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Training Ideas and Games

Go to the bottom for some great training links to videos and blogs.

Exposure and Socialization:

 It is so important to take the puppy out daily or as often as possible, to public places, to every sort of environment, as frequently as you can.   I have experienced the problems that can result from raising a puppy in a secluded country environment, with limited exposure to the wide variety of more crowded and active public venues, and therefore, I place this aspect of puppy raising at the top of the list.

 Some general training remarks:

 I recommend getting a clicker to use as a neutral marker to mark exactly when your dog does what you want to reinforce.  The clicker is always the same, has no tone of voice, is quick, and is distinct from whatever verbal stream may be reaching the dog’s ears from your mouth.  The clicker should mark the exact moment that the dog starts to do the desired behavior.  It should coincide with the dog’s muscle movement to execute the desired behavior.  The clicker is not a reward, and the clicker is not an attention-getting device.

 If a desired behavior is really a string of several behaviors put together, see if you can break it into pieces (be a splitter not a lumper) and teach each piece separately.

 A clicker does not need to be used with every game, and does not even need to be used at all.  But some exercises are easier to teach with a clicker.

 I recommend positive training in general.  That means avoiding frequent and repeated use of “NO”  and instead teaching the alternate behaviors you do want to see.  In many cases, when the dog does unwanted actions, it is sufficient to withdraw your attention and interaction, turn away, ignore the dog, stop the game, etc.  Ask yourself what the dog is getting out of the unwanted behavior, and if he is inadvertently getting some sort of reinforcement for it.  Reinforce only behaviors you want continued.  Try not to use the dog’s name as a scolding or correction (haha).  Manage situations and manage the dog’s environment so that he can’t get into situations where he can cause trouble or risk his safety.  Don’t let the dog practice behaviors you don’t want to encourage.  Build communication between you and your dog, expand your common language, provide physical and mental outlets for your dog, and provide a structured environment and lifestyle.  There may be situations where you have tried many non-aversive options, and you elect for an aversive method in a certain situation as a last resort. 

 Do a little research:

 Read some books and websites on clicker training, free shaping, positive motivation, dog tricks, etc., to get familiar with the general concepts that are in use.  Google the difference between classical conditioning and operant conditioning.   Understand the Positive/Negative Reinforcement/Punishment quadrant.  Learn how counter-conditioning and desensitization are used in dog training.   Read about the methods you can use to teach behaviors, such as capturing, luring, and free shaping.  Go to and search “free shaping”, for example.

 Training Steps:

 In general, the steps are:

  •         elicit the behavior by the chosen method
  •         if luring with food,  toy or exaggerated body movement, fade the lure to hand signal or a more subtle body language cue
  •         name the behavior by adding verbal cue before signal
  •         increase distance, duration, distraction
  •         randomize reinforcement

In practice, the steps sometimes overlap depending on the particular behavior.


 I use the word treats.  This can be his meal cut up in bite sized pieces, it can be tiny pieces of mozzarella or hot dog, it can be commercial treats, mini-burger patties broken up, etc.  Normally you want to be able to use plenty of reinforcement, so you want the pieces to be very small, and bear in mind that some commercial treats can be very salty.  The concept of low-value and high-value treats is useful.  Sometimes you want to vary the desirability of the treat or reward you are using.  Make yourself a list of the things you can use for treats, and rank them in order that your dog loves them.  Then if you are asking your dog to do something he hates, or something very challenging, choose one of his high-value treats.  Keep a few things as extra-special, so you have something you can use for those challenging behaviors.


Below are some games that are great for expanding your communication with your dog.  In some cases, I have noted the primary method and when I think a clicker makes it easier to teach.  You can put each game or exercise on a separate 3x5 card as you add it to your dog’s repertoire, and pick a few cards at random for a training session, and/or you can just intersperse them all through your day, and/or you can work through them in some order.   A training session should be short, maybe 5 minutes, or intermittent, such as on and off during a walk.

  •  Puppy Zen (free shaping)
  • Eye Contact (free shaping, clicker)
  • Hand Touch (free shaping)
  • Leave It  (free shaping.  Extension of Puppy Zen)
  • Tug – Give
  • Restrained recall (luring)
  • Hide and Seek (luring)
  • Can’t Catch Me (luring, treat toss)
  • Earning His Meals (free shaping)
  • Mat (free shaping, clicker)
  • Gotcha (classical conditioning, clicker)
  • Quick Switch (food or toy substitution)
  • Crate Games
  • Sit (luring, clicker)
  • Down (luring, clicker)
  • Down stay
  • Sit stay
  • Sit for Patting
  • Sit for ears, teeth, paws
  • Handling and Grooming
  • Target (free shaping, clicker)
  • Come
  • Whistle recall (classical conditioning)
  • Pointing
  • Open Bar, Closed Bar (classical conditioning)
  • This Way (luring)
  • Box Game (free shaping)
  • Reinforcement Zone (Choose to Heel) (free shaping)
  • Pivots (perch work) (free shaping)
  • Crawl (luring)
  • Take a Bow (capturing)
  • Roll Over (luring)
  • High Five (free shaping)
  • Sleepy (capturing)
  • Go Around (free shaping)
  • Spin (luring)
  • Settle (luring)
  • Wave (free shaping)

This list is built from things I have learned from my instructors in person and online, books, videos, and workshops over the years.

