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Effective Triggers and the Transfer of Value

Posted on 03/13/12 70 Comments
Encore with a highly valued toy.

If you have been reading my blog long, you are aware of my constant emphasis on relationship building and a solid foundation before you work on the “sexy” stuff in dog training. Although I am thrilled when I see people working at transferring the value of their dog’s rewards into things like a seesaw, contacts or weaves poles, for me there is often a critical step  being left out.

Earlier today I sent out a newsletter that lead up to today’s blog where I am stressing the transfer of value for YOU! If a high-drive dog has loads of value for equipment but much less value for you imagine how difficult handling your dog would be as he paid little attention to you while he darted from obstacle to obstacle! And what would happen if there wasn’t any obstacles around?  Your dog would then seek out reinforcement from distractions in his environment.

Building value for you is critically important for dogs at either end of the “drive” spectrum. If your dog is at the lower end of the arousal curve with little value for you when you do not have his treats, he may; slow down, leave you, start sniffing or even just shut down and stop working entirely once the primary “value” is not evident. Having a better transfer of the value for you means you become more important to your dog and he will pay better attention even during times when you are not carrying food or toys.

For those of you with the over-the-top-with-drive dogs; learning the fundamentals of this transfer of value will help you to see how you may be contributing to triggering your dog’s over aroused state exactly at the moments you want him to be calm and focused.

If you are currently struggling with your dog training in some way, chances are the value of your rewards are still tied up in the “goodies” or “tugging” or “chance to chase” and there is nothing connecting you to those rewards. It is true, a person can never be more exciting to a field dog than a bird, or more important to a sheep dog than his sheep but you can build in triggers that ties the value of those things back through you which gives you amazing value to the dog!

See Your Dog as Sherlock Holmes

Dogs are brilliant detectives! One of many great assets dogs have is their ability to figure out patterns of reinforcement. That is why your dog can differentiate between the shoes you wear when you are preparing to take him for a walk and the shoes that mean “you aren’t coming this time.”. I bet your dog knows and responds to the last thing that  occurs before you push yourself away from the computer or when you pick up their leash or your car keys. The dog responds because those actions are triggering something very special. In effect your shoes, keys, computer shutting down all become positive triggers for the dog.

Competition = Sucks to Be The Dog!

Our dogs are equally clever at picking up triggers that signal no reinforcement will available at this time! There are dogs out there that are entering competitions without an adequate transfer of value for their owner, their work or the equipment. When these dogs perform at home or in training they are brilliant because you have their favourite cookie or tennis ball in your pocket and the dog knows it!  These dogs are not working with you because they love to run and jump or chase you as much as they are doing it for what they can get from you at during the process! During the other times when you are not “packing the goods” (for example when you enter a competition) you get a different performance from the dog.

You can maybe fool some dogs for a short period of time, but eventually they all will figure it out. If you haven’t be able to effectively transfer value to running with you and to playing the game, why would the dog want to go into the ring? This is when people will suggest to you that you try to fool the dog into thinking that you actually DO have his rewards on you (because clearly the game or you are not reinforcing enough to keep the dog’s attention away from other distractions that will present themselves at trials). You become one of those people that try to strategically hide cheese sticks around the outside of the ring or pass off a tennis ball behind your back to your friend just before stepping into the ring, hoping you can trick your dog.

I have, what may be some very upsetting news for you.

Eventually the ring gates, the judge, the gate steward, the way you breathe or walk on competition day or all of the above, will become a trigger to your dog that no reinforcement will be available for the next 30-60 seconds while you are in that ring. The more technical the elements of what you are asking the dog to do, the more likely it is that you are going to lose your dog.

Maybe the dog hasn’t figured it out yet, but the day will be coming and when he realizes there is NO VALUE for him inside the ring. When that happens whatever focus or drive for work you have right now will start to dwindle.

