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Is it Time To Clear Out Some Baggage?

Posted on 03/21/12 79 Comments

If you are a newsletter subscriber then earlier today you would have received a post on evaluating and working towards eliminating “baggage” in your relationship with your dog. All of dogs our carry around some form of baggage from living with and learning from us. This baggage  is just artifacts of our dog training choices from the past. That is why as you wait for your next puppy you are filled with anticipation of how different it is going to be “next” time. You will have a clean slate, a new puppy without the baggage of the mistakes you made before you “knew better.”

Today’s newsletter was about not waiting for that new puppy. It is about cleaning up what is there with your current dogs so you both can enjoy training more fully. Here on the blog I am going to highlight a couple of the points I made in the newsletter. First of all, my earlier dogs carried baggage of my “methodology” shopping. Like possibly many of you that are reading the philosophy of dog training I initially started in was flawed in that it wasn’t based on sound scientific, proven principles. It caused confusion which showed in my dogs. When I started my search for more information I examined a lot of different ideas on dog training. When I found Bob and Marion Bailey in the late ’90’s I knew I could stop my searching. The same was true with my handling in agility. I went to a few seminars until I found one that felt right for my dogs and I. Then I stuck with it. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t altered my dog training or handling, it means that I have not added anything that isn’t consistent with the way I want to train and handle my dogs.   That is my advise to you, find out what makes sense to you, what fits in with the vision you have of the ultimate relationship with your dog. Create your vision and don’t stray. I often hear people say they are going to a seminar “to to pick up a nugget” to “mix in” with what they already have. Another “tool” for their tool box. In theory that sounds wonderful, but in realty take a look at a specialist in any field. They often have a few good tools they rely on but they have stopped over stuffing their tool boxes years ago. When trying to decide if you need join the next seminar, on-line course or buy the latest book  you need to decide for yourself if what you are considering is going to be a great contribution to your dog training or if it is nothing more than another distraction, taking up your valuable time and money.

There may be a momentary feeling that by narrowing your focus you might be “missing out” by not participating in the  latest  “Shiny Object Club”, but that feeling will soon pass and be replaced with one of great confidence. The more you focus on what you have and not what you may be missing, the greater you will learn to execute more effectively with the methodologies that do fit best with the kind of trainer and handler you want to be.

Since it is more difficult to show you my “dog training” from yester-year, I will let you enjoy a glimpse back at my agility handling journey from the past.

Non Reward Markers

With today’s generation of dog trainers looking to be more positive comes a wave of people not wanting to physically correct their dogs (hurray!) However there is a gap between not wanting to use positive punishment and “how the heck do I stop my dog from doing something I don’t want him to do?”  To many this gap seems daunting, you are paralyzed with two polar opposite thoughts, wanting to STOP your dog for doing what he is doing but not wanting to correct your dog! What results is people misguidedly try to use a “Non Reward Marker” in place of “verbal correction.” 

Personally, I will use a NRM (non reward marker) when I am training a behaviour chain. Here when the dog completes one response of the chain he is rewarded for his effort by being allowed to progress to the next response. So if you are teaching a dog to “go out” for obedience and he wasn’t going straight, by allowing him to continue forward you are rewarding the crooked line the dog has taken  . . . even if you do not give him a treat at the end of the go-out! If you were to verbally “correct” your dog with an “aah aah” your dog will soon slow done and eventually may even become hesitant about “going out.” The truth is the dog isn’t “bad” for going crooked, he was only mistaken. Mistakes should not have any associated blame in dog training, they are just feedback. If you watch the video clip below of me working a behaviour chain of weaving with my young dog “Swagger” you can see that any time I use a NRM, Swagger’s response is one of acknowledgement rather than dejection. With every NRM he hears he now knows he has eliminated one more option that is incorrect and  he is one step closer to earning his reinforcement.

Today I am grateful that my overseas vistors coming in from two different continents all arrived save and sound; let the fun begin!


  1. krimira says:
    Wednesday, March 28, 2012 at 4:46pm

    Dear Susan!
    Could you give me some help in introducing non-reward markers? How do you start to train them, how do you build it up, to not mean any negative punishment?
    Thank you, Krisztina


  2. aussiesmile says:
    Wednesday, March 28, 2012 at 9:47am

    Susan, how do you teach the dog to not take the toy if he makes a mistake e.g., incorrect weave performance (from straight on, when you threw the toy)in the video?
    It must be in very basic training.


  3. bluedogs707 says:
    Wednesday, March 28, 2012 at 2:58am

    I must constantly watch myself to not use negative verbal punishment (aah-aaah, etc). Chronic bad habit. I will try even more now that I am more aware of seeing it kill some of my dogs’ drive and confidence. The other big mistake I make that I find hard to control is my own personal expression (facial or other body language) when I am disappointed and frustrated with my handling–whether it be in training or in a trial. Watching videos of my runs and training sessions is helping immensely with this goal to be a positive handler.

    Mostly, I want to say that since starting positive dog training, I think it carries over into helping me be a happier person overall. How can it not? If I must create happiness and joy for my dogs to be successful, then it must come from me first.


  4. Sherry Moore says:
    Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 5:47pm

    I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate your newsletter, your blog, puppy peaks, 5 minute recall. All of what you put out. You are helping me change what I didn’t like and make sense of it all. Your videos are extremely helpful. It seems I am always in the process of sweeping out baggage in my training. I’m so thrilled with the results of getting rid of the icky and putting good stuff in its place :).


  5. Beverly Hebert says:
    Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 12:12pm

    Susan, I have bought all your books (my copy of “Shaping Success” is highlighted, dog- eared and practically memorized) including your e-book and now I plan to go back to start reading all of your blogs from the beginning – but in addition to being able to access them via the blog calendar by month, I wish your web site had some sort of subject index. I do sometimes use the search function to find info on specific topics such as “transfer of value” but a subject index would be a great help. Beverly
    P. S. Please write another book – I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing for a handy reference with your ideas and concepts, that would include how to become the cookie, becoming an expert in the use of reinforcement, etc.


