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Defining Inspirational Dog Training . . .

Posted on 12/06/11 37 Comments

I am sitting here watching a series of video clips that I put together of my puppy “Swagger.” Its clips of him working at a seminar over the weekend. I love my puppy, as I love my own dogs but as I watch video clips I tend to be critically; looking for what I could have done differently, how could have the message be made clearly, how could the dog’s performance inspired me just a little more.

I must admit, looking at these recent video clips even I was impressed. Don’t get me wrong, I do have my list of things I want to improve upon– but I think for a puppy that just turned 10 months old his performance was pretty darn cool.

Training here in “Do-Land,” where we don’t physically or verbally correct our dogs, where we don’t use treats or toys to “lure” our dogs I think has produced some amazing results in many dogs. I am not talking only about the national championships or world team placements, I mean impressively behaved family pets that turn into impressively trained performance dogs.

So then I started thinking;  how do you evaluate this, by what yard stick would you use  measure those results? Well it can’t just be by a dog “doing a required response” or “winning a specific trophy or title” because there are all kinds of methods that can get you those results — that is the beauty of dogs. They are often learning in spite of the methodology being used and not necessarily because of it! Where dog training is concerned in my opinon, the ends can never justify the means.

So I decided I would like to start a list of what to look at when deciding if the dog training you are getting is producing inspiring results for you.  I am looking at the entire picture of the dog while working;

1. The quality of the dog’s response; can be judged by any number of criteria (most listed below); quickness, precision, attitude, does it have a “wow” factor etc.

2. The reliability of the response regardless of how far or near the trainer may be or how “excited” the dog may be by watching racing prey, birds in the field or wildlife underfoot.

3. The repeatability of response; will the dog repeat the behaviour each time he is asked as often as he is asked?

4. The quickness of response; the speed of response to cues when given and the speed of the actual behaviour (one cue performed as fast as possible).

5. The attitude or lack of stress in the dog response or body posture while working. I mean an obvious confidence while working and a lack of obvious and/or subtle signs of stress; star gazing, stress yawning, lip licking, scratching, sniffing or other appeasing responses.

6. The compliance of the dog — one cue give by the handler one speedy response given by the dog.

7. The focus of the dog — is he looking elsewhere for his reinforcement, is he sniffing, leaving work etc.

Can you think of any others to add to my list?

For me, the training approach at Say Yes Dog Training; the “Do-Land” approach is one I know is possible for everyone who has an open mind and a love of dogs. My approach is a very simple one that can be summed up in four basic steps;

1) I observe my dogs and evaluate “where is their value or joy” — what makes them happy, what do they love most of all.

2) I have a vision of how I want my dogs to behave around the house and how I want them to perform in the ring.

3) I then just transfer the value of number one into number two.

4) When I get what I want, I aim to consistently maintain it throughout the life of the dog. The clarity of your application of your own imposed guidelines are critical to your dog’s long time success.

Simple eh? But as Bob Bailey says dog training is simple but not always easy.  So let me share the series of video clips that inspired this blog post.

These results come from a consistent application of the three steps above.  Any of you that are subscribers to Puppy Peaks have seen me repeat those four steps above over and over in every clip I post each week about Swagger’s training. I am sure the results shown in video above comes as little surprise to any of you (other than Swagger is a few months older now that he is in Puppy Peaks:)) because you have seen Swagger’s responses evolve each week. Every struggle I posted and my approach to overcoming it is what has brought us to the place this video represents, one that very well could possibly be inspiring results for a puppy that has just turned 10 months old! I know Swagger and I have a very long way to go but I think he is quickly approaching all of my above criteria. Don’t you think?

Today I am grateful for Swagger and all he is teaching me about dog training. Sigh . . . yes we are both still learning and it amazing me how much each dog I work with teaches me. I can’t believe all the discoveries and changes I have made in my training with Mr. Swag-man compared to what I did when his mother was this age just four short years ago!


