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Criteria is . . .

Posted on 04/11/11 166 Comments

What word do you believe is synonymous with the word criteria?  I want you to pause for a moment right now and think of the first word that pops into your mind when you think of the word “criteria.” Don’t read on until you have that word. Say it out loud when you hear the word Criteria what does it mean to you? Do you have the word?

If you are like most people the word you would come up with is the word  “rules.” Criteria equals rules. It is what govern the expectations we set in place for our dogs. Criteria for a start line, criteria for a contact position, criteria for the execution of weave poles, criteria when meeting guests at the front door . . . the list goes on.

Of course criteria must equal rules. Doesn’t it?

So right now, before reading further get a mental snapshot of how you think about your dog when you are thinking of his criteria for any behaviour. Lets take a behaviour you are struggling with right now.  Something that maybe is frustrating you in training or competition. Maybe it is a down on the table or a nose touch at the end of the contacts in competition or a straight front in obedience. Think of your dog, that behaviour and the word criteria (or rules).

Try to take a body scan of how you feel with that specific combination of thoughts. The mental image of your dog, THAT behaviour and the word criteria (rules).

Now how does all of that change for you if was to suggest we change the meaning of the word criteria from “rules” to the word “joy”. Rather than working to teach our dogs to “maintain our criteria for a behaviour” what if we changed it to “how can we help our dogs find the joy in the work we want them to do?”

Criteria = Joy.

Take the example of a dog at the start line in agility. You have been frustrated by his lack of self control or his inability to stay where you want him to stay. You may have angrily stomped him off and given multiple time outs or physical corrections for his naughtiness.

THIS dog is not meeting your criteria, or THIS dog isn’t  living by YOUR rules at the start line. Now lets make that mind shift and rather than it being about the dog, lets make it about you.

Have you showed this dog how to find the joy in his job at the start line?

See how thinking of criteria as joy completely changes your mindset in training? It takes away responsibility from the dog living up to your expectations and puts the responsibility on us as trainers to create motivation and desire in our dogs to do what we want, how we want and when we want.

Anything your dog has pure joy for he never has to be nagged, reminded or corrected for does he?

He will do it and he won’t disappoint us if we can help just him to find his joy.

I think that could be my new job description; Susan Garrett, Keeper of the Joy. Sounds much better than plain old dog trainer does it?

Today I am grateful for Encore and Feature who had such a terrific weekend of agility. Even though they have had very little training over the past six months. They inspired this blog by demonstrating their joy to me.


  1. sharon empson says:
    Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 11:06pm

    Dear Susan: I like that…joy, “do” came to my mind. but Joy is so much better. I want my dogs to have joy in what they do. Thanks for the reminder. SOmetimes we can get so caught up in getting the behavior we forget about our dogs and our joy! thanks again sharon, and her pups Bindi, Cody and Terra


  2. Jane says:
    Monday, April 25, 2011 at 1:10am

    This is great and I’ve been using something similar to this to help my dog find obedience heeling great fun, he’s even been marked off for excessive gaiety a few times in the Obedience ring now, which is fantastic! We got our 1st win in Special Beginners (NZ) just the other day, but has been switched off in each trial since. I still seem to lose him when I enter the ring sometimes & he just switches off.. Not sure how I can bring the joy back in the ring when I can’t reward (food or toys) whilst in there. He can be full of joy & bounce outside the ring (not using treats) and then as soon as he enters he’s switched off again.. Any ideas on how to get this joy consistently in the ring as well as outside it? I think it’s something I’m doing but unsure. Maybe I have to just think joy too! 🙂


  3. Rajesh says:
    Monday, April 18, 2011 at 8:32pm

    Critera = Right

    That’s actually the first thing that come to mind. But after reading your post, I did realize that you’re right. It’s not about the rules but the joy our dog gives us, and in turn the joy and companionship we give them.

    Would love to read more, as this is my first visit to your blog!


  4. Janice M says:
    Monday, April 18, 2011 at 4:55pm

    I like your comments – it rings true for me and is a great way to get some of my students thinking differntly. I’m going to put it into practice this week.


  5. Lynda Knechtel says:
    Sunday, April 17, 2011 at 8:43pm

    My pimbrook welsh corgi is very
    smart and easy to train but I am holding her back. She could be great but I have been sick
    in the last year and am letting her down. Someone who did not even know us was watching us practise and told me to act happier and play. It has been a big help. Now we are both happy and inproved. I stopped the self pitty and realised I really happy and so is Lacie.