  6. Debbie M says:
    Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 8:45pm

    I really enjoyed watching you train poles & you use of your NRM. My dogs respond the same way, good to know we are on the same track. Great newsletter & reminders, as usual. Thanks!


  7. Ruth Wilson says:
    Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 3:59pm

    The 3rd installment is well, I have all 6! Might I have the correct way to instruct my Corgi, Sage, to not jump on any person?


  8. Billie says:
    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 9:48pm

    I’ve only just had a chance to catch up on the recent newsletters you’ve sent and these blogs, they’re great thank you. As an avid student of yours for the past couple of years these are concepts I’ve been aware of but the way you’ve explained them in the newsletters has given me extra clarity. My Sheltie Bella has added a new ‘criteria’ to our crate games, where if I’m not quick enough in delivering the treat as she races back in the crate she will punch the flap door of the soft crate. I know this is naughty and that I’m reinforcing it, but it’s so damn cute! This behaviour has transferred to when I’m making my dogs dinner. Both dogs sit while I do this, usually close to where I have empty plastic bottles standing up to go ouside to recycling. Bella doesn’t get up out of her sit but does reach out with a paw to knock over the bottles if she thinks it’s taking too long. I know it’s naughty and could cause fall out for her sit stay but I’m prepared to live with it cause it makes me laugh! On the positive, Bella would never play tug with me as I didn’t know any foundation stuff when she was a pup and we started trying to play tug late and gave up several times because food was easier. We’ve worked hard at having fun with it and she’s now tugging like a demon at the age of 5. It really is never too late and I really believe you shouldn’t wait for your next puppy to start your ‘perfect’ training.


  9. Jan says:
    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 9:43pm

    Clicker Training For Obedience by Morgan Spector is a great book for learning shaping:)


  10. Beverly Hebert says:
    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 6:25pm

    I’ve been searching for a book or video that focuses on describing how to shape behaviors. The term “Clicker training” is currently used by different people to mean different things and most of the books I have read on clicker training use lure-reward methods. I would welcome suggestions from Susan or anyone else out there who can refer me to some source materials on shaping behaviors. Thanks a bunch, Beverly


    • Nathalie Allaire says:
      Friday, March 23, 2012 at 6:58pm

      Karen Pryor teaches clicker training without luring. There is a book (small)on clicker training she wrote, it’s basic but its a start. Also do you have the crate game dvd from Susan? You will learn to shape you dog, and the games are fun!
      I’m sure some others have more input on the subject.


      • Nathalie Allaire says:
        Friday, March 23, 2012 at 7:39pm

        can,t post!!!!

  11. Sarah says:
    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 6:25pm

    What a really interesting post – I am reasonably new to shaping and it has given me some interesting things to think about! I have a couple of questions about NRMs in a couple of situations;

    1) When training a duration behaviour – the dog will offer other behaviours as they think because they have not got a reward they must need to try a different position, rather than to hold that position for longer – I am guessing I just need to build the duration up more gradually rather than to use a NRM?

    2) When not training a duration behaviour and the dog stays in the first position it has offered because it thinks it may get a reward eventually – would it be OK to use a NRM in this situation, to encourage them to try something else?

    3) When a dog is asked to do something (such as to lie flat on their side) but in fact does something that has a different command (such as walk backwards) – would you use a NRM in this situation and wait for them to offer the correct behaviour or would you interupt the behaviour and then re-command?

    Thank you in advance for your thoughts and I look forward to reading your future blog posts!

    Sarah x


  12. Ronna says:
    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 4:09pm

    Oh, my, poor little Twister! Gotta luv our patient, tolerant dogs!!!


  13. Kate says:
    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 4:05pm

    I love that I have learned that when an “oh my” comes out of my mouth it’s intended for me, not the dog. It’s my cue to figure out why whatever it was happened. Not only am I not blaming the dog, but it’s made me think more about the behaviour and how I am training it. So thanks hugely for that.

    The NRM video was awesome. So cool that Swagger could race that fast to the toy and know that “oops” meant “not now”. I don’t have an NRM, but I’d kinda like one like that!


  14. Beverly Hebert says:
    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 2:56pm

    Susan, I am learning so much from you but still have some basic questions. Do I understand you correctly that you believe almost all behaviors should be taught through shaping rather than luring? Although I have shaped some behaviors (paw objects, nose targeting, walk backwards, etc.) I still don’t know how to start shaping a behavior that may not readily occur such as teaching a dog to Down. Clarify please? Thanks so much, BH


    • Susan says:
      Friday, March 23, 2012 at 3:25pm

      @Beverly, yes that is correct we shape all of our dogs responses.


  15. Vicki says:
    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 10:59am

    Susan, this has been so helpful. I am very appreciative of all the work you are putting into this. The latest letter really hit home to me and I am trying to get rid of the NRMs.

    I loved the video with this. It really gave me a chance to see how you reward and correct. I am new to all of this and just ordered Crate Games. It should be here next week and I hope it will help me put more joy into my relationship with my dogs. Thanks again.


  16. Viv Raundorf says:
    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 5:01am

    Hi Susan
    That was spot on! Sometimes I tend to live in “if only”-land; if only I get a new puppy, if only I hadn’t done this or that, etc.You have to work with what you’ve got.
    I have actually managed to change one of my dog’s bad habits (that I had let him develop, of course) and I’m so pleased with him:-)


  17. Jeanne says:
    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 12:52am

    Susan, in the NRM video you say that you train NRM (I imagine in the same way you train the collar grab game before it is used as an interuptor). Will you be going into more detail about how you train NRM?