  1. Kim Angelis says:
    Thursday, October 8, 2015 at 3:40pm

    Thank you for everything you share, Susan. I may have something to add to the list of criteria for an Inspiring Performance: does your dog make you spontaneously, sincerely laugh as you share your joy? (In your videos, I’ve seen you laugh countless times, Susan…beautiful!)As we are playing our way through Recallers – and Agility – I find myself laughing more and more. Never at the dog, mind you, but with the dog, because we are sharing something wonderful and we are having so much fun we cannot contain ourselves! My amazing dog intuitively understands the source of this laughter, and it inspires her to keep “upping” her game. I LOVE playing with my dog!! Furthermore, she is teaching me to stop my perfectionist behavior; I am learning that I cannot perfect myself or anyone or anything else. Only God can perfect me… as He pleases. This is a total shift of paradigm for me… brought about by a dog. Awesome.


    • Claire says:
      Thursday, October 15, 2015 at 4:23am

      I totally agree with you on this, Kim. I have made the same experience. One special moment: My puppy Klara teased me when we were playing chase, by running towards a big puddle and lowering her head as if she were about to drink (which she knows she is not allowed to do), and then looking up at me waiting to chase her away – which I did, laughing out loud. She repeated this several times on that day and obviously enjoyed making me laugh because now, whenever we’re on that same playground, she repats this game in the same spot, whether there is a puddle or not. – How can you not love such a dog??


  2. Heather Dufault says:
    Sunday, October 4, 2015 at 1:18am

    I have really been enjoying doing the Critical Core games and also the Crate games with my 2 year old Border collie rescue–and he certainly needed these, because when he came to us almost 5 months ago, we were told that he had spent the first year or so of his life chained to a doghouse almost 24/7…so as you can imagine, he was poorly socialized. He was actually very good off-leash (beautiful manners at the dog-park) but on-leash a different story–reactive to both larger dogs and people. And also, unpredictable behaviour at home–occasional lunging and snapping. I do feel that these games are helping a great deal…but it may be too late, as after a couple of incidents earlier this week (while I was out of town) involving my daughter and a friend of hers, my husband has urged me to contact the rescue and have him sent back there. I feel very badly about this, because I do believe that I will be able to succeed in time with this dog, but I don’t know how I am going to be able to convince the two of them on this; I really don’t know what to do next…


  3. Brenda N says:
    Friday, October 2, 2015 at 7:21pm

    I enjoyed the message, but I could not view the video?

    What you wrote about watching your dogs to see what they like is what I have been doing with my new puppy, Gracie, and what I’ve done with my older dog, Jack. I have discovered that Jack totally loves anything dealing with his nose. So he is retired from obedience and is learning nosework and tracking. His heart is not in obedience, no joy at all. As far as Gracie, she is a sponge and absolutely will do anything in order to tug. She is a tugging maniac! Don’t get my wrong. She enjoys the treats, but I believe a toy or a tug is the key for her!


  4. Carol P. says:
    Friday, October 2, 2015 at 4:36pm

    Yesterday my mini-poodle Star went to the vet to have a cyst removed on her back and to have her teeth scaled. It is common for my vet to take a dog into another area for certain procedures. When he returned with Star he said he was amazed at how obedient she was. He told her to sit which she did immediately and remained seated for her treatment. I never told him what the release word was! Needless to say I was very proud of Star especially in an environment she is rarely in and with people she doesn’t often see. Of course, her sit/stay in agility is brilliant!


  5. evie esposito says:
    Thursday, October 1, 2015 at 11:40pm

    Our 4 dogs are all well mannered and good, but I can’t wait to start playing with them following your choice training methods, as we will all enjoy our relationships with much more fun ! It is so rewarding to see your dog being really happy working with you. Where do I find crate games to start with ? They do love their crates, so this looks like it should be a good starting point !


  6. Kim Duff says:
    Thursday, October 1, 2015 at 10:20pm

    Thank you Susan.


  7. sharon empson says:
    Wednesday, July 25, 2012 at 1:07am

    I wish my dogs could have the focus and intensity when working, well two of my dogs do. But one who is my best girl, just can’t get into toys at all. It has taken me a long time to get my girl to play with a stick. She spent most of her puppy hood in a shelter and I don’t think anyone played with her. She is food driven and a very soft dog. She desires to please me, but i would love to see her have a little more intensity. I will implement the crate games.
    My girl is very reliable and serious about training, and I try to interject fun, she is now beginning to run around like a silly girl and I chase her and then she chases me, but no toys.
    Tonight I am grateful for the lessons God has taught you in regards to training, Susan, and I am also grateful for your desire to pass them on. My dogs life is better for it.


