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How Good Is Your Glue?

Posted on 03/08/12 142 Comments

What’s Missing In Our Foundation Dog Training ?

The laws of science have taught us all how to use reinforcement to shape our dogs’ responses. As we train a dog we are actually building behaviour, like a little girl with her glue gun making crafts or . . . if you were a little girl with seven brothers that would be you building a model car with airplane glue:).

While you train your dog, you are fitting pieces together to create the desired behaviour. However, for those of us competing with our dogs just “getting behaviour” is rarely good enough, we need to have that behaviour with enthusiasm!

So if our dog’s responses are the pieces that fit together to give us behaviour . . .  then our dog’s emotional state prior to and during the work is the glue that helps all the pieces come together. Lack of glue or the wrong glue and everything falls to pieces.

Your goal prior to any work session is to create the perfect glue for your own dog. By doing that you are putting your dog into a state of arousal that will produce his “peak performance” every time you train. This has nothing to do with competing (although it is excellent advise for those of you that do trial your dogs) it is about bringing an alert, focused, keen dog into each and every training session with you.

If your dog is under-aroused he is going to be distracted by otherwise insignificant things in your environment. Here is where people lament to me “my dog doesn’t like to work in the heat,” or “he doesn’t like wet grass” or “tall people scare him” or “barking dogs make him run away . . .”  or my dog “just loves to go sniffing,” or “chases birds” or “eat horse poop.” 

Have you ever considered why your dog even notices the heat, wet grass, birds, poop, other dogs or smells while other dogs working in the same environment don’t seem to notice anything except their trainer and the work?

Think About THIS . . .

Would your dog notice any of these “big” distractions if you were in the act of lowering a heaping plate of roast beef down to him? Or  bouncing around his favorite tennis ball to chase, or if a squirrel ran by? Of course he wouldn’t because his favorite food, toys or rodents running by will put him into a higher state of arousal. One where the environment no longer matters to him, he has unbelievable focus and drive for something else so can ignore any kind of condition or distraction to get at what you have for him.

The Question To Consider

The question now is how do you get THAT focus and desire in your training? The answer lies within your glue. Each dog will have a unique mix of glue to suit his unique drives and desires. So, what is the glue that is going to bond all of the behaviours together for YOUR dog?

This is a critical question for everyone trying to train a dog and one I am currently writing about for a series in my newsletter. I sent out an announcement earlier this week to all of my newsletter subscribers. You see I plan on rolling out my biggest on-line dog training project to date at the end of this month. This one has been in the works for two years. It is pretty well an all inclusive course for training your dog’s contacts for agility. “The 5 Minute Formula To Contact Success” will cover:  foundation games, body awareness exercises, up contact training, a “quick fix” formulation to overhaul your current contacts f-a-s-t,  plus a detailed step-by-step instruction of how I train my stopped contact training and yes . . . I will even spill the beans on the foundation training for my new running contact training.

I Have Some Ideas For You

While planning out this upcoming mega-course,  I had to think what would be the biggest stumbling block to my students’ success?  Well assuming everyone follows through with the work, I think the biggest obstacle in the way of success would be starting out with a dog that has little interest in engaging in the work or with his handler.  It is that “D” word. Twenty years or more ago I came up with an acronym for my students “D.A.S.H”  (desire, accuracy, speed & habitat). The DASH acronym is as relevant today as it ever was; you have to get the dog’s “D” or desire up prior to trying to teach the dog any part of the “A” or accuracy of a behaviour. Training a dog that lacks “D” is going to be a battle of frustration and futility for anyone.

When I say “a dog that lacks D” most people immediately think of a low drive, frightened, lethargic dog that has little drive for training. But the lack of “D” can also go the other way. You may have a high drive, super keen dog that has tons of “D” but rather than it being directed at  you or your work his focus is directed at the first shiny thing that catches his eye; other dogs, birds, people, smells, you name it!

Either way, trying to train a dog that lacks “D” is a bit like herding cats and I wouldn’t wish that job on anyone, let alone students I want to help with their contacts! So before I roll out my new course I really want to help people to create desire and focus in the correct direction; towards you and the work you are attempting.

All of this starts tomorrow as I send out the first foundation newsletter for improving your dog’s “D” to work with you. If you are not one of my newsletter subscribers you can join by filling in the form on the front page of this blog, you will find it on the right hand side. Please note, you may have to tell your internet provide to “allow” emails from sayyesnews AT aweber DOT com (written like a true email address “[email protected]). If you have specific struggles you would like us to consider in our series, please let me know about them here. ** We did have an issue with the newsletter that went out earlier this week, so if you didn’t get yours, just try to sign up once again — that is the best way to know if you are on our list or not.

