Got D.A.S.H. (Desire, Accuracy, Speed and Habitat)?

Posted on 01/17/17 14 Comments

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 9.42.55 AMThe communication in dog training available to us in 2017 is AMAZING!  We have internet classrooms, eBooks, blogs and then there is social media.

It was recently brought to my attention that I have never published or written on my blog about my foundation “acronym” for ALL my training. That acronym is D.A.S.H.

At Say Yes Dog Training we promote two fundamental training reminders:

1) The importance of work = play and play = work

2) Positive does not mean Permissive.

D.A.S.H. is an acronym that describes the sequential stages of training that we encourage trainers to follow. The D.A.S.H. principle builds upon the above two fundamental training reminders we promote for effective learning.


Got D.A.S.H. (Desire, Accuracy, Speed and Habitat)?

The DASH acronym has been part of Say Yes Dog Training to help students for over 20 years. It is as relevant today as it was all of those years ago when I first introduced it. It all starts with DESIRE (both yours to train and your dog’s to work with you), once you have desire you can work towards creating the ACCURACY of a skill, with accuracy you have understanding, and from there our third element SPEED just grows. The D., A. and S. are all anchored by the “H” which is the HABITAT; in order for any behaviour to become second nature you need to generalize it to all environments… in effect making it a new HABIT.


We promote starting each session with maximum “D” or DESIRE on the part of the human AND the dog.  For us, it means never attempt to train unless we are willing to give it our 100% effort… our dogs deserve that from us. Before you try to teach a pupil anything, you first must be sure your student has the desire to learn. If you don’t believe this, think of yourself in a math class. If you are not engaged by the subject learning slows. However, if the instructor or the subject matter motivates you, learning is accelerated because you become an engaged participant in the learning.

Likewise, if your dog is engaged by both you and the work (games), he will have more focus for your training and you will be able to accomplish more in every session. There is no sense trying to push a puppy into a sit when another puppy and a squeaky toy next to him are more attractive to him.

Dogs lack “D” for many reasons. The puppy in our last example has a lot of enthusiasm but it is directed at whatever happens to be distracting him at the moment. This puppy has “D” but you need to direct the desire to work into a desire to work with you… make sure YOU are completely focused on your puppy and are presenting the learning in an engaged manner. Examine my book “Ruff Love”  and the dog training program within it for suggestions how to re-focus this puppy on working with you.

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 11.01.03 AMOther dogs may appear to just be lethargic or unmotivated. Your dog may be more driven to lay on the couch than he is to work with you. The truth is that this dog has not learned that work can be very reinforcing for him! Trying to teach this dog a new skill is counter productive.

At the other end of the spectrum is the dog that has tons of enthusiasm but it is not directed towards you or working with you!

Evaluate that enthusiasm using an assessment of the dog’s arousal; too low the dog will be distracted by irrelevant insignificant distractions in the environment. Too high and the dog cannot take in feedback from you during your training. His focus will be too narrow a focus, often times on something you don’t want him to focus upon!

Remember, the “D” applies to you, the human part of the team as well. Before doing any ‘work’, have a quick fun game with your dog – tug, or a game of chase – energize yourself and your dog!  Focused energy from your dog towards you will make you both feel great and inject joy into your training time together.

Our dogs must desire to be with us, to give us their attention, before we can start training. Relationship training is an important part of our program – keep your dog’s arousal level at its maximum during all your training sessions.

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 9.36.21 AM

Before you attempt to train any skill to your dog you should first teach him to be EXCITED about what you are EXCITED about. Motivational games like our “Recallers” games or those found in my book Ruff Love, such as “Hide & Seek” or the “1-2-3 Tug game,” will help develop drive to work. Get the “D” before you try to teach the “A.”

*A= Accuracy*

Once your dog is keen to learn, you can now start to shape the accuracy or understanding of a skill. Break any skill down into the smallest manageable pieces you can think of and shape the accuracy of that small piece before moving forward. Don’t make the mistake of trying to make the dog go FAST before he understands how to be accurate. YOU CANNOT HAVE TRUE SPEED WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING. This is the reason many dogs “creep” into their contact position in dog agility. This dog may have lots of “D” so he runs hard halfway across the obstacle, but he is unsure of criteria for the end of the contact (likely because his owner is also unsure or has not maintained this criteria each time the dog is asked to perform contact obstacle).

