Teach your Dog Inside Voice – Capture Dog’s Natural Behavior and Place it on Cue

Big_MacOne of the neat things about using an instant reward marker is how you can capture a natural behavior and then teach your dog to do it on cue.
Here’s a recent email exchange with my client, Elizabeth, who has a 4-5 month old large mix breed dog, Big Mac.

Well, I taught him….Inside voice….and he acts like he is going to bark but doesn’t make a sound……Now he just sits and looks at me and gives me inside voice!!!!  This is fun……Thanks!

OK….I have created a monster!!!!!  This new trick he learned for inside voice…..HE WON’T STOP!!!!  He just sits there an looks at me and keeps doing it…..I keep praising him and I sometimes give him a treat….but ok…what do you do when he has it down right?????

Hi Beth,

I’m glad to hear you are teaching Mac new stuff!!!!

Please tell me, in detail:

How did you teach him? Did you mark the behavior with your instant reward marker when he used the inside voice (IV)?
Did you tell him anything about outside voice?
Did you say anything?

Now- do you ask Mac for inside voice? If so, how?

Your next step is to place the behavior “on cue”, which means he only does it when you ask.

Answer my questions and I’ll tell you how.

How did you teach him? Did you use the “X” when he used the inside voice (IV)? Yes….I caught him doing it once and said X and gave him a treat.  Did that a couple of times  I caught him again said X and inside voice and again gave him a treat….  Then I just said inside voice and he started doing it….Now I don’t say anything and he keeps looking at me doing it….This is where I don’t know what to do…..I don’t want to discourage him

Did you tell him anything about outside voice? No I have not said anything about outside voice

Did you say anything? Yes inside voice

Now- do you ask Mac for inside voice? Yes If so, how? Now I put my index finger to my lips like SHHHH quiet and I say Inside voice……He’s got it down tooooo well.

Your next step is to place the behavior “on cue”, which means he only does it when you ask. Ok….Now how do I do that because right now he is sitting here looking at me doing it over and over and over……I praise him but he’s not looking for praise he wants a goodie!

Hi Beth!

You are almost there. I’m so proud of my new student!

Exactly what do you want Mac to do, and under what conditions do you want the behavior to occur?

Exactly what do you want Mac to “not do” and when?

Exactly what do you want Mac to do, and under what conditions do you want the behavior to occur?  Kinda like your tough guy thing with Bentley….it’s just something cute!  Do it on command……Mac….Show your inside voice!

Exactly what do you want Mac to “not do” and when?  I don’t want him just sitting at my feet doing it over and over again……I feel if I don’t acknowledge when he does he will get discouraged.

Here’s what you do:
Step 1: Reinforce the behavior you want.
Step 2: Punish the behavior you don’t want.

Don’t add touch or his name or talk to him during this exercise.  Follow these instructions as written! 🙂

Step One:
Cue the behavior (shhh signal), X the behavior, give tasty food treat. Don’t talk or pet him. Repeat the same sequence 3 more times for a total of 4 cycles.

Step 2: Say nothing- no cue – no talk – no touch. Wait until he vocalizes. (DATA A:note how long it takes for him to vocalize). Immediately look away, turn your back on him for about 10 seconds. Do not speak or make eye contact during this time out.

Turn back towards him, say “Hi Mac”-
Repeat Steps 1 and 2 until DATA A equals 10-15 seconds.
When you do Step 2, he will probably bark louder and be more demanding. Perfect. That means he’s about to give up!
When he quiet for 10-15 seconds in Step 2, praise him! Add touch!!!

Alan J Turner – How’s Bentley – Memphis TN

Private and Group Dog Training – Memphis, Collierville, Germantown TN

Stop your dog from pulling you on walks!

Canny Collar USA Dealer

Using Italian Model Eliska Kovarova Maltese Name for Maltese Puppy Trainer Email Scam?

BentteethHi Fellow Trainers.

