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Does Your Dog Training Need a Shot of Joy?

Posted on 04/04/12 46 Comments

This week we are focusing on how to inject more joy into our dog training. I believe that all dogs start off with an innate joy to be around us.

Our choices as dog trainers can either help to develop that joy, turning it into a focus for us and for work, or our choices can inadvertently steal our dog’s joy.

The good news is, we can all make the necessary changes to help bring the joy back even stronger than it was before! If you are a subscriber to my newsletter you would now have a list of suggestions to start that “Joy Injection” process.

One of the most important things to remember when aiming to create more joy for your dog is to always keep in mind that everything you want your dog to learn can be communicated to him in the form of a game.

Take a look at the video clip below. There was a time when all of the dogs in my household HATED to have their nails trimmed. Not so anymore! Turn the mundane (or in this case the feared) into a game and problem solved!

However my latest dog “Swagger” challenged the success of my nail trimming game, you can see my “work around” with him in this video.

As you can see, my challenge with Swagger was that he wouldn’t eat ANY treats when I was trying to trim his nails. I did start the game  with him as a very baby puppy (because he was born in my home I could) but after the first time I cut a nail too short for his liking, that was it, I lost his joy for the game. See even my choices can result in the loss of joy in my dogs.  I had to come up with a better game. As you can see in the video I used the value Swagger has for a game of tug to create value for both getting his nails trimmed and for taking treats while he was getting his nails trimmed.

Everything can be made into a game. What are your plans to inject more joy into your dog training? Let me know about the success and challenges of your plans for more “joy-injecting” in your dog training.

Today I am grateful that John comes home tomorrow. He has been visiting friends and family in the UK for the past ten days. Happy for him to get a well deserved vacation, but I am even happier to know he is coming home tomorrow:).


  1. Beth A. Bromfield says:
    Monday, June 15, 2015 at 3:33pm

    What kind of dremel tool are you using?


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  3. Gudrun says:
    Monday, April 9, 2012 at 2:53pm

    Thankyou Susan. I unfortunatly don’t have video equipment, not even a phone that does video. But I will try to improve the D. She has seemed a bit “low” the past 2 days.


  4. Gudrun says:
    Monday, April 9, 2012 at 7:41am

    Hi Susan, I really need to ask your advice. I am trying out the 2X2 method and have gotten to day 3. My dog doesn’t want to drive through the second set of weave poles. Are they too far away? I set them 15′ away yesterday, and moved them closer (12′) today, but that didn’t seem to help. Is there a reason why the two sets should be so far appart to begin with? I’m afraid to just wait for the dog to figure it out, because I’m worried she’ll get bored and run off exploring. I don’t have a fenced in or indoors area in which I can work, so that is a potential problem if I lose her focus. Please give me some advice!


    • Susan says:
      Monday, April 9, 2012 at 7:54am

      It would be best if you posted a link to a video. Do you have the DVD and are you introducing the second set just as I describe by sending from “high on the arc”? My best guess is that you don’t have your dog’s “D” built up first prior to starting your work session. If the dog has high “D” adding the second set of poles shouldn’t be a problem. But of course I can only guess without seeing the dog.


  5. Richard Taylor says:
    Friday, April 6, 2012 at 5:59am

    Dogs should be a source of fun and enjoyment in your home, not a source of strife and frustration. Yet, many dogs, for a lack of training and supervision become miserable to live with instead of a joy. I receive calls from people all the time, who are so frustrated with the way things are going with their dogs, that they are at the point where they are making a decision to either keep their dogs, or to give them away to an uncertain future, or even to put them to death..


  6. Trish says:
    Friday, April 6, 2012 at 4:20am

    I have a 4 year old Doberman I am trying to “rehabilitate” through joy and games. I was a novice trainer and trained her for “house manners” to be much too serious and afraid to take risks, This happened even though I called myself a “positive trainer” and used a clicker. Now I want her to learn to bring joy and drive to our new training for canine freestyle. She is still wondering who this new person is that is playing with her but starting to really play with me as long as there is no stress in the environment. I would love to see Susan’s newsletter about how to inject joy before every training session – unfortunately it was written before I found her blog.


