PlayTyme Papillons
PlayTyme Papillons  


How Dogs Learn

By Cherish DeWitt ©2005  

Canine Behavior Center Specialist


Dogs learn by pairing events together. They are associative learners. They learn that the doorbell means someone is at the door.   They learn that the food bag rattling means they’re going to be fed.  So if dogs pair things together, they also pair the good with the bad.  For instance if you put a child in a room with a dog and the dog gets too rough-so you scold the dog, the dog learns that children are bad. Association can work for or against you.  Our endeavor in this class is to help you understand the pairing of associative learning so that you can be successful.


Successfully rewarding behavior we like and want to see again and marking it with a reward, increases the likelihood that the behavior will be repeated.  We give a cue or antecedent, and a behavior repeatedly follows that cue, than the beginning of learning has occurred.  Because of associative learning however, it probably has only been learned in that environment.  To be learned successful it needs to occur 80% of the time in every environment.  This is when behaviorists consider it a learned behavior.  This is why people say “He knew it at home”.  Sure he did, but he only associates it with one environment.  Train as often as you can in as many environments as possible.


Reward marks, (a clicker or a spoken word like yes or good) marks the behavior we want immediately.  Dogs quickly learn that a reward follows the reward mark and they look expectantly for reinforcement.  Using reward correctly and timely increases the likelihood that the behavior will be repeated. 


Try to see yourself as an opportunist rather than a trainer.  You provide the dog with opportunities to earn rewards.  This helps to take the negative out of “trainer”.   Providing opportunities to earn reward and actually rewarding the things you like and want to see your dog exhibit, will help you communicate most effectively.  When your dog is lying quietly beside you, provide a reward and treat this behavior.  The opposite of this is to wait until the dog is loud and obnoxious and then yell at him.  If bad behavior gets your attention and gets you interacting with him, then he will engage in bad behavior.  Make every effort to reward what you want to see, which is the absence of behavior.


By using the “nothing in life is free” principle you will teach your dog that he has to earn rewards, food, water, playtime and the opportunity to go outside.  For everything your dog wants he must earn.  If he wants to go outside, he must sit at the door.  If he wants to be fed, perhaps he will have to lie down and stay until you release him to eat.  If he wants to play he may have to earn the right by doing a few required tasks first.  If you use this NILIF principle, your dog will look to you for instructions before he does things. 

  1. Ask for a sit when he wants to come out of the crate and don’t open the door until he sits. 
  2. Ask for a down before you set down the food bowl.
  3. Ask for a sit stay before you open the door. 
  4. Teach your dog to sit and put his head in the collar to go for a walk.


Make decisions now about the behavior you want and when you want it. 


What do you want your new puppy to do when someone is at the door?

What would you like the dog to do while you eat supper?

Where do you want the dog to sleep?

How do you want the dog to greet other people?

Would you like him to sit and be asked to come in a door or barge in front of you knocking you over?

Does he need to be polite and wait his turn or are you content with rudeness?

Should he jump on everyone or be nice and sit and wait?


Think carefully about what is appropriate with your puppy Now is the time to insist on good behavior.



From Steps to Success in Training Your Dog

The Canine Behavior Center

Canine Behavior Center © 2005 Cherish DeWitt


  1. Have a plan.   You need to know what steps it will take to achieve success and a vision of what you want the completed behavior to look like.
  2. Lower your expectations.  Perfection will not be accomplished the first time.  Remember behavior is shaped.  Dogs are not born with the knowledge that sit, come, and stay will make you happy.  A relationship needs to be developed.
  3. The hardest thing you will teach your dog is “how to learn”.  Once the dog learns about learning, you can teach them almost anything.
  4. If you find you are explaining things in sentences to your dog you’ll never get it.  All training can actually be accomplished silently.  Dogs don’t need spoken language, we do, and we rely on it too much.  Your dog doesn’t speak English and never will.  Being wordy only makes it more confusing.
  5. Break all training down into achievable steps and build on them.  Never be afraid to go backwards to something your dog knows, in order to go forward.  Build on success so training sessions stay positive.
  6. Always practice safety.  This means keeping your dog on leash.  You wouldn’t let go of a child on a busy street.  Remember - Instinct will always override training.  Dogs are animals and they are hard-wired with instincts.
  7. Keep track of your training progress.  Keep a journal or a check sheet and take time out of your day to practice.  5-10 minutes sessions several times a day with prove very profitable.
  8. Use every opportunity to teach.  Ask your dog to sit before you open a door, lie down before you place his food bowl on the floor, or teach under as the proper place to stay while you eat your meal.  Teach your dog manners in every situation.
  9. Provide the right consequences when your dog doesn’t respond correctly.  Ex. A NRM (no reward mark) will be very useful if you have taught it’s meaning.
  10. During training avoid being touchy feely with your dog.  Nothing is more distracting to concentration than someone being physical with you.  Use touch and physical play as a reward for completing an exercise rather than a distraction during the learning process.
  11. Dog training is timing, timing, timing.  A RM must be accurate and quick and the treat following the RM (reward mark) must be timely also.  Dogs learn associations very well.  They know associations, and timing is everything.
  12. I cannot stress management enough.  Everything belongs to you, the toys, the food, the water, the access to exercise.  You control the dog’s world and the dog lives in your house.   There is no free lunch.  However, the paycheck for working needs to be worthy of the dog’s effort.  Be fair and reward what you like generously.