Puppy Zen (free shaping)

This has various levels from easy to more challenging.  The easiest level is:  you take something yummy, that he really loves but seldom gets.  Like sausage.  Cut up about 30 or 40 tiny pieces, about as big as a sunflower seed (i.e., little).  Put them in a little bowl convenient to you, up on a chair or something.  Sit on the floor, and take a fistful and hold them in your hand, closed in your fist.  Probably he will try to get them.  Let him (short of actual blood-letting).  Be very still, don’t move or talk or react.  Let him paw and mouth at your hand.  Watch closely for any sign of backing off.  If he turns his head away, sits down, etc.  Instantly say “Yes!’ (or even better click your clicker, if you have one) and quickly give him one treat from your hand.  Then close your hand again.  Don’t say anything, just let him do his thing.  He may try to get into your closed hand for the treats.  Just be still and ignore that.  As soon as you see any movement to back off, even if he is just taking a breath and getting ready to pounce again, mark it with Yes and quickly give him one little treat. 

What you are looking for is signs that he realizes that to get the sausage, he must back off and stop mugging your hand.  Keep playing the game until you think he gets it.  Let him be successful quite a few times.  A training session should not be longer than 3-5 minutes.

Next time you play, or that time depending on how fast he progresses, you can up the ante.  Now that he knows to stay back (probably he will sit), open your hand somewhat in front of him.  Be ready to close your fist instantly.  Keep opening your hand until he will back off for an open hand, just like the closed fist.  Whenever he moves back from your open hand, quickly take a treat off your open hand with your other hand and give it to him.  You can also toss the treat on the floor, and he will turn away to get it, and then restart the game.  Tossing the treat is a good way to give the dog an opportunity to come back and play the game again and get another treat.

After he will wait when presented with the open hand, then advance to putting the treats in a little pile on the floor between you.  There may be several days or several sessions between these advances in levels.  Put the treats on the floor and cover them with your hand.  Don’t let him get them, but let him shove and push and scratch to get them.  Don’t say anything.  As soon as he backs off, turns away, or any type of ceasing to be pushy, quickly give him a treat from the pile.  Advance to holding your fingers open over the pile, and then to removing your hand altogether.  Do not move on to a higher level until he is very dependable on a lower level.  Give him lots of repetitions, and lots of opportunities to succeed and get treats.  High level of reinforcement.  Be ready to quickly get your hand back over the food if he relapses.

When he will let you put food on the floor in front of him, and not take it, which will take numerous sessions, then you can name this behavior.  Such as “Leave It” or “Mine”.  Take your food, set it on the floor, say “Mine”.  Since he knows the game, he will wait.  Give him a treat and say Good boy!.  Pick up the food.  Do that a few times.

A higher level is to drop a piece of food from first a low height, later a standing height, onto the floor, simultaneously saying “Mine” (after he has learned all the easier levels).  If he tries to get it, quickly put your foot or hand on it, and regress back to an easier level, such as drop from a lower height.  You always want to work at the level where he can be successful, so it is fun and reinforcing for him.  If he fails, he will lose interest.  You need to keep it just a tad challenging, but not so much that he can’t succeed a lot.

 Don’t say No when playing these games.  Always just manage the structure of the game so that he has a choice, and if he makes the choice you want, he gets the treat.

Eye Contact (free shaping, clicker)

Stand in front of your dog and wait quietly, small treats in one hand and clicker in the other, in a small low-distraction area (bathroom, kitchen with gate, etc.).  Wait until your dog looks up at your face.  No verbal crutches.  When he looks at your face (even by mistake), instantly click and treat.  Then stand quietly again and repeat.  After some repetitions, your dog will realize that staring at your face is an easy way to get a treat.  So make it slightly harder:  hold your hands, with treats in each hand, out to the side.  If the dog looks at your hands, ignore it.  Wait til he looks at your eyes.  Then click and treat.

This is great for building the lifelong habit of watching your face.  Repeat on and off forever.

 Hand Touch (free shaping)

 Most positive trainers teach some form of hand touch.  I like Susan Garrett’s method.  Hold out your hand towards your dog.  He will naturally sniff at it.  Instantly drop a treat into it with your other hand.  Keep practicing until your dog will come and shove his nose insistently into your hand waiting for the treat to trickle down.  Switch hands, and put your hands in various different positions, so he has to move to touch your hand with his nose.  If he paws your hand, ignore and don’t reinforce.  You can, if desired, later name it Touch (or anything) but there is no need to name it.