  6. Debbi says:
    Saturday, April 16, 2011 at 5:26pm

    Today I am grateful for Susan Garrett. Now my dogs will always work for “joy”.
    Now I understand.


  7. Janna Colaizzi says:
    Saturday, April 16, 2011 at 12:46pm

    I so enjoyed the blog and all the comments. My word for criteria was knowledge. I love learning from you all better ways of doing things. And I try to remember that having a dog should be all about “joy”. This blog just re-inforced that. I also try to keep in mind, that just like people, dogs have their up and down days. Thank you for all the input.


  8. Karen Stewart says:
    Friday, April 15, 2011 at 9:46pm

    When I read this the word that came to my mind was committment. I know that if I committ to the training plan I set out I will successfully see the joy in my dog’s face.


  9. Kathy says:
    Friday, April 15, 2011 at 8:16pm

    The first word that came to mind is
    performance / execution


  10. Carl Necker says:
    Friday, April 15, 2011 at 1:31pm

    Criteria = requirements
    It’s difficult to be an scientist and engineer because criteria tend to be very black and white. My frustration – maybe not so much that my friendly four legged buddy won’t do the teeter but the fact that I know he has the potential to do the teeter.

    An agility junky and friend pointed me to this blog after I expressed my frustration to her. But I ended my note to her with a change in attitude that will point me in the direction of JOY. My 12 year old daughter runs one of our English Setters and she has a blast every time, whether or not the end result is what she wanted. I’ve decided to be more like my daughter!


  11. Sonya says:
    Friday, April 15, 2011 at 10:12am

    Criteria = Success
    is what first came to mind, and it links it to joy I guess.
    Too tired to write more!


  12. Teresa says:
    Friday, April 15, 2011 at 9:47am

    Criteria…..I thought necessity. All we do with our dogs should be necessary. Having fun, making sure we are fun, and that our dogs are enjoying what they do are all necessary for a happy and healthy relationship. By rewarding the behaviors we desire we are doing what is necessary.


  13. Kenton says:
    Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 7:39pm

    What I thought of was parameters. In owning 2 labradors, & having seen what positive reinforcement can accomplish, I find myself in disagreement with many of the “traditional” bird dog training methods.

    I have recently taught them to roll, crawl, spin with the clicker. The 1st person I mentioned it to replied “why teach a retriever to roll over?”

    Hey, it’s a break from drills, & it’s a JOY.


  14. Mary says:
    Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 4:01pm

    I like the word joy. It is exactly what I felt last night as my mini aussie who had decided that she didn’t remember to how to do the a frame and dog walk finally just chose to do it on her own. Complete unadulterated joy and surprise was what I felt as I followed her zipping across the dog walk. Thank you Susan for bringing that word to us.


  15. Bonnie says:
    Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 10:28am

    When I thought of criteria I thought of the word consistent. I agree if you can find the magic between your dog and you to get the end result and have alot of fun doing it that is JOY. If I have a rough training day and feel frustrated I sit back and figure out a new way to have fun with my dog and train the criteria that I want. Thanks for the word JOY it is somthing we should always strive for.


  16. Athleen Zimmermann says:
    Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 9:59am

    A very nice article, and a very good reminder about what training should be about. I love seeing the look of joy in my dog’s eyes when we’re working together.


  17. Åsa says:
    Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 8:49am

    Great blog!

    The word that come up in my head was “goal” or more exakt “an allways changing goal” that will lead us to the maingoal. I must be alot better too put in JOY in our training, will start working on it this evning! Thanx for great inspiration!


  18. Ninnie Lindvall says:
    Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 3:23am

    It always interesting to look är behaviour/criteria from the dogs point of view. I know this is not scientific and that we can’t read the dogs thoughts etc. Still, when teaching I find it very helpful and this article gave a few more arguments which I will use already this weekend. People tend to be very rewarding in the first steps of training. Then, when the dog “knows” the training might not be so rewarding anymore…


  19. Kathy Haley says:
    Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 1:42am

    My word was standard but then my standard for my dog Arkeo is so different from most fols. As a Service Dog we have a unique relationship so our working together has to be filled with happiness and enthusiasm because we’re working together 24/7 and things could get tnese or boring really fast (like a lot of marriages) So I am always looking for new and exciting and positive ways to teach Arkeo how to do things so she can keep me safe and we can go out in the ring and have fun. But I have never named it JOY. But now I will.


  20. Angela says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 11:38pm

    The first word for me was “requirements”. Then I read your post. How absolutely brilliant! It was a real eye-opener for me. So often the frustration takes over and clouds my ability to remember that this is supposed to be fun for both me and my dog. Joy – here we come!


