|Seven Training Samurai ©
(Beginning of Communication Building Blocks)
These seven exercies are where I start most dogs in their training.
Although I list only the beginning stages here, these exercises grow and expand
over time in their behavior requirements for longer durations, faster
frequencies, greater intensities, fading helper cues. I also teach more
advanced behaviors, but these are my usual, fundamental basics I like to
Voluntary Eye Contact
Follow Hand Signals
Talk to Head not Tail
1. Positive Marker (also
known as your praise word, bridge, or secondary reinforcer).
Your positive marker is so important, which is why I list it first. A positive
marker can be a word, a clicker, a whistle, a wink, a facial gesture. Through
repetitions, your marker followed by food, petting, or another meaningful
reinforcer for you dog, the marker gains power and becomes “loaded” with
meaning. Your positive marker is the ONLY way of letting your dog know that he
has just performed a correct behavior. It’s your dog’s gold star. That’s right!
Training exercise: Stuff-a-Dog. Count out 100 treats. Set your count-down timer
to 5 minutes. Try to get 1 positive marker-food pairing per every 3 seconds. In
5 minutes, you can get a maximum of 100 repetitions.
“STUFF-A-DOG” is an exercise in which you build the power of your positive
marker and make it truly meaningful to your dog. In “Stuff-A-Dog” you present
your positive marker first and within a ½ second (0.5 sec.), food is then
delivered to your dog’s mouth. The food can be delivered from your hand or
(better) thrown on the floor with the dog facing or (even better) not facing
you. You can “buck shot” several pieces of food on the ground at once. The key
then is to announce that food is coming by using your positive marker shortly
before your dog eats each piece of food, “buck shot” or single shot:
marker—food eaten, marker—food eaten, marker—food eaten, marker—food eaten.
By throwing the food on the ground, your dog has to stretch his neck to the
ground which is a chiropractic-type movement that can help your dog to relax by
stretching his neck downwards. By delivering food in Stuff-a-Dog on the ground
while the dog is standing about 4 or more feet away from you, and by delivering
it by tossing it on the ground next to the dog’s hindquarters so that the dog
must turn away from you in order to eat it, you also minimize the dog’s
tendency to jump up on people to try to get food from you or from strangers.
Animals gravitate towards place of reinforcement and if the food is coming from
the ground… your dog will tend to stay on the ground.
Teaching the dog to catch food thrown in the air can be especially
counter-productive for a dog with any aggressive behavior issue. You want to
rehearse this dog to relax his jaws, not to get snappier and quicker with his
jaws. Throw the food, but deliver it to the dog on the ground, not floating in
mid-air. Or be very careful to have a clear cue for the “food catching game.”
The food you use for “Stuff-a-Dog” should be varied and interesting to the dog
rather than S.O.K. & C. (same old kibble and cookie). However, you can use
kibble if your dog is really hungry! By the way, when reinforcing the dog with
food held in your hand, you do not need to actually feed the dog the food.
Sometimes, just giving the dog a chance to sniff or lick briefly at the food
can be enough of a reinforcing event for some dogs at least some of the time.
How do you know if your dog’s positive marker is working correctly? Test it!
When your dog is not looking at you and doing something that is not
undesirable, say your dog’s positive marker in a whisper or low, neutral tone
(no “happy voice” in this test, please!). If your dog’s posture and orientation
remain unchanged by your positive marker—that is, there is no brightening of
your dog’s posture, appearance, no tail wags, no ear twitches, no turns toward
you—if there is nothing, then your dog’s positive marker is meaningless to him.
So get to work and Stuff-a-Dog!
Your dog’s name is not his positive marker. Your dog’s name is a cue to
get your dog’s attention, and as a cue, it must occur before a behavior. As a
reinforcer, a positive marker must occur after a behavior to let the dog know
he just did something right! Positive Markers should be clean, short, distinct,
not drawn out. “Good,” “That’s Right,” “Yes,” are typical, verbal, positive
If you talk to your dog too much outside training sessions, you might use a
distinct, neutral sound such as a clicker, a tongue cluck, or “silent” dog
training whistle, as your positive marker.
If your dog breaks attention from the treats in your hand or the treats on the
floor to focus on something else, wait at most 30 seconds for his attention to
return voluntarily to you.