Hand touch is very useful in many ways.  Once your pup will follow your hand you can move your pup into desired positions in day to day life with hand gestures.  It is also useful for getting your dog’s attention on your in situations where you don’t want the dog to go nosing into something else, maybe something you are walking by.  A watchout for hand touch is if you do formal obedience, and want to use a hand signal for stay, the dog may think your stay signal is a hand touch signal.  You  would have to be careful to have a clearly different stay hand signal.

Leave It  (free shaping. Clicker useful.  Extension of Puppy Zen, see above)

 Work on the “Leave It” game first with low level food, then higher.  Food in your hand, wait til he backs off, give him a piece, if he tries to grab it, close your hand.  No verbal should be used with this, except you can mark the backing off with “Yes”, and then give him a treat.  No other verbal.   Graduate over a week or two to open flat hand, be ready to close your hand.  Graduate to food on the floor with your hand over it with fingers open.  Graduate to food on the floor uncovered.  Each time he restrains himself and does not try to grab it, mark his self-control with “Yes” (or clicker, but your hands may be too busy to use the clicker).    When he is pretty good about this (and don’t rush too fast, give him lots of success at easier levels before advancing to harder levels) then you can name the behavior.  As he backs off or stops from taking it, say “Leave it”, and then mark with “Yes”. 

With naming it, all you are doing is putting a verbal label to behavior he is already doing.  If you associate that verbal label often with what he is doing, he will learn what it means.

Gradually use higher-value foods until you can do the same with pieces of meat.

Then you can make it more challenging, by dropping food from a low height, simultaneously saying “Leave It’ and being ready to put your food over it if necessary.  If he is ready to move to this level, you shouldn’t have trouble.  If you have trouble, drop back to easier levels.  Practice until you can drop food or toy on floor and dog won’t get it until released or until you pick it up and hand it to him.  Also practice walking by the distraction on leash.  Lots of reinforcement, with praise and treats, for restraint and not taking the object.

When you say “leave it”, it should be in a quiet neutral voice.  You should always try to use a quiet neutral voice when you tell him to do anything.

Tug – Give

Tug with lots of noise and body animation.  Suddenly stop totally still, don’t move, and say “Give” and stick a Charlie Bear (or other little treat) in front of his mouth.  He will let go of the toy.  After he chews it up, before his attention wanders, reactivate the tug toy, get him playing again, and in 20 or 30 seconds, repeat the give.  Etc.  You can also do that with two toys, alternating between the two.  Use a quiet neutral tone of voice.

Restrained recall (luring)

This is a good game to play back and forth between two people.  One person crouches down holding the puppy around the chest.  The other person moves away in an enticing playful way, laughing, making kissy noises, or etc.  When the pup is anxious to chase the departing person, the restrainer lets go of the puppy, and the person running away says “Come” in a happy voice, and turns to greet, treat, praise the puppy.  You can also engage in a short wild tug game, that’s a great substitute for a food reward, and it is a good idea to vary your rewards.   At first do this at close distances, and lengthen the distances as you are sure the pup will come.  If the pup will tend to run off, attach a 15 ft. long line to the dog.  Do this in a fenced area.  When the pup gets to you, throw a party, then restrain the pup, and the other person can entice him to repeat the process.

 A higher challenge of this game is to leave the dog on a sit stay (after dog is solid on distraction stays), and move away with a playful stance, and suddenly call the dog “Come” and run a little until the dog catches you.  If the dog breaks the stay, he may not be ready for this level of distraction on stays.  You may be able to drop back a level, by leaving him on a stay, but moving away in a quieter less animated way, or call sooner, before you have gone very far at all.

The luring in this case is the chase instinct.  To fade out the lure, you fade out the playful, enticing movement away, so the dog will come even if you are not luring with your body language.  Do not rush to advanced levels too fast.

Hide and Seek (luring)

Variation of restrained recall.  Someone holds the dog around the chest (best not to hold by leash, because you want the dog to be straining to follow), and you run and hide – behind a tree, the garden shed, whatever is available.  They let go and the dog runs to you, and you reward the dog with tugging or treat when he finds you.  A variation is when you are outside with the dog and he is not paying attention, you hide and if he comes find you, treat or play.

 Can’t Catch Me (luring, treat toss)

A great recall game is you take some Charlie Bears, or other treats, and run 30 feet in one direction and as he catches you, toss a Charlie Bear ahead of you, so he sees it.  As he runs to get the Charlie Bear, reverse direction sharply and run 20 or 30 feet in the opposite direction.  You can make excited noises, laughing, etc.  As he catches up to you, toss the treat ahead of you again, and then turn and run away again.  Do this 5 or 6 times, and he will love it, he will get the game, and he will try to get the treat fast and then turn and chase you.