Today I am grateful for Lynda OH, who took a two month leave of absence from her job with the government so she could come to work full time for us here at Say Yes . . . next step in my plot is to somehow make this a permanent thing:)


  1. Emily Meng says:
    Wednesday, December 27, 2017 at 5:54pm

    I read this post a while ago and didn’t think much of it. However, just yesterday as my dog and I were both moping our way through a flat-work sequence and she (my dog) stopped to sniff the air, disregarding the treats I offered her, I knew something needed to Change! I carefully thought through my training plan… It had crumbled and was in ruins… And it seemed that every time I tried to “put it back together” in one way or another it would fall apart. Suddenly it struck me that our “glue” might not be as strong as it used to be! Happy ending: This morning during our training session my dog made 0 mistakes, did not wander off to sniff the air, and never took her eyes off me(except to chase a treat)!! Thank you so much Mrs. Garrett!!! <3


  2. Anthea Rocker says:
    Friday, July 27, 2012 at 2:25am

    Hi Cathy, I think you can only get them online from http://www.k9bridle.com/ Hope this helps. Anthea


  3. Anthea Rocker says:
    Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at 4:08pm

    Bob, who is now five months old, didn’t mind the head collar games, but hated it when I tried it for walking. However, when he started his puppy agility foundation class at Devondogs I was advised to use a gentle leader or a K9 bridle. He prefers the K9 bridle but still fights it occasionally. However, it has worked wonders. I hold the lead and hook my thumb in my pocket so the length doesn’t change, that keeps him next to me (in same position as RZ) the moment he looks to me I reward him really fast with the same hand (took me a bit of practise in the mechanics). We’re still not perfect but he is so much better, my instructor is very pleased with his progress and now he is also do this off lead at training (RZ that is). Also now, if he doesn’t have the head halter on – he may pull away, but quickly returns to my side (usually when I am standing still at the moment to listen to instructions etc.) This never happened before. So keep at it Lisa, you’ll get there.


    • Lisa Yarn says:
      Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at 7:40pm

      Thank you very much for your comments. I think you are exactly right, Laura – that’s what I was trying to figure out. The only reason I am ahead is because I discovered Crate Games and 5 Minute Recall! Crate Games has made an amazing difference, both in his behavior and in my confidence! I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do obedience trials, but I am starting to think we can do it. Anthea, I am not sure how the K-9 bridle is different, but I am going to try it – even though my husband keeps rolling his eyes over how much money I am spending “equipping” Finn!

      The main problem I have with training him to heel is that he is so short compared to our last dog (a German Shepherd) that it’s hard to deliver the treat efficiently!


      • Cathy says:
        Thursday, July 26, 2012 at 5:38pm

        I live in the USA. Can you tell me where you purchased your K9 Bridle? Thanks, Cathy

    • Cathy says:
      Thursday, July 26, 2012 at 5:42pm

      Anthea, I live in the USA. Can you tell me where to purchase the K9 Bridle? Thaks, Cathy


  4. Lisa Yarn says:
    Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at 1:39pm

    Lisa Yarn says:
    Wednesday, July 18, 2012 at 1:59pm

    I’m not sure if this the right place to put this question, but I have thought so much about what I am inadvertently reinforcing ever since I read this newsletter. I think some things are coming together in my mind as a beginning trainer. Here goes:

    I just took Finn, my papillon, out and thought, I’m going to walk with him and not use the gentle leader, because he doesn’t like it and why not just be patient enough to teach him without it?

    We went out to a quiet street. We haven’t been out for walks there for a long time because it’s so hot we are inside all the time. He was instantly overwhelmed with the sensory input – even though it was just smells and quiet sounds – very rare movement of people, animals, or cars. At first I tried to get him to walk by my side without pulling, but he was beside himself. So it struck me to become completely Zen. I don’t have to go to work, I have all day, and why not just start from the very beginning. It’s like he got a brand new owner at that moment.

    So I just stood there and waited for him to look at me. And I spent the next 30-45 minutes doing that. I did not make it stressful. I just sat next to him on the quiet street, and relaxed and watched his eyes and body and mind working as he responded to it all. I waited and waited for him to look at me, and when he did, I clicked and treated. There weren’t many looks, so not many clicks and treats, but neither of us worried about it. That is, he didn’t worry about it – I was thinking and teaching myself not to worry, and I relaxed into it.

