Dog Are Problem Solvers

By Connie Cleveland-Nolan


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  • Wednesday, January 31, 2018 6:15 PM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Written by Connie Cleveland-Nolan

    The New Year started with a two-hour workshop to discuss and practice the Command Discrimination exercise. It was a fun evening shared among 50 participants, a rally judge and five obedience judges.

    At the conclusion of the workshop, the following points were clear:

    Our dogs only need to know 6 different changes of position.

    Make a list of the position changes: Sit to Stand; Sit to Down; Stand to Sit; Stand to Down; Down to Sit; and Down to Stand. How many does your dog know? You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that he knows most of them already!

    We need to establish standards for how our dogs perform the positions.

    For example, from a down to a sit, will you require your dog to push his front feet up into a sit, or allow him to scoot forward into a sit? From a sit to a stand, will you require him to step back into a stand or allow him to step forward into a stand?

    Each position change should be taught separately.

    Our dogs will learn more quickly if we teach the changes of position one at a time. Work on one position change several times in a row. Then, "change subjects" and work on a different position change. Do not be in a hurry to add distance.

    Add distance only when your dog can perform a position change consistently with you standing near him. When your dog becomes proficient with you standing nearby, gradually increase the distance you stand from him.

    Avoid practicing the Command Discrimination exercise until our dogs have mastered each individual position change.

    This exercise will be easier to teach once your dog knows each position change. There is no reason to chain the position changes into a sequence during the learning phase.

    There is more than one technique for teaching the changes of positions.

    Teaching a new exercise to a seasoned dog can be frustrating. Don’t be discouraged, you may find that what is written on the chalkboard of your dog’s mind becomes useful in new situations. There is more than one technique. Be patient and flexible; experiment with several techniques until you find the one that works best for your dog.

    Good news! I have loaded an edited version of the Command Discrimination Workshop on my website.

    • You can access this free 30-minute video by clicking on the following link and signing in to your “My Products” page. You will find the video in the “Webinar” folder.
    • If you don’t have a “My Products” page on my website you can “Sign Up Here” icon to create one.  Optionally you can past this link into your web browser.  --->

  • Monday, January 01, 2018 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Written by Connie Cleveland-Nolan

    It’s final – the rule changes have been approved and it is time to start training. The most significant change is replacement of the Open Stay exercise with a new Command Discrimination exercise.

    Just like any other exercise you’ve taught your dog, the place to start is by understanding the skills your dog will need to learn. Think about what your dog may already know that you can use to help him learn these new skills. I often tell my students that what has already been written on the chalkboard of their dog’s mind might be useful in a new situation.

    Start is by separating your Goals from your Techniques.


    This chart shows the four sequences your dog will need to learn. I created it to help make the goal of teaching the new Command Discrimination exercise clear for you. It depicts the change of position sequences that will be performed in the ring.


    @ Heel

    @ 15 Feet

    @30 Feet

    Open A

    Order I

    Sit to Stand

    Stand to Down

    Down to Sit

    Order III & V

    Sit to Stand

    Stand to Sit

    Sit to Down

    Order II

    Sit to Down

    Down to Sit

    Sit to Stand

    Order IV & VI

    Sit to Down

    Down to Stand

    Stand to Sit

    The sequence performed in Open A and Open B, Order I, is the same as the Utility Signal exercise except you will stand your dog from a Sit rather than by standing him while heeling. The “Down to Sit” change of position performed in Order II is also performed in the Utility Signals exercise. Only the “Sit to Stand” is a new position. The sequences performed in Orders III and V (Stand, Sit, Down) and Order IV and VI (Down, Stand, Sit) are new, but only provide one challenging maneuver, that being down to stand.

    Our biggest challenge will be increasing our distance from the dog. We do not want our dogs to be penalized for what the rule refers to as "walking forward." Our goal should be to teach our dogs to perform the change of positions with minimal or no forward movement.


    I moved to Greenville, South Carolina, thirty-one years ago to train service dogs for the physically handicapped. There were no manuals or instructions. I taught dogs to perform tasks such as opening and closing doors, turning light switches on and off, and pulling wheelchairs by breaking complicated tasks into smaller pieces. Once again, we are faced with a similar situation.

    I created the following chart breaking down the positions that we need to teach our dogs. It also reflects the distance at which the positions will need to be performed.

    I have also included the commands that I intend to use for teaching these skills. Although the rules allow us to use a verbal command and a signal, I have decided to use only a verbal command for the “Stand to Sit” because I don't want my dog to confuse it with the "Stand, Down, Sit" sequence used in the Utility Signal exercise.

    Change of Position


    @ Heel

    @ 15 Feet

    @ 30 Feet

    Sit to Stand

    Signal & Verbal



    Sit to Down

    Signal & Verbal



    Stand to Sit

    Verbal Only



    Stand to Down

    Signal & Verbal


    Down to Sit

    Signal & Verbal



    Down to Stand

    Signal & Verbal


    None of us know the best way to teach this new exercise, but let’s embrace the challenge and start training.

    Sit to Stand:  The goal should be for your dog to stand in heel position, with little to no movement forward. Creating a habit of the dog not stepping forward when he stands will be the most conservative approach because that skill will create the likelihood that the dog will not walk forward when he performs this change of position at 30 feet (see the video link below).

    Sit to Down:  When a dog lies down in heel position, he will naturally walk his feet forward. This could result in him moving out of heel position. The consensus of the judges I’ve spoken to about this “natural movement” is that it will not result in a points deduction, but this is an issue that will require some clarification.

    Once again, our goal should be to teach this change of position with minimal forward movement.

    Watch the video as I signal down on the left side of my dog's head. If you point straight down, you may be surprised to find out that your dog moves forward very little, and does not roll over on his hip. I would prefer that Nate stay in a sphinx like down because it will be easier for him to move into a sit or stand.

    Stand to Sit:  I am going to use a verbal command for the stand to sit. If you want to use two syllables, try “you, Sit!” as using the dog's name may cause him to move toward you. I believe most of our dogs will sit similarly to how they sit on the go-out exercise.

    Stand to Down & Down to Sit:  The technique I use to teach these changes of position are demonstrated in the second video in the tab titled Stand on a Platform in the Digital Obedience Guide Tricks that Transition to Obedience Exercises.

