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Fade In Protocol


first published June 2018

– outline

The Fade-In protocol is an elegant process that builds on success and teaches exquisite discrimination skills.

To be able to teach without confusion, frustration or error we need to be clear in our communication and understanding of what information the dog is taking from the environment. 

Base behaviour
Default behaviour


Author: KL

When a stimulus is presented it is rarely in isolation. Reality surrounds our stimulus with relevant and non-relevant information. We cue a behaviour verbally the way we are standing can either support that information our contradict it. A step towards the dog as we cue a “sit” can force the dog to take a step back: the step towards contradicts the verbal cue.

When teaching a behaviour we want to surround the stimulus (which may be the temporary cue, not the final one) with an environment that encourages success, not error. Under these conditions an error is simply information that tells you the environment needs changing. The dog is responding to a selected cue that does not contribute to our goal. The step towards causing the dog to step back.

It is always the dog that get to choose what is relevant and what information they are receiving.
If I have food in my hand and I have used food to hand-lure behaviour, then a step towards food in the hand is a correct response for that dog. If you have taught a nose-touch to hand, then a hand cue that asks the dog to wait, hold position, is a mixed message.

To be able to teach without confusion, frustration or error we need to be clear in our communication and understanding of what information the dog is taking from the environment.

An error is simply the difference between my expectation and the dog’s response.

I consider errors valuable information:

~ it shows me what the dog understands is likely to earn reinforcement

~ it may tell me what the “hot” behaviour is at that moment (the most recently reinforced behaviour),

~ it may tell me the dog is becoming mentally tired, particularly if the error rate has increased

~ it may tell me a change in the environment is a stress overload. It could be too much information, a threat or opportunity the dog is struggling to resolve.

~ it may tell me the dog cannot recognise the cue (I was too loud, too quick, or ambigious)

Errors should be noted, and if possible logged with a clear description. The type of error, or response from the dog, can often give us important information, it should not be simply recorded as “error”.

Before we begin the practical work we should prepare a range of events to fade-in. These are our green:blinks – the increasing brightness, wavelength and duration of the light in the Terrace experiment. They should be of short duration: a blink, of low intensity: quite far away, and have very little impact or relevance to the dog. Green:blinks should never be an event or something the dog wishes to avoid. We train with attractions, not aversions.

If you have a training assistant they need to be fully aware of how to fade-in and when to fade-out. If you are training alone, use a fixed green:blink and as you progress through the repeats of the cycle you can control the exposure of the dog to the green:blink. You could use a pot of food on a chair outside the doorway. At first it is not on view, then on view for a moment, then increasingly in full view, then closer in proximity until the dog is rolling through their cycles alongside the chair.

To begin the fade-in application we begin with the base behaviour. If it has been taught previously then it would benefit from refreshing. This is the behaviour the dog will default to when unable to make a choice. It is the red light in the Terrace experiment.

We choose this behaviour in the cycle of Antecedent, Behaviour [Mark], Consequence. [Mark] is optional. We look to see if the dog is ready and seeking a cue, we give the cue (A), the dog responds with (B), we mark this to promise good things and begin the reinforcement delivery process (C). As the dog consumes their treat they will be seeking another cue. More ..?

After the dog has completed the behaviour, been marked and is seeking their reward, we begin to introduce the minimal green:blink. If it can be arranged it is a short “blink” between the mark and the collection of the food. Either as I reach, walk or open the pot, or the dog runs after a thrown treat or steps towards an offered treat.
Introduction of the green:blink at this stage can provide me with valuable information:

~ The dog has been marked and in their experience this leads directly to much anticipated reinforcement. I suspect this is the strongest part of the ABC cycle. If at the moment of travelling to reinforcement the green:blink is of greater interest, then the only part of the cycle that has been interrupted is the collection of a treat. The dog has chosen green:blink as a preferred reinforcer. That is important information that may impact on my choice of reinforcer.

~ If the dog shows awareness of the green:blink and continues to consumption of their treat then there is a pairing beginning of green:blink and treats.

~ If the dog chooses to explore, investigate the green:blink, we should not regard this as an error and make an teeth sucking, sighs or noises. No error, just information. The dog still gets their treat and we change the green:blink – further away, for shorter duration AND increase the value of the reinforcer. We are not seeking to punish, just seeking information.