  8. Fiona says:
    Wednesday, January 4, 2012 at 6:42pm

    What a clever boy. Recently I have been using a basket in training sessions similar to your use of the table with dogs that have done crate games. I am amazed at the results and the self control exhibited – with my 5 month puppy as well.
    I think the benefit of the hard shell basket is that it is easy to chuck cookies randomly and they always land and make a noise so the dog knows they are there. It is a larger area to throw into as well. The downside is that there is no door to close if they fail. If I get a fail I use a verbal marker like excuse me, or what are you doing and dog generally gets back in.
    Susan, I am interested in if you have a time when you would say crate games are good enough, and can just use a defined area that they need to stay in like a deck, basket, blanket etc. I think as long as it is a defined area, then anything can be used.
    Was talking about this to a friend, and I said her husband could randomly throw treats while she was training her other dog, and she didn’t think that would happen. I did a training session with the husband and my dog and he was great! It can be a fun gme for the significant other in your life.


    • Jenny Yasi says:
      Monday, February 6, 2012 at 8:44am

      When I started training Charlie, my formerly feral, I took apart the crate and used just the bottom half at first. Well since then, I can’t help but notice how a plastic laundry basket is a lot like a crate! My older dog, Tigerlily, loves to sleep in laundry baskets, so I have been using them as “crates” too!

      Crate games are so important! Thank goodness for you Susan Garrett! For me here with the pet dog training that I do, crate games become gate games and door games and car games, and self control around big distractions. I am very thankful for your work as a trainer! I can’t wait to come back and study with you in person again.


  9. DSMBC says:
    Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at 12:42am

    Nice post! Do-land is great and positive training makes all of the difference. I really love the criteria you came up with. 2 weeks ago we went to our first obedience trial. the majority of the dogs did not look like they were having fun, during the drop on recall 98% of the dogs had a slow, creeping recall and an uncertain drop. I watched many folks “warming up” that were practicing this and either yelling at their dogs or physically slamming their dogs to the ground when they didn’t drop quick enough. Broke my heart. There was also a husband and wife team that was taking 1st and second place in both open and utility and itnwas clear how much their dogs were enjoying doing the work — tail wagging and perfect. Watched them warm up with games that looked very much like recallers games — all positive and fun. turns out that they always place first and second at every trial. There is a reason for that!


  10. Evelyn says:
    Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 1:08pm

    I could kick myself over and over again for not having realized any earlier than I did what Crate Games really is….. a tresure !!


    • Evelyn says:
      Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 2:23pm

      treasure I meant….


  11. Anne says:
    Friday, December 9, 2011 at 4:24pm

    Linda, where in Texas?


  12. Linda Knowles says:
    Friday, December 9, 2011 at 1:20pm

    Hey Susan, My JRT is finally getting crate games. He is not perfect yet but boy he is getting it. I’m so excited. I have a little foster JRT that I’m also going to train with crate games. She loves destroying the kennel and whatever bed she has inside. Just with the work I’ve done with her so far, she isn’t tearing up the crate or shredding the beds anymore. Can’t wait to do more work with her.
    Always working on transferring that value. Still working on those recalls from the rabbits and wild animals. When I get that one you’ll hear me scream all the way from Texas. Working hard. Have a nice day!


  13. Anne says:
    Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 4:40pm

    There’s a gorgeous homestead on a particular route I take with my dogs on their daily outing. It has a white picket fence across the front of the property with two open gates on either side that offer access (and departure from) a graveled circular driveway.

    It never fails that each time I approach the residence (from across the street, mind you) the huge, mostly white dog that inhabits the premises barks (in moderation, if that’s possible) at us as he stands just behind one of the open portals, observing the comings and goings. I’ve often thought to myself as I pass, that the dog is just too disciplined not to budge beyond the boundaries of the open driveway when there’s an abundance of reinforcement within ear and eye-shot just for the taking . Surely, there must be an electronic fence keeping that poor creature at bay.