    • Susan says:
      Friday, March 23, 2012 at 1:57am

      @Jeanne I do have a section in the contact course on how to teach it and yes I would say the philosophy is not too dissimilar to the Collar Grab game.


      • Jeanne says:
        Friday, March 23, 2012 at 2:24pm

        @Susan…..is the contact course the new shaping you’re doing? I am really interested in how you positively condition the NRM before using it. I understand and ‘like’ the collar grab game. I attempt not to use NRM because I choose to go back and reteach the broken part of the chain before re-chaining. I figure that the desire to use a NRM is usually a training issue, not a “dog understanding” issue (have not split my criteria fine enough for this dog). And I would never want to use it to patch up poor training on my part, but I would like to condition it to be a MARKER that means: point of information dog, that morment right there is why you won’t be getting reinforced; try something different right there. I can’t see using one often but I can see it as very very occasionally being a source of information….so I need to learn how to condition it so that should I choose to use one, it is in my toolbox.

  18. Debra Jones says:
    Friday, March 23, 2012 at 12:25am

    I’m ridding my morning baggage of allowing Snap to come in my bedroom multiple times before I get up. There was a time I told her once and she would go back to her house till I arose. Then she began laying on the rug in the front room…then laying on my bedroom rug…then licking my face… need I say more…I began reinforcing her behavior by not being consistent. I also have found myself saying “Aaaahhhhh” when something didn’t go right in our training sessions and I just hate it! Your newsletter was like a bomb on my lil ole head….you hit not only one nail, but multiple nails on my head! Thank you for the nails… :o}


  19. Sharon says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 10:01pm

    i love your articles they are an excellent resource and the always make me think. I was surprised at what was actually happening prior to giving reinforcement. Additionally I know we both have baggage. Which of course I am now sorting that out. I too have scanned and tried numerous training methods to reach one of my dogs.

    I have to young dogs are not yet involved in agility, or anything like that. I am just trying to learn how to best connect with my 18 month boy whom has extreme reactive behaviors. As he has become older he displays leash agression, additionally he nips at strangers who get to close, and gets very agitated at running, jumping noisy children. When we go to dog parks, he goes in the pens and watches and can nicely interact with other dogs. Bring him out of the pens, he engages in the “bar brawl stare” at other dogs in the pen. Additionally, he is highly reactive to other dogs on leashes. Even those he just interacted with them inside the dog pen.

    I haven’t had any success in calming him. My newest trainer has me using the “eehh” “cheh” or sounds like that. He also says I should keep walking towards my dog, standing tall over him getting him to sit. (Don’t get me wrong, my pup knows how to sit and basic commands but, when he is in his “reactive zone” he seems like he can’t hear me and can become rather vicious) I have noticed by using these sounds helps me not repeat the command. And I have noticed that he has started to reconnect with me when he hears those sounds. However, I did say started – I don’t always get a consistant response. This trainer also suggested when an “threatening situation” approaches, that I hold my pup between my legs so my ankles are by his waist/ribs holding him still. (He says it is like a secure snuggle/comfort to him.) This again so far, (just learned it this week) works with him, only at the dog park, and only some of the time. (Needs more practice.)

    Besides my new trainer, I have also tried to capture “click” when he quiets down, perhaps my timing is off, but that hasn’t worked. A trainer (who claims to use positive reinforcement) besides other methods tried using loud noises to distract him and then treat him when he stopped the barking. I’ve tried focus and impulse control classes. He was so out of his mind barking, even with dividers from the other participants we all struggled to hear the trainer over his voice. I have also been told that perhaps your dog can’t leave the home.” I of course won’t listen to that suggestion, I believe we both can be helped. FYI, I have another pup – 11 months old, (same breed, same father) and he doesn’t demonstrate these behaviors. Except I do worry he will pick up some undesirable behaviors from his brother. He isn’t anything like his older brother.

    Your article made me re-look at my feelings about all these methods, especially currently the “eeehh” “cheh” etc, and standing over him like they suggested. Understanding now I am using negative reinforcement, and I feel like I am bullying my boy. However, I don’t know what to do and I am unsure what to do now. Any suggestions on how to handle this behavior?

    Obviously I more thinking to do.
    Thanks for sharing your great insights about training our beloved pets.


  20. Debra Jones says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 8:20pm

    Great, great blog Susan! You just get me excited every time I read one! That’s what I want to emulate – that Joy and Fun; even with NRM!!! It’s awesome….


  21. Mauricio says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 6:25pm



  22. Jan says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 6:15pm

    Susan, you have a way of presenting information that even if we have heard it time and time again when you say it it finally makes sense! For years I have been doing a form of it’s your choice and then I would try to use luring to get a show dog more over their front-but in doing it’s yer choice, the dog wouldn’t lure! I recently shaped one dog to stand on the the table (for exam) on their own rather than luring and had an ah-ha moment! And now this Focus for Work #3 has made it all crystal clear!

    On a recent video-puppy peaks? you had commented that when your dogs are on the pause table they can’t have a paw curled under. I thought, “wow, Susan is really picky” but then is dawned on me that you were just making your criteria clear for the dog so that there were no grey areas. I am so bad with making my criteria clear but just that one comment made me realize how important it is that we determine our criteria and stick to it. I have had a few ah ha moments recently thanks to you and these were really important ones for me!!


  23. Lovell says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 5:38pm

    This was really helpful for me. I am in an area where there is not really a lot of advanced training in agility, so I do succumb to watching multiple DVDs, etc., in order to get some idea of what I should be doing with my dog. My group does use NRMs to mark a poor entrance to a weave, etc., so I learned to do that. My dog is extremely reactive to me though, and he also wants to be 100% correct all the time in his performance. If I repeat training repetitively until he gets it right, he gives me the snoopy dog look and definitely starts shutting down. If I just stop the next exercise and make him do it again, he still starts to shut down. When he gets it right, I give him a resounding yes! and he just thrives on it. So I have been encouraging more than discouraging but don’t want to let him continue on course thinking the missed jump was what I intended for him to do. Don’t know if that makes sense or not, but also it makes a lot of sense that he is green and I am greener =) but I love him dearly, and he so loves agility or really doing just anything with me. Thanks so much!