    Placing a dog’s front feet on a platform shows him how to lie down without creeping forward. Additionally, it encourages him to back his front feet up into a sit. This is important to me because dogs that bring their rear end forward on the sit command sometimes start scooting forward when distance is increased.

    I will not ask my dogs to stand from a sit when they are sitting behind a platform because it would encourage him to step forward onto the platform, and that forward movement could become walking when distance is increased, and the platform is removed.

    Down to Stand:  The technique I use for the down to stand involves a platform. It also is demonstrated in the Stand on a Platform video. If I’m working with a dog that will lie down, keeping his feet on the platform, I believe he will stand up, keeping his feet on the platform and not moving forward.

    A word of caution:

    • ·       STAY CLOSE as you begin working on these skills.
    • ·       Don’t be in a hurry, we have until May!
    • ·       Teach each change of position carefully before adding distance.
    • ·      Work on one position change at a time. For example, stand in front of your dog and casually point to the ground and say down, step back and give a stand signal. Praise and reward. Isolating the skill, “standing up from a down” followed by praise and a reward will make the skill clearer for your dog. You may be tempted to practice the down followed by the stand repeatedly (down/stand; down/stand; down/stand) but the skill you are teaching will not be as clear and the repetition will become tedious for your dog.

    The Command Discrimination exercise was demonstrated at the AKC Obedience Classic. This video includes excerpts from the demonstration together with my explanation of the exercise as it was being performed

    To view more articles please visit our Members Page!

  • Saturday, April 01, 2017 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Written by Connie Cleveland-Nolan

    I recently listened to a podcast about mirroring behaviors. The presenter spoke about how we mirror behavior that others present to us. For example, if someone behaves rudely, we behave rudely in return. If someone is patient, that patience calms us and we remain patient in response. In difficult or stressful circumstances, mirroring the behavior of another may boost engagement within a relationship and foster unity and trust.

    When is it unwise to mirror another's behavior?

    The presenter went on to say that it is almost impossible not to mirror behavior directed at you. If an angry person points his finger at me and raises his voice, it's tempting to point my finger back and raise my voice.

    I marvel at the skill of healthcare professionals. They deal with us when we are not at our best. As professional caregivers, they must be professional and avoid mirroring the frustration, anger, doubt, and fear that so many of their patients exhibit.

    Effectively changing a dog's behavior often involves changing my own behavior.

    As a dog trainer, these principles should be easy for me to learn. With a dog that is exuberant and rambunctious, I must remain calm and controlled. With a dog that is shy, I must act confident. Because the principle of mastering our behavior is so important, I have created a chart. The chart asks the question: “Who is Your Dog? What Kind of Trainer Do You Need to Be?”

    What kind of trainer do you need to be?

    If you were to watch me train two or three dogs in a morning, you would wonder if I were part chameleon. My behavior simply cannot mirror the unwanted behavior of my canine student. If a dog is wildly out of control and I raise my voice and become flustered, mirroring the dog’s out of control behavior with my own, the dog’s behavior becomes worse. Instead, I must be calm, and predictable to gain the dog’s attention to have an effective training session.

    Likewise, if a dog is worried and nervous, I need to be confident, matter-of-fact, and positive as I work through the situation that is upsetting him. Some dogs act dull and disinterested. In response, I create energy and enthusiasm for the task at hand.

    Do you need to bring energy or calm to your training sessions?

    Think about the dog(s) you are training. Are they exhibiting behavior you need to mirror, or do you need to change your behavior in order for them to change theirs? Do you need to create energy and enthusiasm, exude confidence, or remain calm and controlled? Think about what you need to bring to your training sessions and make them effective.

    It is possible to avoid mirroring attitudes we confront.

    If I naturally do not mirror the unwanted behavior of my canine students, why is it that it is so difficult for me not to mirror the unwanted behavior of the people around me? Certainly, I have had enough practice!

    Even more fascinating is that the closer I am to that person, i.e. a family member, the more quickly I mirror the bad behavior. It’s embarrassing to admit that I have more self-control with a stranger than I do with the people I claim to love the most.

    Since I heard the podcast, I have been watching my friends, and have delighted in catching them as they avoid mirroring the rude behavior of a teenager, or the angry attitude of an aging parent. I have some good examples in my life and I can learn from them.

    It may be difficult, but it is possible to avoid mirroring the attitudes we confront. Surely if I’m clever enough to avoid mirroring my dog’s behavior, I can do a better job with the people I meet. Who knows, maybe I can create positive energy and enthusiasm for them too!

    To view more articles please visit our Members Page!

    To view more articles please visit our Members Page!

  • Wednesday, March 01, 2017 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Written by Connie Cleveland-Nolan

    I am passionate about dogs. I have dogs because I love dogs. I would have dogs if I never competed again. The fact that I can share my home with a different species, that we coexist peacefully, harmoniously, and, yes, have great fun together fascinates me.

    I was waiting between classes at the AKC Obedience Classic in Orlando when an AKC employee asked me how I was doing.  “I’ve done better,” I replied, and her next comment startled me, “But you’re having fun, right?”

    How Do You Define Fun?

    Why is it that we take up this challenge? Why is it that we go in the ring, week after week, willing to test our abilities, as a trainer, handler, and canine coach? Is it just to have fun?

    Let’s be honest, we are probably not thinking about “fun” as we walk out of the ring having made a mistake that cost us a qualifying score, or resulted in a major deduction. Qualifying is more fun than not qualifying. Winning a blue ribbon is more fun than taking home the red, yellow, or white one and way more fun than going home empty handed. But does this mean we are not having fun? I guess it depends on how you define it.

    Fun is defined as “enjoyment, amusement, and lighthearted pleasure.” What is missing from this definition, as it applies to the sport of dog obedience, is the pleasure derived from the challenge and commitment required to train an obedience dog. This definition does not mention the satisfaction derived from having learned something new, achieved a goal, improved our skills, or enhanced our understanding about a problem we’ve been having.

    Are You Passionate About Training? 

    Enjoyment, amusement, and light-hearted pleasure do not explain why I participate in obedience, and I’m betting it doesn’t describe why you participate either. Instead, I would choose the word passion. I am passionate about training and am in awe of what dogs allow me to teach them. I’m truly amazed by the bond that develops and the communication that takes place.