Earning his Meals

This is not exactly a game, but just an easy and effective way to get more practice on behaviors into your dog’s day, and also to reinforce the habit of your dog to “operate” on his environment.  Google “operant dog”.  Have him do some behavior before giving him his meal bowl.  Easiest thing is sit stay.  You don’t have to say a word.  Stand with the food bowl.  Wait til he sits.  Start to put the food bowl down.  If he gets up, stand up straight again.  No verbal.  When he sits, start to set the bowl down.  Keep taking it back until he will wait while you set it down.  Then say OK and encourage him to the bowl.  Make sure you use a verbal release word to let him know when it is all right to move to the food.  You don’t want him deciding when to break a stay.    An extension of this is to hand feed your dog some or all of his meals.  Then you can use his meal to practice and reinforce all the behaviors you are working on.  Sits, downs, stays, stays with distractions, etc. etc.  Not a necessity, but it speeds up training, and reinforces the dog’s understanding that you are the source of what he values.

Mat (free shaping, clicker)

Mat work is one of my favorite ways to introduce free shaping to your dog.  The finished product is the dog goes and lies down on the mat.  Go with your dog to a quiet, undistracting place without the other dogs, without other toys, etc.  Be ready with treats and clicker in hand.  Put a dog mat on the floor.  Dog will probably naturally move towards the mat, sniff it, etc.  Click ANY interest in the mat, any movement towards the mat, and toss a treat back a few feet away from the mat.  You want to move the dog away from the mat so that he can repeat the desired behavior of going towards the mat.  Stand and wait.  No verbal in this game.  Click any interest in the mat (sniffing it, pawing it, etc.)  After each click, toss the treat away from the mat.  The dog will soon learn that to get a treat he needs to approach the mat.  Up the ante – wait for him to put a foot on the mat, don’t click for just moving towards it.  Then click for two feet on the mat, etc.

 You want to keep upping the ante, but you also want to get a high rate of reinforcement so don’t raise your criteria too fast.  Keep the dog successful.  Often you can shape the dog onto the mat in one session.  Once you get the dog actively going to the mat, you can wait for a sit or a down, and click/treat that.  In that case, you can decide to either toss the treat away as before, or toss the treat onto the mat, or walk in and treat.  If you toss the treat off the mat, you should probably start using your release word.  For example, dog goes on mat, you click, say “Good Dog!”, then say OK as you toss the treat away.  You want to be careful you don’t confuse your dog with your Stay exercise.  When you move on to Stays on the mat, you don’t want your dog jumping off the mat and breaking a stay if you drop a treat or toy.   So that is the reason to introduce the release word at this time.

Here is a good video of mat/target training by Kay Laurence:

She also has a good video on using a target stick.

 Gotcha (classical conditioning, clicker)

This is a very useful handling game, which accustoms your dog to have a positive association with someone grabbing his collar quickly.  As always, start at a low, easy level and work up gradually.  Have yummy treats in your hand, gently reach for your dog’s collar and pull him gently towards you, at the same time presenting a treat right into his mouth.  After some repetitions, get a little “rougher”, always gauging your dog’s personality and reaction.  (For instance with a shy dog, which is not usually the case with an Icie, level 1 may be reach your hand towards the collar, not even taking hold of it.)  Raise the level slowly, over several sessions, so that you are moving more and more quickly to the dog, grabbing the collar more and more quickly, and pulling on the dog more and more strongly.  But NEVER increase the level so much that the dog gets frightened.  The dog should realize this is all fun and games.  The final product would be that you can suddenly turn to your dog, yell “Gotcha!” in a gleeful voice, drag your dog towards you, and he’ll just be looking for the yummy treat.

If your dog is ever in a dangerous situation, where someone needs to quickly grab him out of harm’s way, it will be great if he does not shy away or run away from this type of emergency rescue.

 Quick Switch (food or toy substitution)

1.     Put a little bit of some low value food in two bowls.  Put one bowl down in front of him, and let him take a nibble, then take it away and switch it for the other one.  Do that three or four times, and do it a few times a day.  Don’t say anything.  This accustoms him to having food taken away, and learn he gets other food.  It accustoms him to your hand approaching while he is eating.

2.     Don’t put all his food in his bowl at meals.  As he is eating, drop a little more food in his bowl with your hand several times.  Even better, put his kibble in his bowl, and cut up a couple chicken hearts or gizzards into little pieces, and as he is eating his kibble, periodically reach down and place a little piece of gizzard in the bowl.  Again, no verbal interaction necessary.  Accustoms him that a hand approaching his food is a good thing.

