Is My Training Clean?


Your dog will give you the information you need to know whether your training is clean, quite mucky or a little dirty around the edges.
Browse through, open the sections and check your understanding, skills and application.
The training process goes backwards and forwards, to and fro between ourselves and the dog like a balanced conversation.

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The responsibility of the person, the knowledge and understanding of the technology.

The skills they will need to practise and to communicate effectively.

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This exists whether we like or don’t like it, understand it or find it confusing.

This does not control what we do, but it underpins how what we do, works.

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Dogs do what dogs do, their behaviour is shaped by what works and what doesn’t work.

They seek information of value to them.

Reward Process

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Before the teaching begins:

a review of where we are

an outline of what we are going to do

what the learner can benefit from learning

Have we considered the reward delivery process to compliment the behaviour.


Sufficient rewards available.

Tools checked and handy: targets, note pad.

Environment conducive to learning, no phones, no interruptions, distractions.


Have we isolated and practised the skills we are going to use

Collect reward without losing connection to the dog

Deliver cleanly, without confusion.

Tossing practise, pointing practise, placing practise.

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Is it rewarding

All rewards are reinforcers, but not all reinforcers are rewards.

Make sure: Pleasure for the dog?


Reward choice

What is the reward

FOOD: how large, what content, what size if to be thrown, how much scent is likely.

PLAY: have we taught the appropriate rules, aware of the safety requirements and the Start / Stop cues.

AFFECTION: tactile contact, has this been proven to be reinforcing in this environment for this behaviour.

Where stored

Can the location of the reward reserve affect the dog or influence the behaviour?

Are we wearing the food, carrying the toy or do we go to collect it?

Are there multiple locations?

Where delivered

Does the placement of the delivery set up the start of the next behaviour?

How delivered

Does the delivery pattern affect the repetitions of the next behaviour?

Does a consistent pattern contribute specific anticipation into the behaviour?

Does the pace of the delivery affect the behaviour?

Does the pace suit the speed of the learner?

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Is the dog familiar with the reward pattern?

Can they recognise the cues for different delivery patterns?

Is the dog familiar with the difference between take from hand and follow hand when luring?

Is the dog clear when they go to collect the thrown food?

Is the dog clear when you will go collect the food?

Is it motivating?

Does the dog have a strong interest in the available rewards?

Do we have good evidence of that?

Could the anticipation cause over arousal?

The purpose of learning is to earn more and better rewards



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Learning space

Have we set an environment to compliment the learning?

Are we aware of changes in the environment?

Have we planned the learning that enables us to clearly see what is happening?

Do we need resting areas and learning areas to be separate?

Cue Skills

Have we planned the cues?

Have we chosen appropriate words, tone, pace, pitch?

Have we practised how we deliver the cues?

Are we aware of pre-cues?

If we are giving a signal, how is it viewed by the dog, what movement opens the signal, how long will it be presented for.

Do we deliver the cues when the dog gives a cue: ie are they cue seeking.

Are we disciplined to NOT repeat the cue.

Transferring the cue

Are we aware of the temporary cue during learning (which may be a target or a lure).

Do we understand the procedures for transferring the new cues?

Have we planned a performance cue for the life of the behaviour?

Can we add a novel cue to an existing behaviour  that already occurs.

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What is their experience?

What associations are in the past with these antecedents?

The Environment

This includes everything around us and the dog.

Certain elements are more relevant to the dog than us, such as scent.

We are also part of the environment and affected by the environment (if you know you are being videoed … does it change your behaviour?)


There are pre-cues that the dog will be looking for.

This may vary from an intake of breath, to eye contact, a poise, a raise of eyebrows.

We want pre-cues, we do not want cues launched without preparation.

Pre-cues may be coming from the environment

The Relevant Cue

This is what we would like the dog to select and respond to.

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Emotional context

Is the dog emotionally able to learn?

Could the dog be over-aroused?

Could the dog be over-whelmed?

Can the dog focus?

Is the dog interested?

Does the dog feel safe and comfortable? 

Shall we begin

Have we taught clear cues for the learning to begin (open session cues)

Have we taught clear cues for the learner to take a break (temporary end the learning)

Are we clear that the dog is telling us they are ready and when they are finished?

Do we have a cue to call it a day and this not be a dissappointment.

Environment History

Does the dog have associations with this environment that would conflict with learning?