  24. Teresa K says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 2:56pm

    Thanks so much for this timely post. As a crossover trainer, I am guilty of the Shiney Object Syndrome. I’m very happy to find that Do-Land not only fits my style but even expands on it, and is helping me grow into the kind of trainer I hope to be.


  25. Victoria says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 1:37pm

    First of all your newsletters and blog are incredible help and inspiration! Love them, as well as the videos! I have a non-agility question that is quite serious though and I’d really like your advice. How do you handle when a dog fights with another?

    I have 4 dogs, (1 spayed bitch, 1 neutered male and 2 intact 3 year old show males), all 70-85 pounds. One show male is dominant, although also a bit of a worrier & the most fearful one. The other show male is fearless, ADHD and doesn’t respect the space of other animals or people when excited. The dominant male warns the other, who usually recedes away, but sometimes wants to test (bring it!) and if I can’t intervene a fight starts.

    So far I have been able to circumvent most fights, by telling the dominant one to go his crate, which he does willingly 99% of the time. We have a 5 minute cooling off period then release him. Sometimes I hear him growl in the other room and get up to address it, and he is already on his way to his crate! He self-crates sometimes. He loved crate games and often choose to go in to sleep.

    However we’ve had about 2 fights a year which are terrifying! I break up fights with spraying water in their faces, but it takes awhile to stop. No serious injuries, just a few small teeth marks on their heads, but I’m afraid that could happen if it continues.

    How do you handle fights? I remember from a previous video you have a JR and a BC I think that would fight.

    Thank you so much!


  26. Vineta says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 12:04pm

    I’m guilty of the “tell them again” if they don’t do something the first time and you really made me laugh when you said “get your butt out of that chair”!! So in obedience when my dog justs sits like a bump on a log when called for the recall, would I just go back, break the thought, try it again with me being closer? I’m sure she hears me, I guess she justs doesn’t get it yet even though I think she knows it…….but apparently not. Do you think it is a phase?

    Thanks for your excellent advice as there is so much to learn!


    • Susan says:
      Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 12:18pm

      @Vineta, a “Recall” is a behaviour chain. To me it doesn’t sound like your issue is as much as the recall part as your expectations on the sit and hold position part. I would say if your dog isn’t sitting with her nails curled, keen and ready, focusing only you when you turn to call her, she shouldn’t be called! In a behaviour chain when you cue the next “link” you reward the prior one. Would you want to reward a dog that is sitting disinterested? Nope so I would go back and work that part (Laura had a great suggestion of the 1-2-3 Game, that will make a big difference). You can find a great description of the game in Ruff Love found here http://www.clickerdogs.com/rufflove.php


      • Vineta says:
        Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 1:01pm

        Thanks Susan as I just knew you would have an answer for me! I do have your book which I have had for quite some time but apparently have not put it to good use. Now I have my reading assignment tonight!! Thanks so much as I love this blog!

  27. Sadie says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 11:23am

    Really enjoyed this newsletter, thanks for writing it! We are going to work on #6 – my BC gets worried around strangers and I know you’re right that a good game of tug or just random play gets him out of that mindset. And #4 clarifying our jumping up rules. Out of curiosity, do you have a “jump up” cue? What word/action do you use?


    • Sadie says:
      Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 12:04pm

      Haha this blog post is me at this exact time. I was listening to explanations just this weekend about needing to choose the right direction for me going forward as I’ve been doing exactly what you describe, “sampling seminars” to get an idea of what’s out there. There’s so many options! How do you know when you’ve found the “right” method?

      Oh! One more question – will puppy peaks registration ever be open again? The couple of clips I saw recently were fascinating.


    • Susan says:
      Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 12:06pm

      @Sadie When I want my dogs to jump up on me I pat my tummy and raise both hands in the air above my chest.


  28. Al says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 11:17am

    Your discussion of NRMs brings up the question of conveying the idea not to use them to our students. An NRM can take many forms, not just the usual No or That’s wrong or Uh-Uh. One of my basic obedience skills students has a softie Cocker with a budding stay issue. His person doesn’t use any of these words (because I’ve asked her just to put him back into his stay position without saying anything) but she gets a disgusted look on her face, or wrinkles her brow or does something with her neck and shoulders that shows she’s disappointed when he breaks. You can be sure the dog picks up on it. Just mentioning this to show that not using the NRM word is just part of getting rid of the attitude.


    • Alaska says:
      Friday, March 23, 2012 at 12:50pm

      Al, maybe ask the person to focus on what she is doing that led up to the moment when the dog broke his stay? What is the dog telling her about the information she has given him in their training so far? It sounds like she is putting all the emphasis on what the dog is doing and what she believes she has trained him to do (which is clearly not his understanding). Getting her to think about her own actions might help her out of that rut.


  29. Roz Merryman says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 10:05am

    This whole topic brings up a huge question for me . I recently had a surgery and had a period of recovery . Durning this period of time my husband exercised my dog and took her out when she needed to go out . The problem is ,he does a lot of things that i have untaught and allows her to do bad behavior . I was in a situation where” i had no choice .” She acts differently when i take her ,so is this something not to worry about.?

    Bottom line , do you let other people handle and or ,care for your dog ??


    • Susan says:
      Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 10:37am

      @Roz, yes John does a lot with my dogs; even though I am a professional dog trainer I am also a pet owner with a spouse. I would never dream of limiting the interactions of my family with my dogs in the name of having more precision. Having said that if John suddenly decided he wanted to start running my dogs over agility equipment I would intervene:). But living in the house yes there are things he does that I would rather he didn’t but I don’t want to nag so I turn a blind eye (to most things). I do try to encourage a few rules between he and the dogs. Sit before you let them out of the crate and before they get released outside. Those are the two big ones. Beyond that I know if the rules are clear with me I can add enough value to overcome just about anything:).


