San Diego Dog Trainer

There are basically two ways of training tricks/behaviors: Capturing the behavior and shaping the behavior. The benefit of capturing a behavior is that you may be able to quickly capture a desired trick/behavior that might be difficult to shape or elicit on your own. The disadvantage of capturing a behavior is that if the animal refuses the behavior, you do not have any steps in place to remind or guide the animal into the desired behavior. The benefits of shaping a trick/behavior is that you can shape it with several steps that will help guide the animal in the future if they need help AND you can ensure that the behavior is shaped with the same criterion for every step of the behavior.

I always try to remind my clients before they start shaping or training tricks/behaviors, to really watch their dogs at home to see what the dog does naturally in their own environment and on their own time. Do they sleep flat on their backs with their legs splayed apart? Do they do a very long down ward dog or bow in the morning? Do they walk on their hind legs often to get attention? Do they rub their faces with their paws after eating? Once you have spent the time to really understand your dog’s natural tendencies, then you can truly appreciate how to start shaping behaviors/tasks that are comfortable and easy for your dog to learn.

Now that you have an idea of what your dog does on his own time, you will want to study how your dog moves naturally. Choose tasks that fit the dog’s physical ability. For instance, for some larger dogs like a golden or a newfy that has a very loose style of sitting and very relaxed hips, it will not be comfortable learning to “sit pretty” or “beg”. However, that same golden or a newfy might be brilliant at rolling over, playing dead or crawling.

Shaping a trick requires some forethought. Try and break the trick down into smaller steps that you can slowly shape and reward each small movement towards that completed step. You should use a marker word like “yes” or “ok” or a sound like from a clicker to quickly mark the instant that the dog completes that step and give very small treats that the dog can eat quickly. Think of it like taking a picture; each time you mark the step or movement you are taking a snap shot of that precise movement. Timing is very important. As the dog gets rewarded for moving in the required manner, he will want to repeat the step over and over and you can raise the criterion of the step to shape it well. Roll over, for example, may have 4 steps that need to be shaped and rewarded to ensure that the finished product is not sloppy or all over the place.

Sometimes the best way to start shaping a behavior is to teach your dog to “touch” and “target”. For me, touch means my hand or target pole and target means “go to” the target. Once the dog is consistently touching or targeting, you can move the target around, have them hold or stay on the target for longer periods of time and shape behaviors simply by using the dog’s movement towards the target or hand and reward steps along the way. Lures are also great ways of starting the touch behavior. If your dog can follow your lure, then you can shape their body or specific body parts to move in many ways. Once your dog knows how to use his paw for shake or his nose for touch, you can open up your mind, think outside the box and get creative to see how you can adapt the behavior into something else. Most tricks are built off of the basic obedience commands like sit, down, stand, finish as well as paw, touch, and hand signals. (ie: sit pretty/beg; roll over/play dead; shake/high 5/wave/left paw/right paw; spin/dance; head rest; bows)

Another small tip would be to separate certain tricks as you teach them or introduce them so that your dog does not get confused. For instance, sometimes if you are teaching shake and you have done a lot of “down” beforehand, the dog might take you reaching downward toward his paw as a signal to go “down”. Likewise, if you are working on shake and high five with different paws, it helps to really master one paw first before moving to the other paw so your dog doesn’t just start throwing his paws up at you haphazardly or start jumping.

Keep your dog training sessions quick and lively and have fun. As humans we sometimes expect too much from our students and move too quickly through the steps. Be open to back tracking to the easier steps to help build confidence that the dog is still on the right track and if you find yourself getting frustrated, just stop and breathe and hug your dog. Then pick it back up a few hours later.

Stay relaxed, focused and have fun!

San Diego CoyotesFinding ways to exercise and entertain your canine companion can be quite challenging especially on rainy days. Playing hide and seek with your dog or puppy can help with those rainy day blues and at the same time reinforce your obedience commands like sit, down, come and even help to teach your dog everyone’s name in the home.