I suspect any of you APDT members  or any other trainers who replied to the original email from someone posing to be named Muneta Bianco (white money) Italian model Eliska Kocarova’s assistant, (as I did) received the next message (quoted below) in the series. I believe see where this email phishing scam is going. After I reply with the public information requested, I suspect the sender will ask for a bank account number or send me a bogus check, in hopes that I will deposit it and immediately send real money to them.

Perhaps the scammer is counting on our ignorance of such scams. Not me. I am using this opportunity to draw suitable traffic to my informational web site. That is, you the professional dog trainer who has clients that could use a reliable resource for free information about dog and puppy and behavior and training and help.

Say, take a moment to look over my site. You will find it has substantial, free and helpful information about dog friendly training via a clicker or marker.

If any trainers, who have the same philosophy as me, want to post some free instructions on dogand.com, email me and we’ll talk. Thanks.

ALan J Turner – How’s Bentley Memphis TN

Member – APDT

Hello Dear,

How are you doing today? hope you woke up well and strong? I am very sorry for the late reply, I was away in the UK  for a family reunion over the weekend and just returned  this morning I am sorry  i was not able to email you before my travel,  Am very pleased to read from you, Hope you having a nice time over there, Im doing great here,  you sound like a very nice person and am sure  Miss Eliska will love your work.

I sent a copy of the message you sent me to Miss Eliska  and she is very happy you will be train her puppy  when she is away on her photo shoot.

Miss Eliska  said she was able to confirm her tickets for the 17 of next month  and you can start work on monday the 19th, she said you should make a Schedule for the puppy  from the 19th of next month to  the 25th of November, I hr training session a day 2 days a per week for 5 weeks and she would like all the visit to be ( Monday – any time before 2pm ) and (friday any time after 5:30pm) because she will not be having her photo shoot on those dates so she can be with you when you train her Puppy.

She would be making reservations in the hotel below next week and will give you all the details you will need as soon as the reservation is done and also her flight details.

La Quinta Inn & Suites

1236 Primacy Pkwy

Memphis, TN 38119

Pls let me know if this hotel is close to you and  if all your charges includes transportation to the hotel and if the tranning will done in the hotel or your place. Once you confirm the dates and time are fine with you i will ask her to email you with more details about her travel

About payments,  She said her  Manager went on vacation to Australia with his family yesterday and left her  with an American Certified Cashiers Check in the sum of 4950usd,   being  payments for her  Photo shoot Equipments and the rest payments be given to you for your work,  Because she will be Renting some of the Equipments she will need for her  photo shoot from an Equipment rental company in Asia,   She said she spoke with the Equipments rental manager today and was told he will not be able to cash an American certified cashiers check in Asia as it is cashable only in the US.

So she asked me to ask you if  she can make the certified cashiers check in your name as it is an American Certified Cashiers Check so that  you can receive it and help her have it cashed before her arrival,   you deduct  the money for your work and you help her send the rest to the Equipments rental manager in Asia on her  behalf via western union money transfer so that her  equipment can be delivered to her  hotel before her arrival,  I will give you all the details and direction on how to handle the funds when you receive it so you need not worry about that.  She would be most grateful if u can help,  Please  do let me know if you will be able to assist her handle the situation before her arrival?

If you would be able to help her with the Money situation, I would need you to  email the  information she will use in making out the certified cashiers check to you for you to make necessary arrangements before her Arrival as she would be going to France on sunday on a runway show and will like to make sure all is well before her travel to france.

This are the informations she will need for the cashiers check, Pls do send the following to her email address:(  pwetyeliska@yahoo.it )

1) Name on check:………………………..

2) Address check will be sent to:…………………….

3) Phone Number to call on delivery: …………………..

4)Total amount for your Work………………..

You can reach  Miss Eliska on her office phone incase you have any questions:  +448704955902

Hope to read from you soon.

Thank you very much.