      • Gary says:
        Monday, March 26, 2012 at 1:45pm

        Susan, I can’t thank you enough for your remark on family members! I, too, live in a situation where it simply isn’t possible (nor desirable, really) to be my “Buzz-like” Aussie’s only handler. When I travel for a few days or simply have an intense work-week, I see progress slow to a halt or behavior regress for a day or two. However, I continue to remind family members about waiting for a sit-stay before exiting crate or door–thanks for reinforcing my thought that these are the crucial ones!

        Like many here, I am new to systematic dog training and agility, so learning a TON from this blog, the newsletter, and your DVDs and books. (Reading Buzz’s story has given me an entirely different perspective on my “wild-child” and encouraged me to stay patient and positive! As a result, our relationship has greatly improved!!)


  30. Jeanne says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 9:47am

    OK, you’ve challenged my thinking here. I understand the concept of interrupt the possibility of reinforcement but want to think outloud about the NRM. Isn’t it Bob Bailey who said that the raising of criteria should be so fine that the animal doesn’t realize it is being raised–so always working at 80% success. If you are doing that, then your chain won’t break as often and when it does, it’s an indication to the trainer that there is a part of the chain that needs to be rebuilt. A behaviour shouldn’t be part of a chain until it is under stimulus control….. (and yes I think MOST people use NRM far too often and randomly and don’t interrupt self-reinforcing but ‘inappropriate’ behaviour fast enough).


    • Susan says:
      Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 10:32am

      @Jeanne actually I think you may be a bit confused with what Bob is suggesting. His “80% Rule” refers to when you should up your criteria. i.e. when you have 80% with a behaviour you can challenge the dog to make it more difficult. Bob does try to stress to people he is not implying that all training should be 80% successful for the dog; that would be a waste of time and reinforcement. The dog learns both through the reinforcement and the lack of reinforcement (as you can see in the video clip). If we aimed to have 80% success in all of our training sessions I am afraid we would be challenged to move forward very fast while shaping any behaviour!


  31. Jane Harding says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 9:39am

    Your article on selecting the way you train is SO DARN TRUE.. I remember the days when it was do this one year and do it THIS way the next year… One year at Susan’s Camp I finally got it!!!!.. I finally understood the front cross and all the confusion my poor dogs were going thru.
    Now I indeed am careful to watch the video’s of My way, I don’t go sampling – IF it confuses me (which it does) heaven help my poor dogs, who try so hard for me!


  32. Andrea says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 9:37am

    nice to see your amazing timing at work with NRMs … I see (every day) dogs who have learned that making mistakes is BAD and react accordingly – makes me want to cry … so nice to see a dog understanding that a mistake is just a chance to do it again! thanks


  33. jackie d says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 9:24am

    So much to think about and I’ve only read three newsletters!

    What you say about baggage… I know this isn’t a behaviour blog but I have been doing a little BAT but mostly LAT with my FA dog. Do you think that’s too confusing for him?

    Another problem is my own confusion, really! One of my dogs (the FA one) does better with shaping, the other does better with luring. But I find myself accidentally using the wrong method for the wrong dog. Meanwhile I need to teach the second one more self control around stuff so I have been doing a lot of ‘leave the food’ excercises – which must be confusing her even more when I then try to lure her! So from what you say I need to teach her shaping and then neither of us will be confused.

    I really struggle with her back chaining undesirable things. In particular lunging at birds while on lead, and ear-splitting barking for attention. (Ignoring the barking – well I get non-compliance from family members and even visitors!!!) I get the treats out and I get ‘bark, stop, lie down on bed as instructed, pretend to relax, treat…’ and immediately back to bark again. Time outs apparently are reinforcing. Similarly on walks I get ‘lunge, heel for a bit, reward’… and straight back to another lunge. (She can do beautiful LLW in the garden or at training class, but she gets too excited outside those locations.) It’s the whole being reinforced for the penultimate thing problem that you described recently, but I haven’t worked out what to do about it.

    I’m still trying to teach her to enjoy tugging so am slipping behind rapidly! Her ball is very reinforcing for her but I entirely get what you say about wanting to reward them for being near you, not running away from you.


  34. Carla says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 8:47am

    Thanks for the email and saying the things that I was trying to sweep under the carpet. It gives me a boost of energy and a feeling of freedom. This morning we had JOY in our training!


  35. Barb says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 8:38am

    Your latest newsletters have given me lots to think about and do! The latest one could have been written for me, as I am trying to decide just where to go next in my training, or even when planning a session, what my next priority or shaping activity should be.
    I have been with SAY YES (R2 & 3 Inner Circle) since last April and my time is almost up. I want to continue learning from you so am just waiting for the details on the new on-line courses. I know that I would like to extend Puppy Peaks when that opportunity arises. It is an amazing resource! What I still struggle with at times are some pretty basic things – like meets/greets & arousal in new places and with new people. Overcoming my own anxieties has been a number one priority. I can see the difference SAY YES has made when I compare the youngest one to the older 2! That makes everything worthwhile! Looking forward to building even more JOY into my training, so hopefully I can make some good decisions in the next few weeks, as to how to do that best.


    • Susan says:
      Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 10:42am

      @Barb, don’t be so hard on yourself! No need to be anxious about any of this, as I said in the newsletter, focus your plan to clean up habits one or two small steps at a time and you will see progress. The cool thing about this kind of training is you do get “value stacking.” By that I mean you bring Joy in one or two areas and then when you move onto your next you already have that foundation so the joy starts coming exponentially!


      • Debbie says:
        Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 10:58am

        Yahooo. How much fun is it to have access to reminders about putting the joy into training! Thank you! Thank you for sharing the videos from earlier too.