“Always begin every training session with review” Review puts your dog in the right frame of mind for training and it begins the training session with success.”

The Canine Behavior Center

Owned by Legend Lake and PlayTyme Kennel

Training: For the sake of the Dog

What you should know:


  There are many different approaches to training a behavior.  Success depends on the dog, the energy level, degree to which the behavior has been engrained, the danger involved, the dog’s age, ability and level of intelligence.   So many things factor in to training.  Just as you cannot raise every child the same, meet their emotional, educational and physical needs, you cannot raise every dog exactly the same.  However, the good news is there are many basic principles that apply to the training of animals.

            Training keeps your dog safe, stimulated, and challenged along with making him a functional member of the family rather than a liability.  Communication is the key to all relationships including your rapport with your dog.  Just as you would have a very hard time learning to drive a car with a Japanese instructor, your dog has a very hard time understanding your English.  Our goal is to break training down into clear, comprehensible steps that will help both of you succeed quickly. 


  1. Positive Training – is the principle of rewarding desired behavior and careful management to avoid unwanted habits.  Positive training avoids correction physically and verbally whenever possible.
  2. Clicker Training – involves marking desired behaviors with a clicker followed by a reward.  Because the use of clickers is one more thing for the handler to juggle, we usually use the word “yes” or “good” to mark a behavior.  The word you use is your choice, but the installation of the word is very necessary.  There needs to be a correlation between the word (click) and the event (treat). 
  3. Lure/reward training – uses food or perhaps a favorite toy to lure the dog into a position or a location.  Lures help the dog to demonstrate the behavior so the handler can mark it.  Then the behavior is rewarded.
  4. Shaping – involves breaking a behavior down into small components or approximations rewarding each step and getting closer and closer to the actual behavior.  Shaping is very useful for complex behaviors that are multifaceted.
  5. Capturing – uses the principle of marking a behavior when it occurs naturally and using the spontaneous event to reward that given behavior.  Capturing can be used with shaping. 
  6. Correction based training – (negative training) this traditional method is still very widely used by many trainers who claim to be positive.  This method usually uses a harsh collar such a choker and the handler swiftly corrects undesired behavior with a fast tight jerk and a verbal reprimand. 
  7. NILIF (nothing in life is free) – There is no free lunch.  Dogs must perform a desired behavior before they eat, play with toys, chase a squirrel etc.  Works well to help manage an unruly dog and restore order to a household when a dog is uncooperative.
  8. Alpha dominance training – this method relies on keeping the dog submissive to the handler.  Uses neck scruff shakes, pinning the dog down dominating the dog.  This method has no validity and continues to lose support among professionals and scientists.  Your dog will never see you as another dog, even if you do mount him.  This method destroys the relationship because human translations of dog behavior frighten dogs.  There is nothing harder to train than a frightened dog.


Rewards and Punishments


        In the same way that you work hard all week for a paycheck, you dog needs some kind of reward for his effort and hard work.  Some dogs value a tennis ball or a favorite toy, some dogs work hard for the reward of running free (based on the Premack Principle) while others have such a high food drive that food is a great motivator.  Some dogs live for physical touch while others need verbal approval.  Whatever it is, your dog deserves a paycheck to help motivate desire.  When the dog has desire then learning can occur.  In class we will cover 1:1 ratio’s, lengthening behaviors, duration, and shaping behaviors to get exactly what we want.  Initially we will accept less from the dog to prevent shutdown and overload.  We need to build positively on success.  Later we can get it straighter, quicker, and define it clearly for the dog.  Initially we will settle for some attempt or form of the behavior.