    But today as I advanced in the direction of the barking dog, I thought about the YouTube video above with 10-month old Swagger sitting on tables in the practice area waiting hours on end for Susan without so much as a whimper or secret rendezvous. Yes, rock-solid discipline can be had without the use of electronic fences. And maybe, just maybe that great big, lovely white dog is able to maintain remarkable self-restraint in the face of overriding stimulation because he has a sensational handler who understands what makes his dog happy and has transferred the value of that joy into what he wants…. Now, if he could just do something about the barking, he’d have the perfect dog, wouldn’t he?


  14. Debra Jones says:
    Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 10:10pm

    Gosh, Susan…I just keep going back to my Snap’s face and seeing the joy in her eyes, the intensity of her focus on whatever she’s suppose to be looking at; the quiver of her body waiting to be released…It doesn’t matter what we are doing…flyball, frisbee, agility lessons, crate games, IYC…she puts her whole being into it. And it all started with Living in do Land….with Crate Games as the foundation. She has taught me to laugh often; and that, in turn, has allowed her to find joy in everything we do. Even those “holes” that pop up often – become a game to fix them.
    I very much focus on those Four Steps, Susan. Knowing what my dog loves and finds joy in…makes it easy to transfer that into my goals. After all, they’re her goals too…she does it because she loves being with me and vice versa…now that’s a team!!


  15. Deborah Camilleri says:
    Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 10:09pm

    Truly inspirational for what is possible and a reminder to never underestimate our dogs, and better yet, our puppies!!


  16. Sydney says:
    Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 6:31pm

    The run by with the squishy ball makes me laugh every time!
    I had already decided that my Recallers goal this time through was calm watching from a table or open crate. This video gave me a great visual, thanks you!


  17. Shelley says:
    Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 6:09pm

    Love him!!!

    Yep gotta find those crate games sexy if pups are gonna come close to Swagger!


  18. Sarah Kevin says:
    Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 1:46pm

    I read somewhere that FUN is in the FUNdamentals. I have tried to explain to several people that I do believe this, because if you make them fun you will have a great pet, and they are the foundation for the “fun” stuff. Now having said that I have been satisfied with less then great fundamentals, and am motivated to get back to them and polish them up with both dogs. I am hoping to be able to look back and see the joy we have while we work, I think the dogs do, I am always concentrating so hard I find the joy later when I look back at the session.


  19. Dianne says:
    Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 12:13pm

    Crate Games is such a great foundation – I think it is a sexy base for your dog. In class Fly can now reliably hang out with the door open while other dog run by within a few feet. I really surprises people. In the airport Fly had to get in the crate while they weight it and then out, then they wanted to see her fit nd back in. Then out to take the crate to TSA. The people at the airlines and TSA where amazedhow easy she moved back and forth and sat and waited. She was all smiles till I wanted her to sit for a picture on the first class rug. There was a guy there making noises that seem worry her for a bit. I had her sit while all sorts of stuff wheeled by and we walked all around the airport. The more we did te more comfortable she got. The big bear in the display did get a bark and lots of laughs from the people around. We have crate games transferred to a chair too, either under it when I am sitting in it or in the chair when Fly gets her own. Every dog should start life as a puppy learning crate games


  20. Grace says:
    Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 11:27am

    yes, the “wow” factor when you are perfectly in sync with your dog!–reminds me of my sports-centric childhood and young adulthood, playing softball as a short-stop. The best feeling in the world was when I acheived perfect syncronicity with my first-baseman who could read every throw and pick it up out of the dirt with great flourish for the out, just a split second in front of the base runner!! sweet!
    Same sweet feeling with a canine partner who can work a problem and acheive a goal…with flourish!:)


  21. denise says:
    Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 10:45am

    Probably covered under your “attitude or lack of stress” point but I love the look on my dogs faces when they’re working – the high set ears, excited wide eyes and wagging tail. Only get that look with the Say Yes way.