      • Barb says:
        Sunday, March 25, 2012 at 10:08am

        Thanks Susan! Do want you to know that you have already helped me sort out a lot of things…small steps for me and my dogs. Just out of the blue yesterday the thought popped into my head, that it would make me feel really happy to be a better dog trainer. I hear you saying “JUST DO IT!”

  36. Gail Garwood says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 8:38am

    Oh, did this newsletter ever hit home on so many aspects. Have been with Say yes for over a year now and am very firmly convinced this is the way to go. The other books,DVD’s have been listed on e-bay. I really need to get rid of old baggage even though Darcy is only 2 + years old. I have relied so heavily on food as a reward since we are still developing tug joy. I feel my dog loves others more than me. We live alone, so I am the one who must dremel the nails and insist on training. When someone else visits, he is obviously so happy and wants to jump all over them which I must be the bad guy and move him away until he sits. One thing he really loves with me is when I bring out the balance disks. Naturally he gets food rewards, but he really enjoys them. He does enjoy learning new “tricks” but there is still something missing. Have all your books and belong to Puppy peaks & Recallers. Have reset my goals several times. All I am really seeking is a happy family pet that has fun to be around manners. I study & restudy your books, DVD’s, etc but still can’t bring it all together. Obviously it is not the dog, it’s the owner/trainer. Perhaps I will get it as we go through this series and your soon to be announced Shaping Course. Thanks for what you have provided. Outsiders who see me walking Darcy think he is a well behaved obedient dog. They don’t see him when a butterfly/ or bunny hops across our path. Hopeful in NC.


    • Laura W. says:
      Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 11:42am

      Don’t dispair, Gail! Susan was the person who introduced me to the clicker, back in December of either 1997 or 1998. That got me onto the path of positive training, but it took me another 8 or so years to figure out that even though I didn’t do agility, Susan’s knowledge of training in general was what I needed to seek out. And it wasn’t until my current dog (just 3) that I really started to clue into the importance of a lot of what she teaches.

      We humans are a slow sometimes (okay, a lot!) But don’t worry: one ‘lightbulb’ moment will lead to another, and just as you’ve made progess up to this point, you’ll continue to make more. One thing I’ve learned is that the knowledge I am looking for, Susan has already given it to me. It’s just a matter of me acknowledging that I’ve glossed over something important (because I want my dog to suddenly be a genius and not need to be strong in the previous steps before moving on) and knowing that training takes persistence and patience.


    • Alaska says:
      Friday, March 23, 2012 at 12:35pm

      Gail, one of the biggest gifts Susan has given me is the ability to enjoy my own growth as a trainer. Previously, I, like you, focused mostly on the yawning gap between where we were and goals such as “a happy family pet that has fun to be around manners.” Try to focus on the journey instead – you ARE making progress!

      To avoid being the bad guy, you need to take better control of reinforcement. When someone is coming to visit, put Darcy in a crate or x-pen first, so you are not dragging him away from the visitor. Have the visitor sit someplace a ways from the crate. Give them a cup of tea and a magazine to read for a couple of minutes. Then work IYC with Darcy – he only comes out of the crate if he can do so calmly. You know how to do this. When he comes out, he should be on a head halter so you can change his focus from the guest back to you if need be. Transfer the value of the visitor (“I want to go say hi to that person!”) to you (“Hmmm, I must make the right choice to get closer to them”). He might not get all the way to the visitor the first few (or many) times, but he will be getting lots of rewards for good choices, and they will build over time. And you are only using reinforcement; there’s no bad guy in the picture.


      • Gail Garwood says:
        Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 9:56am

        Seems to be some new information here for me. To clarify — I should be getting Darcy to focus on me with head halter before he gets to visit the guest. (Should I treat at this point?)
        I have been only trying to get him to sit in front of the guest before receiving the petting reward. It finally “works” somewhat with that guest but then we must go through the same thing with each new guest or if the same guest is out of the picture for a while. He hasn’t been able to transfer the idea of calmness to every guest or new person he meets. Obviously I am doing something wrong as he never or rarely acts that happy with me. Thanks for your advice.

  37. Rochelle says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 8:03am

    I so appreciate your training and time spent in showing me how to be the trainer my dog needs/deserves. I have 2 issues that as a new trainer I am having difficulty with.

    1 – I am having a difficult time in establishing the cookie when working with litter mates. How much interaction if any should be allowed knowing that they totally reinforce each other?

    2 – One of my pups (10 months) is fairly skittish with new things, people, etc. and we are working through those with exposure in many places like stores, parks, etc. My question is what should I do about him engaging another dog in a negative way and still remain positive? In class, he is trying to snap & “get” other dogs which is totally inappropriate and can not be allowed. I feel that I have no options in correcting this in a positive way. (He was doing this during the 1st 3 classes, but for the last few weeks, he has been really bothered by the girls in the class – they were the new element.)

    If you can give me your opinion on these elements, I would appreciate it.



    • Laura W. says:
      Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 11:31am

      A big part of the answer to #2 is to use a head halter. Then it’s easier to stop the reinforcement the dog gets from their behaviour and then (important!) allowing them another chance to choose the correct behaviour and get feedback on their choice. Susan has talked about how to use it in these situations on her Puppy Peaks course and in her other resources (her foundation notes for sure, can’t remember specifically if it’s in Ruff Love or Shaping Success).