  1. Reinforcement or reward – a consequence that follows a behavior and increases the likelihood that the behavior will be repeated.  Positive reinforcement adds something pleasant to the behavior increasing the likelihood that a behavior will continue.  Negative reinforcement is the removal of something undesirable when the desired behavior is demonstrated.  Both function as rewards.
  2. Punishment – a negative consequence that follows a behavior decreasing the likelihood that the behavior will occur.  Punishment only works if it is used within 1-2 seconds of the undesirable behavior.  Punishment never works 15 minutes later and the dog only associates you with a negative experience.  This only serves to break down the dogs desire to work for you and destroys trust between the handler and the dog.
  3. Punishment or reward based training – are only defined by their results.  Your reward may seem like punishment ( having to eat and undesirable treat) to the dog and a collar correction to some dogs is viewed as interaction and play.  Your dog’s behavior is the barometer that measures whether the reward or punishment is working as intended.



The methods you choose with either strengthen the relationship or weaken and destroy it.  So many uneducated owners call their dog for 20 minutes and when the dog finally arrives at the door, they hit it for not coming.  This doesn’t make any sense to the dog and the dog has learned to avoid coming to the door until absolutely necessary.  The next time, there is no punishment and the dog is very confused.  Training needs to be crystal clear.   Remember, you are communicating in a foreign language.  Learn to communicate in a way that the dog clearly understands and comprehends.




  at Legend Golden Retrievers
It is good to have your dog give you his attention. If you don't have your dog's attention, how can you teach him anything? YOU should be the center of his universe, and the giver of all good things. You want to "shape" the frequency of eye contact by rewarding those times when he chooses to look at you. As you know, what is rewarded will be repeated, and you will experience your dog giving you his attention more and more.

Start with your dog on a leash with your foot standing on the end (for dogs with really short attention spans). You just want a reasonable expectation that your dog will stay in the general vicinity with you so that you can teach him something. With your dog sitting in front of you, have a bunch of bite-sized treats ready. Get your clicker in one hand and a treat in the other. Have the rest of the treats nearby, but not really obvious to the dog, and not where he can get to them without working for you. Here you go:

  1. Show the dog the treat (this becomes the "signal" to watch).

  2. Move the treat out to your side at an arm's length or less.

  3. When the dog's eyes follow the treat, do nothing. He may stare at it for a long time.

  4. Sooner or later, he will wonder what's up with this, and look to you questioningly.

  5. The instant his eyes meet yours, click and hand him the treat. You must pinpoint the instant he looks at you, because he might instantly look away again. That's why I like to use the clicker-it's fast. You could use a verbal reward marker, like "YES!" instead. It's important that you don't move your hand to give him the treat before you MARK the behavior you wanted: EYE CONTACT. His eyes will be on that treat again if you move your hand. That's ok, though if you've already marked the desired behavior with the click or the "yes."

Next time, wait a half-second before clicking his attention. Require that he look at your eyes steadily for a brief moment before marking and reinforcing the behavior. Each time you play the game, wait a little longer and a little longer before you mark the behavior. Count the seconds in your head. Just smile and look back at him. If he looks away too soon, you can break off the game and look away, too. Then start over and when he looks at you, begin counting again.

When your dog will look at you for an eternity, begin adding small distractions, and require him to pay attention, even though there might be something else going on. After he has looked at you for several seconds, move your hand. If he breaks eye contact to look at the hand, start counting all over again. He will learn to stop falling for your "fake-outs." He will learn that the fastest way to get the goodie is to "tune out" everything else, and focus only on you.

Notice also that we have not named this "trick" yet. We don't shout commands and proceed to punish everything the dog does that is not the correct response. How can you expect a dog to give a correct response to a command he doesn't even know yet? After we teach the behavior we want (eye contact), we then name the behavior. Something like "watch me" or "ready" is fine. You give this verbal cue as the dog is watching you, so that he learns that the cue means what he is doing. Then, when he is not watching you, and you want to start the "game," you can ask for eye contact with the cue word.

This exercise has many benefits. Your dog will pay more attention to you in his everyday life. He will learn not to "help himself" to things, but to look to you for permission. He will have a point of reference for maintaining a heel position. He will be less likely to miss cues given to him, because he'll be watching you more, even without a cue to do so. In general, he will be more in tune with you and "tuned in" to you.