Muneta Bianco

Puppy or Dog Obedience Training First Steps – Condition a Marker, Capture Sit, Teach “Look”


Want to start an obedience program for your puppy or dog? You can start as soon as you bring your dog into your family. The first two commands all dogs should learn are “Look”, and “Sit”. Before you begin teaching, it’s helpful to learn a bit about rewards and reward systems. Please visit the START HERE category of posts before you begin.

Conditioning a Reward Marker

The method to establish a conditioned reward marker is to use classical or pavlovian conditioning to pair (or associate) a marker with the primary reinforcer of food.

Regardless of the marker you choose, the steps for conditioning the marker are identical. You only need to condition the marker this one time. Your animal is not asked to perform a behavior during the conditioning process.

Do this when the animal is attending to you and not distracted. Do not speak or touch the animal before, or after, you deliver the marker and the treat.

Remember, a marker can be any signal the animal can perceive. My favorite audible, conditioned reward markers are: the sound of a clicker; the word “good”, and  the letter “X”.

Here’s how to condition a reward marker.

You are not asking the animal to perform any behavior during this process.

In this example, I’ll use an audible marker, the letter X, spoken abruptly, like a sound.

Speak a crisp “X”; give a food treat. Wait until the animal has finished eating the treat. Say “X”; give the animal a food treat. Repeat 3-5 times. Next, capture sit for folded arms by following the instructions below this sentence.

Capture Sit

The first signal (cue for sit) you teach will be visual. The act of folding your arms across your chest will become your first cue for “sit”.  You can teach your puppy the word “sit” after he learns the folded arms cue.

I prefer starting with this visual signal for several reasons. The primary reason is because folded arms and hidden hands discourage jumping.

Dogs jump up because we touch them with our hands. Dangling and moving hands entice dogs to jump.

Folding your hands out of sight sends a signal to your puppy that you are not likely to touch.

In addition it makes it very difficult for clients to repeat the signal over and over, as they do when using a verbal command.

Another reason I use the “folded arms” visual command is because it helps clients control their behaviors. Most people automatically reach and touch a cute, jumping puppy, without thinking.

It seems we humans have an automatic urge to pet or touch puppies that jump up to greet us. This teaches puppies to jump up for greetings.

The folded arms cue is easy for anyone to perform and appears relatively the same to the dog, no matter who is giving the command. This is helpful when you start asking friends and neighbors to ask your dog to sit.

Ask 3 people to say “sit” to your dog. You will witness 3 very different techniques. Some will bark the command as if this will make it happen quicker; others will add meaningless words to the command, and some may tilt their heads forward or swing their arms.

All these additional actions may confuse the dog, because the dog is very likely to process voice tone, motions and body language as the cue.

The delivery of a visual, folded-arms cue is less likely to be clouded by voice tones and body language, since the voice is absent and the body language is the cue!

Here’s how I usually teach a dog to sit on cue via the capture method.

Do not say “sit” or speak any other words during this teaching session. The only sound you will make is the sound of your conditioned marker, the instant your dog’s bottom touches the floor.

Go to a quiet location where your dog will not be distracted.

Attach a leash and instead of holding the end, just drop it on the floor.

If the dog jumps or decides to walk away, you can step on the leash to prevent either of these behaviors.

Stand a couple of feet away from your dog.

Do not speak to your dog, just give your dog a small food treat. Do this three times. Now you have your dog’s attention!

Fold your arms across your chest and tuck your hands underneath your armpits.

Do not speak, just smile at your dog and wait until he sits.

Mark the instant his rump hits the floor by delivering your reward marker. Give him a treat by tossing in on the floor so that he must get out of the sit position to get the treat. Do not praise or talk to your dog.

As soon as your dog finishes the treat and looks at you, fold your arms across your chest, remain silent and wait. He will sit. Mark the instant his rump hits the floor. Give him a treat.

Repeat 3-5 times.

At the end of this quick session, you can talk and play with your dog. Now you can use the act of folding your arms across your chest as a silent signal for Sit!