    After a while I needed to start home, but I wanted to avoid the pulling, so every time he pulled against the collar, I stood still and didn’t say anything, and waited for him to look at me. Again, he would stand there forever and just stare forward and pull, but I didn’t move. When he looked, I clicked and treated and we moved a few steps as long as he was heeling next to me. I didn’t expect him to watch me like in a formal heel, I just wanted him to walk nicely in that position. Sometimes he just sat down and looked forward, completely relaxed, looking around. It took a very, very long time to get back the few yards home!

    My big question the whole time was, “Am I teaching him what I want to be teaching him? What am I really shaping?” I was trying to get him to be cued in to me and realize that we were only going to go forward if he walked next to my leg without pulling. But when I stood still and let him pull against the collar for a long time until he looked at me, and when I just let him sit there until he looked at me, was I reinforcing something else?


    • Laura W. says:
      Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at 1:56pm

      I think Susan would say your dog was being reinforced by the environment that whole time (whatever he was looking at). That’s why she loves the head halter – it allows you to turn your dog’s head away from the distraction, then release the pressure and allow them to make a choice – connect with you or with the environment. She first teaches her dogs to associate wearing the hh with good things (she admits it’s hard to get all dogs to *love* it). Good for you for asking yourself these questions – you’re miles ahead of where I was when I first started training.


  5. Ellen says:
    Monday, April 16, 2012 at 2:23pm

    It seem that D gets dampened by anxiety/ stress my dog having during trials. It seem he not only has his own worries he is way too sensitive and feeds off my heightened emotions. Hopefully upcoming contact course will have some angles how to work in agility from worried dog view, Dee dog view so to speak.


  6. Kathy Johnson says:
    Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at 10:43pm

    I remember taking my now almost 8 year old dog to one of your seminars when he was a puppy. Over the years I have been a true believer in your methods of teaching dogs and probably haven’t always got it right but the eight year old dog and I have become a great team. Now I’m currently working with a young dog that is now 2. I have all the desire, speed, accuracy, and habitat with him or so I thought I did. When I started trialing him the great contacts I thought I had flew out the door – yikes I need help. Everything else seems to be what I desire – I have been told that he doesn’t have any impulse control in a trial environment. Would that be habitat I’m missing? I’m looking forward to your online contact training.


  7. Willy says:
    Monday, March 19, 2012 at 1:40pm

    I can’t find an appropriate place (between here, Facebook, PuppyPeaks, or Recallers haha!) on where to ask about the contacts course. I just have one simple question that I feel is important to know SOONER rather than later:

    How much equipment will the course require?

    I am taking a break from group classes and practicing in my yard. I have a teeter and dogwalk, but have not yet built my A-Frame. Do I need to get on that asap for the class? I’m sure there are a lot of people who don’t have direct access to contact equipment that are wondering the same thing. While I am sure you will cover this when you announce the class- some things take time to build/buy in order to be prepared.


  8. Michelle says:
    Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 12:42pm

    First I will say that I am a fan of yours. I recommend you to many that could learn from your valuable advice. I have taken the recallers course, heck I am a Foundation member, or was a member of the first one given 🙂 I am taking Puppy Peaks, so I do believe in your product.

    Now the D for Dash. I think I would learn more watching you get a dog that lost his D and you show us how to get it back. To watch Swagger wouldnt give me any value at this point after seeing Puppy Peaks. I agree that you have built value in you from the beginning, literally since you bred him. I have a new puppy and I am confident he finds value in me as well. I can go for a walk and he would rather be with me than the other dogs. Yes he will play and I enjoy watching him have fun, but I am more fun. However, I have an older dog that is “softer”. Not sure what that means. You have met Trudy, she LOVES to shape, but caves under pressure. I am trying hard to work on that, build build build. If you build it they will come (remember the movie).

    Bottom line though, to really show people D and how to get it, just in this case, it would be helpful with a different dog. My two cents on this one.


  9. frances says:
    Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 10:20am

    Hi Susan,
    Could you tell me why we are taking the notes? It would help me to analyze the data if I knew what I was looking for. I have gone back over your post- skimmed it really- to see if you have already said what we should look for, but I can’t find the information I am looking for.
    The reason I ask is because I have been trying to figure out what to look for and I may be way off base.
    My first thought is I don’t want the dog to stop offering behaviours (like snorting when his bone falls off the couch/ I pick up the bone). I just want to make sure that on balance, I am the one looking like the boss. I want to be the one training him, not the other way around!
    My second thought is that I want to make sure that the behaviours proceeding the event that triggered the reward are positive.(eg. Dog is sniffing something, I say sit, the dog sits, and I say “good dog”; That is different from the dog is biting me, I say sit, the dog sits, and I say “good dog.”)
    Does that sound right?