3.     Get some low level treats – milk bones in the box, for example.  These are treats our dogs will eat, but they don’t do somersaults over them.  You have to get decent size ones so you can hold them.  Sit down and be comfortable.  Hold one out, let him start to lick or chew it, pull it away and substitute the other one.  Develop that game so that over time, you can let him take one, and then reach for it, and replace it with the other one.   You can try it with old marrow bones too.   You can rub a little peanut butter in them, to make them more desirable.

4.     The goal of these games is that your dog will let you take a bone, or dead animal or whatever prize, away from him without reacting negatively.

Crate Games

 If you want to get a great training DVD, try Susan Garrett’s crate games.

I am not going to try to explain what she teaches, that is something you can look into on your own if you want.  It is a high-motivational use of crate work.

But it is useful to do some crate work, such as sending your dog to his crate from across the room, teaching your dog to re-orient to you on leaving the crate, etc.

Get your dog, treats, clicker, and crate in a small, low distraction area.  Free shape your dog to go into his crate.  Same as free shaping to the mat, reinforce every little incremental behavior towards and into the crate, until the dog gets what you are wanting. When the dog does in the crate, treat him in the crate and then release out with your release word, or use the release word and toss the treat away.  Don’t just let the dog come out on his own decision.   Once the dog realizes this game is about going in the crate for the treat, you can name it “Crate” or “Kennel” or whatever.  You can do it from further and further distances, until the dog will go to his crate from across the room.  You can toss a treat into the crate in this case.  Once the dog will go into the crate on your verbal cue, work on closing and opening the crate door.  You don’t want the dog to dash out the minute you open the door.  Open the door and immediately click and treat the dog for not coming out.  Gradually delay the treat until he is waiting a few seconds after you open the door.  Treat him in the crate for staying in, then give your release word.  At an advanced level (after 100% success at lower levels)  you can open the door and move away (the more animated your motion, the more challenging for your dog), and then release your dog to come out and catch up to you.  You can make the “crate stay and release” similar to the “restrained recall“, giving the dog a party welcome or a game of tug after the release.  Then give him the verbal cue to send him back into the crate.  Some dogs will get into the game so much that they will run into their crate to try to initiate this fun game with you.

A related game is for the dog to re-orient to you on coming out of the crate.  This game can be integrated with Part 1 above.  After you open the create door, and before you release the dog out of the crate, move one step off to the side.  Release your dog and encourage him to come get his treat, or tug toy.  Start moving to the side of the crate, then the back of the crate, reinforcing the dog for finding you and moving to where you are when he exits the crate.

Re-orienting to you is useful in other situations too.  For instance, when your dog is in the car, and you open the door and put his leash on, and let him jump down, it is very good if he will then turn and re-orient to you, rather than dashing towards whatever environmental stimuli happen to be around.  This re-orientation can be easily reinforced by working in your driveway with some treats, and then using it anytime you go somewhere.

 Sit (luring, clicker), Down (luring, clicker)

Teach him sit and down – you can use treats at first.  Lure his nose up and back, and he will sit.  Praise him and give him the treat.  After he gets the idea, just use your hand without a treat, and give him the treat after he sits.  After he knows the hand signal, you can name that “Sit”.  Use the word slightly before the hand signal, and he will start to transfer from the hand signal to the word and he will know both.  If you use a clicker, you can click as soon as he sits, and then treat.

Same with Down.  Lure, fade the lure to only the empty hand, followed by praise and treat.  Clicker or marker word of “Yes!”  when he does it, followed by treat.  After he knows the hand signal, name the behavior, and start saying the name just before the hand signal until he knows both.

 Down stay, sit stay

Then you can work on Stay – very hard at first, so only expect half a second, then a second, etc.  Always structure it so that he gets lots of success.  If he is failing more than 10% of whatever you are teaching, it is too hard for him, dial back to an easier version of the behavior.  After he sits, pause, be very still and quiet, and delay your treat for a second or two.  Then treat and release.

 Choose a release word that will always mean the exercice is finished, like OK or Break or Free.  Some people prefer Break or Free because OK is said so often in casual conversation that it is easy to say it when you didn’t really mean for your dog to break his behavior.

It is important to use a release word consistently after telling your dog to do something, so your dog will learn to wait until you release him, rather than deciding on his own when he feels like stopping the behavior.

 After you can delay the treat for 4 or 5 seconds, you can start to move slightly.  Take a step to one side or the other side.  Introduce movement very gradually.  In any exercise you are teaching, teach it at a very easy level at first, and then introduce more complexity gradually, in terms of duration, distraction and distance.  Do not introduce all three at once.  If you want longer duration, drop back to less distance and distraction.  If you want distance, reduce the duration and distraction level as you practice at greater distances away from your dog.