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 11.30.38 AMImagine the first time you drove a standard shift transmission car. Didn’t you stall the car initially? Did you grind the gears and miss-time the clutch shift? I bet you didn’t go very fast that first outing. Now imagine how fast you can go today and how you don’t even have to think of the timing of the gear shift. It has become almost innate to you because you have the understanding of how to meet all of the criteria (foot off gas, clutch in, move stick-shift into the new gear) involved in driving this vehicle. That is the same “autopilot” control which a dog who really understands his job on contacts can perform an A Frame. The dog runs fast into the contact position, not looking for his owner or needing help from him to perform the job he has been successfully taught to do. If your dog is confused, you may have tried to go fast before your dog knew how to be correct.

Too many trainers push for speed in their exercises before their dogs can accurately perform the behaviour. Creating understanding first will maximize the confidence both on the part of the dog and the trainer.


1920054_10151946121325754_571831126_nOnce you have a dog performing successfully in many different environments with different distractions, you can rev them up to go faster! Now this doesn’t mean you build an entire behaviour with the dog performing slowly first and then ask for more speed. Eeeks! That would just be rewarding “slow” over and over, teaching a dog that “slow is good”. Your goal is to create accuracy and then create speed in that same response before growing that response. You should always be pushing for “average or better” during your shaping. If you do reward “slow,” it is only in the learning stages of any response.

So you won’t want a dog to sniff his way over the dog walk during your initial training thinking you can train speed later… remember “D” comes before “A”! A dog who is sniffing or wondering off in training is not demonstrating “D”.

There is never going to be a time when “A” + “A” will lead to “S” …is always Desire + Accuracy that leads to Speed.

Remember the key to successful training is to break any behaviour down into small manageable skills and teach them individually. As training great Bob Bailey states, people need to learn to “Be a splitter not a lumper.”. This will give you the tools to help your dog to be accurate and fast. The speed just comes naturally once you have the “D”, your dog desiring to want to play your game, and the “A”, understanding of how to be accurate!

*H= Habitat*

Dogs do not generalize behaviour as well as humans. This means you can teach a skill to a dog in one location but the dog will not have the ability to recall and perform this skill in another location. Hence the common lament of novice dog trainers “…but he does it great at home”. In order to help a dog do his best in all environments, you must get him out of your backyard and into many different training locations. Each new location will challenge your dog with different distractions he must learn to work through. Think of how many different locations the average performance dog will have to perform in throughout his career.

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 11.31.21 AMThe “number” of different locations necessary to create a confident dog will be dependent upon the confidence of each individual dog. There is no magic number of different places to train. For all dogs it is true that the more environments your dog experiences will help him to quickly adapt to any location you may decide to work.

So change your “H” frequently throughout your training. This change can be as little as working with your dog on the left and the right, or moving from one side of a room to another to seeking out other facilities or Fun Matches to train in. In all of these different locations you want to reward your dog for correct behaviour to help increase the chance that this good performance will be repeated in all environments.

Habitat is a synonym for environment – remember the need to generalize all skills in different locations to be sure the dog understands that the cue, task or skill, is required regardless of where you are and what’s going on around you.

The root of Habitat is “habit”. When you start with “D” (desire) grow the “A” (accuracy) in achievable increments you are allowing “S” (speed) to develop as confidence grows. Moving all of these elements around to new “H” habitats is what will allow brand new HABITS to develop in both you and your dog!

Considering D.A.S.H every training session will help you plan your games and transitions from “work to play” and “play to work”, it will help you assess arousal, manage your dog’s excitement and GET ORGANIZED!  You may not get it perfect at first, and you may not get it perfect every time, but your goal is to constantly improve what you have so that you maintain your dog’s focus and JOY into and out of every training session.

Today I am grateful for Steve at AgilityNerd who shared how much he refers to my training principle D.A.S.H. to his students and prompted it us to post this resource for all to refer back to. 🙂

Dash Blog bottom at Gratitude



  1. Els says:
    Tuesday, January 31, 2017 at 4:49am

    I have a great puppy from 3 months old , doing a lut stuff but i miss structure. It is my last agility dog. So i hope i can sign in


  2. Barb Baron says:
    Monday, January 30, 2017 at 9:52am

    Hi Susan
    Thank you for sharing this again. I remember this from when I started H360 in November 2016 but it did not sink into my mind until reading it again just now. I am going to post on the refrigerator DASH to remind me that Desire is of utmost importance. and that play, fun and reward will help create the A.S.H. In DASH!! Thank you so much for sharing your expertise it certainly created the desire in me by giving me the information needed to proceed forward with agility.