To teach your dog the word “sit” means the same as the folded arms, visit this page.

Troubleshooting Sit for Folded Arms

Attention-on-Cue, While Standing

The goal is teach the dog to look towards you on command. Attention on Cue is helpful when you are not interacting with the dog but do wish to start interacting. It is helpful if the dog gets distracted and you want his attention.

Teach your dog to attend to you when you say “now”, “chickie”, “hey”, “look”, “hup”, “turn”, or whatever short word you choose.

I do not use the dog’s name for the attention-on-cue signal.

The signal (command or cue) for attention should be unique! The dog hears his or her name countless times and it doesn’t necessarily mean “Look towards me, I will pay you”.

In order to increase behaviors using rewards, first you must get the behavior.

The recipe is for teaching is:

  • set up the environment to get the behavior
  • mark and reinforce the behavior
  • practice in many areas while adding distractions

For this exercise, we’ll use nothing but the signal and food to initially get the behavior to occur.

Then we’ll use the marker to bring attention to (and reinforce) the behavior of looking towards us when we give the cue.

We’ll follow the marker with food treats the first few trials.

Once the dog learns what is expected of him or her, we’ll mark the instant of success and deliver FAT as a reward for looking when we give the signal.

Get the Behavior

Your dog can be on a leash or not. I like to do it off lead in a secure, small area, but if that’s not available to you, attach a 6 foot leash.

It’s okay if other people are nearby, but you don’t need distractions for this step.  If other people are present, just ask them to stand quietly.

With your dog nearby, speak your “attention signal” and immediately toss or hand your dog a treat (unless he or she is jumping up on you or performing some other rude or obnoxious behaviors). Say the signal, deliver a treat. No markers are used in this step. Repeat 2 times for a total of 3 trials. By now your dog should be focused on you. If not, discontinue the session and move to a quieter area, or choose a higher value food treat and try again.

Mark and Reinforce the Behavior

You might need a very small distraction for this step. Ask a family member to stand nearby, within sight of your dog. Instruct them to tap with their shoe, make a small noise, or whatever it takes, to momentarily attract the dog’s attention towards them.

Wait until your dog is close by, but not looking directly at you. Speak the cue and watch closely. Mark the instant he or she begins to turn his or her head towards you. Toss your dog a treat. Do this 2 more times for a total of 3 trials.

Behavior will be Repeated

Practice “attention-on-cue” at odd times throughout the day, inside the house, in any room that is relatively quiet.

Ask for the behavior 3-5 times during short time periods at different times of day, in different rooms.

Once your dog is obeying this command in rooms without distractions, add distractions by asking a family member to make some sort of noise or slight motion.

Once your dog is obeying, while inside the house with distractions, it’s time to practice outside. Choose quieter areas at first. Attach a leash and go to your patio, yard or any other familiar area.  After you can succeed in these areas, go to other places with more distractions.

Randomly ask for the behavior at odd times when you are not conducting a “training session”. Your goal is to practice this behavior in so many different areas, with so many different creative distractions, that your dog will always look when you give the command!

Happy Training!
Alan J Turner – Companion Animal Behavior Counselor and Trainer
Memphis, Collierville, Germantown Private and Group Dog Training
Fear, Aggression,Anxiety, et cetera

AA-3 Markers, Reward System, Rewards Awareness Program (NILIF)

quickstart3jpgWhat are Markers?

In order to communicate, it’s helpful to teach the animal a few phrases, actions or events that have specific meanings. I refer to these signals as markers.

Markers can be words, phrases, noises, sounds, hand signals, flashes of light, stomps on the floor, touches, odors or other stimuli the animal can sense.

Professional trainers teach and use multiple markers to give the animal constant feedback. Interrupt markers rarely affect the dog’s long term behaviors, but are useful when we want to interrupt a behavior for the moment.

Reward Markers

Some markers communicate praise and motivate the animal to perform the behavior again. I call these reward markers.