    I am also passionate about the camaraderie that dog training friends develop. Being a dog trainer has provided me with friends from every walk of life and in every area of the country. There is rarely an event when I don’t make a new friend or run into an old friend I haven’t seen in a while. These friends complement each other on a good performance and offer support when someone is disappointed. When someone in the obedience community is in need, they rally together to lend a hand.

    So, in response to the question, “But you’re having fun, right?” My first response is, “Do you really think I’d be doing this if I weren’t having fun?”

    I am concerned that all the admonitions to “have fun” miss the all the other important reasons that we compete in the sport of dog obedience.

    As I sit ringside, passionate about what I’m doing, and preoccupied with better ways to do it, I may not appear to be having “fun” but, I would like to go on record as saying that having a passion, embracing a challenge and an unchecked desire to improve, is far greater than simply having fun.

    Writing this, I am reminded of a plaque that my parents had on the wall of their kitchen. Both coaches, teachers, and competitors, they believed:

    To win the game is great,

    To play the game is greater,

    To love the game is greatest.

    I know most of you share my passion for all this sport entails. I am looking forward to sharing training tips, advice, and answering questions throughout 2017. Be sure, if you see me somewhere, stop and introduce yourself. None of us can ever have enough people to share our passion with.

    To view more articles please visit our Members Page!

  • Wednesday, February 01, 2017 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Written by Connie Cleveland-Nolan

    2017 has begun, and if you’re like me, you’ve gotten out your calendar and started making plans to attend upcoming shows. What is your strategy for planning your trial schedule?

    Considerations like show conditions, judges, and how frequently you show all play a part in the events you choose to enter. By planning ahead, and training with a purpose you will arrive as prepared as possible.

    This is the method I use for planning my training and recommend to my students:

    1. Create a training calendar.
    2. Enter the trial dates on the calendar.
    3. Cross off the days you absolutely cannot train and identify days to rest your dog.
    4. Commit to the schedule so that your training can occur as planned.
    5. Working backwards from the trial dates, write down the exercises you want to do the day before the event so they will be fresh in your dog’s mind and make a note of where you intend to do them.
    6. Continue working backwards and fill in every day between now and then.

    This following chart is a sample two-week training plan I created last year for my Golden Retriever, Micah. Micah was competing in Open B and Utility B.

     Tuesday Wednesday
    Heeling, Signals, Corner gloves, Go-outs, DOR, Broad, Stays
    Heeling, Sigs, Articles, MS,
    ROF, ROH- remember to use his name on send
    Field Train - (Micah is also a field trial dog and a change of venue will serve him well)
    Day off- Go for a run with Cameron if he’s available.
    Heel/Signals- Evaluate Mon/Tues and look for weaknesses that need attention.
    Group training outside: Partial run-thru’s- mix up Open & Utility.
    Day off
    Monday Tuesday
    Outside: new location- practice all exercises focusing on any issues Saturday.
    Will have minimal time- yard-Heeling, signals, DOR, MS, stays Field Train Two 8-10 minute sessions- 1 focus on Open, 1 Utility
    Short day, Heel/Signals, anything that was a problem yesterday Show Show

    As you can see, that there were some unknowns when I created this plan. However, by planning, I avoided feeling overwhelmed, or forgetting to practice something. If you look carefully, it is clear what I believe to be Micah’s weakest exercises because I practice them in every training session: He tends to forge on the heeling, and sometimes fails to drop on the signal in Utility.

    How do you manage a problem during the week before an event?

    While some problems occur for a short time while a dog is learning, other problems can be persistent. Persistent problems require regular management throughout a dog’s career.

    Managing problems is akin to playing the 1970’s arcade game, Whac-a-Mole, where the moles pop up from holes as you force them down by hitting them with a mallet. Just as we “Whac” down one problem, we forget to “remind” our dogs to focus on another problem that might pop up instead.

    In the final week before an event, as you grow more excited, apprehensive, and perhaps anxious, it is important to remind your dog to concentrate on the exercises he struggles with. Don’t dwell on them. Dwelling on them will make him nervous or anxious. Practice these exercises consistently in the final few days of training so the problem does not rear its ugly head at the trial.

    Persistent Problems Can Be Managed

    I had opportunity to help someone with a dog that could be very silly on the glove exercise in the ring. Several times, when sent for Glove #1, he would pick up the glove, make a loop toward Glove #2, and might even drop Glove #1 and pick up Glove #2 before returning.

    We use several techniques to control his silliness. We often remind him to “Come,” as he picks up the glove. We place glove #2 closer than required to tempt him to go to it instead, even on the way out. We also ask someone to surreptitiously throw Glove #2 out as he turns with glove #1 in his mouth. He’s a clever dog, and although he might have fallen for these techniques at first, he knows better now and returns to his handler in a straight line while averting his gaze as if he has no interest in Glove #2.

    Because this is a persistent problem, I want the owner to remind him to mind his business during the week before the event. On Wednesday, she chooses to have someone throw out Glove #2 while he is returning with Glove #1. He is clever enough to resist the temptation but it does make him think! Then, on Thursday and Friday, as a gentle reminder, she gives a verbal “Come” as he picks up the glove.

    On one particular weekend, Utility B was sending for Glove #2 on Saturday. Everything went well, as expected, because this problem usually occurs on Glove #1. However, on Sunday, when Utility B called for Glove #1, he pulled his antics and swung wide to retrieve Glove #2 on his return.

    Don’t Miss an Opportunity to Manage a Problem!

    Darn it! We missed an important opportunity. Having permission to retrieve Glove #2 on Saturday undermined our determination to keep him focused. Hindsight is perfect. If we had only foreseen the potential problem, we could have utilized the techniques we used to manage this problem in our training on Saturday night.

    On Sunday evening, when the shows are over, know that whether you won or you lost, you always learned something. On the drive home, breathe, relax, enjoy your success, or lick your wounds, but in any case. when you’re feeling calm and level headed, get your calendar out and start preparing for the next competition.

