Frequently asked questions

Q: How long should each training session last?

A: I recommend training sessions of no more than 10 minutes; 2-5 minutes per exercise is best, with several sessions (or as many as you can manage) during the day.

More short sessions are better than a couple of long ones. Your dog should feel a little tired after each session — learning is stressful!

Your dog will learn best if you don't overwhelm him with all-new information each time; warm up before each session with older, easier tricks and cues before beginning to practice the newer, harder stuff.

Quit before your dog is ready to quit, so you have a fresh, eager learner at your next training session. Make sure that your dog has a place to rest away from other dogs and children, and plenty of access to clean water, after each training session.

Q: Where should I train my dog?

A: You don't need anything fancy to create a training space -- somewhere quiet and distraction-free for your dog will do. An enclosed area is nice if you plan to work your dog off-leash. Try to pick somewhere free of distractions such as squirrels, cats, joggers, other dogs, etc. -- you will need those locations later to help your dog learn to deal with distractions.

For now, you are looking for a place where you and your dog can focus on each other.

Q: Do I need a platform to train my dog?

A: Much of the "stay" training we will demonstrate involves a raised platform your dog can comfortably sit, lie down, and turn around on. Having a platform gives your dog clearly defined boundaries and frees him from thinking too much about his physical location. Smaller, narrow platforms are also helpful in teaching heel position, as once the dog is rewarded for staying on the platform, he can easily understand where his body should be in relation to yours.

If you don't have access to or don't want to build a raised platform (I use a DIY agility pause table), you may use a rubber-backed mat, dog bed or crate.

Q: Why do I need a clicker and treats?

A: A clicker is optional in this training program. Treats are not.

Treats: Food is the fastest, most effective way to train most dogs. If you decide to feed treats in addition to your dog's regular meals, track the estimated volume of treats you are feeding, and adjust meal portions accordingly. If your dog doesn't like the treats you are offering, see recipe ideas on Susan Garrett's blog.

Clicker (optional): If you choose not to use a clicker throughout the course, you may use a marker word, such as “Yes!” or other noise or gesture to indicate to your dog that his choice is correct and a treat is coming.

Q: Will I have to use treats forever?

A: No. Treats can be faded out once your dog is regularly and reliably performing the behaviors you want. At that point, you'll use other types of reinforcement for the behaviors you like.

In the meantime, you can put all of your dog's food for the day into a baggie or container, and use that container throughout the day to train your dog. At the end of the day, your dog can have whatever is left over at the end of the day in a Kong or another feeding toy.