  3. Marlane says:
    Saturday, January 28, 2017 at 12:55pm

    Great Blog….I had an Ah Ah moment here….what really stood out was the RELATIONSHIP with the handler… many times we wonder why why is this not working……CHECK…..the relationship…the dog is usually spot on……how sad that so often we are the ones who r not motivated for the game. Love the fact that we cannot trick the dog with correct social behaviour the dog knows when we r fooling ourselves! Get ourselves motivated and God bless the Dog it follows! Once again Susan inspirational! Your website is such a blessing as I get to grow expontentially along with the love of my life…my canine partners! LOVE LOVE LOVE


  4. Maggie Eslinger says:
    Thursday, January 19, 2017 at 3:17pm

    Hi Susan,
    It was literally like you had read my mind this week. I wrote it on the grease board on Sunday for my husband to refer to when training his 11 month old rescue BC. He had asked me some questions and I walked over and wrote DASH and explained it. It is so central to my core of learning from you I do not always think to explain it. Thanks for the reminder to keep explaining it to our students.

    Also, I attended one of your seminars at the Hill’s in California in February 2015. You said you saw great things ahead for us… we are getting there. Our 3.5 year old BC “2B” finished her AKC OTCH (Obedience Trial Chsmpionship this past weekend. Now on to what we hope will be a MACH! We are in H360, so you are going to help get us there! (2B is OTCH Rivals Meant 2B Jenny, UDX2 OM2 GN GO VER RE PT NA NAJ and out of Excel x Vhari)

    Thank you Susan for all you do for all of us out here training our beloved dogs!


  5. Amber says:
    Wednesday, January 18, 2017 at 3:18pm

    Thank you Susan,
    I’m just starting my 2nd Agility dog and revisiting the areas my lack of criteria has created confusion with my first Agility dog.
    D.A.S.H. Is a Perfect remedy to shape my new Boy and get my older Boy back from what I’ve created.


  6. Shelly says:
    Wednesday, January 18, 2017 at 2:41pm

    I’m a Say Yes on-line student, who had no prior training experience. For me, when I first read about DASH it seemed like an overwhelming amount of information to try to absorb. I eased my way into DASH, starting with just “D” and purchased Ruff Love. That book in itself provided a wealth of information. The more I incorporated “D” into each play session the more focus, energy, and enthusiasm I got from my dog. Giving 100% of MY focus is such a huge factor in keeping my dog engaged with me. In addition to Ruff Love, Recallers games and Doggy A.D.D where all key in building a great relationship with my dog (and continues to be). Once we had “D” I started to work on “A” and progressed from there. One acronym at a time and now DASH is a part of our daily play/training routine. Love DASH!


    • Linda Mann says:
      Wednesday, January 18, 2017 at 7:59pm

      Hi Shelly,
      I wanted to thank you for your comment on DASH. I’m doing Recallers with my 3 Golden Retrievers, and feeling overwhelmed with Recallers games and A.D.D. Book and now DASH. Your comment of only doing D first is a great encouragement. I have also thought of buying the Ruff Love book, now I definitely will. There is so much great info from Susan and Say Yes Team, I love it.


      • Lynda Orton-Hill says:
        Thursday, January 19, 2017 at 12:19pm


        I always like to tell people with Recallers…

        One day ~ One Game ~ All Joy.

        We are here for you and your family of Goldens!

        (Golden Lover LOH 😉

  7. Peggy says:
    Wednesday, January 18, 2017 at 9:42am

    Dash is now at the top of my training plan journal as a daily reminder. I try to keep all the new info fresh in my head so reminders are good. Thanks1


  8. margaret says:
    Wednesday, January 18, 2017 at 5:16am

    We start with so much desire that the barking takes over and he does not listen – luckily he responds well to my body language! How can I step down from over arousal?
    I love the acronym DASH


    • Lynda Orton-Hill says:
      Thursday, January 19, 2017 at 12:21pm

      Margaret, Recognizing it is the first step. Exercising your dog’s mind and body before you start to train is a great way to lower the dog’s arousal… so a little free play with you. A few sits and downs to get their mind engaged and then start your training. Keeping in mind the D.A.S.H principle at each step.


  9. Carol Stuckey says:
    Wednesday, January 18, 2017 at 4:06am

    Love that.

    Desire + accuracy = speed 😀


  10. Rosemary says:
    Tuesday, January 17, 2017 at 11:19pm

    I love this, Susan! Simple & catchy way to remind me to focus before training!!
    Thanks so much for sharing!
    I will incorporate DASH into my training for sure


  11. Carol says:
    Tuesday, January 17, 2017 at 7:18pm

    This is great Susan!

    We were just returning home after practicing at a very nice facility, one of three we have to mix up the pup, or I mean pot. Hee hee.

    Great to sit and read with a cup of coffee between training times. 🙂

    Kootos to you and the team!

    Will be anxious for the next.

    Carol (Rockford Il)


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