If the dog does not look back to you or your treats within 30 seconds, then end
the exercise. If the dog does return his attention before 30 seconds, then wait
for an additional 5 seconds of voluntary eye contact from him before beginning
the exercise again. You can still move your body alluringly if necessary in
early training to help attract your dog’s visual attention.
As a variation to Stuff-a-Dog, you can also do “Pet-a-dog” or “Massage-a-dog”
exercises in which you use your marker and then touch the dog just however he
likes it within a ½ second of the marker. These variations are particularly
useful for the dog who could care less about food but enjoys petting or
massage. These touching alternatives work miserably on dogs who are
touch-phobic. You can also use “Pet-a-dog” for other exercises, such as the
voluntary eye contact exercise. The touch in “Pet-a-dog” and “Massage-a-dog”
should be gentle, but varied and interesting, to the dog, and the dog should be
looking at you, look in your direction, or orient his body towards you and
continue his orientation towards you without moving away while you touch the
dog. If the dog turns his head away or turns to look at or lick at your hand
that is touching him, stop your petting immediately and do not start again
until the dog is looking fully at you. You can move your body alluringly if
necessary in early training to help attract your dog’s visual attention. The
more you move, the more interesting you may be to your dog, which can be
important if your dog has a tendency to track other, fast moving objects
instead of you.
2. Name Response.
When you say your dog’s name (even in a whisper), your dog should “alert”
Training Exercise: Name-Response. You should be able to get anywhere from 60 to
100 repetitions of name-response in any 5 minute training session.
As an extremely important variation on the “Stuff-a-dog” theme, when your dog
voluntarily makes steady (not glancing) eye contact with you (without any
previous prompting from you) for about 1 or 2, good seconds, say your dog’s
name and provide him with food from your hand within the next ½ second.
We are trying to load up the value of your dog’s name word in this training
exercise. Your dog’s name should be a cue that occurs only before a behavior.
This is a critical training juncture because we are asking the dog to perform a
behavior unrelated to the food (look at your eyes where there is no food) in
order to get the food from your hand which is not held near your eyes! If your
dog constantly looks at your hand (because that is where the food comes from!)
instead of your eyes, put your hands down by your side or behind your back and
wait for him to look up to your face, which most dogs eventually do.
If your dog still insists on looking at your hands and you are becoming
impatient, as an intermediate step, draw your hands up to your eyes and release
the food from your hand next to your eyes. First show the dog a few times that
the food is held in your hand, held next to your eye. Then hide the food in the
fist of your hand while pointing to your eye. After sufficient repetitions,
pretend you have food in the hand that is pointing at your eyes but deliver the
food from your hand without the food (which has been lurking down by your
Another thing you can do is put the food in your mouth and if your dog continues
to look at you as you say his name, spit out the food to your dog. Just be sure
not to accidentally inhale—could be bad for your diet or your sense of
well-being (if you choke on the food!). After repeating these intermediate
steps several times, then try retesting your dog’s ability to make brief eye
contact with you when your hands are down by your side or behind your back.
When your dog looks up to your face, say your dog’s name and reinforce your dog
with food given from either hand.
Remember, your dog’s name ultimately will become a cue to get your dog’s
attention BEFORE he performs a behavior. Cues elicit behavior from a dog. Your
dog’s name is not a positive marker. We want your dog to be looking at you when
you say his name now because ultimately we want the dog to pay attention
immediately when he hears his name called.
3. Voluntary Eye Contact.
Your dog should have a strong habit of giving you voluntary eye contact.
Training exercise: Eye Contact. The sequence is: five seconds of voluntary eye
contact from your dog, then positive marker, then food. In 5 minutes you can
get a maximum number of 60 repetitions in.
When your dog voluntarily makes eye contact with you (without any prompting from
you) and maintains unwavering eye contact with you for at least 5 seconds, use
your positive marker and then provide your dog with food reinforcement.
This is another instance of a critical training juncture because we are asking
the dog to perform a behavior unrelated to the food (look at your face where
there is no food) in order to get the food from your hand! If your dog
constantly looks at your hand (because that is where the food comes from!)
instead of your eyes, keep your hands down by your side or behind your back and
wait for him to look up to your face, which most dogs eventually do.