 Sit for Patting

Once your dog has some idea of sit-stay, tell him to sit, and ask a family member to quietly walk up and lightly give him one short pat on the head.  If he can’t stay for that, ask a family member to just walk by, at whatever distance is necessary for him not to get up.  Tell him “Yes, good boy!” and treat.  Tell him stay again, and see if the family member can walk a little closer, and over time working gradually to where he will sit and not break his stay as someone walks up to him and pats his head and walks away.  Don’t say No, or scold him if he moves. Just start over, and make it easier, less distracting, shorter, so he can get success and reinforcement.  As he gets better, try “sit for patting” with other people.  This is one of the CGC (Canine Good Citizen) exercises, which is a fun title to try for.

 Sit for ears, teeth, paws

 When your puppy will sit for patting, raise the difficulty level so he will sit while you, or another person, examines his ears, teeth or paws.  As always, start with a short, easy version.  Just lift his lip briefly, then praise and treat.  Or just hold his ear gently and treat and release.  Gradually make it hardly.  The advanced final product would be your dog will sit quietly while someone looks in each ear, looks at his teeth, and looks at each paw.  That is really advanced!

Handling and Restraint

 A great exercise is to accustom your dog not to fight against restraint.  It is easiest to practice on a table, or kneel down on the floor if necessary.  Put one arm over your dog’s back and around his body.  The other arm comes up under his neck and pulls his head in to your body.  As always, break it into pieces as necessary for your dog to be successful.  If your dog hates restraint, start with just one arm, very short duration, very light hug.  Then quietly release and treat.  This exercise is one where you don’t want a lot of excitement and revving up, obviously.  Work slowly up to the finished product, taking as many sessions as necessary for your dog’s personality.  The finished product is that you can hug your dog to you, to hold him still, for a pretty good duration, like a minute.  Then advance to asking other people to restrain him, again rewarding first short, then longer hugs.  This is great if your dog has to have blood taken, or similar treatment.  Or even for nail clipping if you have that done at the vet.

Also, brushing your dog is great interaction.  I give my young dogs and puppies an old brush or a nail brush to chew on while I brush them.  For some reason, that keeps them from mouthing my hand or trying to bite the brush.  Brushing is the same – at first you may only be able to brush the back, but keep advancing until he will let you brush his whole body.  Brushing usually becomes rewarding in itself.  Most dogs seem to grow to love brushing and also drying with a towel when wet.

Target (free shaping, clicker)

 In a low-distraction area, with your clicker, treats, and a target, such as a top to a jar or plastic container:  put the target on the floor in front of you and be ready to click and treat your dog for interest in it, such as sniffing it.  When he shows interest, click and toss the treat a little bit away, so that he is able to repeat the movement to the target.  No verbal interaction necessary, but you can praise verbally simultaneously with your treat if you want.  Shape your dog to touch the target with his nose, by repeated click and treats.  After some repetitions (maybe 10?  Use your judgment of your dog’s level of interest), pick up the target and give the dog a mental break, with a tug game, or tossing a ball, or whatever he likes.  Then put the target down and repeat.  As the sessions repeat, move the target a little further from you, so that the dog has to move away from you to target it.  This is a good foundation for distance work.  The dog is naturally geared to work close to you because you hold the treats.  So this helps him learn that doing a behavior away from you can also be rewarding. 

When he understands the game, you can add a verbal cue, such as “Target” or any other word you want to use.  At first, say the verbal cue right as the dog is doing the behavior.  After a time, you can try saying the cue before the dogs starts the action.  If he does not understand it, you need more association of the word with the action.

Some watchouts:  If you want a nose target, do not click and reward foot touches (pawing at the target).  Wait for the nose touch.  You can tape the target up on the wall or door, so he is more likely to nose target.  Pawing at an object, or foot targeting, is another separate behavior you can teach.  For example, you can shape your dog to wipe his paws on a towel.  So don’t accept foot targeting when you want nose targeting.  Also, think out the verbal cue you want to use.  If you use “Touch” for a hand touch, you want to choose a different word for this exercise.  Also, some people use this exercise as a beginning for teaching a generic “Go Out” where the dog moves away from you until instructed to stop (sit, down, etc.)  in which case, they might use “Go Out” or “Go Away” for this target work.  But that’s only a consideration if you plan to go on into formal training.

Wand/Stick targeting: 

Another fun behavior you can teach is for the dog to target the end of a wand, dowel, stick with his nose.  Take something like a dowel about 2 feet long.  Any object that you have is fine.  They actually make and sell dog target sticks.  Take the same approach as for the target above.  Hold out the dowel, click any interest, move to clicking a nose touch on the end of the dowel, no matter where you are holding it.   You can get quite fancy, “leading” the dog in circles or in various directions.  This could have application for tricks, or just as another interaction to build your communication with your dog.  Related video.