How will you know? It will start with the dog that walks or trots the course between obstacles 1-16 but runs like he has a rocket launcher up his butt from obstacles 16 through to 20 in order to EXIT the ring to get what he REALLY wants. The almighty cookie or tennis ball. Why? Because there was never any transfer of value in your training. Your dog will start to notice distractions that other competition dogs with a good transfer of value don’t seem to care about. Your dog is recognizing triggers that are bringing him stress, anxiety and a lack of what he really wants (his food or toys).

In today’s earlier newsletter I  wrote about transferring the value of your dog’s reward into positive triggers that can cue anything from focus, to drive to relaxation. These triggers (just like the ring situation) will prompt whatever emotional state you build into them. Below is a clip of my dogs with a few of the many triggers I routinely use while training and living with my dogs.

Building positive triggers into your dog training is the first step in creating more value for you.  Remember though, it is alway a balancing act, too much value for you makes it difficult to focus your agility dog towards obstacles, or your the obedience dog towards work scent articles at a distance or your search and rescue dog to confidently work regardless if he can see you or not.

Today’s newsletter represents a huge module of work which, if it had been in an on line course would have been rolled out over a week of time. Please take your time to digest all that I wrote. Once you have worked through the assignment report back here to this blog to let me know what discoveries you have made and what new triggers you are building.  If you are not yet a newsletter subscriber, you can sign up on the top right hand side of this blog post, I will re-send the newsletter tomorrow at this time to any new subscribers who missed it the first time around .

Today I am grateful for the gorgeous “winter” weather we are experiencing here today. High of 16 means outside jump grids for the dogs!


  1. Annmarie Sperry says:
    Tuesday, September 5, 2017 at 6:39am

    This app has been great for the advice which doesn’t beat or harm the dogs in any way


  2. Belinda says:
    Saturday, September 2, 2017 at 6:25am

    wish I could afford recallers but stumbled onto this today and so glad I did. I was struggling with one of my Jack’s just his lack of focus.
    So I started it’s your choice and that just put everything into perspective. He now doing so well. Thanks. I didn’t really notice how many triggers I have and use.

    Cheers for now Belinda


  3. bronnie holwerda says:
    Tuesday, August 29, 2017 at 6:20am

    Susan, I’m very grateful to see this new blog… I saw the webinar but was sad because we can’t afford the cost at the moment — although we have ordered crate training. I am working on itsyerchoice, and tell “random strangers” to google it (when they stop to say hello to my greyhound on walks). My dog is starting agility, she so loves the tunnel now that she went through it three times backwards and forwards and I had to stop her. She had fun though! I’ll keep watching and learning — thanks again!


  4. Lever Alvin says:
    Monday, August 28, 2017 at 7:47pm

    Can’t login to Webinar


  5. Anne says:
    Monday, August 28, 2017 at 1:29pm

    I was searching for information on how to transfer value to me, and I came upon this blog post. It refers to a newsletter sent out on this topic back when the blogpost was written. I see others asked this question before me, but I just signed up to receive future newsletters. Any chance I could receive a copy of this particular newsletter on transferring value? I’m interested in applying it to a shepherding context.

    Thank you!


  6. Emily Heilbraun says:
    Wednesday, February 8, 2017 at 11:01pm

    I just signed up for your newsletter ( yay!) ; will I have access to newsletters referred to in your older blog posts, i.e. The one about adding value and triggers to everyday ? thank-you, Emily


  7. Lindsey says:
    Sunday, April 10, 2016 at 2:19pm

    Do you have any more information or on line classes on transferring value or training triggers for an older dog. My dog is almost 8 and I did do puppy peaks, although she was about 2 or 3 at the time. She is a fearful dog and has done agility relatively well as I train with Jessica and Justine. However, I just read one of your blogs and I think you have defined one of our issues. I have never transferred the value of playing with me properly as she now has ,not some, but big issues with stress and wandering at the start line and gets more nervous as she feels my stress from this behaviour. Once she starts running, she is fine but the start is getting very frustrating for us…certainly me. Thanks


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