Teaching “Heel”

From the Canine Behavior Center 2005©

Owners: The DeWitt’s  

Cherish 616-217-1616     Tammy  616-291-4899

“The more I use the collar, the less my dog uses his brain”


One of the reasons Heel is so difficult to teach is that everyone defines it differently.  For some it simply means never pull on my leash, for others who show obedience it gives the dog a very small box that he has to keep his body in.  Owners become confused about what the expectation is exactly and where the dog should be and how to teach it.  For the average owner it means, keep the leash loose no matter how short or long it is.


Beginning heel work should be fun for you and the dog!


LOOSE LEASH WALKING - Collar pressure and stay with me

Start with a still position and a six foot leash on the driveway, in the yard, at a park, virtually anywhere.  This position gives the dog a 12 foot circle with you in the center.  He can go where he wants, do what he wants, as long as he does not touch the end of the leash.  When he reaches the end of the leash give a series of annoying quick taps on the leash until the dog returns back into the 12 foot circle.

Keep practicing, dogs need a lot of learning reinforcement to bring about understanding.  The second the pulling stops, the taps stop also and some learning has occurred.

When you have success and a good 12 ft circle then move the circle to a new location, but do not allow the dog to pull you there, if he pulls, give the same series of quick short annoying taps on the leash until he stops.

The next step is to get this circle of safety on the move.  Begin by backing up and encouraging the dog to come toward you.  When the puppy is coming right towards you, turn into a heel position (right beside your dog) and stop and feed your dog right next to your leg.  Dogs by nature gravitate to the place of reinforcement.  If you feed your dog a treat in front of you, behind you, 3 feet away etc. there is no location of reinforcement.


“Dogs pull on leash because owners pull on leash


It is easy for a dog to lean into a collar and pull back.  They pull on leash simply because they can.  They are allowed to.  Give him something he cannot lean into.   Instead of giving your dog something to lean into, annoy him with the end of the collar when he pulls.  Your goal is to be so annoying when he hits the end of the leash that he avoids it at all costs.


The reason that severe collars don’t work for most people is that a dog can lean into a choke collar or pinch collar just as easily as a flat collar.  He hasn’t learned to heel or what it means.







Defining heel to the dog

If you want a dog that heels, initially you will have to plan on walking the dog on leash and never going anywhere.  Understanding is the key to learning.  If your dog understands what you want, and the consequences for non compliance, you will get farther faster if you take the time to teach.  Your dog has to learn how to learn first.


Once we have a circle and we can keep the dog within that circle we can begin to move the circle and teach the dog to not touch the end of the leash.  Don’t get picky right now about having the dog in a perfect heel position, which is too hard for puppies.  They are like toddlers and the more you confine them, the more they get agitated and stop paying attention.  Reinforce them with rewards when they come over to you, correct them with annoying collar taps when they hit the end of the leash.


Begin to move by getting the dogs attention, then backing up with the dog coming toward you and quickly spin and walk two steps and reward (down at your knee).


Turn around and back up-get the dog coming toward you, spin and reward.  Repeat this over and over until you can take 10 steps forward before you have to repeat the back up.  Keep it a game, keep the dog involved in the game, and make learning fun.  If it isn’t fun, your dog he will never want to be with you no matter how short the leash is.


Take training on the road/A word about rewards

As your dog becomes proficient in the heel, you will want to take your training to a parking lot, a campground, or perhaps a park.  When you move to train in a new location, the value of your reward needs to increase based on the amount of distractions in the new location.  Rewards need to be more reinforcing than the environment in which you are training.  For example:


At home in your yard -- dog food might work


Out in your neighborhood -- cheese, hotdog bits, beef jerky,


At a park with a lot of kids -- steak, chicken




The best people to socialize your new puppy with are children.  They move quick, act silly, and do things adults never do.   Supervised children teach your puppy about a whole new social group.  However, children do not make good trainers.  I advise you not to put a child at the end of the leash on a puppy you are teaching to heel.  If the size of the puppy is appropriate to the child, let the puppy off leash and romp with the child.  If size is a problem, have the child sit on the ground and play with the puppy feeding it treats and petting it.  Never hit or spank a puppy in the presence of a child.  If you scold a puppy, for play biting or jumping, then the child becomes bad because they make you mad.  Puppies very quickly learn that children make you mad and they are to be avoided at all costs, or warned to stay away by growling.

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