If you look at the data you collect you may see that when a novel event arises the dog will look to it for a second or two, perhaps hesitate, process the information and make a choice to pursue the reinforcer you have offered.

It is this process of assessment and choice that is the skill we want to teach, we want to let the dog learn how to make fast judgements about their options. I am tempted to call this a “WTF” moment, where the dog will look, and then continue the cycle. If the WTF breaks the focus on the cycle, then the fade-in has been too invasive. Adjust and proceed.

This is the skill of living in an environment that is overflowing with many choices.

Once the fade-in has proven to not break the “C” part of the cycle in 6-10 alterations of intensity, we want to migrate the fade-in and WTF opportunity to earlier in the cycle.

It is important that we keep the behaviour stable. Reinforcement is still occurring and if our green:blink has caused a wobble in the behaviour this will get reinforced. Dangerous ground. We should only progress to green:blinks during the behaviour  (5) when green:blink has travelled many other places around the cycle and changed in intensity without causing hesitation.

The delight in this process is many fold. Dogs generalise this very well. We can choose a cosmetic behaviour to teach it, not a life-important behaviour, and the dog will transfer the skills of maintaining the ABC cycle.

Be careful not to label this process as “proofing”. We are not trying to test out the behaviour or the dog’s resilience. It is a teaching process that develops a dog’s capacity to focus on our training of cycles. If a green:blink produces a reduction in the quality of that focus, we are setting up a permanent poor association that often gets reinforced (“because he sort of did it anyway”).

You will have to find a way to laugh off the exceedingly long WTFs that may occur, plan for it and make sure you find a way of letting the dog know you screwed up and you would like to start again (after having sent green:blink packing).

I use fading-in many, many times during every training session. We use it all day long if we look for it and your dog practices many WTFs – deciding that when you scratch your ear it is just a green:blink, that when the adverts roll on the TV, it is just a green:blink. These are non-relevant events that do not impact of their comfortable snooze, chewing of a bone, or deep hand-massage. It is a quite natural survival skills of assessing what information the dog should pay attention to under specific circumstances. Often we need to dress-rehearse those circumstances to enable the dog to be confidence and fluent.


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  1. Kay Laurence

    I would welcome examples of how you have used Fade-In successfully.

    Illustrations are sometimes the optimum description of how something can work.

    The more ways we think about how and where it applies the more creative we become in applying it

  2. Julie Van Schie

    When puppies, the training bowl was kept high and out of untrained puppy reach. Over time, as they learned that the food from it was dished out by me, it was gradually lowered until now I can have it right in front of their noses and they do not eat from it. It was never snatched away nor were they told “no” or taught leave it, the expectation and understanding that the food in the bowl came from me was faded in.

    I am very interested in how the green light can move around the other cycles of the training loop. If training alone my options are limited. The green light may need to be on all the time? I can adjust its intensity by changing my dog’s proximity but moving to the different parts of the loop seems to be a challenge. Does anyone have any ideas or suggestions?

  3. Kay Laurence

    So the base behaviour is “waiting for dinner” and the fade-in is the food bowl going to the floor?

    To move it around the cycle, the food bowls would go to the floor after you have cued them to “wait there”, or sit up at the table if it is the family!

    Then the food bowls would go to the floor as they are taking up position (during the behaviour)

    This is a tricky one to up pick, as the item you are going to fade-in, is also its own cue?

  4. Jo Cook

    Once again my head is exploding. I understand this intellectually, but need to read and reread and perhaps try to come up with examples in order to consider applying this. I am connecting this to a session Kay did at Expo years ago where she discussed the word distractions and thought it was an unfortunate choice of words in regards to dogs and the environment. She said dogs were not distracted but merely determining the relevance of environmental stimuli, especially unfamiliar stimuli. Is that a on point connection, Kay?

    • Kay Laurence

      Carrying forward terminology from traditional training often makes the change to “seeing with new eyes” much harder. If an event “distracts” it is not up to us to decide it is a distraction …. only the dog can do that. “Distraction” could be life threatening, so of course the dog needs to check it out, then make a decision on the potential threat and rewards available. Not us.

      Fading in allows us to present potential events in very small slices, as with shaping, to allow the dog to learn whether a response is valid or not. Those “small slices” mean recovery from check it out is much easier.
      It “fade into view”, and then fades out again …..


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