  7. Kerry says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 11:38pm

    I am on to my second agility dog–my first BC after years with Aussies–and he makes me smile and laugh every “play” session. He is learning agility SO fast it is blowing my mind. I owe a lot to Puppy Peaks and rEcallers, but also my new instructor for agility foundation class, Lauri Plummer in California. Mostly it is the play that I am infusing into it every single exercise that has him charging with me to the arena (I have my own equipt) every day! But my challenge now is re-motivating my 3.5 yr old Aussie (first agility dog) who I have very successfully demotivated with my novice handling skills on courses & rewarding mediocre results in training. She has the capacity to be a fast dog but I need to go back to basics with more play before every session and to be careful not to reward “mediocre” results even though that is what she is giving me right now. Is there hope for her??


  8. Shirley Spall says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 10:53pm

    My 3year old Dane has had some front issues on his recall in the obedience ring. He was stopping about 3 feet out and waiting for a command to get in close. After reading your columns and studying the various videos I decided to change the game. First I took his favorite toy, a ball with a fluffy tail, and hid it my pocket. Then I called him as in a formal recall. When he did his stop too far out I simply did nothing. Then he offered to come in closer on his own without a double command. I immediately threw his toy and let him play for about 20 seconds. I was very quickly able to shape him coming in closer by with holding the reward. Next I added the finish and only rewarded straight sits. My real joy came on the day when he completed the exercise and played with his toy about 10 seconds ran back to heel position and offered me his toy so we could play the game again! I loved it! Now since I’ve read your thoughts that our dogs are always learning I’ve upped the game. Today we worked on the recall and I turned 90 so he had to work to find a straight front. Next I tried a 180 which really posed no problem. Tomorrow I’m thinking maybe a flight of stairs……
    Too much fun! Thank you for the inspiration and keeping me thinking & dreaming!


  9. Deb says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 8:26pm

    Okay, Susan, when are the WWSD t-shirts coming out?



    • Laura W. says:
      Monday, April 9, 2012 at 2:34pm

      Love it!!!!! I’m always trying to think WWSD!


  10. Alaska says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 8:18pm

    Susan, I thought of you when I read this blog post by the “Steal Like an Artist” guy:


    Some quotes:

    “I don’t really like doing exercises, I like playing games….So, I’ve spent the majority of my recent writing life trying to turn writing into a game—to push it explicitly towards play.”

    “Can you teach creativity? Maybe not, but you can teach people what the energy flow of creating something feels like (hint: it’s no different from how you felt smashing GI Joes together in the driveway), and once you’ve felt that energy, you can set up processes to help you tap into that energy.”

    For a great example of writing turned into a game, look at how he “uses newspapers and markers to make poems:”



  11. Carol Renton says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 7:39pm

    Susan, thank you for another thought provoking letter. Having done Recallers 2 times, Puppy Peaks and now Shaping a Difference I find myself looking at my dog training through different eyes. Instead of “hitting the wall” when an issue arises I stop and say to myself, “What would Susan do?” and “Where is the value?” It has helped alot, except for one issue. My 10 month old sheltie’s barking at me when he feels things are not going as planned. The time out, turning my back, just makes him bark louder! A work in progress.


  12. Suntankid says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 5:31pm

    Gail…I did one toenail a day until she was comfortable enough to increase the session.


  13. Deb G says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 3:59pm

    Too funny. I have been doing this for several years with my crew through the power of string cheese. The more experienced dogs get cheese after a full foot grooming. Initially the younger one gets cheese after each toenail.
    The 8 y.o. Aussie actually pushes the 5 year old and 1 year old BCs out of the way to be the first on the couch for nail grooming. The reward at the end is to get to lick a bit of peanut butter – I save the old nearly empty jars or put a bit on a plastic spoon. They are nuts for it (high value). Also, I occasionally toss a bit of cheese to those who are waiting to keep them attentive and close for when it is their turn. String cheese also works wonders for dogs to get showered off after a particularly muddy training session. Again, the eldest gets “firsties”.


  14. Leslie says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 2:19pm

    Someone did ask the question but I haven’t seen an answer as yet to what are the five relationship building exercises?


    • Bonnie says:
      Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 3:49pm

      Actually, Susan did answer above. But the five exercises aren’t five specific exercises. Rather it is the fact that you do five things to build your relationship with the dog prior to working, i.e., tug, have the dog release the tug, do a 360 spin, tell the dog to get the tug and tug with him, then have the dog release the tug and do a control position as you run away and release the dog to seek the value. Don’t do the same 5 things every time – keep the dog guessing.