  21. Mary says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 8:34pm

    If it ain’t fun, why bother? Love this blog–so many people I play with & instruct lose total sight of the fact that this is a game–play!– something to be joyful about.
    Thanks Susan!


  22. liz says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 8:01pm

    Thanks for such a lovely and thoughtful blog.

    I expect you may decide to formally publish your blog which means that it will be edited by the publisher/editor. So, I decided to point out that criteria is plural, and criterion singular. I looked up criterion and discovered it is Greek in origin and its proper pluralization is either criteria or criterions.

    So which title are you going to choose? “Criteria are ….” or “Criterion is……” or possibly “The definition of criteria is …..”

    And as with many who responded my synonym was “standards or measures.”

    Good luck!


  23. Qsmom says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 7:31pm

    When I read your post, all I could think of was what pops into my mind when I hear the word ‘teacher.’ A teacher for me is someone who makes me see things from an entirely different perspective, one that challenges my way of thinking and motivates me to expand my horizons in a postive way. That is why you’re such a great teacher, Susan. You see things differently and help others to do the same. Thank you!!!!


  24. Darcy says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 7:10pm

    My word was “standard” but reading the rest of the blog reminded me of a professional hunt training seminar I attended Monday night. This was the 1st session so the lesson was “heeling”. The 1st student (aka victim) volunteered to show their dog’s skill. With a flat buckle collar the dog did OK but not up to the professionals ‘criteria’ so he put a check cord (similar to a slip lead or a choke chain) around the dog’s neck and started to give it a “pop” every time it misstepped. The professional asked the group, “What differences do you see now?”

    I bit my tongue for a few seconds then blurted out “a dog who has lost the enjoyment of working with you.” You see with each “pop” the dog’s ears went back, his body posture shrunk, his stride shortened, etc.

    Needless to say, I left my dogs in the car and opted to work heeling at home.

    Thanks for the timely post!


  25. Tove Strange-Hansen says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 4:18pm

    I think in danish so the first word I thought at readning “criteria” was “belønningstærskel” – I have googled it to reward treshold


  26. Cindy says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 3:49pm

    Criteria=Flow for me… where everything is smooth and easy. When Maggie and I are in sync I feel on top of the world, nothing is better than that.


  27. Curtisy says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 3:30pm


    I cannot say ”thank you” enough times or in enough languages (including the woofs from my Standard Poodles) for this brilliant post! When I read ‘criteria,’ the word that came to my mind first was ‘standards.’ I quickly realized that it meant my standards for myself, not those of my dogs. It meant not letting myself be lazy or frustrated and therefore demotivating or confusing to my dogs. However, working to meet one’s own standards can still seem like drudgery. Then when I read your words about changing the meaning of criteria to working for joy, that took me to a whole different level, and it suddenly changed the way I *felt.* Wow! Imagine what this will mean for my dogs. The dogs and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts. By the way, I am getting so much value from the Recallers course!



  28. Joan Smith says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 2:01pm

    thank you for the post. It inspires me. I read about Helen and her poodle yesterday. It brought tears to my eyes and made me more grateful for my dog.


  29. Deb Jones says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 1:37pm

    Criteria ARE behavioral standards. Emotional responses and reactions can be part of those standards, but scientifically, they are whatever standards the trainer sets.


    • Susan says:
      Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 1:41pm

      @So true Deb but alas the problem in dog training arises when people fixate too long on the science or the outcome without giving enough consideration to the joy.


      • Deb Jones says:
        Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 1:43pm

        I agree completely. I think the emotional aspect should always be a strong consideration. People neglect the power of Pavlov!

      • Craig P says:
        Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 7:34pm

        Ummm… shouldn’t the pre-requisite to critera = joy be “positive reinforcement”?

  30. Terri Schmidt (CA) says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 1:09pm

    I read this post just after it went on the blog and tried to think of when my criteria did not equal joy. My first thought was my 2 year old Aussie’s behavior at the start line. When SHE chooses to stay put, she is so focused and runs an amazing course. The problem is that I can’t seem to out-smart her. She is refusing to do anything if I don’t have a cookie in my hand. Last night I couldn’t even get her to come to me at the start line …. and when she finally did, she would not give me a sit. If I pulled a cookie out, she would sit/stay only for a second and then pop up and walk away or go to the first jump. This behavior has been going on for about three weeks. I’ve been trying to surprise her by asking her for a down when she least expects it, but it hasn’t helped the overall situation. I’ve tried the playful voice, the chase me into place, the come close into the RZ…. if she gets into it for a moment, she then blows me off. The trainer says she’s manipulating me. Somewhere in there I thnk my criteria does not equal joy for her or myself. I’m not sure what to do next. I remember reading something in Ruff Love about Buzz’s start line behavior. Time to re-read.