The timing of the marker is important. For best results, the trainer delivers the reward marker the instant the animal performs the desired behavior.

The reward marker tells the animal the instant in time that he or she has succeeded.

Verbal Reward Markers

Saying “Good boy”, the instant a dog sits, is an example of a primitive, reward marker. I refer to this as a primitive reward marker.  Dogs hear the words “Good Boy” many times each day during normal conversations and, in these situations, “Good Boy” is not used to mark an instant of success.

Food Reward Markers

Using a food treat to tell the dog the instant he succeeds is a great method to communicate and to motivate.

When I pop a tasty food treat into Bentley’s mouth, the instant he sits, I am communicating to him about the correctness of his behavior. And, I am motivating him to sit more often, now and in the future.

The delivery of the food treat is both a marker for success and a reward which will motivate Bentley to sit more often.

Delivering a food treat for sitting is effective, but it is not a very accurate method to mark an instant of success.

By the time Bentley gets the treat for sitting he has licked his lips, tilted his head, looked up, and performed numerous behaviors.

How would Bentley know that the instant he touched his rump to the floor was the instant of success? He wouldn’t. That’s why this method usually requires several repetitions before the dog finally understands.

Food treats are excellent rewards but inefficient markers.

How can you mark the instant of success with food if your dog is not next to you, or your dog is not hungry, or you have no treats, or your dog is on a diet, or your dog is ill, or you want to increase a motion behavior such as jumping over a bar or running fast!

In those situations, using food as a marker for the instant of success is not practical.

Conditioned Reward Markers

If you wish to teach an animal very quickly you will need an instant reward marker that has been paired with the delivery of food.

Pairing the marker with food is called conditioning. The marker is called a secondary conditioned positive reinforcer or conditioned reward marker. A conditioned reward marker will elicit the same involuntary “oh goodie” brain chemistry responses as does a piece of food.

My favorite audible, conditioned reward markers are: the sound of a clicker; the words “good”, “kick” or “tic” (spoken sharply – like a sound), or the letter “X”.

If the dog is deaf, I might use a thumbs up signal, an exaggerated head nod, or an exaggerated blink of both eyes with a head nod, or the flash of a led light. If the dog is deaf and blind, I might use the vibration of an e-collar that is set on vibrate.

Conditioned reward markers:

  • have been conditioned or paired with food and elicit the same involuntary  “oh goodie” brain chemistry responses as does a piece of food
  • are short and sharp, sounds or signals that are different from everyday sounds and signals
  • provide the animal with immediate  feedback
  • are teaching tools used to communicate the instant of success
  • can be discontinued once the animal learns the behavior

Using a conditioned reward marker will increase your significance to the animal!

From this point on, in this text, I’ll refer to a conditioned reward marker as “marker”.  When you read the verb “mark”, it means to deliver the marker and follow it with some sort of reward that the animal desires.

Since the marker elicits an involuntary, desirable, physiological response, the animal will become aware of the behaviors that cause you to deliver the marker.

Your animal will choose to perform behaviors that make you deliver the marker. Now you have a willing student. Your animal wants to cooperate!

The conditioned marker becomes the actual reward. The animal will perform for the sound of the marker, and the marker will act as a reinforcer.

The goodies delivered after the marker maintain the “power” of the marker.

Conditioning a Reward Marker

The method to establish a conditioned reward marker is to use classical or pavlovian conditioning to pair (or associate) a marker with the primary reinforcer of food.

Regardless of the marker you choose, the steps for conditioning the marker are identical. You only need to condition the marker this one time. Your animal is not asked to perform a behavior during the conditioning process.

Do this when the animal is attending to you and not distracted. Do not speak or touch the animal before, or after, you deliver the marker and the treat.

Remember, a marker can be any signal the animal can perceive. My favorite audible, conditioned reward markers are: the sound of a clicker; the word “good”, and  the letter “X”.

Here’s how to condition a reward marker.