    Last year, I did two one-hour webinars about Planning Your Training Sessions. Videos of the webinars are available to you for $20.00. You can get more information about the webinars at

    Have you downloaded my Digital Obedience Guide, Tricks that Transition to Obedience Exercises? It’s free at:

    To view more articles please visit our Members Page!

  • Sunday, January 01, 2017 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Written by Connie Cleveland-Nolan

    As a fifth grader, I was so excited to be selected to play Mammy Yokum in the school wide production of the musical, Li’l Abner. That is, until the popular, blond headed child, cast as Daisy Mae, told me, “You got that part because you’re not very pretty, and you can’t sing.”

    When I tearfully relayed the conversation to my mother, she said, “She’s a joy stealer. Don’t ever let anyone else steal your joy.”

    Are You A Joy Stealer?

    At the Dog Trainers Workshop, in addition to helping owners train their pets, we compete in the sport of obedience and teach many of our students to do so as well. Competitors are often oblivious to how the comments they make steal the joy of the winner. 

    “You won that class? I can’t believe it!”

    “You know if my dog hadn’t laid down on the long sit stay, I would have won the class!” said, unfeelingly, to the winner.

    “Boy, aren’t you glad Mrs. Winallthetime wasn’t here today or you might not have won.”  

    My godson had been chosen to play quarterback on his middle school team, and I had the pleasure of driving him to his first game. On the way, as I was telling him how excited I was for him, he told me his mother, an absentee parent, had called him and said, “They must not have any real football players to choose from.” 

    My anger and revulsion were immediate. Fortunately, after a few deep breaths I was able to explain to him what it meant to steal someone’s joy, and that we were not going to give her the power to do that.

    Many years later, as a young man, he called me to say he had passed on the lesson of what it means to be a joy stealer with his younger brother, bereft over the unfeeling remarks that someone had made when he excitedly told them where he had chosen to go to college.

    Stealing joy is not always an unfeeling comment made after an accomplishment. It can be a doubt placed, or negative response to a stated dream or goal. If you have ever told anyone that their dream or goal is “pretty lofty” for someone of their age, size, race or family background, count yourself as a joy stealer. If you are willing to destroy someone’s dream, perhaps you don’t realize that it is the joy of pursuing the dream that keeps the dreamer motivated, not simply reaching the accomplishment.

    My first Labrador Retriever, Ezra, had already earned his field championship, his amateur field championship, and had 65 of the necessary 100 points needed to become an obedience trial champion when a fellow competitor said to me, his owner, trainer and handler, “No dog will ever be capable of earning field championships and an obedience championship. It can’t be done!” My jaw drops when I think about it. Isn’t it telling that I remember this attempt at stealing my joy more than I remember all the congratulatory cards and letters I received when those last 35 points were earned?

    When we compete in the sport of obedience, the dogs must earn at least 170 points of the 200 points available in order to pass. Then, the top four scores in the class receive placements. Occasionally a student will sheepishly report to me that they won first place, but add that no other dog in the class received a passing score, as if somehow this diminishes their accomplishment. My response is always this: “Perhaps worse than allowing someone else to steal your joy is to steal your own. They had an opportunity to pass. This doesn’t mean you won by default, it means you won by a landslide. Celebrate!”

    So how do we prevent Joy Stealing either from ourselves or others?

    1) I think every single one of us has been a Joy Stealer, even if inadvertently. The sad thing is that we are all both victims of Joy Stealing and perpetrators of Joy Stealing at some point in our lives.

    2) Usually our Joy Stealing is inadvertent. We're often myopic and focused on ourselves -- our own performances, successes, and disappointments. So rather than respond to another's successes with encouragement, we focus on our failures, sometimes  from the distant past, and often from the near future. 

    Besides focusing on our own problems, we also find it difficult to look at the world from another's point of view. We don't recognize that we are saying something that might undermine another's accomplishment.

    Often, too, we crush people's dreams out of a misplaced kindness. We don't want them to be disappointed if they fail.

    And of course, sometimes Joy Stealing comes from simple malice. Often, the person who is engaged in that kind of Joy Stealing has a long history -- perhaps lifelong -- of sadness and anger. Life can do that to people sometimes, because life is often hard and full of losses. So often, people try to knock others down, as they have been knocked down.

    3) When confronted by your own tendencies towards Joy Stealing, focus first on the other person's triumphs, not your own disappointments. Then go back through your own life and notice the things for which you are grateful. I guarantee that even the worst of times will include some kindness, some good people, some unexpected blessings and benefits.

    If you're the victim of Joy Stealers -- forgive them. And then move on to the other people in your life who are confident, secure, and other-focused enough to congratulate your triumphs. And be sure to be that person for them, too.

    Every dream, turned into a goal, involves a journey laden with set-backs, disappointments and milestones. There is joy in that journey. Guard that joy well so that in the end you rightly celebrate the accomplishment as well as the memories of the trip.

  • Tuesday, November 01, 2016 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Written by Connie Cleveland-Nolan

    Go-outs look simple, especially if you start by putting food or an object on the stanchion to draw your dog’s attention to the location. You may think that you have successfully taught your dog the exercise by using food, a toy or other object to bribe him to the go-out location. However, diminishing or eliminating the bribe can be complicated. A more efficient way to teach the exercise is to teach your dog to “move away from the treat to earn the reward.” 

    In the Digital Obedience Guide, Tricks that Transition to Obedience Exercises, one of the tricks I introduce is teaching the dog to spin. This involves using food as a lure. Other tricks, such as teaching a dog to circle a cone, lie down on a signal, and go-out requires a dog to understand the concept of “moving away from the treat to earn a reward.”

    By using a lure to bribe your dog to run out to the stanchion for a treat, your hope is that your dog is (1) learning where to go when sent (after all, the treat is always on the stanchion or at the end of the ring) and (2) learning to run straight (after all, the treat is always straight ahead). In fact, some dogs do extrapolate that information when bribed to the center stanchion where the food is usually located. However, many dogs are simply “chasing food,” and not giving any thought to where the food is and how they found it. Absent the bribe, these dog have problems doing a go-out in different locations or situations. They often fail to go-out altogether, stop short or go crooked. 

     I want you to have confidence that you can walk in to any ring, anywhere, and believe that your dog is going to look out between the jumps and KNOW where he is going when you give him the go-out command. In order for that to occur, your dog must understand the correct path to take. He must understand that he needs to run out straight between the jumps to the end of the ring.

