Chasm opening up?

by | Mar 30, 2021

The more I see the adverts for “sit, down, come, stay heel” as the essential basics for every dog to be a well-mannered companion, the more I feel I am moving further and further away from what is general view of living with dogs.

Essential for whom?

Are we just making dogs compliant for people or should we give more consideration to what is going to be beneficial for that dog, living in that lifestyle and an uncertain future?

The methods used in securing this compliance are half a century away from what was being accepted as essential training in the 1970s. A tremendous step forward, even if the language has introduced “fur-babies” and pampered pooches. But the agenda is still the same: management, compliance and obedience. The message is the same: people are masters of dogs.

Training is something that is done TO the dog.

Learning is something that happens FOR the dog.

Training is something that is done TO the dog. Learning is something that happens FOR the dog.

Dogs have been successfully learning for thousands of years, it is modern society that has imposed an acceptance on how they consider dogs should behave. This is often in conflict with the learning skills that dogs possess and, even with positive overtones, is about suppression of behaviour, compliance and easy management.

Is this the future of living with dogs?

I would be extremely unhappy if an onlooker described my dogs as “obedient”. This perception that a good dog is one that complies with every command without question, rarely needs rewards (because they do it for the love of you) and is never naughty. I sincerely hope that the onlooker, society-without-a-face, comes back as that dog. No personality, no joy in being a dog and running for pleasure, rolling in fresh grass and chewing to relax.

What about connection?

Instead of using positive whatever-label-is-the-current-fashion, we build connection out of which develops a desire to join in activities because we enjoy doing them together. We walk together, not in conflict, we adjust to each other, not find fault.

Recall training: the really reliable way to let your dog bugger off so you can ignore them until something goes seriously wrong and you need to recapture before you are mortally embarrassed. How about levelling the balance – why is the job of responding the dog’s and not the person’s? Wouldn’t it be more urgent, and safer, to ask a dog to stop when travelling away from you?

If you have ever seen two dogs out and about together there are signals that “call” the other dog through an increase in activity. One dog begins to become more animated by a scent in the air and the other dog responds and seeks to join them – to share the pleasure together. How often have you joined in your dog’s “call to action”, but you want them to always, be reliable, to your call to action?

I don’t expect to start rolling in anything to share the pleasure, but I do plan to be attentive and curious when my dog wants to stop a smell the breeze. I do expect to use safety equipment for all the conditions where my dog will never be near traffic without my guidance and holding my hand. I do expect to invest time and thoughtfulness into “wait there” for safety.

I do expect my dogs to bark at unexpected and potentially threatening changes in the environment, I plan to respond to this call, use my exceptional human skills to assess the situation and suggest a stand down, continued observation, or proceed further.

Training is something that is done TO the dog. Learning is something that happens FOR the dog.

Sit is not, and has NEVER been, a life skill

It is just a management behaviour, a route to awards and social approval from society. Because all good dogs sit.

How do we move forwards and develop a lifelong companion that we can equally share  enjoyment in activities?

Perhaps we begin with our new friend – that is our plan, a friend, not accessory, lifestyle image, fashion or means to social fame. Not a fur baby, pampered pooch, or temporary entertainment source.

This friend that we want to discover more about – what they like, their interests that we can share, what makes them grumpy, what makes them happy.

Activities that build our understanding of each other. As we share new experiences we look for beginnings of uncertainty or engagement, a change or development, progress or regression.

Daily, we collect a bag of Good Thing to Examine. This can be several items from your pantry, your rubbish bin, or your garage, or your wardrobe, or in your pocket. You sit with the bag, the puppy, the new friend and take out an item and cup it in your hands. You talk to the tins of peaches, bag of spaghetti, in a quiet voice, showing interest, turning it around, smelling it. Your friend shares this activity.

If they are eager to share with their teeth, then we begin with less edible or stimulating items. We can gently block with one hand as we turn the item around and encourage sniffing and watching as we talk. Everything will smell of something different – take a whiff yourself. Put that item away, and make a small drama of seeking another item from the bag or pillow case. Explore it together. Does it open and reveal something new? Perhaps a box will unwrap to a tasty surprise. Does it make a different sound as you turn it around? Perhaps open the bag and let your pal make the choice?

Training is something that is done TO the dog. Learning is something that happens FOR the dog.

What learning has happened?

Your friend has experienced new scents, they are building their library of smells – with you.

Your friend has learned that your hands contain items of interest that can be looked at but not grabbed, your hands can serve as shields.

Your friend has learned to finish that activity as you put the item away. “That’s all”. They have learned to wait and anticipate something new to look at.

They have learned your voice has different tones that will represent interest, or disappointment.

They have learned that unique sound and join you when you are looking for the bag of treasures.

You have spent 10 minutes of quality time together that was not overexciting, over arousing but stimulating and interesting.

If you have other friends that also have new friends, you can exchange bags – see what someone else’s bag contains. Curiosity will have no limits – don’t you already want to see what I put in my bag?

Which class would you prefer to go to? Sit-Stay-Come, or explore a bunch of weird objects together? Learn what your friends find interesting or boring or fascinating? Learn to enjoy a conversation and learn to listen?


This bag of treasure is your dog’s world, their future outings. What scents do they follow, how long are they engaged. Can you pretend engagement in return for a quiet evening whilst you enjoy your entertainment? Can you learn how to connect and enjoy a moment together and then move on to seek more moments? This is your shared walk in the woods, a series of moments together.

If you have that connection at the core of your relationship the Stay, Come, Heel will not be required.

