniff and explore, with you basically following and
3. After five or six minutes, ask him to sit. If you get nothing, spend
another five minutes exploring the store, ignoring him while he wanders around. Resist the temptation to hang around in one spot. A good
saturation job involves letting the dog discover that the grass isn’t
greener over there. Everything gets old with enough exposure. We’re
building up his satiation muscle so that he becomes more and more
jaded at new sights, sounds, and smells.
4. Once your dog is interested in training—he does a quick Sit on a single
verbal cue—run him through the following:
❑ Sits and Downs—Be prepared to use hand signals or even a lure for
Down. Down in a place like this is a big watershed.
❑ A walk-around Sit-Stay—Again, expect breaks and Drop as needed.
The dog must win the game often in this new place.
❑ If successful up until now, do a walk-around Down-Stay. If it’s been
tough (you’re using lures and you didn’t make it to a full walk-around
Sit-Stay), quit, wander the store a bit more, go home, and have a nap.
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98 Maintaining and Improving
1. Go back to the same pet store, this time trying some Sits and Downs
immediately upon entering and finding a quiet spot.
2. If your dog performs Sits and Downs without the five- to six-minute saturation time, do a Sit-Stay, a Down-Stay, a Leave It, and then leave the
store, telling him how very clever he is. You are also now something of
a rock star, having outgrown this location.
3. If your dog is unfocused but performs after five or six minutes of saturation, work him at his level on Sits and Downs, and if these go well, on a
walk-around Stay. In this case you will need to come back to this location possibly one or two more times until your dog will work
1. Go with your dog to an outdoor green space, such as a park or playground. Choose a small area and wander around there for five to six
minutes, letting him sniff, pee, and explore to his heart’s content.
2. After five or six minutes, ask him to sit. If he does, pay lavishly and
then practice the following:
● Sits and Downs—Downs may be very tricky here so don’t hesitate to
Drop, even to a lure if necessary. It is catastrophic for him not to win
much because you price the behavior out of the market (set the standard higher than he can achieve).
● Leave its and walk-around Sit-Stays
● Ten-foot loose-leash walks to a pile of goodies
● Optional: If all goes well, walk-around Down-Stays. If the Down is
shaky, or you’re losing your dog a lot to distractions, scrap the
Based on the pattern of generalization training so far, what do you think the
next exercise is going to be? If you guess right, you are thinking like a trainer.
1. Go back to the same outdoor location as Locations V, and see if your
dog will work for you immediately upon arrival. If he doesn’t, give him
five or six minutes of saturation time. If he never worked at all, or very
little, in Locations V, it is worth your while to find a place to sit and read
for half an hour, ignoring your dog. You can sit on his leash or tie it to
the bench next to you. After thirty minutes, go home. Don’t be nasty or
stern with the dog—it is not his fault that this is how his brain works.
Keep your cool but vow to saturate this location: plan another trip.
2. As soon as your dog will work, do the following:
● Sit-Stay with walk-around
● Loose-leash walking
● Leave It
● Build up some duration on a Sit-Stay, doing one repetition each of the
If your dog pulls off the one-minute Stay, it’s time for a new location. If he
didn’t, plan on one more trip to this spot. It’s trainer’s choice whether to use a
five- to six-minute pretraining saturation.