There are various recall games above (restrained recalls, Can’t catch me, Hide and Seek).   A few tips about recalls:  never call your dog when you can’t make him come to you.  If you do, you are teaching him that “Come” doesn’t really mean anything and he can ignore it.  If your dog is chasing something, or playing wildly, or in some situation where you think the odds are poor that he will come, do not call him.  Go get him.  And manage his environment so that he is not in uncontrollable situations.  Leave a long line on him if he won’t come to you in the yard.  Don’t ruin your recall word by showing your dog it is meaningless.

Another game to reinforce the recall:  when your dog is out in a fenced area, go out with some treats in your pocket, and move away from your dog.  Wait until he comes to you, or run and encourage him to follow, and as he is already coming to you, say “Come” (or whatever your recall word is), and give him a treat or two and praise, and then tell him to “go play” and encourage him to go back to what he was doing.  Move away and ignore him, and then repeat the game.  When you repeatedly release him to play, he can learn that coming to you does not always end his free play.

 Whistle recall (classical conditioning)

 Whistle recalls are also a good game.  There are dog whistles you can get, or any “policeman’s whistle”.  Start in the house, or outside when your dog is right next to you.  Blow the whistle and at the same time, deliver 3 or 4 treats one after the other.  Do this two or three times.  The dog does not have to come, you are just associating the whistle with treats.  After a few sessions, when you see that your dog “gets it”, use your whistle when your dog is not paying attention to you, in the house or the yard, but not when he is highly distracted by something else.  Most likely he will think, “Oh, whistle, treats!” and come running to you.  A more advanced level is to use the whistle when he is distracted by something else.    If he does not come, just go away, and drop back to some easier whistle recalls at a different time.

 Pointing (luring)

This teaches the dog to follow your hand motion, and to look where you are pointing, rather than at your hand.  No training, really, just toss little treats in various directions.  Once you see the dog is watching where you point, do the pointing motion without tossing a treat, and toss the treat with the other hand after the dog looks in the direction you are pointing.  Once the dog knows to look where you point, you can set up some “planted” treats beforehand, and point to them, so the dog realizes to go look for something even if you don’t toss anything.

Open Bar, Closed Bar (classical conditioning)

This is a useful way of reconditioning positive associations to replace negative associations, and also to condition the dog to focus on you when there is a certain stimulus, rather than on the stimulus.  The brief description is that you open the bar (ie., start delivering treats, often rapid-fire) when the stimulus starts, and close the bar (stop feeding treats) when the stimulus is gone.

Example:  if your dog is too stimulated by passing cars, take a position where he can see cars passing, and as soon as a car comes in sight, either deliver treats from your hand or drop them on the ground in front of you, continuing to deliver treats until the car passes.  As soon as the car is gone, stop.

If your dog is afraid of something, such as a lawn mower, you can stand by the yard being mowed, and as the mower approaches, treat.  When the mower retreats, stop feeding.  If the dog is too stressed to take the treat, move to the nearest distance at which he will take the treat, and over time, move closer.

Substitute whatever stimulus that you want to desensitize your dog to.  The goal is that whatever stressed or over-excited your dog will, hopefully over time, be turned into a positive stimulus that causes him to look to you, instead of feeling scared or getting over-focused on it.

 This Way (luring)

 Useful cue for situations where you want to leave the scene quickly and move away from something.  As you are walking along with your dog, suddenly change direction 90 degrees to the right, or reverse direction, saying “This way” in a motivating voice, and toss a treat ahead of you.  Soon the dog will realize it’s to his benefit to turn quickly.  You can also say “This Way” and turn, in the same way, and as the dog comes around with you, let him get the tug toy and keep moving in the desired direction.

Box Game (free shaping)

Another variation of encouraging your dog to offer behaviors.  You need your clicker and treats and a box big enough for your dog to get in.  Go to a low-distraction area.  Click and treat the dog for any interest in the box – looking at it, sniffing it, etc.  Toss the treats away from the box so the dog has a chance to repeat the behavior.  Slowly raise the bar, only clicking for the dog touching the box.  Then wait for pawing the box.  Then wait for putting a paw in the box, then two paws.  Etc. until the dog climbs in. 

 Reinforcement Zone (Choose to Heel) (free shaping)

Susan Garrett emphasizes the concept of Reinforcement Zone, which is the area on either side of you, within a foot of you, which she believes should be about the nicest place in the world for your dog.  It’s a good goal for us all to work towards.  She has many games and exercises to grow the value of the reinforcement zone for your dog.  My instructor has an exercise she calls “Choose to Heel” which is somewhat similar.  For “Choose to Heel” you go with your dog into a relatively small enclosed area – a fenced yard, a big room or your garage, or a tennis court, or something relatively low distraction.  Just move around at random without talking to your dog.  Every time your dog moves to your side, reinforce with a treat or a tug toy.  Then release your dog with “OK” or your release word (Free, Go Play, etc), and wander aimlessly again until your dog returns to your side, then reinforce again.