Let’s build a future where we have dogs that are confident and curious, patient with our lack of understanding and ecstatic when we respond to their calls to action. Dogs that are sharing a learning journey with us, travelling to outcomes that we can equally enjoy. Friendship that has resilience, allows us to at times take liberties, at times to put their needs secondary and special days and holidays that build memories of pleasure.

Build friendships and families, not compliance and good behaviour.

Discover personalities, see strengths and skills, see amazing and delightful, extraordinary possibilities not impressive tricks.


Learn to change the way you see dogs. 

change the way you see dogs



Build the Learning

Lifelong skills built in activities and play. A dog that is curious, confident, resilient with a natural enthusiasm for learning.

rewards skills

Learn about the fascinating landscape of rewards and how to make them the centre of your training and relationship.

Management or Training

Find a pathway to suit your lifestyle of living with dogs. When management temporarilly supports the learning, or choose training.

learn well
learn it once

Setter Members

Access to The Sett community and groups

Discount for all courses and videos 50%

Archives of previous courses and books

Share your learning, upgrade your thinking


Key Reading

The choice of lure

Luring teaches trainers essential skills. We learn how to use suggestion and guidance to shape behaviours. We learn how to explain dynamic movement in the cues from our hands. In combination with reinforcement, luring has without doubt, been one of the skills I value most as a trainer.

Surprising Puppy

Surprising Puppy. With obnoxious moments. After introducing the obnoxious puppy as a youngster I am knocked over by the Delightful Young Man he is turning into……

Normal is always changing

What was normal in training 20 or 40 years ago is not the same today. There are folk persistently maintaining the normal of 1976, but fortunately there are enough folk with a deeper understanding of the processes that have moved normal forwards.

Think carefully

We cannot presume a cue is a reinforcer unless we can shape a new behaviour using that cue as the marker. Read carefully. Think carefully. Consider multiple perspectives. Sometimes it seems easier to let someone else do the thinking for you and just copy, but we need to become thoughtful trainers.

What is a Trainer?

I know what I am, as a trainer. But does my view of “A Trainer” coincide with, or even overlap with yours?

Guidance is not dependence

Guidance can be the lightest change in contingencies, an extra antecedent. I can place a palette of different paints and brushes next to the chair. It doesn’t mean you need to paint the chair, you could sit on the chair and paint your own shoes, but just the presence of the tools would give you guidance.

A Cue or not a cue?

With thoughtful planning and a good understanding of the relevance of antecedent selection we can teach the dog the skills of sorting the wheat from the chaff, finding the bones of the exercise. This skill is critical to being able to distinguish between distractions, which are just cues for an alternative reward opportunity, and cues which signify a guarantee of success.

Shaping by rewards

When I see a dog showing a behaviour that is heading towards potential conflict, my first question is “what rewards are available?”

Construction or suppression

Looking at the way the behaviour is carried out is the most important element, and that is the product of all the considerations.

The Fade-in Protocol

Even though today we are surrounded by many available protocols for teaching with positive reinforcement, there is still a persistence that a dog should be set-up to make an error. An error is simply the difference between my expectation and the dog’s response. No more “distractions”, but faded-in environments.

Top Training

Nose Target. No thanks

Nose target is a popular behaviour taught to many dogs, and other animals. It seems easy to teach and have practical application, but it is often not such a pleasant experience for all dogs. There are many other options available that give the same practical benefit, without the unpleasant extremes.


Preparing before you train and the final check list

Release cue or stay cue

Many of us begin with teaching sit or down, and this is one of the earliest experiences of training with reinforcement. Is the sit, or down, going to be a terminal behaviour, or a temporary position?

Luring: Hand lures

Learning hand-lure skills, Collect the food, engage, follow, feed.

Reasons to use a clicker

The concept of “being a clicker trainer” is always going to lead to argument and misunderstanding because it cannot exist alongside the science and technology. It is a “fakery” of our time. The clicker itself is a simple tool that when used in conjunction with technology provides clarity and understanding in teaching.

Cue Seeking

Being an active learner and seeking opportunities for more rewards

Remote lures

Lures at a distance, separated from hands, pockets . Using reward stations, patterns, containers

More than words

We expect our dogs to understand the meaning of words and signals, but if you have ever worked with computers you will know that what you say doesn’t always turn into an actionable response.

Going Shopping

This is a joint travelling adventure. It completely resets the learning and can easily extend the reinforcement process.

Duration or is it Breakfast in Bed?

Teaching duration has become a very muddied understanding or what it is and how to teach it. This is partly due to how we use words that are the same but have entirely different meanings.

1 Comment

  1. Helen Mayes

    I totally have changed to way I see dogs. My first dog a rescue Cindy a labrador 43 years ago. My husband and I went ‘training’ in a small hall.
    We then purchased a puppy a Golden Retriever ‘Holly’. We still did not understand dogs and went again to Training Classes. This so called trainer was a horrid lady. Holly rebelled, do not blame her, she probably did not like us. We found a more favourable club that taught with play. It was a Working Trials Club. More on that later. Then came Jake a Springer Spaniel and Biddy a crossbred who has taught me so much. Then came Bill another Springer who has taught me so much also. I have learnt with you reading ‘Learning About Dogs’ magazines and other reputable people
    ‘Ian Dunbar’, ‘Jean Donaldson’, Chirag Patel and others. Working Trials includes the scale, where dogs scale over 6′. with no consideration for the dogs body, which is something now more people are aware of. Not enough unfortunately. I am still on the committee of the Working Trials Club and at the moment attempting to close this to stop dogs being injured because of people. All we can do is educate, educate, educate and hope more members of public understand the dog as a being. I understand how difficult this is. All we can do is try. Sorry for the grammer.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

News on courses, articles and stuff you don't want to miss.