You are not asking the animal to perform any behavior during this process.

In this example, I’ll use an audible marker, the letter X, spoken abruptly, like a sound

Speak a crisp “X”; give a food treat. Wait until the animal has finished eating the treat. Say “X”; give the animal a food treat. Repeat 3-5 times.

Using the Reward Marker

Once conditioned, you will deliver the reward marker the instant your pet does what you want. It marks the instant of success.

The marker is not used to interrupt or to get the animal’s attention. It is used to mark the instant of success!

The conditioned marker becomes the actual reward. The animal will perform for the sound of the marker, and the marker will act as a reinforcer. The goodies delivered after the marker maintain the “power” of the marker.

You’ll always deliver some sort of reward after the marker.

For example, you might follow the marker with food treats when teaching new behaviors or when working in distracting environments. A simple “thank you” or quick pat may follow the marker in less distracting situations.

With some animals, it’s better to follow the marker with a food treat 3-5 of every 10 times. It really depends on what the animal wants at that instant. If you have a ball crazy retriever, the toss of a ball might be better than any food treat.

The timing of the marker is very important, because it tells your dog the instant of success.  The delivery of some sort of reward after the marker need not be immediate. You might mark an instant of success (with the marker) and then trot off with your dog to get a food treat out of your cabinet.

The reward marker serves two major functions. It tells the animal the instant of success and it motivates the animal to perform the behavior more often.

Once your pet knows the instant of success, and is motivated to perform, you may stop using the reward marker.

Even when I don’t use the reward marker, I always acknowledge cooperation with praise or touch or maybe even a food treat.

Reward System

What exactly do you have that your dog wants from you?

You own (and have complete control of) a few rewards that your dogs may want from you. These are food, attention and touch (F.A.T. or FAT).

Understanding how to make your dog aware of the FAT and understanding how to manage the delivery (or removal) of FAT is the key to using a successful reward based training system.


Food is food treats or a whole meal. I own and control the food. Bentley cannot receive food from me unless I choose to give him the food.


In this context, attention is any interaction that does not involve food or touch. Examples of attention are eye contact, verbal praise, walks, toss of a ball, car rides, et cetera.

I own and control my attention. Bentley cannot receive attention from me unless I choose to give it to him.


Touch is interacting with your dog via you hands. To social mammals, touch is very important and a sort of social bonding exercise.

We’ve all seen the apes or monkeys on Animal Planet. The lower ranking members often touch and groom the higher members. Grooming is performed by subordinates.

When you pet and touch your dog, the dog views it as a sort of grooming. In some ways, you are telling your dog that you are lower in rank and he or she is the king or queen. Yikes!  Kings and queens do not often follow the demands of lower members.

Most normal dogs seek out touch by jumping up, nuzzling our elbows with their muzzles, moving next to us, et cetera.

For some very confident assertive dogs, this is a statement about controlling resources and the hierarchy of social status. For others it is not an attempt to establish ranking, but an indication of the need for normal social interaction. It depends on the individual dog and the context.

I own and control my hands. Bentley cannot receive touch from my hands unless I choose to deliver the touch to him.

Access to Natural Rewards

Natural rewards fill the internal and external environments. In some situations, we can control our dogs’ access to territory, thus indirectly control the available rewards.

Providing access to areas that contain or trigger natural, internal rewards is another consequence that you may (or may not) be able to control.

Bentley likes to chase squirrels and bark because he likes the rush of adrenaline that floods his brain. The adrenaline rushing through his brain is the reinforcer for ‘hunting squirrel behavior’.

Squirrels are in particular areas. When walking on lead, I can choose to move Bentley closer or nearer to the area containing squirrels.

I can release him and give him access to the areas that contain squirrels.

Bentley likes to smell mulch, because his olfactory senses are stimulated. The stimulation of his olfactory system is the actual reinforcer for ‘sniffing mulch behavior’. Mulch is in the environment.

I can choose to give Bentley access to the territory that contains the mulch.