 Go Around (free shaping)

For teaching your dog to move away from you, at speed.  Get some obstacle your dog can go around – a traffic cone, a post, a tree, a wastebasket.  It is best to be in an enclosed area so you can do this without a leash on.  Stand near the obstacle, and encourage your dog to go around it, and as your dog comes around the other side, reverse and move away, saying “Yes!” and giving your dog a treat as he comes along side you.  Start very close to the obstacle, so that the dog doesn’t really have to move away from you to get around the obstacle.  At first you are just concentrating on reinforcing the moving away from the obstacle after the dog has gone around it.  

Then make it a little harder by starting two feet back from the obstacle, sending your dog with body motion and pointing around the obstacle, and as soon as you see that he is going around, turn away and give him his treat as he comes away with you.  Slowly increase your distance and slowly reduce your body movement to send him, so that you can say Go Around, and just swing your arm and point.  Be careful not to start to praise until he gets far enough around that he is committed.  Once your dog knows the game, you can switch to a tug toy once he comes around. 

A harder variation is to have two obstacles out there, such two cones.  Send him out around one and then by pointing and telling him to Go Around send him to the other one, before the treat or game.  Start that by having the two cones right next to each other, and gradually moving them apart.

Pivots (perch work) (free shaping)

Take something low and small such as a phone book, an upturned dog bowl, a block of wood.  Put it in front of you, between you and your dog, and click/treat him for stepping on it.  Shape him to put two feet on it.  That is just to get started.  Once he knows to put his feet on the book, and you are standing opposite him, capture any rear foot movement.  You can move slightly to one side, or slightly lure him off balance.  What you need to click is ANY REAR FOOT movement.  Do not click front foot movement.  Your goal is that your dog will leave his front feet on the phone book, and rotate his rear end around.  At first he will tend to stay opposite you, so that if you move one way, he will rotate his rear the other way to stay opposite you.  Remember to click and treat any rear foot movement, don’t be stingy.  After your dog will make continue to rotate as you turn, then encourage him to rotate as you stand still, so that he is no longer opposite you, but is approaching one of your sides.  Keep clicking and treating rear foot movement until he is up against your side (heel position).  Do this in both directions, to both sides.  This is absolutely, in my opinion, the best way to start heel position, and pivots, and other related obedience moves, if you ever decide to go into rally or obedience.  Here are two videos with variations of this game.

 The following tricks are also fun, you can probably figure out ways to teach them if you have worked through all the tricks above.  Or you can google them and get lots of ideas.  The more tricks you teach your dog, the better trained he/she will be.

  •  Crawl (luring – down, then lure with hand on floor, click the slightest forward movement, etc.)
  • Take a Bow (capturing the dog stretching)
  • Roll Over (luring.  Down dog, then lure him to bend head around to his waist, then over)
  • High Five (free shaping – hold out hand near paw, dog will naturally paw it, gradually raise hand)
  • Sleepy (capturing) (laying with chin flat on the floor)
  • Spin (luring)
  • Settle (luring) (lying over on one side, with side of head down on floor)
  • Wave (free shaping – easier after dog already knows high five above – increase distance)

Some good training links:

Emily Larlham is one of my favorite trainers. She has videos on many training subjects, and I suggest you dip into them and take advantage of her viewpoints.  She also has a Youtube channel.

One of my favorites of hers (and a great puppy exercise):

Also, for illustrating shaping:

Some excellent online training for many dog sports is available at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.

There are many fun and informative blogs online.  One I enjoy is Eileen Anderson's Eileen and Dogs

I love Susan Garrett’s training approach.  Susan is a world-class Canadian agility trainer, her dogs are border collies. (Susan’s blog)  -- great rainy day reading.  Just dive in and sample past posts.

Her website: (Susan Garrett’s Say Yes Dog Training).  She has some dvd’s, I have “Crate Training” which is great.

Ron Watson, Pawsitive Vybe, teaches Disc Dog stuff, out of Kingston, NY.      
If you dig through his website you can find many great videos, many of them on general training, not just disc training.  He has a great creative energetic fun approach.

Silvia Trkman is an awesome trainer, and you can dig around her website for articles and Youtube videos.  She has some nice stuff on tricks.

Speaking of tricks, they are the best thing to train -- always fun for all.  And you can actually earn titles for learning tricks in your own home.

There is an Icelandic Sheepdog Spark Team on Facebook moderated by Gabi Vannini, to teach and discuss earning trick titles, called Icies and Friends Spark Team.

A recommendation from a puppy buyer is, by Sidney Bleicher and Peggy van Dam.  This website focuses on puppy rearing and has tons of ideas and resources.

Clicker Solutions is an old site, I don't know that it is still updated, but it has many good articles on various subjects of puppy training and positive training.

Karen Pryor is the mother of clicker training, and her website, which is a successful business now which certifies instructors and hosts conferences, offers articles and products:

Mary Woodward has some nice basic articles on clicker training:

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