    • Laura says:
      Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 1:23pm

      This is a good one. I (finally!!!) started video-taping some of my training sessions, and I was delighted to see my young Vizsla’s ‘metronome’ tail going. 🙂


  22. Carol Morgan says:
    Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 10:21am

    For me the criteria is the depth and quality of the team. Teams aren’t build entirely in a sterile environment where theory is applied between a robotic human and a robotic dog. Teams are just as individual and distinctive as the dogs and humans who work together to become a team. A team that lights up the room or the field whereever they go is usually a team that lands in the ribbons, breezes through family life events, and is welcomed in many places. My goal in training my dogs is to find that special way of relating and communicating that fosters cohesion and an easy communication between us, and develops a joy in working together. My youngest dog is the third Aussie I’ve trained, and my 2nd competition dog. Each one has been different. Each one has challenged me. And it’s been a different team with each dog.


  23. Gabi says:
    Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 5:57am

    maybe crate games isn’t an sexy answer because they need more tips how to proceed at crate games. The start is on the dvd but what i read in questions on Recallers and Puppy Peaks are questions how to move on after the first steps.


  24. Jackie says:
    Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 2:30am

    It’s true that I don’t want to hear crate games, but it’s not for the sex appeal. It’s because CRATE GAMES are just so simple that I can’t believe I haven’t been doing it my whole life!


    • Jackie says:
      Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 2:31am

      Whoops, I guess here I’ll also freely admit that I got a few of my clients to do crate games with their puppies and they have better behaved dogs around the house than I do. I’m pretty sure they think I’m blowing smoke when I say that but I’m definitely not.


  25. meghan says:
    Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 2:02am

    Crate games has for sure helped me and my
    Female jrt, jaxie, find the joy. She finally is competing successfully in agility and enjoying every minute of it! We came from her only being able to complete three obstacles to having crate strategically placed out in the arena and now to have one crate against the fence and she hangs out there while I work my recently adopted Aussie or while I walk courses our trainer has for us. Thank you thank you for everything you have helped me find joy with my girl and who many trainers said couldn’t be a agility dog. We proved them wrong last weekend with 5qs and three firsts and two seconds !


    • Susan says:
      Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 2:13am

      Meghan I just LOVE to hear success stories like this! Just because a trainer doesn’t have the answers for you DOESN’T mean the answers don’t exist! Great perseverance on your part, your Jacks are lucky to have you!


  26. Angela says:
    Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 1:57am

    To me, dog training is like making a wonderful apple pie. I can have all the ingredients and follow the instructions but my pie shells are always hard 🙂 I guess with practise i can improve? Where as some people just have the knack to make a perfect pie. To me Susan’s dog training skill is like grandma’s elusive light and flakey pie shell….sigh.


    • Kristi says:
      Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 7:47am

      I’ll bet Grandma’s first pie shell wasn’t light and flake-y. Just keep on baking…


    • Laura says:
      Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 1:19pm

      Angela, if you follow Susan’s methods, you, too, can improve your training to the point where you look back and say ‘wow, I can’t believe how awfully I trained back then!’ and you will see the results in your dogs. For me, some things have taken longer to sink in (and so I ignored them or brushed them off – mistake!), and some things I know, but I just have a hard time doing them (like being consistent 24/7). But nothing Susan does in training is really rocket-science, it’s just excellent application of the rules that govern behaviour. She’s just really, really good at applying them and doing it consistently. It is possible, believe it! 🙂


  27. Tim Munro says:
    Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 12:56am

    Nice post.
    For me I like to think about it as, when great training has been achieved, then the back and forth in the relationship becomes so fluid that you don’t notice the adjustments that need to be made (if needed). Great training needs to not only improve the qualities in how the dog responds but just as much how the person responds as well. There is no angst when something goes a bit off track and there is total trust in helping it get back on track. I think this also involves following a lot of what the dog is coping with, able to, and wanting to do so they have a voice as well, but then helping them through this if needed to achieve our goals.


  28. af says:
    Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 12:49am

    all the items mentioned above are measures of training results, but the one left out is the ‘Wow’ feeling. the feeling you get when you know you and your training partner are in sync with each other. It doesnt always have to be the perfect performance, but it has that special bond between partners.


    • Karen M says:
      Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 4:36pm

      Do so agree about being as one with your dog. Just the best feeling.


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