    The following video [Teaching Go-Outs] demonstrates the steps I use to teach my dogs how to find the correct path to the location of go-out. You will notice that a bribe is not necessary when you utilize tricks he already knows. From the outset, your dog can learn to move away from the treat to earn the reward. 

    View Video Demo Here!

    Steps for Teaching the Go-Out Exercise

    In summary, the steps for teaching your dog to go-out using this method are: 

    1. Teach your dog to stand on a box (as demonstrated in the Digital Obedience Guide: Tricks that Transition to Obedience Exercises).

    2. Place the box at the location of go-out between white guides (broad jump boards on their side will work).

    3. Send your dog to “stand” on the box during the first few sessions. Go to your dog while is in standing on the box and reward him at the stanchion. You can reinforce the fact that he found the correct go-out location by having your dog touch the gate with his nose or foot, in either in a standing or sitting position. Do not ask for a sit just yet, but don’t stop him at this point, if he offers it.

    4. Remove the box, and continue sending your dog to the location of the go-out. Reward him at the gate. THIS IS IMPORTANT! You do not want your dog to think he is going to the box, but instead, he is running out between the guides to the gate.

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  • Saturday, October 01, 2016 12:00 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Written by Connie Cleveland-Nolan

    The “Drop on Recall” is one of the most difficult obedience exercises. It seems that the struggle is often between having a dog that anticipates, and one that does not drop at all.

    When you begin training your dog to drop, he has a problem to solve, “When should I drop?”

    Unsure about when to drop, most dogs new to the exercise slow down and anticipate the drop command. Fearing that the dog will not come “briskly” as required by the rules, handlers become nervous and stop dropping their dogs. Instead they do straight recalls until their dogs start coming with more speed. 

    The dog’s problem has changed from “When should I drop?” to “Should I drop or not?” 

    The answer for many dogs is, “No, I should not drop!” When given the come command, these dog run confidently to their handlers. The handler, pleased that the dog’s speed has been restored, once again tries a drop command. The dog is surprised and responds slowly or not at all. 

    Thus begins the nasty cycle of straight recalls and occasional drops while the handler tries to figure out just how many drops to do without causing anticipation. I’ve had handlers tell me that they only drop their dogs in the ring.

    There is a way for you to break the cycle of straight recalls and drops. My approach is going to sound counterintuitive (and a little crazy). But, give it a try. It is a common sense approach that will teach your dog how to solve the problem of “When to drop?”

    Call your dog and drop him when he reaches the halfway point.

    Repeat the same recall, in the same location and from the same direction, but wait to drop your dog until he is two-thirds of the way to you. Expect your dog to slow down but drop him anyway. He is anticipating that you will drop him at the halfway point again. 

    Slowing down on the recall is an “effort error.” It indicates that your dog is trying to do the right thing. Dogs that are problem solving slow down when learning this exercise because it makes it easier to understand. The solution is not to stop dropping the dog, but to keep dropping him so he can solve the problem of “When should I drop?” The speed will come back when your dog learns how to solve the problem.

    If your dog actually stops and drops in anticipation of the command, go get him. Put your hand on his collar and back up bringing him to you while you repeat “Come.” Going down in anticipation of the drop command is an “effort error.” The dog is saying, “I think you want me to drop, but I’m not sure where, so how about here?!” Your response should communicate to your dog - “I haven’t told you to drop yet!” 

    Dropping Slowly or Not at All

    To address dogs that drop slowly, or not at all, do the same two recalls but in the opposite order. 

    Drop your dog when he reaches two-thirds of the distance to you.
    Repeat the same recall, in the same location and from the same direction, but drop your dog when he is halfway to you.

    Slow to Drop

    Be prepared for a slow response to your drop command on the second recall. Your dog thinks he knows where to drop and is not expecting you to drop him sooner.

    In our frustration with a dog that is slow to respond, most of us attempt to communicate “faster” by walking toward the dog and making him lie down. However, this is exactly how we respond when our dog fails to drop altogether. From the dog’s point of view, he had every intention of going down, just not yet. So as you are trying to communicate “do it faster” he is thinking (probably with some frustration), “I am going down, just give me time!”

    Try this if you believe your dog will be slow to respond:

    Move toward him immediately while signaling or saying “down.” Your job is to get him down as quickly as you can. This drill puts a dog on notice that he needs to concentrate on “When should I drop?” and often will improve how quickly he responds.

    Traveling Before Going Down

    In tough cases, you may struggle with a dog that travels two or three body lengths before going down. Why? Because, again, from the dog’s point of view, when you say “Down,” he is thinking, “I will go down, just let me finish coming first!”

    Try this if your dog is traveling before going down: 

    Use a conditioned reinforcer to mark the down as soon as his elbows hit the ground. Throw the reward to him, or even beyond him, instead of releasing him to come in to you.

    Do not underestimate the effectiveness of practicing more drop on recalls!

    I know you won’t believe it, but I drop my dog on virtually every recall I do in training. I do not drop him in the first third, or the last third of the recall, but I always drop him somewhere in between. I want my dog to expect to drop. That expectation will often speed up the response time.

    Finally,  the “Drop on Recall” is one of the most difficult obedience exercises, and I know that many of you may still be asking the following questions.

    Q: Is the first step of the DOR exercise to teach my dog to do random drops during play by throwing a toy and then asking her to drop? 

    A: Absolutely. Teaching your dog to drop anywhere, any time is a great skill for your dog to learn prior to teaching a formal Drop on Recall. Have some fun with this. I typically throw a treat and after the dog eats the treat and turns towards me, I give a signal or verbal “Down” command. I then reward him by throwing another treat.

    Q: Do you teach the Drop on Recall to a Novice dog?

    A: My favorite technique for teaching the Drop on Recall involves a target. Sometimes I use a bar on the ground. In the Digital Obedience Guide, “The Performance Puppy Primer,” I demonstrate how I taught my puppy to drop on a coaster. When using a target, the dog is solving the problem “Should I drop or not?” He approaches the target thinking “Should I drop?” and in the absence of the drop command/signal, comes past the target and straight in to me. With my Novice dogs, I may or may not drop them when the target is present. However, when there is no target, I NEVER drop them. Because dogs are situational, if there is no target, it does not occur to him to drop. Therefore, my novice recall is not compromised.