    • Shelley says:
      Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 7:49pm

      To quote Susan :

      ‘The five relationship building exercises where outlined in my most recent newsletter. If you are not a subscriber to my newsletter you can sign up with the form here on the right hand side. Once you have signed up email melissa AT clickerdogs DOT com to send you the last newsletter.”



  15. Amis says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 2:14pm

    My little Neelah LOVES having her nails for this very reason! I have to put her in another room when I do the other dogs… she throws a TANTRUM when she hears the other dogs getting their nails done. High value life skills! She loves the reward! It’s funny and makes me laugh… I don’t mind her tantrum because she WANTS her turn! I’d rather have that than hiding. Such great stuff Susan!


  16. Kathrin says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 2:05pm

    Like someone else, I would also be interested in the 5 relationship building exercises you mentioned?



  17. Cathy T says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 1:53pm

    I am loving the advice. I will be locking up my dog before training at home. Before he followed me around the yard as I set jumps for the day. Waiting to get to work. Again, I will lock up in the run when I take a break and change course.
    I have found I am getting better house behavior because of more awareness of my awarding him.
    I will be very interested about the tug games. I have a Chesapeake Bay and his job was going to be my husband’s hunting dog. The training for that just was not happening. So I found Agility. My husband still does some hunting but maybe three days a year. He has asked that I do not play tug games. I have not used any tugging for training and do not bring out toys very often. I mostly use food. I am having some trouble getting toys back to me. Or very bad jumping at me when I take them. If my husband does some retrieving with him it is kind of crazy. I can not run with a toy in site. Yes the toy would be great big drive, real crazy to the point of no work. I do not have to much trouble with drive. Most of the time all goes well. However, sometimes visiting people on the side lines at group training or at trials has been costly. We have worked at group training on it and most of the time his focus is on me. At trials he loves to make a quick visit to the judge or a jump person on the side lines. It is costing me time. We have had many runs this winter were we were just secs over because of a visit. When walking, I am started to see the spots on course that will be some trouble for us. “go tunnel” when a person is near is not good. Exiting from a tunnel close to jump people is trouble. Yes I need to regain the connection and focus on me. I call his name well in tunnels or clap and call but sometimes it is not enough. Passing the judge is trouble as he sees them looking at him. He sees it as an invite to visit.
    Looking forward to more focus. And yes we are capable of playing tug if Husband would let me. It is in my dog because I have tried it here and there (just don’t tell him). It does create a crazy dog. This dog lives to carry stuff. I could probable do a whole course with a toy in his mouth and he would be the happiest dog in the world.


  18. Debra Jones says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 12:16pm

    It’s still a challenge for me, Susan…this nail clipping…


  19. Abigail says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 11:03am

    All I can say is “Thank you, Susan, you ARE an inspiration!”
    the “shot of joy” newsletter comes at an opportune time – My brilliant 2nd dog, now two and trialling, barks when he works. I had actually reached a point where I found myself dreading a “run” or even a seminar with him. I am currently working through a) ignoring the comments of others, and b) working through how to manage the situation. I don’t want to take HIS joy and enthusiasm away, and so need to assess where it is IMPORTANT that he NOT be barking, and find creative ways to help him gain self control.. Your tips and reminders are timely and invaluable!


  20. Monica says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 10:54am

    Brilliant blog! This was a hard lesson learned for me. I started my first agility dog in 1998 using “traditional” training methods. Fortunately, this dog was amazingly forgiving and still learned to love the game of agility no matter what a chore I tried to make it. Fast forward 14 years and 4 dogs later. My fourth agility dog only knows agility as a game. Actually, her entire life is a game! It has made me a much better trainer and a lot less stressed. I have many regrets and a lot of guilt about the training methods I used with my first agility dog. Thankfully I discovered the error my ways and made a change for the better!


  21. Jenny says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 9:49am

    On the point of effective use of reinforcement I had an epiphany with my dog in agility. Early on he stopped to sniff something on a weave pole and he is an adorable Siberian with a really expressive face so as he sniffed the crowd laughed so he sniffed again and, wow, they laughed again. Well talk about effective reinforcement from then on it wasn’t just a sniff but a look over at the crowd for reaction that got even more laughter!

    My reaction was to “cheer him through the poles to distract him from sniffing and the crowd”. I did this because he loves to be acknowledged with verbal praise when his is running fast and will go faster if I (and the crowd) are cheering!

