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What is a Training Plan?

A training plan is an effective way to train new behaviors.  It is essentially a contract with your dog - letting your dog know in a consistent and precise manner, what behavior will be rewarded.  This means that you must follow the plan precisely, keeping track of the number of successes per step, and DROP, PUSH, STICK, or SPLIT as required.  Training plans are also a very effective way for you to understand the step by step progression from simple to more complex behaviors.


  1. Train new behaviors in a quiet place with little or no distractions.

  2. Be mindful of your training mechanics, and follow the clicker rules.

  3. Ensure that your dog is motivated to learn - not too tired, not too excited, food motivated, and feeling well.

  4. Always MARK and REWARD every success.    

  5. Feed in position when possible (if asking for a Sit, feed while the dog is sitting.)

  6. Maintain a high rate of reinforcement.

  7. Keep sessions fun, stress free, and end on a high note.


Below describes the steps to creating and executing an effective training plan.  It assumes familiarity with the Training Process.

Step 1:  Define the Target Behavior

Your TARGET BEHAVIOR must be defined by observable behavior which can be attainable within a few sessions.  For example, suppose you want your dog to lay down when you say 'Down', and then hold the down while you retrieve a delivery at your door.  This is complex behavior and requires teaching your dog the following components - with each component justifying at least one training plan spanned across multiple sessions.

1.  Dog lays down from a sit when you say "Down".

2.  Dog remains down for a duration of 2 minutes, or the time it takes to answer the door.   

3.  Dog remains down while someone else opens and closes the door creating a distraction.   

4.  Dog remains down while you walk to the door, open the door, retrieve item, and walk back to the dog.    

Step 2:  Define the Criteria 

The next step in the training plan is to define the steps and associated CRITERIA.  This is a contract with your dog.  It defines the exact behavior that will be rewarded during any one set


Below is an example of CRITERIA associated with #1 above - "Dog lays down from a sit when you say "Down".  Each step assumes the dog is starting from a SIT.   (We can do the same process starting from a STAND but be aware these need to be trained as separate behaviors.)

Step 1:  The dog lays DOWN when you use a food lure.

Step 2:  The dog lays DOWN when you use the same motion as above, but empty handed

Step 3:  The dog lays DOWN when you begin to fade the lure by going only 3/4 the way down to the floor.

Step 4:  The dog lays DOWN when you continue to fade the lure, going only 1/2 the way down to floor.

Step 5:  Dog goes into a DOWN position with empty hand, using the target hand signal only.

Step 3:  Execute the Plan 


Work in sets of five and count the number of successes - remember to mark and reward all successes.  


  • If the dog gets less than 3 correct, or if the dog misses three in a row, then DROP to prior step.

  • If the dog gets 3 correct, then STICK and repeat the set.  

  • If the dog gets more than 3 correct, then PUSH and progress to the next step.

  • If the dog fails at any one step twice, then SPLIT, and create a new step that is in between the two steps. 


Step 1:  Dog lays down using food lure 3 of the 5 times.  STICK.

Step 1:  Dog lays down using food lure 5 of the 5 times.  PUSH


Step 2:  Dog lays down using empty hand 2 of the 5 times.  DROP

Step 1:  Dog lays down using food lure 5 of the 5 times.  PUSH

Step 2:  Dog lays down using empty hand 4 of the 5 times.  PUSH


Step 3:  Dog lays down - hand goes down 3/4 of the way - 4 of 5 times.  PUSH

Step 4:  Dog lays down - hand 1/2 way down -missing all three in a rowDROP

Step 3:  Dog lays down - hand goes down 3/4 of the way - 5 of 5 times.  PUSH

Step 4:  Dog lays down - hand 1/2 way down -2 of 5 times (unable to PUSH after two tries at step 4)  SPLIT. 


Step 3.5:  Dog lays down - hand goes down between 1/2 and 3/4 of the way - 5 of 5 times.  PUSH

Step 4:  Dog lays down - hand 1/2 way down - 4 of 5 times.  PUSH

Step 5:   Dog lays down - hand signal only - 5 of 5 times then add the verbal cue. 


  • Say 'DOWN', wait one second, then give the hand signal. 

  • Do not say 'DOWN' and give the hand signal simultaneously.

  • Eventually, your dog will 'jump the cue' and offer a down before you give the hand signal.  Mark and reward this.

  • Once this is happening consistently, use only one or the other - avoid using both simultaneously.   



  • You can then reinforce this in your next training session, but remember you may have to start off one level down from where you left off.  Your dog determines the pace.  You execute the plan without judgement.

  • Plans often require more than one session to reach the target behavior.  

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