Has the dog a history and expectation of reward in this environment?


Can the dog recognise the given cue(s)?

Is the dog in a place to see the cues clearly?

If the dog has seen the cue are we sure they can remember what behaviour it pairs with?

Cue seeking

Does the dog seek cues?

Have we taught and rewarded cue seeking?

Antecedent presented

Dog Responds


The pace of the response is critical information about the ease of remembering, desire to repeat, understanding of what to repeat.

This is often referred to as fluency, or latency.

This is under the control of the dog.

Where this response changes is an indicator of mental fatigue. 


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Planning to teach

What behaviours are we engineering for the dog to learn?

Is this constuctive and avoiding a suppression of behaviour? 

Aim to encourage what we want not what we don’t want. Do not seek an absence of behaviour.

Teach ethically appropriate for that individual learner.

Is this behaviour going to change as the dog matures.

How much Guidance should we give: read more

Luring skills

Are you familiar with using your hands, or a cup on a stick, to teach the dog how to follow a lure.

Can you alter the lure pace and engagement to maintain following and avoid biting or loss of focus.

Can you mark by changing the lure/follow hand into a take-it-now hand.

Shaping skills

Are you familiar and confident with the dog becoming self-directed in their learning?

Can you avoid extinction as part of their progress?

Can you build a repetition series to add strength before progress?

Moulding skills

Moulding behaviours through touch-prompting, using the environment to limit the responses.

Assessing the difference between the environment proving information that is voluntarily sought, or pressure that is implicit.


Target acquisition: how is the behaviour, association or action learned?

Using targets as prompts to teach new behaviours.

Replacing the target.

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Base behaviour

Connection is our base behaviour; it is where the learning begins.

Connection requires you to be aware of your dog’s needs, limitations and abilities.

Connection requires you to recognise when fatigue is starting.

Does the behaviour require:

  • a consistent starting position, such as a sit or a down or a stand
  • a consistent location, relative to you, perhaps in front facing you or at your side or at a distance.

When planing new learning:

  • does this behaviour exist naturally for this individual
  • what is the function for this behaviour in its natural state
  • what is likely to be the reinforcer in that state

What is the future of this behaviour in 6 months, in 2 years, in 5 years?

Is this behaviour a component of a future behaviour

Does this behaviour need component behaviours already in place?

What reward will compliment this behaviour?

Can you anticipate that this behaviour is going to occur?

Will you be able to see this behaviour occur?


Is the behaviour stable:

  • it is consistent in movement, speed and pace
  • it is accurate, as would be required in the finished behaviour
  • is the behaviour flexible, (but not variable)

Aim for a small slice of the finished behaviour rather than a pool of the whole behaviour that needs “tidying up later”.

Grow organically

Behaviours should be allowed to develop from within the dog not by a veneer applied externally.

Behaviour build on rewards will naturally gather strength.

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Fit for the task

Is the dog physically fit and prepared for the movement or action?

Is this behaviour a natural behaviour for this dog?

Environmental support

Does the environment support or conflict with this behaviour?


Is learning this behaviour going to be a direct benefit to this dog?

Error response

Have you planned your response to the unexpected response from the dog?

What data can you obtain:

  • was the cue given when the dog was cue seeking / ready to respond
  • was the cue clear, consistent and unambiguous
  • was the response a similar behaviour, behaviour that you have been practising recently

Is the dog confident to offer the default when uncertain?

Not good enough

Is the response correct but of a poorer quality than previous shown?

Is there a missing component or skill that can be refreshed?

Could fatigue be starting?

How will you respond?


Have you taught a default behaviour which the dog should perform if they do not recognise the cue, or would prefer not to respond?

The dog is correct

The dog should not become aware of failing, or making an error.

Their effort to recognise the cue, respond with the associated behaviour should not be questioned.

If the expectation is incorrect (from the person) then the dog is not at fault. They are responding to the environment and are true to their learning history.

Poor quality

If the dog is not responding with the expected quality, or standard the learning gap should be examined.

The dog should be given information that they are responding correctly but that a reward has not been earned. 

A break is recommended for revisiting the planning. 

Reward Predicting Stimulus



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Can you anticipate

Markers and “good timing” after synonymous.

Good timing is a result of being able to recognise exactly when the behaviour is going to happen.