If your dog still insists on looking at your hands and you are becoming
impatient, as an intermediate step, draw your hands up to your eyes and release
the food next to your eyes. Another thing you can do is put the food in your
mouth and spit it out to your dog when he looks at your face. After repeating
these intermediate steps several times, then try retesting your dog’s ability
to make eye contact with you when your hands are down by your side or behind
your back. Reinforce with food from either hand when your dog looks up to your
face for 5 continuous seconds.
4. Following Closely. (or
beginning healing, heeling behavior).
Your dog should be able to follow you closely, on or off leash, for at least 1
Training exercise: Moving Back-ups.
This is the first step for teaching the dog to pay attention to you when you are
both moving. It simplifies the basic dilemma of choice for the dog when heeling
next to a human, of having to choose to look ahead (that’s natural) as he walks
or look at you walking by his side (that’s not so natural). Because in Moving
Back-ups you are in front of the dog, your dog can look ahead AND directly at
you both at the same time, eliminating his dilemma of choosing where to look
while developing a habit of looking at you when walking! In Moving Back-ups, we
hope your dog discovers he can push you into motion with his calm, unwavering
attention and focus rather than pull you forward by straining away from you on
his leash. Try to work up to 5 minutes of moving back-ups with reinforcement
for every 5 seconds of correct position. Maximum reinforcements would be 60.
Wait for your dog to volunteer attention: wait passively for it or take a few
steps backwards. If your dog walks towards you and catches up to you, continue
If your dog’s head and nose is not stretched forward awkwardly and is positioned
comfortably near your knees, and if your dog maintains straight and close
position to your body’s front and eye contact with either your hand(s) (which
are held near your waist or thighs at the center of your body) or your eyes for
5 seconds, then use your positive marker and follow that with a food reinforcer
delivered by hand. Continue to move backwards and mark and feed when your dog
gives you at least 5 seconds of correct positioning and eye contact on either
your hands or eyes.
When feeding your dog during the moving back-ups, feed your dog from your hands
held in front of the center line of your body. Try to feed at your dog’s nose
level. This may mean you have to bend over or use a “feeding extender” such as
a wooden spoon or stick with something yummy and sticky on the end like peanut
butter or squeeze cheese from a can. Or, for very short dogs, drop the food on
the ground between your feet.
If your dog is jumping up at you as you do this exercise, be sure to wait for
the dog’s 4 feet all to be solidly on the ground for at least 5 seconds before
you feed. Your delivery of reinforcement may be causing this problem. Feed your
dog more quickly and lower to the ground, or deliver the food by dropping it
between your feet.
Go just a short distance in a straight line. At the end of the moving back-up,
give your dog a release command such as “Free” and ignore him.
If your dog looks away either:
1) Continue to move backwards and only praise and feed after he comes back into
position right in front of your body.
2) Stop moving. Stand passively while you wait for him to return. As soon as he
returns, move backwards explosively and feed if he follows you.
3) If your dog is really totally blowing you off, run away and hide for a few
minutes until he is eagerly looking for you!
4) Wait a total of 30 seconds, tops—if your dog is not re-engaging you, then put
your dog away.
5) If your dog comes back, wait for a total of at least 5 seconds before marking
By the second training session, your dog should be eagerly moving towards you,
giving you eye contact on your face or hands, eagerly bumping his nose on your
The goal of moving back-ups is to gradually increase the dog’s unwavering time
of attention on you while you both are moving. We want your dog to feel that he
moves you by riveting his attention on you. If you use hard, crunchy food to
reinforce your animal, he will have to drop his head and his attention on you
while he chews and swallows. Using slippery small bits of food are best here.
If your dog looks away, do not call his name and do not move the food into a
more enticing position. Rather, wait until he reestablishes eye contact and
movement towards you and feed your dog only from the center line running down
the front of your body.
If your dog has trouble approaching you during the moving back ups, throw the
food on the ground either slightly in front of your feet or between your feet.
Another tactic that may help is pushing your dog away with your hand. By so
doing, you are activating his opposition reflex to your advantage, to cause
your dog to move towards you and the pressure caused by your hand. Then use
your positive marker if your dog approaches you.
problem encountered in eye contact or moving back up training exercise and
suggested Rx: If 3 times in a row, your dog fails because the following
happens: Your dog looks down or away immediately after you give him the food
reinforcer (and the food is soft and slippery so that, theoretically, your dog
does not have to drop his head to swallow the food), and your dog acts as if he
thinks he must first look away and then give 5 seconds of continuous eye
contact in order to receive reinforcement, then the next time, after your dog
gives 5 seconds of eye contact, give your dog 5, separate pieces of food
reinforcement (each piece preceded by your positive marker), alternating your
food delivery hand, as smoothly and as rapidly as possible, before your dog
drops his head. Do this at least 5 times. Then wait for the normal 5 second,
eye contact interval and reinforce with a single, positive marker followed by a
single, food reinforcement.
