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Foundational Behaviors

Teaching your dog the behaviors below is essential in its own right and to train new behaviors.  A dog that has truly learned a behavior offers that behavior in real life scenarios, such as on busy streets, in the dog run, and when the doorbell rings.  It is the difference between my dog 'knows this' to my dog rocks this!  Of course, nothing comes for free - these behaviors must be built step by step by the following:   

  1. Adding Distance, Duration and Distractions (the 'three Ds') to each behavior, as relevant

  2. Generalizing/Proofing the behavior by practicing:   

    • in different locations within your home, outdoors, and other places 

    • while in different body positions - such as sitting, standing, or turned away 

    • with different people - others should be instructed to use proper technique and consistent cues.   

Below provides a list of the essential behaviors and sample progressions - meant to supplement our sessions together.   This assumes that you have a solid understanding of the learning process.


dog agility_edited.jpg

Touch is one of the most useful behaviors to teach.  It simply means getting your dog to touch the palm of your hand (or fingers) with her nose.  In this case the target is your hand - very convenient! - but can be anything else,  such as a stick, paper, or doorknob.   Targeting is a great way to 'get the behavior', step one of the Training Process, and is used extensively in service and agility training.  It is also a great behavior in its own right, and can be used to get your dog on and off the couch,  on walks, or to be repositioned - without the need for force.


  1. Get the behavior by placing your hand just inches from her nose and click the moment her nose touches your hand, then treat. 

  2. Gradually add distance and distractions: a fun way to do this is to play Puppy Pingpong.  Enlist two or more friends or family to stand apart from each other and take turns asking for a 'Touch' - getting your dog to bounce around to everyone - fun for all and a great opportunity to practice your clicker timing.

  3.  Use Touch to teach your dog to get on and off the couch - better yet, add a verbal cue by following the sequence below.

    • Use your hand target to get her on the couch, click and treat.

    • Use your hand target to get her off the couch, click and treat.

    • Repeat this a few times until she is offering these behaviors consistently.

    • Add the verbal cue:

      • Say “Couch”, take a breath, then give the hand target, click and treat.

      • Say “Off”, take a breath, then give the hand target, click and treat.

      • Continue until she no longer waits for the hand target, and responds to the verbal cues alone.

    • In between trials,  gradually vary your distance and positioning from the couch.

    • Train for duration and distraction.

  4.  Experiment with teaching your dog to touch other targets, then be creative and experiment with teaching your dog new tricks.  


Dog sitting foundations_edited.jpg

Sit and Down are staples of any training program.  They offer a great alternative to problem behaviors, such as having your dog relax in his bed with a stuffed kong while you are eating dinner, rather than scheming to get your dinner!   Sit and Down are included together because the offer similar benefits, and follow similar progressions -  see stays for additional details.  


Training Tips: 

  • Same cues, different behaviors.  A 'sit' from a stand and a 'sit' from a down are  very different actions; likewise, a 'down' from a stand and a 'down' from a sit are as well - and should be trained separately.     

  • Downs are easier to hold than sits, so you might want to train the down/stay first.


  1. Get your dog in position (sit or down) using a food lure, then fade the lure and add a verbal cue.  Given how often we ask for these behaviors, it is convenient to teach your dog to respond to both the verbal cue and a non-verbal cue.  This allows you to use either depending on the situation.  Hand signals are good to use in more distractive environments.

  2. Add Duration and Distraction by having your dog hold the position while you:  

    • Silently count up to 5 seconds.​

    • Place a treat 12" away from him on the floor.

    • Make some noise using items such as a squeaky toy or doorbell.

    • Walk 10 steps away from her, and back again.

    • Walk 2x around your dog in a complete circle, once clockwise and once counterclockwise - starting with one step at a time.

    • Have someone come up and pet your dog.

  3. Teach inter-cue discrimination:    This means once both behaviors are strong, teach your dog to discriminate between the verbal cues, Sit and Down, rather than guess.  Say 'Sit', and only reward the behavior if he sits and does not lay down.  And vice versa.  If he is having a difficult time of this, spend more time on each behavior independently.