It comes from closely observing the behaviour for the preceding actions, such as a tail flick before lying down, or a head tip before a sit.

Marker cues what?

Your marker as a cue is learned by the dog.

You need to be clear about the response to your marker cues:

  • ending the behaviour or maitaining
  • seeking the reinforcement or waiting for delivery
  • grabbing the toy or waiting for the cue to take it

Target acquisition: how is the behaviour, association or action learned

Using targets as prompts to teach new behaviours

Replacing the target

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Does the chosen marker produce the accuracy in the repetition

Is the marker suitable for the behaviour – does the dog need to see the marker or hear the marker.

Reasons to Use a Clicker

Markers are cues

A marker should be paired with reinforcement processes.

You can choose to use different process to specific markers.

The marker is a cue to orientate and prepare to begin the reinforcement process.


Is the behaviour stable:

  • it is consistent in movement, speed and pace
  • it is accurate, as would be required in the finished behaviour
  • is the behaviour flexible, (but not variable)

Aim for a small slice of the finished behaviour rather than a pool of the whole behaviour that needs “tidying up later”.

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Marker response

Does the dog show a response to the marker and evidence that they desire our reward?

If the dog responds but does NOT seek the reward then reinforcement is likely gained from the environment.

If there has been no response to the marker there should be no reward delivery.

Delivery cue

Is there a clear cue, or pattern, that gives the dog information about the reward process? 

Is the food going to be breakfast in bed, thrown a catch or placed? 

Does the dog respond to this pattern cue? 

Variety of markers

If a variety of markers are used is there evidence the dog is responding correctly to each marker? 

Does the different marker represent a different reward process? 

Reinforcement Process

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No cheer leading

Offering anything except cues, prior to the marker (the start of the consequence) can hide the weaknesses in the behaviour.

Cheerleading the dog to success will often require cheerleading as a cue for life.

Once the marker has occurred we can cheer away with volume and sincerity.

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Rates of reinforcement

A rate of reinforcement must be relevant to either:

A) the number of successful behaviour cycles (Antecedent, Behaviour, Consequence) per minute

B) the number of behaviours occurring

Rates should only be measured for each behaviour, not in comparison between behaviours and not between learners.

Read more: Fast Does not Mean Better

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Cue seeks again

After the reinforcement process completes, or consumption occurs, does the dog initiate cue seeking again?

If there is an increased delay to the previous repetitions this may be an indication of mental fatigue.


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Cues to continue

Continuation is a series of repetitions of the same behaviour

Cues can be added to assist the maintenance and then faded from the rear, forwards.

cue1, cue2, cue3, cue4

cue1, cue2, cue3,

cue1, cue2,


Measure progress

Data should be gathered to be clear on what progress is being achieved.

Data on:

no hesitation after the cue is delivered

how the behaviour is performed


it flows – no stuttering

it has strength in understanding

it is flexible

Develop Performance

“Performance” is developing the behaviour to its final goal, whether real life behaviours, work or sport.

Continued repetition with variable environments without diminishing the quality of the behaviour.

Teach selective discrimination in the presence of potential disruptions.

Increase difficulty levels with harder transistions between behaviours.

Introduce minimised cues.

Article on fading in disruptions

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Repeat and duration

Extending a behaviour for longer is often a repetition of the same behaviour.

We give information what is required, not withhold information and hope for the best.

Read more: Duration or sustaining a behaviour


Repetition over several sessions (a lesson can have more than one session, of either the same learning or different learning) should always show progress.

This should be monitored and a lack of progress should be investigated.


Is the behaviour stable:

  • it is consistent in movement, speed and pace
  • it is accurate, as would be required in the finished behaviour
  • is the behaviour flexible, (but not variable)

Aim for a small slice of the finished behaviour rather than a pool of the whole behaviour that need “tidying up later”.

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Visible progress

During repetition the behaviour should show an increase in:

familiarity: there should be a visual increase in pleasure in performing the behaviour

flow: there should be no stuttering or hesitation during the behaviour

strength: if there are physical components then there should be a visible increase in agility, ease of movement and physical power

knowledge: we can never know what the dog knows, but the behaviour should look “full of understanding”, where the dog show they know what to d and how to do it

consistency: a consistent movement that does not change in structure, but only in fluency

flexible: a demonstration that the behaviour remains consistent when there are minor changes to the environment, such as distance to travel to commence, a change in surface etc.

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