    Q: My dog anticipates the second half of the drop. 

    A: Anticipation is an effort error! It is important to proof for anticipation on every exercise. Start with your dog in a sit, ready to do a recall. Instead of saying “Come,” say “Sit,” or “Stay.” If your dog gets up, put him back in a sit.

    When your dog has learned to be a good listener on the recall, put him in a down and position yourself as if you are practicing the second half of the DOR. Say, “Down,” or “Stay,” instead of “Come.” Your dog will figure out that he cannot get up just because you spoke, but rather because you gave him the correct command. 

    One of the toughest distractions is for you to say, “Call Your Dog,” and insist the dog not move. Teaching your dog to do nothing in response to words that are not commands is difficult. Do not try this until your dog knows not to move when you give him a sit, down, or stay command.

    Q: Should I reward and release, or throw a reward to my dog after he drops halfway and two-thirds of the way to me or should I continue the exercise by calling him to front?

    A: Great question, and the answer is all of the above! Most of the time I release my dog to me (without walking toward the him). I do this because I am working on the drop. The exercise is over after my dog drops and I let him run in to me. This also creates a habit of good speed on the second half of the recall.

    Sometimes, especially if the dog has come quickly and dropped promptly, I use a conditioned reinforcer (a word or clicker), and throw the reward to the dog. I add a formal second half of the recall when my dog becomes proficient in coming and dropping on command. 

    If you try all these suggestions, and are still struggling, feel free to contact me, I’ll do my best to help you be successful.


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  • Sunday, May 01, 2016 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Written by Connie Cleveland-Nolan

    I often hear people complain that “he only does it for the food.” Many of us have come to believe that we simply cannot train without food. The normal progression of training begins by (1) luring your dog with food (or a toy) to teach a behavior, and (2) rewarding your dog after he performs the behavior. Your dog comes to expect, or, at least, hope that a food or toy reward will be forthcoming.

    Luring Explained

    A lure can be anything that has the power to attract, tempt, or entice your dog to perform a behavior. It is common for us to begin by luring our dog into the positions we desire (e.g., Sit, Down, Front, and Heel). Food is a lure when we guide a dog from front into a finish position.

    Chasing Food 

    Luring teaches a dog how to move his body to perform behaviors. If luring continues for too long, our dogs learn to chase the food in direct pursuit of the reward rather than responding to our command in order to earn a treat. Chasing the food quickly becomes the dog’s objective.

    Whenever you use food in training, ask yourself whether your dog truly understands that performing the desired behavior is what is causing you to deliver the treat. The longer you use a lure in your training, the harder it will be to stop.

    Rewarding Behavior

    Your goal should be for the food to become the reward that comes after a behavior is performed; food should not entice your dog to do the behavior.

    For example, if you hold a treat above your puppy’s nose and lure him into a sit, praise him and then deliver the treat, it will appear as if he is learning to sit for a reward. However, if you lure your puppy to sit too many times or over too long of a period, he may believe that he is being rewarded for chasing the food. 

    If you tell your puppy to sit, and he responds by promptly sitting, your command and his performance precedes your praise and delivery of the food. You will have rewarded what he did rather than luring him into the behavior or allowing him to chase the food.

    As quickly as possible, all of the treats you give to your dog must become rewards.

    I start to teach all dogs to come when called by putting them on a long line and taking them for a walk. When the dog becomes distracted, I call the dog, tug on the long line, praise the dog for coming, and then reward with a treat. Again, the reward comes after the behavior has been performed.

    Luring vs. Rewarding

    Are you unsure whether you are luring or rewarding?

    Consider the times that your dog must move away from the treat to earn it. If you consistently feed your puppy in a crate, you have seen him run for the crate as soon as you pick up his bowl. This is a good example of moving away from a treat to earn it. Your puppy turns his back on what he wants, and runs to his crate knowing that his behavior will earn him the reward. This is an important concept and is more complex than luring. Other examples of moving away from a treat to earn a treat would be the broad jump and go-outs.

    When I teach directed jumping, I set up two jumps and block the space between them with a gate. Such a set up provides the dog with two options, he can jump to the right, and he can jump to the left. In either case, he cannot come straight to me to earn his reward. He must get up from a sit, move toward the jump, take the jump, and come to me for his reward.

    Alternatively, I have observed handlers throw a treat so that the dog has to get up from a sit and chase it. I have seen this technique used on the broad jump; handlers throwing a treat over the jump for the dog to chase and then eat when he lands on the other side. These techniques bypass the opportunity to teach a dog how to move away from what he wants to get what he wants. Instead, the dog just gets to chase food. The food assumes the power of a lure and ceases to be a reward. 

    The next time you train, think about how you are using every treat you deliver to your dog. Make a list of each instance and note the behavior your dog performed to earn the treat. The purpose of making the list is to help you identify instances when you lured your dog instead of saving the food to reward a job well done.

    Next time you train, ask yourself: 

    Did he earn it for following the lure?

    Was the treat in your hand while you were heeling?

    Were you holding the treat in both hands as you lured him into a front? 

    Were you holding it over his head as you guided him into a finish?

    Did he move away from the treat before he earned it?

    You raised your hand up to give a drop signal and he dropped to the ground.

    You sent him to go-out and then delivered a treat after he got there.

    Did you use it as a reward? 

    You marked a behavior with a conditioned reinforcer indicating that your dog performed the behavior correctly followed by the delivery of a treat.

    Make a note of any treats you give to a disinterested or unmotivated dog. Include treats that you give to your dog unannounced without preceding it with a conditioned reinforcer. These are probably the most ineffective treats of all. 

    Using food in training is reasonable as long as it is given as a reward for behavior performed correctly. Dogs are motivated to perform by positive reinforcement, However, Positive Reinforcement is not the only reason that dogs perform correctly. I believe there are four reasons that dogs do what we ask of them.

    Why Dogs Perform Correctly

    Positive Reinforcement: Dogs perform correctly in order to earn a reward. Rewards are generally delivered in the form of food, toys, and praise.