  4. Proof the behavior.


Leave It with Cupcake_edited.jpg

Temptations abound.   What is more natural for a dog than to grab what she wants, whether your new pair of glasses or garbage found on the street?   Needless to say, this is where 'Leave It' comes in.  Although it may be relatively easy to teach this at home, bringing this 'on the road' is a much bigger challenge.  But the benefits are clear:  it can stop a dog from eating something dangerous, save your favorite pair of gloves, and is a great exercise in impulse control.​

Remember to follow these two important rules:

1.  Do you best to never let your dog win at this, otherwise, he will be rewarded for not leaving it.  

2.  Always reward with a treat of equal or higher value than the one on the ground.


  1. Get the behavior by placing a treat on the ground, covered with your foot or hand, and have your dog sniff and mouth.   Click and treat the moment he stops mouthing. 

  2. Add Duration by placing the treat on the ground, uncovered, and count up to 5 seconds before rewarding him; add the verbal cue when your dog is reliably leaving the treat.

  3. Raise the stakes:

    • 'Accidentally' drop a treat on the ground, say 'Leave It', then gradually add a few seconds duration.

    • Use other high value items such as a greasy paper bag, socks, or anything your dog loves to grab.

    • Set up 'temptation ally':  this must be done ON-LEASH.  Plant six or so high value items on the ground, spaced out enough to be able to walk by them easily.   Say 'Leave it' once, then walk the entire course.  Stop and start again if she begins to pull towards any of them - be strict and ensure the leash always stays loose.  Reward lavishly at the end of the course.  

  4. Proof the behavior by practicing these behaviors outside- start small and build up.


Drop It with Shoe_edited.jpg

Drop it has many of the same benefits of Leave it, and is also an important rule to learn when playing tug of war or other games.  The difference with Drop It is that it is used when your dog already has something in its mouth, like a sock or chicken bone. 


Of course, you don't have to train for this:  you can play a game of chase and hope to catch your dog before she hides under the table, then dig in and grab the object in her mouth (good chance Dog wins.)  Or, you can negotiate by offering a better reward than that in her mouth and follow the progressions below.  I know which I prefer.


Note that if your dog is resource guarding the object, you will need to address that behavior first.  Resource guarding is very natural behavior, but addressing it requires a different approach than those below.  This is otherwise a fairly easy behavior to teach, particularly if this comes after mastering some of the behaviors above.  


  1.  Get the behavior by 'trading up'.  That is, give your dog something to hold of medium value, then offer her a treat of higher value that that in his mouth.   As you are fairly certain to get the behavior, you can add the verbal cue right before the trade.  Then gradually up the value of the object in her mouth (and the value of the reward).  Then proceed to fade the lure, and just give the verbal cue.

  2. Incorporate the behavior into playtime:

    • During Fetch, particularly with dogs that tend not to let go of the ball, simply wait for her to drop the ball and click and treat.  

    • During Tug of War, let you hand go limp and wait for her to drop the rope.  Click and Treat.   A note of safety:  when playing tug of war it is important to follow a few rules:  you should always initiate and end the game, stop if your dog starts biting, and never tug up and down, just side to side or back and forth - to avoid neck injury.

  3. Proof the behavior.



A rock solid recall can be nothing short of lifesaving.   At home, this could be a relatively simple behavior to learn, but outside, with competing motivations such as squirrels, people, dogs, and enticing scents - this is hard.  So much so, I suggest having  two separate cues.  One for everyday, and one for highly difficult or emergency situations such as when your dog is chasing a squirrel, getting too far away from you, or in danger of running into traffic.  In either case, I would avoid using "Come!" because it is over-used and sometimes 'poisoned', that is, associated with negative consequences such as you leaving the dog run (its ok to leave - but reward first!).      

The 'emergency' recall CUE is sacred. It is the one behavior where you must REWARD with extremely high value and generous rewards (think steak, chicken, cheese) - every time.  We want this to be rock solid and we want the emergency cue to be like the CLICKER, a reliable predictor of a reward to come - which means you must keep this words super charged - practice often! ​​


  1. Come up with two novel cues - one for everyday and one to use in highly distracting environments.  

  2. Teach the Non-Emergency cue:  

    • Capture it:  reward your dog for coming to you, whether at home or in the dog run.  This is a good way to keep your dog 'checking in' with you - without a cue.

    • Target it:  use touch to get your dog to come to you, then fade the target and add the verbal cue.

    • Lure it:  get your dog excited by using fast high-pitched sounds to lure your dog to you, then reward.  Soon after, add the verbal cue right before the lure - then fade the lure.