    I can’t believe it took years to see the conflict here, cheer for fast performance = great job love the speed ; cheer for sniffing/super slow = great job love those slow weaves!

    The problem is to me it was very different -I would “say” great job etc… for speed and “say” lets go, hurry up, etc… at the weaves. When I started really listening it hit me that it SOUNDS exactly the same to him!!!

    Just paying attention to what and when I am giving reinforcement worked wonders at our last show. We don’t have super fast poles yet but head up no sniffing all weekend!

    Simple yes, easy no!:)


    • Jan says:
      Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 6:46pm

      Thanks Jenny!! I have consistent weaves-completed, good entries, but getting slower. I too cheerlead to increase the enthusiasm for speed-it never works and now as you have pointed out I am rewarding it!!! I need to get the D before we weave and only reward the best! DUH:) I have noticed that when I hold the collar and use opposition reflex I get really fast weaves!! No more cheerleading for slow weaves!!! Just lots of fun and building the D!!


  22. Suntankid says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 9:16am

    Well I got this one right. My PWD Pepper hated to have her nails trimmed and hated the grinder. I started out with rewarding just for letting me putting the grinder near her nails. Then progressed to touching a nail. I used treats she loved, shrimp! I am happy to say she is to the point that it is not a hassle to trim nails. Also this did not happen overnight. It took a bunch of tries to get to this point.


    • Gail Garwood says:
      Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 3:09pm

      So what did you do about those ever growing nails until Pepper finally decided it wasn’t such a bad thing to have nails trimmed?


  23. Michelle says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 9:11am

    Great point about the time outs! I used to do a lot of my dog training after work, the same time when I got a lot of phone calls from friends and family. So often I would pause our training to get the phone. I very quickly realized that this was harming the quality of our sessions, I could tell by the dog’s reaction that what I was doing was giving a time out (something I also use in training).


  24. Michelle says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 8:42am

    The idea of “think, plan, do” is awesome. But how does one accomplish this if you have to take your equipment to a quiet part of the park and set it up in order to do any training (I have no yard, so we drive to an unused area of the park, set up, and go)? Is there some way to make sure she’s not “punished” while setting up the equipment in this scenario?

    I’d love to be able to drive there, set up, then go back and get my dog, but I’d also like to return to my equipment and I don’t trust people to leave it alone.


    • Bonnie says:
      Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 9:51am

      Keep your dog crated in your car while you set up the equipment. The potential for interaction with you has not yet begun, so it is not a time-out. Then get the dog out of the car, do the five relationship building exercises on your way over to the equipment, and you are ready to start. If you need to reset something, put the dog in a control position and practice duration – just don’t forget to return and reward at a level of frequency appropriate for your dog’s current level of duration for that position in that environment. The down is not a time-out – it is just another game you are playing.


      • Kerry says:
        Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 1:12pm

        what are the five relationship-building exercises that you are referring to?

      • Susan says:
        Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 2:19pm

        The five relationship building exercises where outlined in my most recent newsletter. If you are not a subscriber to my newsletter you can sign up with the form here on the right hand side. Once you have signed up email melissa AT clickerdogs DOT com to send you the last newsletter.

    • Liz says:
      Friday, April 6, 2012 at 6:41pm

      Does your dog have a Go to Mat behavior? If so, then she just needs to go to her mat and stay while you set up, with you occasionally rewarding her. That’s not punishment, its her doing her job until you’re ready for her.


    • Vin says:
      Saturday, April 7, 2012 at 6:01am

      I have to take my equipment to the park when I’m away from home, it’s a great learning opportunity, – set up the crate first and play crate games whilst setting up, – by then I’ve usually got the attention of a few kids and ask then if they would like to help, they provide great distractions. Use every opportunity to your advantage.


  25. Kat says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 8:37am

    I have just read today’s newsletter and I love it! The points in it are so well defined and I am SO excited for the tugging newsletter that you are going to provide to us.

    My little two year old Border Collie has been quite a challenge and through applying your techniques of finding joy, in the last few months she has taught me more than my previous two BC’s have.

    I can’t help but smile now when I am working with her because to her everything truly is a game, and she just oozes pure joy. There is no pressure between us like there used to be. I have expectations when we train, but they are of myself rather than being burdened on my dog.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to provide us with such insightful and inspiring dog training advice.