  10. Anthea Rocker says:
    Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 3:35am

    I just love your courses Susan, thanks. I started note taking about when my dogs were training me. Main example is one of them at the time I usually feed them in the evening. She gets up, goes to my Mum in her chair and insists on attention, then looks at me, and I look at the clock and say, oh it’s time, and then feed the dogs. I am definitely going to change this and vary feeding times etc.


  11. frances says:
    Monday, March 12, 2012 at 9:07pm

    I have been keeping sporadic notes on rewards and triggers and triggers before the trigger, and I am noticing how often I work for my dog, and not the other way around. For example – he was chewing his bone on the couch and then the bone fell off the couch. He looked over the edge and snorted. I picked up the bone and gave it back to him. I tell myself that I like to hear him “talk” like that, and by rewarding him, I will encourage the talking, but noting it has made me wonder about what kind of relationship I am shaping.


  12. Kathy says:
    Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 8:21pm

    My 3yo BC has her ADCH and is halfway to her MACH but continues to have issues with distraction and has even run out of the ring when dogs are playing frizbee or tugging in sight. She will not play with me, take treats, or make eye contact when distracted, she only has eyes for the others playing/tugging and barks incensently wanting to make them stop( won’t play with other dogs). I would love to know how to reconnect her and keep her focused on me and to increase her confidence. I am afraid she isn’t a “D” dog but when not distracted is brilliant on recalls, loves agility and has been successful but hasn’t reached her potential.


  13. Lyn says:
    Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 7:14pm

    I am on puppy peaks (love it). Last week you had swagger doing head halter games to increase focus during distractions. I used some of these games this week in my warm up before our run. I first worked outside medium level distractions. Then moved inside ringside (Huge distractions ). Her focus this weekend was better than ever I had my dog and saw the D in my dog! We moved to stretching exercises my friend walked up ad started talking to me True never even looked up she maintained focus with all that was going on. Huge improvement! She has great D for work at home even achieving and maintaining focus with our biggest distraction. Unruly neighbor dogs who run the fence and bark non stop while we are in the yard training. No more does she leave to go chase she ignores and continues to work. I should video it they are so loud and obnoxious it is amazing True has been able to overcome this distraction! Puppy peaks and Recallers has been a huge part of our training ! For any doubters this stuff really works. REALLY!! Looking forward to learning more about the new course. Thank you Susan!!

    Lyn and True


    • Susan says:
      Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 10:43pm

      @Lyn, awesome report, so happy to read it. Keep up the good work and great reports, I really do love to read stories like this one!


  14. frances says:
    Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 10:34pm

    Hi Susan,
    I began the Puppy Peaks series with you when I didn’t even have a dog! I was recovering from the loss of an old dog, and planning for a new puppy, and Puppy Peaks looked like an excellent way to learn about the newest techniques in training. Now I have a new puppy in my life- a 7 month old Aussie, Oscar- and I am EXTREMELY grateful that I found Puppy Peaks and entered the world of positive training.
    I won’t be starting agility until my puppy is older (I listened to your posted advice on that on Puppy Peaks), but I do need to find a way to build Desire for learning while Oscar and I are outside. He is easily distracted by a lot of different things (pine cones, birds, other dogs…). Having the clicker with me and a pocket full of yummy treats helps, but without that I am powerless at the moment.
    I am looking forward to learning!
    One problem- I am interacting with my dog a lot this week as I am on holiday, and attending obedience classes. 24 hours of record keeping might just give me carpal tunnel syndrome 🙂


  15. Nichole says:
    Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 1:41pm

    I hope this is the right place to ask this question, but from your email on Mixing Glue you talked about the situation where while shaping you reach a point where the dog stops offering. Would the right response on your part be to put the dog away rather than let the dog be rewarded for waiting or the handler luring the dog to continue? My automatic response would be to put the dog away, but at the same time is that telling the dog it can stop when it wants to? How would you handle that situation?


    • Susan says:
      Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 5:11pm

      Ideally during shaping there isn’t any “giving up” on the dogs part, that the dog continues to work. However, I recognize that the ideal isn’t always the way things go so I what to do when it happens. First do your shaping on leash for the next little while as you overcome this issue (so the dog can’t just leave), next “stage” failures — ones you control and just wait until the dog decides to come back to work. If there is currently a history of you helping the dog than they may not jump right back to work right way — in that case reward ANYTHING DIFFERENT — but only do that until you get them out of the pattern of giving up.

      I don’t like to put the dog away because yes, that teaches the dog if you don’t like what we are working on, just give up and it will end (been there done that with one of my first dogs!).