  3.  Teach the Emergency cue:

    • Create a strong association between the cue and the reward:  once or twice a day, walk up to your dog, say the cue, then lure her to follow you into the kitchen where you throw a party - a feast of her favorite rewards - cheese, chicken, steak or whatever she LOVES. 

    • Change it up by hiding the reward someplace in your home, then repeat, as done above.   

    • After a few days or so,  stand a short distance away from your dog, say the cue, and your dog should come running - without the lure.  

  4. Add Distraction, Distance and Proof:

    • Bring this outside, in well fenced off area, then gradually increase the Distance and Distractions. 

    • Slowly build up where you can create a situation where there are huge distractions (food items, toys, other dogs, etc.).  In each case, be fairly certain the dog will come before saying the cue, as we do not want to dilute the association between the cue and the reward.

  5. Proof the Behavior by practicing in different locations and situations.​


  • Treat every time - this differs from other behaviors where, once the behavior is strong, you move to randomly treating every 50-75%.  

  • Remember, when luring your dog to come or follow you, do not repeat the cue - use other enticing sounds.

  • Note that if you increase the Distance, decrease Distractions, and vice versa.  

  • Never run towards your dog to get her to come - this encourages your dog to run in the direction you are going, rather, turn your back and move in the direction you want your dog to go.

A Word of Caution:   Keep in mind that even the smartest, most reliable dog can get distracted or scared and run into the street or get lost - the heart-wrenching number of dogs lost or killed by cars tell the story.  Even on-leash, dogs can escape from their harnesses or collars.  The best we can do is minimize the risk, not eliminate it, through taking these steps:   

  1. Always keep your dog on-leash when walking.

  2. Only let your dog off-leash in well fenced areas.

  3. Get your dog micro-chipped and ensure your contact information remains current.

  4. Have your dog wear a GPS collar such as Fi or Whistle - and charge it every night.   

  5. NEVER use an electric or so called 'invisible' fence - besides being inhumane and frequently misfiring causing severe burns - they often serve to ensure your dog NOT TO RETURN home should they get away, for fear of getting shocked again.

  6. Avoid retractible leashes on city walks - many dogs get killed by running into the road while waiting at an intersection - it is easy to forget to lock it in.



What is more natural to your dog than pulling in the direction he wants to go?  Combine this with all the competing stimuli - other dogs, people, traffic, the list goes on - and you have yourself a challenge.   The good news is that having worked you way through many of the progressions above - you will have the tools needed to achieve fun, safe, and worry-free walks. 


Note that if your dog is showing aggression, almost always due to fear, these tools will help you, but only after identifying and resolving the cause of the fear - and in more severe cases requires the help of a certified behavior consultant or a behavior vet.


  1. Reward and praise your dog when walking nicely:  teach your dog what to do, not what not to do.

  2. Continue to work on 'Leave It' - as 'Leave It' must be done on a loose leash.

  3. Capture when your dog looks at you:  Click and treat anytime that your dog looks at you; or lure this behavior with enticing sounds. 

  4. Practice indoors:  Use touch to get your dog to follow you at your side.  Start with asking for just a few steps, then gradually increase the distance).  Note that although the goal is not 'healing' (no need for that), it does encourage your dog to stay near you.

  5. Play Red Light Green Light:  STOP when your dog pulls, GO the instance your dog stops pulling ('going' is the reward).  

  6. Engage your dog:  Ask for a sit, down, or touch intermittently while walking, or before greeting another dog.  This keeps your dog looking to you for guidance, and also helps proof these behaviors. 



  • Equipment: 

    • Front clip harnesses are recommended - such as the  Balance Harness by Blue-9.

    • Use 6 foot leashes, too short of leashes, or held too short, restricts the dog's ability to move about freely and sniff, resulting in stress.

  • Rewards:  Treats are always useful - but life rewards can sometimes be more rewarding than treats, such as allowing your dog to greet other dogs, enter the dog run, or just sniff around. 

  • Train with your brain, not pain:  A perfect adage - particularly in light of how common the use of aversive tactics are, including using choke, prong, shock, or citronella collars - or using 'leash corrections' including yanking or pulling your dog.  Not only are these tactics cruel, they don't work.   For example, if you apply pain when your dog  lunges towards another dog, you are teaching your dog to associate pain with the presence of another dog - making your dog more aggressive, not less.  Instead, teach your dog what to do not what not to do.

  • Teach 'Look' by capturing this behavior indoors, as it will be helpful to use on walks, with or without adding a verbal cue.

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