  38. Kathy says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 7:51am

    I have a border/rough collie mix that loves positive ‘playing” (we don’t call it training lol)

    To reference your very first point: The dog breaks a sit stay. What would you do..and how to avoid breaks in the future..in the most simplistic terms for us newbies to understand. ( I also just joined Puppy Peaks, so maybe this will be addressed there)


    • Laura W. says:
      Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 11:21am

      One thing that helps to teach the dog that you want it to remain in place is playing Susan’s 1,2,3 game (from memory, explained in both Ruff Love and Shaping Success). Very briefly (hope I’m not getting any of this wrong), as long as the dog remains sitting, the game continues (of handler in a ‘game-on’ position, counting slowly to 3), which leads to the reward for the dog (running to the handler to play tug). If the dog gets up, you change your posture out of ‘game-on’ position (basically stand up straight) until the dog sits again. Dog learns that sitting makes you start/continue the game. This is just one way to let the dog know that as long as it remains sitting, the chance for reinforcement exists. If it gets up, that chance goes away. Another example is a dog who holds its startline stay gets to play agility, whereas a dog who breaks the stay, doesn’t get to play. Or a very simple example – asking the dog the question: can you remain sitting while I slowly bring some food towards you? If you can, you can have the food, if you get up, the food goes away/you lose your chance to earn it.

      And a cornerstone of Susan teaching a dog to stay is her Crate Games DVD (where the consequence of getting up before being released is the door of the crate closing) and teaching the dog to have a firm knowledge of their release cue(s), because that is the only thing that gets them out of a sit.

      Avoid breaks in the future by building tons of value for holding the stay, first in easy situations, then gradually increasing the difficulty (duration, distractions, distance away from you). Until the dog learns: sit means sit until I release you.

      But some breaks (failures) are good when still learning, because they give the dog information (when I break my stay, I lose out on the chance to be reinforced) and they give you information (you haven’t trained your dog well enough in this situation).

      That was not a very organized (and probably incomplete) answer but hope some of it helps!


    • Tiffany says:
      Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 11:33pm

      How did you “just join Puppy Peaks”? I thought it was closed, although I keep trying to get in….just in case. 🙂


  39. Rebecca says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 7:37am

    I have found that when cross training disciplines there will always be baggage. As someone that does participate and train in many disciplines I must constantly assess my training to minimize that baggage but honestly it cannot be totally eliminated. those who want to dominate or be capable of highest achievement in a given discipline must concentrate on those skills neccessary for high level success in that venue. Its clearly the Jack of all trades master of none syndrome. For me I have chosen this route currently with my performance dogs. As I enjoy the various disciplines I accept the training challenges that come. Think of many multi discilpine sports. Look at equestrian (dressage, show jump, cross country jumping) There are people that compete in 3 day eventing and those animals are great but they would not likely win against those that concentrate and perfect one given phase. Look at track and field for humans. Those that do pent. and such are good at what they do across the board but are never GREAT at any one thing. I want handlers to know that its OK to do multi discipline but you must be a very fair dog trainer and assess constantly your choices and where reinforcement is coming from. So can you herd and do agility too? I will say YES but if you have dreams of being the best in any discipline you will want to immerse yourself in that path and be the best you can become. please excuse my typos and some bad spelling sending this from droid phone. Dogs are context creatures but they are much more reinforcement junkies and therefore especially when dealing with reinforcement heirarchy and intrinsic or instinct reinforcement you want to evaluate carefully your choices.


    • Susan says:
      Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 7:51am

      @Rebecca, one of the best answers to this question I have read.

      @Heidi Yes you can “do it all” MY first BC “Stoni” did just that. Herding, Obedience, Agility, Flyball. And was the one of the best at each (well maybe not herding due to my handling limitations) HOWEVER that was a time when many dog sports were very young there were not the specialists of today. Having said that I know there are many in Europe that compete at the top of the game of agility and do herding. Yes there is some fallout from the conflict and I support my students that want to “do-it-all” my only wish (as I wrote in the newsletter) is that I never hear complaints or blame placed on your dog because of that conflict. For example I don’t want to hear someone call their dog a “bar knocker” when they do more flyball (with a different jump style) practicing then agility jump grids. Yes you can do flyball and agility (and for some dogs flyball will help agility) but please don’t “label your dog” as if they are lacking because you have created potential incongruence in their foundation.


      • Heidi & Poppie says:
        Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 8:04am

        Dear Rebecca & Susan,

        Your responses have made me smile – Thank you!! Makes perfect sense!

        Will never blame Pops for anything – I’m on a steep learning curve here. Trying to do the best I can.. and constantly chipping away at that old block.

        As I said during the coaching call last night – I only wish I could have known and attended your courses prior to getting Poppie!!

        Thank you so much – For making a huge difference to the little Popscicle and I

        Heidi 🙂

  40. Tina says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 7:29am

    The video mentioned training the NRM seperately? Any way you could give more detail on that?


  41. Miriam says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 7:25am

    Hi Susan,

    I love following these posts and working with your insights. I’m struggling with the use of NRMs when we’re “off the clock” for naughtiness. I’ll use an ah-a (the kind of clearing of the throat to announce how naughty the dogs are being and that I’m to blame) to (try) stop the behaviour. This could be raiding the cat food dish, putting paws on counter or when my two dogs wrestle on the couch. I can’t figure out to how to get them out of the naughties.

    I’ve been trying to id the places where’s there’s hidden reinforcement. (Obviously raiding the cat dish or playing with my other dog are rewarding behaviours). How do you deal with behaviours where the reward/access to the reward isn’t controlled by yourself.

    I’d love to let the dogs, for example, enjoy playing with each other – just not on the sofa (where they’re allowed, but only laying down).

    We’re doing a foundations course which is helping on self-control, but I’m worried that some of these things have become so self-rewarding that without a “punishment” in the form of an ah-a or no, I can’t stop the behaviour.


  42. Heidi & Poppie says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 7:11am

    Loving the newsletters and blogs – I am learning so much!!

    Just wonder if you can clear a misunderstanding of mine up re Herding

    Is herding and agility – completely incompatible then?

    We have plans for Pops to do herding on the farm, but yet I would like to have fun with agility, I doubt we ever go to competitions as such, just want to use it as another source of fun together. She already stalks things such as the soccer ball.. or gets fixated by balls, bubbles and water.. all showing the same response – stary eyed obsessive response, & with the football the hounced back.