    Negative Reinforcement: Dogs perform correctly in order to avoid something unpleasant. Negative reinforcement is something that a dog finds offensive. Used correctly, a dog knows how to stop and how to prevent the offensive action from occurring.*

    Enjoyment of the activity: Some dogs love to heel, others love jumping or retrieving.

    Habit: Dogs get in the habit of performing correctly with enough practice.

    I want you to seriously consider the following two statements:

    The most successful competition dogs enjoy the activity.

    How did they come to enjoy it? It is true that some dogs are bred to enjoy certain activities such as jumping or retrieving. However, enjoyment also comes from being rewarded for performing. Soon, the activity itself becomes fun.

    The most successful competition dogs are in the habit of performing correctly.

    How did they develop the habit? Habit is the result of repetition, practice in a variety of locations and common sense proofing.

    Ultimately, positive reinforcement used effectively, leads to a dog that enjoys the activities you are asking him to perform. Performing correctly becomes a dog’s habit because the activity itself is fun.

    Do you see the progression?   LuringRewardingEnjoymentHabit

    I conducted a webinar on April 20th about this topic. If you are interested in receiving a link to a video of the webinar that you can watch on your own schedule, and as many times as you want, you may purchase it at

    *The following articles provide an in-depth discussion of Positive Reinforcement and Negative Reinforcement in the context of how dogs learn:

    Positive Reinforcement:

    Conditioned Reinforcers:

    Negative Reinforcement:

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  • Friday, April 01, 2016 12:30 AM | Front & Finish (Administrator)

    Written by Connie Cleveland-Nolan

    Last month, in Part I of this series, I presented the flow chart illustrating the principles I use when training dogs and my beliefs about how dogs learn.  I believe that because dogs are problem solvers, and they learn by trial and error, it stands to reason that sometimes they will respond correctly and sometimes they will respond incorrectly.

    Dog Makes the Correct Choice

    When your dog makes the correct choice, how should you respond?

    Handler Uses Positive Reinforcement

    The definition of reinforcement is that it increases the likelihood that a behavior will increase in both frequency and intensity. That’s our goal – correct behaviors more often and with more enthusiasm.

    Praise that Can Be Followed by a Toy or Treat

    How many ways are there for you to give positive reinforcement? The left side of the flow chart says “praise followed by a toy or treat.” The reason is obvious; you need a dog that responds to your praise, not just a treat, or a toy.

    However, there’s more to it than that. Praise must be sincere. If you look at the dog heeling next to you, making eye contact, or the dog that is still sitting where you left him after you have been out of sight for three minutes, you need to demonstrate how much you appreciate the effort he’s making. Your praise must be genuine and expressed with sincere enthusiasm.

    What makes a dog want to be praised? Any behaviorist will tell you that it’s all about pairing the praise with something the dog enjoys. That’s true, but there is more to it than that. Dogs (unlike a lizard or a snake) have a limbic part of their brain that interprets emotion. Your dog knows when you’re sad, sick, or upset. He also knows when you are genuinely, 100% thrilled, out of your mind excited.

    When someone compliments you, dopamine is released in your body and it makes you feel good. Dogs are the same. When you convey that kind of excitement, he will have a dopamine release and with time, start loving the activities that cause you to praise him.

    I can’t leave the subject of praise without pointing at what it is not.

          Praise is not obligatory. Do not say “Good Dog!” unless you mean it, if you don’t feel it, don’t waste your breath. Your dog will know that you are not sincere.

          Praise does not start wanted behaviors. Praise rewards existing behaviors. A cheerful hurry, hurry, hurry!” does not cause a lagging dog to speed up, it tells him it is okay for him to lag.

    Promise me that you will only praise when you sincerely, unequivocally feel genuine enthusiasm for the dog’s performance. If that is the case, your dog will respond to your praise, even in the absence of the toy or treat.

    A Conditioned Reinforcer Must Be Followed by a Toy or Treat

    Another form of positive reinforcement is a conditioned reinforcer. Remember Pavlov’s bell? He rang the bell and the dogs drooled. The bell is a “conditioned reinforcer.” Desired behavior is reinforced or strengthened when a conditioned reinforcer is associated with a primary reinforcer (e.g., food).

    A conditioned reinforcer is often a noise - it can be a clicker or a distinct sound or word. I use a verbal conditioned reinforcer to “mark” specific behaviors. I chose the word “Yes!”. I am distinct and exude an enthusiasm that my dogs recognize when I say “Yes!” More importantly, “If I say it, I pay it!”

    In the flow chart, I state that if the dog makes a correct choice, the handler responds with positive reinforcement. Why use a conditioned reinforcer instead of simply handing the dog a treat?

    Scientific studies show that a distinctive sound (a conditioned reinforcer) that precedes delivery of food (a primary reinforcer) cause dopamine and other chemicals to release in the pleasure and memory centers of the brain. These chemicals cause enjoyment and pleasure. When a behavior consistently produces these chemicals, the subject starts to enjoy the behavior  that leads to the toy or treat.

    Read that sentence very carefully. Dogs (and people!) are pleasure seeking. By using a conditioned reinforcer (“Yes!”) paired with a primary reinforcer (e.g., food) you can cause a dog to enjoy the aspects of obedience that are not self-rewarding such as fronts, finishes, and pivots.

    Furthermore, a conditioned reinforcer marks and rewards specific behavior. For example, if you teach your dog to run to a bed, and consistently “mark” the exact moment he puts his fourth foot on the bed, the dog will come to understand that it is the act of getting on the bed that causes the reward to happen. If you simply praise and feed him, he may not clearly understand what it is that you are rewarding because several things are happening at the same time. You are walking toward him to a deliver the treat with a pleased look on your face and he is turning on the bed, wagging his tail and waiting for you. It’s simply more difficult for a dog to ascertain exactly what behavior caused the reward. For this reason, the chemical release does not occur or is not as intense.

    Be aware of some important points when using your conditioned reinforcer. Excited by your dog’s response to the distinctive sound, you may start to randomly use your verbal conditioned reinforcer and not deliver a treat. I watched a trainer heel a dog around the ring chanting “Yes!” as if she were keeping rhythm with the sound of the word. This will cause the sound to become meaningless to the dog. Thus the term, “If you say it, you must pay it!”