5. Useful Touching (Food
Food Bumping is an excellent way to start desensitizing a dog to touch. However,
do not stay stuck in food bumping your dog as a training habit for long—too
long, and you may actually be reinforcing counter-productive, non-attentive
behavior from your dog!
Training exercise-- FOOD BUMPING If you have a dog who will not even look at you
initially or if you have a dog who responds aversively to touch, you can start
by tossing the food at your dog’s rear end when the dog is not looking, gently
bumping your tosses off your dog’s hindquarters. When your dog then turns to
eat the food off the ground by his hind legs, then say “good.” If your dog does
not eat the food off the ground, wait a few moments but then pick it up and try
“Food bumping” is a good strategy to pursue to start desensitizing a dog who is
too touch sensitive so that he can eventually tolerate and enjoy being touched
by anything. The dog feels the bump of the food on his body, and he turns
around. The dog then immediately sees food on the ground, which hopefully he
wants—his attention does not remain focused on his body, and he bites for food
at that someplace on the ground, not at his body. Eventually you should see the
dog start to look quickly at the food on the ground (Using food that makes an
audible sound when it falls is advantageous to this process.), not at the place
on his body where the food hit. The food landing on the ground also allows the
dog to stretch his neck to the ground and thereby to naturally relieve some
tension. You will know the food bumps are beginning to desensitize your dog to
touch if the dog does not flinch when hit by the food and if the dog looks
immediately on the ground for food without focusing his gaze first on his body
where the food hit him.
6. Follow Hand Signals (THE
BABE RUTH “Single Pump” or "Double Pump")
The BABE RUTH Single Pump is something anyone can do.
To do the Babe Ruth Double Pump, you must have excellent timing and a good and
accurate throwing arm. The Babe Ruth Single or Double Pump can be practiced as
you walk your dog, to increase your dog’s attention on you rather than allowing
your dog to looking for and find his predatory fun elsewhere without your
involvement. Your dog’s idea of predatory fun might include chasing bunny
rabbits, deer, kids, trucks, bicycles, etc., which he rarely, if ever, catches.
However, if you are providing predatory interest via the BABE RUTH Single or
Double Pump, you can become more interesting to your dog than any of those
other things because if your dog pays attention to you and your signals, he
will be able to get a desirable object.
Eventually you can use hand directional signals to move your dog away and
towards anything, communication that you will find extremely practical, such as
when you want to move the dog off the furniture, away from the furniture, away
from the dinner table, out of the kitchen, away from the guest, away from the
cat litter box, towards the dog’s sleeping mat, etc. Both you and the dog will
find these hand directional signals fun as well!
If you are athletic, the Double Pump method may work quickly for you. If you are
unathletic, you can at least manage to do the Babe Ruth Single Pump, and keep
practicing and you will get good at doing the Double Pump, too! [Named after
Babe Ruth's famous moment where he is said to have indicated with his bat the
direction in which he was going to hit a home run ball for dying little "Jimmy"
a child whom he had visited in the hospital the day before. After indicating
with his bat where the ball was going to go, Babe swatted a home run in that
very direction. If you love baseball lore, you know this story.]
Training Exercise-- SINGLE PUMP Start by luring your dog into the correct
direction, “the single pump.” When your dog is looking at you for X seconds
(Start by requiring just a brief look but then wait for longer and longer,
focused behavior from the dog before tossing), toss food or a favorite toy and
praise the dog with your positive marker as he goes to eat/retrieve it, just
before he gets to the food/toy.
Your tossing motion of your hand and arm should look like a hand directional
signal indicating the eventual direction of the food/toy toss both at the
beginning and at the end of the toss. You can use one hand to signal and to
toss food. OR YOU CAN SIGNAL WITH ONE HAND but toss food with the other
hand—just be sure to toss the food in the same direction that the signal hand
is pointing towards!