  16. Gudrun says:
    Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 2:42am

    Fist I want to thank you Susan. Since I became your student last summer, I have completely changed the way I train my dogs. It still feels uncomfortable sometimes – like doing something with the other hand feels uncomfortable – but at this point I doubt I could even find my way back to how I did things before.
    My 3 year old belgian, Lucy has benefitted enormously. Even the 12 year old Border Collie, Topsy has benefitted. She had done a good job in her old age og shaping us to never try to take her collar when she was doing something naughty(she would bite), as well as accept that her (selective) deafness. Your games have put a stop to that (especially the collar grab game and call once game). Also crate games, adapted to a dog bed has made it much more manageble to have 2 dogs that don’t like each other coexist in a small house (actually it is Topsy that resents Lucy, but you get the picture).
    But back to glue. Lucy is an anxious dog, so her arousal at home is generally on the low side, while it is a bit too high when we are in unfamiliar environments. But as I say, puppy peaks and recallers has made a HUGE difference. Look forward to your article series.


  17. Laura W. says:
    Friday, March 9, 2012 at 9:56pm

    Supa dupa! 🙂


  18. Linda says:
    Friday, March 9, 2012 at 8:46pm

    I am looking for to this newsletter series. I am with Nancy and Bonnie, I would like to know if you sent out the newsletter today since I have not gotten it. The one that was dated March 6th I got yesterday so am I having provider issues? I am getting so close to figuring out the glue as you call it with my 18 month old BC and would love to get it all nailed down. I so do not want to have issues like I have with my 5 year old, but two different personalities so I think I am safe as long as I keep building our relationship.


    • Susan says:
      Friday, March 9, 2012 at 8:54pm

      Newsletter is scheduled to go out at 9:00 PM tonight! (yes Toronto time . . . which to me looks like in about an hour).


  19. Beth says:
    Friday, March 9, 2012 at 8:38pm

    I’m excited for more instruction in this area. My 3 year old golden can seem very connected when we run agility and then in an eye blink will leave me to sniff at something or attend to some other distraction. I cant ever see it coming, it happens so fast. Recaller games and relationship building exercises have helped but the problem is not solved.


  20. Jan Standish says:
    Friday, March 9, 2012 at 7:29pm

    I just rescued an energetic 4 year old border collie from a shelter. Having lived on a farm and never had a leash on or been out of her environment, she focuses on everything that moves so this course will be perfect. We have started Crate Games and with a clicker and high value treats outside she occassionally actually looks at me.
    thanks Susan this is soooo great!!


  21. Jeni says:
    Friday, March 9, 2012 at 6:23pm

    Susan I just wanted to say I am so happy to be able to taking online courses of yours. I came up back in December for your foundation workshop and learned so much. I’ve noticed so many changes in my training habits and much more to follow and my three year old dog is doing so well. Recaller games have really helped out her focus. We did some agility practice for the first time since November and both of our trainers (along with some old classmates) told us they could tell we had been working together. She seems to be enjoying life again. There for a while she was so sad after loosing my Grandmother in her life. My new dog (15 month old border mix) is doing really well with some foundation recaller games. She has a lot to learn with no training in the past lucky for me she is a fast learner and her confidence is growing. I’m becoming a much better shaper with the two of them. I can’t thank you enough because without my new skills my dogs wouldn’t be this far. I can’t wait to see where our training takes us. I realized half way through the recallers course that even though the games themselves are important, they don’t need to perfect the first time. I started to worry less about how well we were progressing with the games and started mixing up the ones they were good at to build them up before moving onto a new one. I would occasionally throw a new one in just to see how the building of new ideas was going over with them and I noticed they both seemed to check on much faster. While my older dog is still having tugging problems around treats and being outside its getting better. She’s definitely happier about tugging, and my younger dog is having no problems with treats or tugging. It is funny how long it took me to realize recallers was about spending quality productive yet fun time with your dog than just trying to get all of the games in. I even begun to get better at mixing the games themselves together.

    Anyway I just got way off topic I know. I can’t wait to see how my girls improve with contact training. I know I have a lot to learn and so much to work on with both of them, but we are on our way.

    Thanks so much.


  22. Sheila says:
    Friday, March 9, 2012 at 5:32pm

    I’m thrilled to be reading all these comments. No, I’m not thrilled that so many others are having problems, but I no longer feel like it’s “just me!”. Just did a training session with my young Tervuren boy and his contacts were BEAUTIFUL. This is my character who launches above the yellow on both the DW and A-Frame at trials. (His teeter is perfectly fine). I came inside very happy. We’ve a trial this weekend and I’ll do everything exactly the same and HOPE. 🙂


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