Training your dog to play hide and seek.

Dogs tend to learn this game quickly if only two people are involved in the beginning. Each person should have a baggie of small treats that your dog really likes and can eat quickly and easily.

To start the game, as an example, we’ll use Mommy and Billy as they players. Mommy holds the dog with her at one end of a hallway or living room and Billy is at the other end. Mommy asks the dog to sit, gives him a treat and then asks the dog where Billy is: “Where’s Billy?” At that point, Billy calls the dog and encourages him to come: “Rover Come” (Hint: the dog still may be poking at the first person for treats/attn…try not to look at the dog and hide the treats behind your back so that the second person is more enticing) You may have to help it with a second prompt. “Where’s Billy?” and the second person calling “Rover Come”. If the dog is having a difficult time leaving the first person, start out a little closer to each other in the beginning. When the dog starts to come to the second person, the second person continues to call him, gives lots of praise and has the dog sit when he arrives for his treat. Help the dog sit if he is too excited to sit on his own. Adding the sit (or later a down) at the end of this drill will encourage the dog to sit after they run to you and help to prevent excited dogs or puppies from jumping up on you. Billy then asks the dog “Where’s Mommy” and Mommy calls Rover back to her.

Alternate back and forth three or four times until you can see the dog starting to anticipate the cues of the game. “Where’s Mommy” “Rover Come” “Good boy, sit, good boy…Where’s Billy?” “Rover Come, Good boy, sit, good boy…Where’s Mommy?”

Now here comes the really fun part! After you have sent the dog off to find the other person, you can sneak off to just inside a hall doorway or around a corner and wait for the dog to be sent back to you. Remember that you will still need to help the dog by calling for it in the beginning. Keep it easy as you add this step so your dog is able to succeed and get rewarded for finding you. Your dog may just go straight back to where you were originally and need a second or two to find your new hiding place. Remember to use lots of praise, ask for the sit, give treats and make it a big deal that they found you. Now when you send the dog off to find the other person, they’ve hidden themselves too! When they get the dog to them, you hide again…and so on.

As the dog gets more proficient at the game, you can hide in more difficult areas of the house including up and down stairs. You can also fade away the “Rover Come” prompt once the dog really knows your names. Pretty soon, you’ll find that you can come home and ask your dog where a particular person is in the house and they will take you right to them. If your dog has a strong sit stay or down stay, you can actually play this game with just one person. Have your dog stay in one room and then say okay and call it once to find you hiding in another room.

Keep the game short and rewarding and you’ll have as much fun as your dog!

San Diego Dog Trainer

Training your dog to roll over.

  • Have your dog start in the down position
  • Look at which hip your dog is laying on…that will be the direction she will roll over towards (it is physically impossible for her to do it otherwise – she would have to shift her weight to the other side first)
  • Try to get her to roll to the same side each time – she may prefer to lie on a side that is a little more awkward for you to work with..try to go with it anyways for a while – then switch if necessary
  • While she is lying down, drag a small easy to eat treat from the ground under her muzzle towards the outside of her elbow and stay very close to her body. Most dogs will push the hand with the treat causing your hand to drift away from the dog’s body. The result would be that your dog would lift her body up and her head would be in the wrong position to shape the roll over well. This movement to her elbow will keep the hips shifted in the direction you are trying to roll her.

THIS IS THE FIRST HARD PART:Say “YES” as soon as she moves in the direction you are looking for and give her the treat.

  • Think of your “YES” as a snap shot of exactly what you are looking for: timing is very important
  • If you “YES” too soon or too late you will be rewarding a movement that isn’t what you want her to learn (ie: head is too high up off of the ground or she is trying to stand up)
  • Use only the word “YES” to stop her movement (not “good girl”) and give treat after the “YES”. Do this several times as you want her to move quickly and easily in that same direction before moving the treat further along her back.

I usually use 4 steps or stopping points along the way to shape the rollover and reinforce the dogs with treats every time I say “YES” in the beginning. As the dog’s start to anticipate the steps, I can start saying “YES” after the dog has reached the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th step and give only one treat at the end of the trick.