Training exercise-- DOUBLE PUMP After a few training session repetitions of the
Single Pump, then try to "double pump" – signal and act as if you are about to
throw food without actually having any food in your signal hand. Don’t actually
throw food until your dog is heading out in the correct direction and not
looking at you. Quickly follow the fake throw with a real throw over the head
of your dog (he is facing away from you) so that the food/toy lands ahead of
your dog, in the correct direction, before your dog has a chance to look back
to you. Your timing is critical here. Increase the interval of time between
pumps so that your dog has to go further and commit to the correct direction
for a longer period of time. As your training progresses, you hand signal may
cause your dog to look like a frozen statue standing away from you at his
accustomed distance, pointing away from you, waiting for the food to land in
the direction you have indicated. If your dog does go/stand in the correct
direction and at a desirable distance away from you, then throw the object over
his head so that it lands in front of him, in the direction he is heading. In
early training, praise just before the object hits the ground-- if the dog is
still heading in the correct direction and can see the object as it lands.
You can use the single pump and /or the double pump hand signal (the activity is
also known as the “human meatball launcher”) to increase your dog’s
focus on you as you walk your dog on or off leash. Wait for X amount of calm
attention from your dog on you as you walk. Use the throws to reinforce your
dog’s VOLUNTARY attention to you. That is, if your dog looks at you and moves
with you for x seconds (you determine how long “x” is) as you walk, give a hand
signal/toss of food in a single or double pump motion.
Then, throw the food in a direction that you indicate. Make your signal
quickly—if the dog is not watching, he doesn’t get the food—you go pick it up,
even if he is snuffling close to it, or you leave it behind. If you are single
or double pumping with the dog on leash, be sure to be fair to your dog and
toss the food so that the dog can get the food without pulling on his leash.
If you single or double pump often enough with enough interesting variation in
your tossing directions, wait for increasingly longer amounts of X seconds of
undivided attention from your dog before signaling a direction and then tossing
the food after your dog has headed in that direction, and use meaningful
reinforcers (toss food, for example, only when your dog is hungry for that
particular food), you should find that your dog’s predatory interest in his
environment will lessen and his interest in paying attention while walking with
you, who is now a much more reliable indicator of where the fun, predatory
action is, will increase.
Single/double pump hand signals, when food is used as the reinforcement for
correct behavior, if the game is played often enough, and if food reinforcement
occurs variably enough, and if the dog really enjoys the food reinforcer you
are using, will actually decrease your dog’s tendency to dine off the ground!
The food you toss should be used as a reinforcer for attention to you before
the dog chases or eats yechy stuff off the ground. Don’t use the food as a
continual lure to get the dog away from yechy stuff on the ground and don’t use
the food tossing to stop the dog after he has begun chasing cars or joggers.
If your dog drops his attention and can’t find the food because your dog wasn’t
watching, either you go pick it up or just leave the food where it is as you
continue walking—your dog is not named “Hoover,” “Electrolux,” or “Oreck,” is
not a vacuum cleaner, and does not have to pick up every piece of food you
throw on the ground! Don’t wait a long time for your dog to find the food. If
you can see where the food landed but your dog can’t and your dog seems to take
a long time sniffing for the lost morsel, (and only if the dog does not have
food guarding issues) go get the food before the dog finds it. We want the dog
to visually or aurally track the food, not use his “sniffer” (nose) primarily
to find it! We want the dog to focus his visual and hearing equipment on you
and your reinforceer, not on other stuff, like cars, squirrels, etc. Your dog
should only look for and pick up food when you VISUALLY signal that it is
coming, not when he smells it.
If your dog misses the food or takes too long to find the food, too bad! You
retrieve the food with a laugh. The food is reusable. Try throwing it again. If
your dog goes in the correct direction but your piece of food is invisible to
the dog or you toss the food in the wrong direction, as quickly as you can,
toss another piece of food in the correct direction. Be careful not to toss the
food too far, especially if your dog is on leash. To be fair to your dog, the
toss must be within the leash’s “arc of influence.”
7. Talk to Head not Tail.
When your dog is looking at you, it is paying attention to you. This is behavior
is desirable in most conditions and should be reinforced. If you talk to your
dog's head (when he looking at you), you reinforce his paying attention to you.
Contrarily, if you talk to it's butt, then you are reinforcing his looking away
Training exercise: There is no specific exercise for this. However, if you find
yourself talking to your dogs tail more than to its face, then you should focus
on this so that you talk to its head four times for every time you talk to its