    I’ve used these as rewards to compat fears such as other dogs, and me handling her e.g the push back and jam game.

    I may be confusing things – but as I thought dogs were context learners – I thought this be ok? Very intersted in your view.

    Heidi 🙂


  43. SaraM says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 6:30am

    Thank you so much for all your efforts to help us become better dogs trainers! When I read Sharon’s comments above, I could relate to her struggles and request. I’m a fairly new subscriber, so I’m sure you have additional resources but I’m not sure where to look. Can you direct us to something that’s a little more what to do vs. What not to do? Thank you!


    • Susan says:
      Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 7:40am

      @SaraM and Sharon, in the next newsletter will be some suggestions for adding joy back in. As this one stated, adding good practices will be less effective if we don’t first clean up the unsavory ones!


  44. David Forsthoffer says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 1:50am


    I am a novice but trying to learn…I the article is awesome. I am a firm believe in positive training..I am looking for some simple assistance. You state that if you repeat a command that you are teaching the dog not to listen – so what do you do if he doesn’t listen? How do you handle in a positive manner but not teach the wrong behavior? Is this basic training type stuff covered in any of your books?


    Dave Forsthoffer


    • Susan says:
      Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 7:38am

      @Dave, the short answer is always think “stop the reinforcement” so if my dog doesn’t come when I expect, I walk over to where he is (without saying anything) and move him away from what he was doing (stopping the reinforcement). When you choose to train focusing on reinforcement you need to become masterful at knowing what is reinforcing, controlling access to it and using the value of it to get the dog to do what you want.


      • Gail Garwood says:
        Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 9:40am

        Each time I try that tactic, my dog runs and wants to start a chase me game. Even doesit when I try to casually walk to him and avoiding eye contact. On a more positive note – I just realized that my “calming” goood was more of an exciting tone of voice rather than soothing as you have mentioned. Looks like an aha moment. Last evening he stayed on a stool for a much longer period with random quiet goods & high value treats. One rose doesn’t make a summer but surely gives hope. Thanks!

      • EVELYN CARTER says:
        Sunday, October 29, 2017 at 3:18pm

        @Dave, the short answer is always think “stop the reinforcement” so if my dog doesn’t come when I expect, I walk over to where he is (without saying anything) and move him away from what he was doing (stopping the reinforcement).

        That is just the information I needed! When working with my dog I’m often not sure what to do when she makes a wrong choice ie leaves her hz before release. So, I would just move her back to the hz without comment or reward?

        I realize this post was in 2012 so, just proves the information is timeless! 🙂

    • Jezia says:
      Friday, March 23, 2012 at 3:14pm

      Hi Susan

      I am so happy to have found your newsletter and blog! Like Dave, I am really excited about what you have to say, and your wonderful advice, and I am a newbie at this kind of training. I felt like a dope when I read your comments on “aaack” Or “no” verbalizations to a dog when they are moving out of their stay, I am guilty of that. 🙁 Old training, old habits that are hard to break. But what do I do instead? Just let her leave her position, ignore the behavior? Go put her back into position and start over? Isn’t moving her back into position basically the same thing as letting her know with a sound that you don’t want her to move? I am so confusedj!!!


  45. sharon empson says:
    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 1:22am

    Oh susan! You really hit home with me. I have trained my bindi girl with nrm. And I have used oops. And sadly it does affect her performance. she is a very soft dog and when she moves out of position of a wait, or stay, I say oops (one horrible time I even said, no! Which I haven’t done since and so regret!) IT has slowed her down. She is telling me she is unsure of what is required of her and since she loves to please, she is longing to please me and so slows down to take ques from me.
    I am new to dog training and love dogs and training them. I have done just what you said, in my attempt to find a training method that fits us, I have hopped around and I do implement things from different training methods. I have settled in positive training and have been at a loss as to how to change me to fit my dogs learning style. I would love to begin again, and help my girl and my other dogs love to train. My Cody does love to train and i rarely have to correct him so he has been spared the wrong application of oops.
    Please refer me to an article or something of yours that would help me to fully understand when and how you administer nrm. I will read your article again, I know you were clear but since I am new I am having a tuff time understanding how to apply this method. I do not want my dog feeling punished for making a mistake. But want her and my other dogs to desire to explore how to do what I ask of them.
    Thanks so much for your training advise. It is great and I so appreciate it. I need to understand it fully before I try and pass it on to my pups.
    Thanks again, Sharon Empson


    • Alaska says:
      Friday, March 23, 2012 at 12:16pm


      Susan discusses use of the NRM on her 2×2 Weaves DVD. But I think what you are really wanting is an understanding of how she uses reinforcement as her primary training tool, greatly reducing the need for NRMs. For this, you will do best to sign up for one of her courses (online or in person) as that is the best way to come to an understanding of her overall training approach and how to use it well.

      In the meantime, read your way back through the blog as there is a wealth of wisdom here.


      • Laura W. says:
        Friday, March 23, 2012 at 1:46pm

        I really wish there was an easy way to browse through this blog from beginning to end. The search function is super, but there isn’t a way (that I can figure out!) to start at the very first blog post and work your way through until the present. No ‘next post’ and ‘previous post’ buttons, or years and months to click on, which reveals a list of posts that month. Job #535 for Jason. 😉

      • Susan says:
        Friday, March 23, 2012 at 2:58pm

        @Laura on the front right near the bottom there is a way to go back to each moth starting at the beginning in 2008

      • Laura W. says:
        Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 5:50pm

        Aha, thank you!! I wasn’t looking on the home page, I was looking on the pages of the individual posts. This helps a lot.

  46. JanV says:
    Wednesday, March 21, 2012 at 11:49pm

    Great clarification on the interruption of reinforcement, separate from the NRM. Swagger is looking terrific!


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