  26. Gail Garwood says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 8:34am

    What frequently puts a roadblock in our joy for the game is the necessities of “every day care”. Have tried slowly to acclimate Darcy to nail trimming with moderate success but we are taking a few steps back each time since his nails must be trimmed before he has completely learned to love the game. What to do? I have and continue to work on shaping his behavior for this task but am discouraged. He’s food oriented but on his way to enjoying tugging more every day.


    • Laura W. says:
      Monday, April 9, 2012 at 2:28pm

      Keep in mind you don’t necessarily have to trim all of his nails in one session. Just do one, then stop, have some fun, then later in the day, do another one. If you do 2 nails a day, perhaps before each meal time, you go at his pace, you still get them trimmed (over time) and you might find him tolerating it more and more because of the association with meals.


  27. Shelley says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 7:47am

    This is very cool. Do love DeCaff…she cracks me up!


  28. Lori Kline says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 7:37am

    I see a book in your future! Would you consider writing a relationship building book? I see so many folks interested in perfecting the weaves or their contacts but then they are missing that one critical piece, their relationship and “contract” they have with their dogs.


  29. Dr Amy Nesselrodt says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 6:10am

    This is excellent information! I have been trying to inject more joy/fun in training and it works for my dog and for me! I really thought this blog had many very important points. I have done something similar with nail trimming. I have a rescue collie who I initially couldn’t even touch the feet on, now he drools when I pick up the dremmel and pushes the other dogs out of line! I love it! Thanks for a great post Susan!


  30. Frances says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 3:31am

    Thank you so much for your latest newsletter – I am a very lackadaisical trainer, and you have reminded me just how much fun my dogs and I can have playing games together. I am a member of several dog forums, and there seem to be innumerable posts from people wanting to know how to stop their dogs doing this or make them do that, how to punish them, how to dampen down their natural behaviour … I want to climb onto the housetop and shout out the message of bringing JOY back into the relationship!


  31. Ellie says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 2:27am

    This is such a timely series for us – my young aussie loves to tug at home, and in some environments that are not strssful. This has taken a lot of work/play to get us to this point and we continue to work on this daily. Can you give examples or a list of games to play to build the D for focus before we start a training session in our foundation class, as my girl is often very unfocused and worried in that environment? We do play crate games, (YIYO, IYC). Her drive and joy at home in our training sessions is blossoming, and I know and see her greatness!


    • Laura W. says:
      Monday, April 9, 2012 at 2:24pm

      A great thing to do would be to sign up for the next Recallers course (assuming there will be another one?). It’s 35 days of games to play with your dog.


  32. Shannon says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 1:35am

    About a week ago, I decided to add more joy into my training. All this speak about joy in work had got me really thinking about my own dogs. My 8 year old papillon finds huge amounts of joy in barking when people come through our door (can be a pain as I groom dogs in my home & people come and go several times in a day) He is SUPER food motivated, so I’ve decided to throw cookies at him so he has something else to focus on before he even starts to bark. This problem is now about 85% solved! I hope to get to a point where he DECIDES to be quiet and then can be rewarded, but he’s at a point where he’s in a frenzy and just can’t think about what he’s doing when he barks.

    He also HATES having his nails trimmed, he has skinned my fingers several times, so he now wears a muzzle. I was always to told to just ‘make them deal with it’, and it hasn’t gotten me anywhere, so I decided to do something about it. It had gotten to a point where he would see a muzzle and he start acting aggressive. We have now gotten to a point where he will shove his nose into the muzzle and I can touch his feet with a clipper with evident joy. Not ready for snipping yet, will let you know how that goes.

    I can’t even begin to tell you where our relationship is now as compared to before we tried to fix two things. It is amazing!

    My 2 year old border collie would either run up to people barking as if guarding our house, or if they had kids or dogs, she wanted to play. I decided to make it into a game of ‘look at the person, and I’ll throw you a frisbee. It has worked tremendously! She now sees people walk by and looks at me or brings me her frisbee.

    We also had to do this same thing with her when we first got her as she would chase cars, but now she doesn’t even look at them.

    Sorry this is so long, but we’ve been having an over-dose of joy at our house lately 🙂


  33. Marcella says:
    Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 12:45am

    I’ve been playing a game almost exactly like this with my girl for a good 4 years now and she’s just like yours. Will come and have her nails clipped because the cookies are just so much fun! Even my 8 month old border collie is learning the game. Thanks for posting and sharing this as I have a friend who’s dog absolutely despises the nail clipper and I’ve been trying to help build her value for it.


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