Several successful approximations are needed at each step in order to build a strong response. Those small steps may be all that you work on for the first few sessions

Each step as the days progress will include:

  1. dragging the treat from under her nose to her elbow – again this rolls the hip and commits the direction of the rollover.
  2. then dragging the treat further along her side from her elbow to her shoulder by the back of her head– keeping the treat close to her body so that she shifts her weight onto her back – If she whips around the other way to get the treat, you may have been moving your hand too quickly or too far off her body.
  3. then about 45* off her body towards her back foot – this should get her to reach a little to get treat and cause her body to flop over to the other side. I usually add the words “Roll Over” at this point.
  4. The final step…as she is lying on her other side, drag the treat towards you and continue to say “Roll Over” as she completes this step.

When she finally does roll all the way over, keep the treat down on ground under her head and pull the treat slightly towards you in front of her at the end so that she really completes the roll and then say “YES” and praise the heck out of her….you can vary the intensity of your praises with the better responses.


When she rolls all they way over – she still does NOT know what the trick is…that was just one successful approximation that you now have to repeat with her many, many more times to be able to just say “Roll Over” and have her follow your hand signal. You are looking for them to anticipate your hand movements and verbal cue and beat you to it consistently!

All tricks have steps……it is just knowing how to break the trick down into small steps, be willing to teach each step to completion with consistency and clarity and work towards them slowly in short sessions. You can always do several sessions a day and by mixing in some playtimes you can work for several sessions back to back.

Have a great time dog training 🙂 Shannon

San Diego Dog Training

Dog Training – First things first. BE PATIENT!

The biggest mistake that new trainers make with their animal student is that they go too fast and expect fast results. Try not to train the trick it it’s entirety the first few times you work.

Second, know your student.

  • Know their natural tendencies and instincts/history.
  • Watch their movements when they are on their own to see what they seem to be comfortable doing without influence from you.
  • Knowing this will help you to find tricks that fit your students’ ability and will help make the trick training easier and more enjoyable for your student.

Third, visualize the final trick

  • Then break that trick into smaller approximations that you can train as individual steps
  • Try to limit your approximations to just a few the first few times you work; then you can increase the session approximations as you progress and your student understands what you are trying to do.
  • When they understand what the trick training process is like and have been successful at the first couple of tricks, you can progress to more difficult tricks that may not be as “natural” for them to do without stressing the student out.
  • When they understand what the trick training process is like and have been successful at the first couple of tricks, you can progress to more difficult tricks that may not be as “natural” for them to do without stressing the student out
  • Always have fun and help your student to have fun too
  • Lots of praises and some small treats (that are easily swallowed for quick responses) for even the smallest of movements toward the approximation/step you are trying to achieve that session is important for the student’s comfort, faith/trust in you and attitude
  • Mix in some playtime/cuddle/or energy burning sessions so that you can avoid pent up frustration

If the student is not “getting it” that session after a few approximations STOP and re-evaluate: Are you missing something? Are you consistent with your last session? Is your body language clear? Are you ready for the session: heart, body, mind and soul?
Be fair to your student, they cannot speak our language and so follow our body language, facial expressions and attitudes instead.

It is also important to mention to make sure that you teach tricks that are very different from each other at the beginning so that the student doesn’t start to combine responses for different things.

There are two different ways to train fun tricks and behaviors. One is by capturing the trick/behavior the second is by shaping the behavior. The benefit of capturing behaviors is that you can get some pretty unique behaviors on command (my dog sneezes and goes to his bed to wipe his face) but the disadvantage of capturing behaviors is that if the dog doesn’t know what you mean by the command there are no “steps” that you can use to remind dog what you trained. The benefit of shaping behaviors is that you build in steps so that you can shape exactly what you want and have steps to fall back on to strengthen the behavior if it gets a bit sloppy or the dog “forgets” what you are saying.

Now, let’s get started!