Bentley likes to watch out the window and bark at passing trucks. The release of adrenaline that occurs when he barks out-of-control is the actual reinforcer for bark at truck behavior. I can choose to open or close the blinds.

Free FAT

When my father was growing up in north Mississippi, oranges were not readily available. To a 5-year-old child in that environment; oranges were considered more valuable than candy. When he received an orange or two for Christmas, he was excited and happy. He was very interested in where the oranges were grown and how they were delivered. He was aware of the oranges because oranges were a special treat.

In today’s world, oranges are usually available at any grocery store. Anyone who has the money can obtain an orange. For these people, oranges are not special treats. These people rarely think about how the oranges came to be and who delivers them.

No animal will spend energy to obtain something that he or she already owns. Rats don’t run through mazes to receive a piece of cheese if cheese is placed at the starting point.

Most dogs harvest our attention and touch anytime they want, regardless of their behaviors.

Most dogs already receive free FAT. It’s part of their environment from day one. Just as very young children have no idea that the air inside our homes is conditioned and this conditioning requires electricity, controls, equipment and money, dogs have no clue that we are delivering the FAT.

Sample Rewards for Dogs

Rewards are context specific and individual specific. One dog’s reward could be another dog’s stressor!

Use whatever your dog likes! Here’s some rewards I use with Bentley.

  • Silent smile (attention)
  • Thank you (attention)
  • Excited praise (attention)
  • Applause (attention)
  • High pitched noise such as “bee bee bee bee) (attention)
  • Toss of a ball, game of fetch (attention)
  • Quick round of tug (attention)
  • Rough play (tug-spin, chase, pinch flank, pull tail) (attention & touch)
  • Food treat (food)
  • Car rides (attention)
  • Walks on leash (attention)
  • Opportunity to investigate / sniff items brought into the house (access to territory)
  • Open back door (access to territory)
  • Signal to perform a favorite command – i.e. Bentley loves to spin on command (attention)
  • Command for “Tough Boy” (scratching ground with feet and paws while growling, barking)
  • Release to sniff items on walks (access to territory)
  • Opportunity to chase squirrels (access to territory)
  • Soccer ball play (attention)
  • Pat the dog (attention & touch)
  • Brush or groom the dog (attention & touch)

Rewards Awareness Program

Before we can teach a dog via a reward system based on food, attention and touch (FAT), first, we must bring awareness to the FAT.

My Rewards Awareness Program is a slight adaptation of well known, popular protocols. For years programs such as “Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF)” by Dr. Victoria Voith have been discussed in the world of applied animal behavior.

Many of these programs are touted to be rank reduction, alpha or leadership programs.

Since people don’t compete with dogs for food, territory or reproduction rights, I believe the successes of the programs are rarely related to alpha concepts.

The Rewards Awareness Program is not only an awareness program for the animal, but an awareness program for people.

The program teaches people to examine and change their behaviors in order to modify their dogs’ behaviors.

Once people understand how their interactions influence their dogs’ behaviors, the stage is set for a cooperative partnership.

To begin this program, make the delivery of food, attention, touch, and access to territory, contingent upon your dog’s willingness to cooperate with you.

This means you should not leave food out all day for your dog to snack as he wishes. Remove your dog’s food bowl (with any left over food) after 10 minutes.

Once your dog realizes that the delivery of FAT is an immediate consequence of his or her behavior, your dog will examine his or her behaviors and try to perform behaviors which earn the good consequences.

When this occurs you’ll have the tools to motivate your dog to learn and perform. You will have a marvelous reward system in place!

Only deliver FAT (or anything else an untrained, soliciting dog wants at that instant) after he or she complies with any simple request, thus indicating a desire to cooperate.

The idea is to teach your dog that FAT is not free. Don’t allow him to demand and harvest your attention and touch without cooperating.