    Any suggestions would be helpful!


    • Susan says:
      Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 1:47pm

      @Terri I would suggest you start with my DVD Crate Games. I would suggest you consider a world where dogs never “blow people off” Dogs do what is reinforcing — period. That is all. It is our job as trainers to create an environment where they WANT to do what we want. The dog finds unbelievable reinforcement value in doing what we want. I have trial 7 dogs in agility they each averaged 8 years in the ring. That is a total of 56 years (if I had been trialing only 1 dog at a time). In all of those years I had only 1 dog ever break a start line and she only did it a handful of times.

      Startlines for my dogs are about joy. The so want to be there, they so want to do what I want. It all starts with Crate Games and transfer the reinforcement value from there.


      • Terri Schmidt (CA) says:
        Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 2:37pm

        Yes, Susan, I agree and believe in what you are saying. That’s why I’m frustrated. My dogs love Crate Games. I can see that I need to take them to the next level and just keep working/playing them. Is it ever possible to over reward your dog with cookies? I want to transfer the value of cookies to myself or to tugging. I’m not the cookie at the start line yet. I can’t use real food in a real competition setting, so I worry about creating an expectation of the dog getting a cookie for every single sit/stay. I’ll do more of our Recall work, especially with Crate Games, and let you know how things go in a week or two. Thanks for your comment!

  31. Lynne says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 12:39pm

    Yes! We have just discovered this “Joy” and I feel so much better having you confirm it.
    I really appreciate your blogs and webinars. It is helping us learn this wonderful sport.


  32. Jan says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 12:21pm

    Absolutely love this!


  33. Connie Macchione says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 12:20pm

    I read this yesterday morning before I went to my Agility foundations class. It’s about a 45 minute drive so I had time to think about it. I decided to make my training mantra be “How can I put the Joy in this behavior?” My dog is a delightful Jack Russell who finds joy in everything she does. She loves to train and learns very quickly. My job is to make sure she never loses that joie de vivre! Thanks Susan for putting it into words.


  34. barrie says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 11:57am

    The first synonym that popped into my head was “requirements” and I had had an interesting Crate Games session the night before this post. I had a friend over who was helping me use Crate Games with my two girls who do not get along. I wanted another person so I could work both dogs in open crates but there was always someone available to quickly shut the second crate door if that dog decided she couldn’t perform the task of staying in the crate while the other dog was working.

    Because my friend is not a dog trainer, I told him the criteria and he completely stuck to it and I noticed a decided change in my jack’s Crate Games as a result since I am kinda sorta bad about “helping” the dogs but he was strictly sticking to the criteria of not breaking the plane of the door even a smidge.

    This was a test for both of them and for me and I did determine that the crates do not have enough value to counter the possibility of rumbling with a sister since while there were no mishaps, the joy of CG was missing with both dogs during the session so back to value building!


  35. Karen timm says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 11:41am

    Precision (for me)is what came to mind. I love the “joy”. It all goes better and is much more fun when we “play”.


  36. Beth Henderson says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 11:39am

    Criteria = Agenda with a side of expectations and a heaping spoonful of Joy thanks to Susan.


  37. christine randolph says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 11:33am

    its all too much. taking frustration out of dog training would be taking frustration out of life. we have to learn to be less of a control freak. especially those doing agility often fall into that trap


  38. Nikki says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 11:30am

    I so appreciate this concept! It is just what I needed to understand. Thanks for such a great explanation and inspiration. My pups and I are so greatful to you for all that you share with others.


  39. Blanche Cooper says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 10:55am

    The first word I thought of was “reinforcement”….joy is so much more fun…back to the drawing board with joy!


  40. KIRSTEN says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 10:49am

    This IS an awesome blog post! It truly does make you think about your job as a trainer in a completely new light!!


  41. Kathy Povey says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 10:36am

    The first word that came to mind was “goal.”

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful post and reminding us that joy is a criteria.
    I must continually remind myself just exactly what the “D” in D*A*S*H means.


  42. Norma Nelson and Brogan says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 10:21am

    The first word that flashed through my mind (after reading the first paragraph) was” plan”.


  43. Miriam says:
    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 10:13am

    “Ability” is the word that first came to my thought. I love the idea that both the dog and the handler have the ability to express their joy and it is this joy that enables the ability to succeed.


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