    Don’t bother using your conditioned reinforcer for activities the dog finds naturally rewarding. If your dog enjoys jumping, let jumping be the reward, you do not need to add anything more to the activity. Instead, use your conditioned reinforcer for the details that are hard to communicate and harder still for the dog to understand, like sitting attentively in heel position, pivoting and then keeping his head up, straight fronts, and holding the dumbbell properly while sitting in front of you.

    As dog trainers, we say, and often believe, the dog only does it “for the treat.” However, when you use a conditionedreinforcer properly, you will discover that the sequence of events that lead to the reward becomes enjoyable for your dog. Doing obedience with a dog that enjoys the activity is the most fun of all, for both of you.

    Dog Makes an Error (Incorrect Choice)

    If you believe that dogs are problem solvers, and they learn by trial and error, then sometimes they will make errors. How should you respond to his mistakes? Not all errors are the same. Sometimes a dog makes an effort error, and sometimes he makes an error due to a lack of effort.

    Effort Errors, Characterized by Confusion or Fear

    Effort errors are made by dogs that are attentive, but appear confused, worried or fearful. When your dog makes an effort error, he will typically offer one of two responses: (1) He does nothing, or (2) He offers the wrong behavior.

    Dog Does Nothing 

    How should you respond to an inexperienced dog that stares intently at you but does not move when you say “Sit” or the dog in a sit at go-out that does not move when you say “Jump”?

    Dogs, similarly to horses and goats, learn when physically moved in the correct direction.This is not true for all species. Cats do not learn by giving them direction nor do chickens or dolphins. Because your dog can learn when physically moved in the correct direction, use it to your advantage!

    Be gentle, but firm as you pull up on the dog that fails to sit. When he fails to move in response to your jump command, go get him and physically guide him in the correct direction. He has made an effort error and you are providing him with information about the direction in which he should move.

    Dog Offers the Wrong Behavior

    Sometimes an effort error is demonstrated by a dog offering the wrong behavior. How should you respond to the dog that heads for glove 2 when sent for glove 3 or the dog that comes straight to you when told to jump over the broad jump?

    Dogs have the ability to solve problems. Offering any behavior, even a wrong one, is an attempt to solve a problem. Follow the steps outlined in the article “A Simple Rule to Train By,” (  tell your dog he made a mistake, calmly take him by the collar and guide him back to the position in which he was last right, then start again by simplifying the task. By following this rule, you are giving your dog another opportunity to solve the problem.

    Lack of Effort Errors: Characterized by Inattentiveness or Disinterest

    Not all errors are committed by dogs that are attentive and trying their best. Dogs also make “lack of effort errors” when they are distracted or uninterested.

    Have you ever called your dog to come, seen him look in your direction, ignore your command and return to sniffing as if to say, “Just a minute, Im busy.” Have you ever told your excited and/or distracted dog to “Sit,” only to watch him act as if he didnt even hear you? Have you ever given your dog a command and watched him respond as if he was not even trying to be obedient? These are all examples of “lack of effort errors.”

    If you agree that lack of effort errors occur when our dogs are not trying, the question becomes how to respond? Dog trainers are quick to use the word “correction,” as in “I would correct the dog,” but what does that mean? The word correction has been used in so many different ways that it has become ambiguous. For example, if you were to tell me that your dog is running around the high jump and ask me, “How would you correct him?” I could not be sure whether you are asking me “How would you fix it?” or “What kind of negative response would I use to stop him?”

    I use negative reinforcement when a dog is not trying. By definition, reinforcement increases the likelihood that a behavior will occur. Negative refers to something the dog wants to stop and wants to prevent.

    For example, think about your seatbelt buzzer. That annoying sound increases the likelihood that you will buckle your seatbelt, so, by definition, it is reinforcement. It is negative because you want to make it stop.  Thankfully, you know how to do so. When you hear it, buckle up. You can prevent the annoying sound by buckling your seatbelt before you start the car. You are in complete control of the annoying buzz!

    How about an underground fence? Smart fence owners teach their dog how to control the sound and electric stimulus the electric fence collar provides. First, they teach their dog where the boundaries of the yard are located. Next, they walk their dog around the boundary, and when the noise occurs, they pull the dog back into the yard (dogs learn by being given direction). When done properly, the dog learns how to stop the sound and electric stimulus (the "aversive") and how to prevent it from occurring again. The dog romps happily around the yard offering the desired behavior (staying inside the delineated boundaries) because he knows how to control the aversive.

    A pop on the leash is another example of negative reinforcement. My dogs learn that a pop on the leash can be stopped by looking at me. They also know that they can avoid a pop on the leash by giving me their attention. My dogs know that they are in control of the pop and comfortably give me their full attention.

    We have all seen trainers who become frustrated and lose their tempers. We have seen dogs that become nervous and scared when aversive techniques are used. This occurs when the dog does not know how to control the negative events from happening. None of us are interested in making our dogs nervous or scared. In fact, we are horrified by the thought of it. That is NOT what I am talking about. I NEVER do anything that my dogs consider offensive until I have, in a calm and systematic way, taught them how to stop it and how to prevent it.

    Promise me that you will never do anything to your dog that he finds offensive unless:

    (1) He has made a “Lack of Effort Error”; and

    (2) You have taken the time to teach him how to stop it and how to prevent it.

    If you make this promise, your dog will enjoy working with you in the same way the well-trained dog enjoys romping in the yard within the confines of the underground fence.

    I have been training dogs for 40 years. I have had 10 Obedience Trial Champions, 4 Field Champions, and earned numerous other titles. I have taught obedience classes in Greenville, South Carolina for over 30 years and have helped countless people earn titles on all breeds of dogs. Through it all, I have not grown tired, nor do I take for granted, the skills that dogs allow us to teach them. I have trained dogs to do obedience, field work, service work, therapy work, tracking, and even some detection. No matter what I’m teaching a dog, I follow the principles outlined in this article. By presenting the task as a problem, and helping the dog solve it, I am repeatedly able to teach dogs the countless tasks presented to me. I am wowed every day by what dogs are able to learn. I hope that you are too!

    To view more articles please visit our Members Page!

    To view more articles please visit our Members Page!

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