For example, if your dog jumps up on the couch uninvited, just stand up and walk a few feet away. Your dog will follow. Return to the couch and, before you sit, ask your dog to perform a simple behavior. Mark the instant of success, and invite your dog up on the couch.

Ask for cooperation before interactions take place. For example, ask your dog to sit or touch or spin or shake or down (or whatever), before you:

  • Touch, pet or groom
  • Attach the leash
  • Adjust the collar
  • Place the food bowl on the floor
  • Invite him or her up on your furniture or lap
  • Toss the ball
  • Go for a walk
  • Jump in or out of the car
  • Open the back door
  • Provide anything your pup desires

If your dog refuses to cooperate, do not repeat your command. Remove your attention. Turn your back, walk away or go out the door without your dog.

Re-engage in 5-10 seconds and ask again (assuming your dog knows how to perform the behavior you are requesting, assuming your dog is not distracted and assuming the environment is not too stimulating for him or her to perform the behavior).

Rewards Awareness Program Summary

Whenever your untrained dog is actively seeking an interaction with you, always ask for cooperation (a simple behavior) before you deliver any food, attention or touch.

The goal is to communicate to your dog that delivery of FAT is the immediate consequence of cooperative and desirable behaviors.

This Rewards Awareness Program has some exceptions. If your dog is voluntarily performing a desirable behavior (thus he is already cooperating), deliver the FAT without asking for additional behaviors. For example, if your dog is resting quietly on his bed, it’s okay to deliver FAT without asking for a simple behavior.

Once you have effectively communicated the concept of the program to your dog (in 3 -10 days), and your dog is volunteering polite behaviors, and your dog is not performing obnoxious behaviors, and you have started a training program – you have completed the Rewards Awareness Program. You can ease up on the rules.

If you notice that your dog is not cooperating, reenact the program.

Following this program will do as much (or more) to create a cooperative, senior-junior partnership between you and your dog as any other technique or suggestion.

How Much FAT?

If we deliver a piece of food, a quick touch and lots of praise for ‘half-way’ performing an already-learned command, we limit our abilities to hone and refine behaviors via the reward system.

Why would the dog try harder if he received a high level of FAT for a mediocre performance?

Deliver FAT at levels that are appropriate for the effort.

Dogs are not unlike people. We both tend to put out just the right amount of effort required to get our rewards.

For example, suppose a 6 year-old child is learning to print the alphabet. The very first time she writes the letter “A”, the lines are not straight. Even though the letter “A” is not perfect, the teacher praises her.

Six weeks later, the same crooked letter “A” does not prompt the same level of praise as the first attempt. For if so, the child will not be motivated to improve. In response to the crooked “A”, the teacher will kindly smile and say, “please try again”.

The teacher will ask for increasingly higher levels of neatness as the child’s skills develop.

We should always be aware of the level of FAT that we deliver and adjust the level to match the dog’s skills level and effort.

For instance, suppose I am teaching Bentley to sit on cue. The first time he sits, I make a big fuss and deliver a food treat, touch and praise.

Once he has practiced sit and knows sit, I will not deliver all three rewards when he sits on cue in a quiet environment. I might say, “Thank you” or deliver a smile. If the environment is very stimulating and Bentley sits on cue, I will deliver touch and praise. It depends on how difficult it is for him to sit in that situation.

If Bentley is slow to sit, I’ll just calmly say “thanks”, and then ask for a down, then a sit, then a down, then a sit. If he complies quickly with all the steps of the sequence, I’ll deliver touch and excited praise.

Although I’ll always acknowledge compliance with FAT, I rarely deliver high levels of FAT if I have to ask for a learned behavior (in a calm environment) more than once.

The point to remember is: our dogs will not give us high level performances if we pay them just as well for inferior performances.

As your dog’s skills grow, deliver FAT at high levels for only the best performances.

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Happy Training!

Alan J Turner, Companion Anial Behavior Counselor & Trainer – Canine Specialization

Private and Group Dog Training in Memphis, TN

Owner: How’s Bentley