In this unit we look at ways that our dogs can learn to behave as we would like by making good choices on their own.

As always we open with:


  • Using the clicker to “shape” going to the mat.
  • Once the dog is relaxing on the mat we deliver treats at frequent but random intervals without clicking.
    • Our clicker-savvy dogs may find the click keeps them “on the job”, so it may be a little more difficult to relax fully.
    • Rewarding at random but frequent intervals keeps our dogs engaged, but begins to stretch out the time between treats.


In this Choice Game our puppies learn that in order to get the treats that we are holding in our hands, they have to move away from our hands! It sounds impossible, and so the fact that it works so well looks a lot like magic. In fact it’s just a wonderful introduction to self-control, something that all our puppies and older dogs need. The basic steps are:

Stage 1

  • Load 10-15 small treats into one hand.
  • Close your hand around the treats so that your dog can’t get them.
  • Place your hand at or just below your dog’s nose level,
  • Brace your hand so that you won’t be tempted to pull it away from your dog.
  • If your dog has noticed the treats in your hand and is trying to get them, that’s great! It’s where the exercise starts.
  • Hold your hand steady, and keep it closed as long as your dog is trying to get the treats out. When your dog moves away from your hand, open your hand.
  • If your dog moves toward your open hand, close it.
  • If your dog doesn’t move toward your open hand, leave it open, remove a treat with your other hand, and feed it to your dog.
  • You’re not saying anything to your dog, just opening your hand when your dog moves away, closing it when he moves toward the treats, and giving him treats when he moves away from your open hand.

Stage 2

  • Place 8-10 treats on the floor in front of your dog
  • Place your hand over the treats
  • Leave your hand over the treats as your dog tries to get them.
  • Move your hand away to reveal the treats when your dog backs away.
  • Take a treat from the pile on the floor and feed it to your dog.
  • Add difficulty by taking a single treat from the pile and placing it on the floor a little closer to your dog, then pick it up and feed it to your dog.
  • If at any time your dog moves toward the treats, simply put your hand over them.
  • Don’t say “no”, “leave it”, or anything else. This works like a law of nature: the dog moves toward the treats and your hand covers treats on the floor. Your dog moves away, and your hand uncovers them and gives your dog one of the treats.

(Check out the Training Tips handouts on Self Control Games for this exercise, and one to keep your dog from bolting through the door. Credit for this game goes to two awesome Canadian trainers: Susan Garrett for her “It’s Yer Choice” game, and Sue Ailsby for her approach to “Zen”.)

In the Attention while Moving exercise our able handlers used the best tools at their disposal to keep their dogs connected mentally to them, including:

    • Clicks and treats
    • Happy voice and interesting sounds (whistles and birdcalls, anyone?)
    • Movement and change of direction


In discussing Canine Body Language the question often arises about the times our dogs look “guilty”, and whether they know that they’ve “done wrong”.

Although our knowledge of canine cognition is expanding all the time, there is no evidence at this time to support the idea that our dogs experience guilt. In fact guilt is a very complicated emotion that, in humans, activates higher-level portions of our brains that don’t seem to correspond to any parts of dogs’ brain. Dogs don’t understand the abstract human concepts of “right” and “wrong”.

However, dogs do know what situations predict that we’ll be cranky, and will offer appeasing body language as they would to a cranky dog, in an effort to avoid conflict. For example, when our dogs are tipping over the trash can (and having a riotous good time) they won’t think “this is wrong”, or even that an hour from now we’ll be upset to discover trash on the floor when we get home. However once they’ve experienced our anger at discovering trash on the floor when we get home they will come to associate trash on the floor and our return home with angry people, and to a dog angry people are unpredictable and unsafe. What they know is that:

trash on floor + human returning home = cranky dangerous human

As a result they will preemptively offer appeasing body language (which we take for “guilty”) in an effort to avoid conflict.

This is one reason that we don’t use or recommend any sort of physical punishment, or even shouting and scolding when training our dogs. To do so creates fear and lack of trust as our dogs come to find us unpredictable and a little scary. Rather we manage our dogs’ environment so that the right choice pays off, and the wrong choice is not rewarded. As in the “It’s Your Choice” exercise described above our brilliant pups figure out what pays off pretty quickly!


We didn’t have a formal confidence-building exercise this session, but it bears noting that anytime we give our dogs the opportunity to make a good choice we are helping them build confidence.



Things to Bring

  • Your Pup!
  • Well-behaved children and spouses 8 or older.
  • A flat collar, harness, or martingale collar.
  • Lots of pea-sized soft treats in at least two different flavors. 200 tiny pieces are not too many. Some suggestions: Hot dogs, String cheese, Meatballs, Chicken or Tuna, Baby food (in a camping tube), Vienna sausages, Liverwurst, Thin-sliced Beef.
  • A fanny pack, carpenter’s apron, or treat pouch to hold your 200 tiny pieces.
  • A 6-foot leash.
  • A mat, bathmat, towel, or blanket for your puppy or dog to rest on.
  • Water and a bowl for when your pup gets thirsty.

Do's and Don'ts

  • Do let us know if your pup has any food allergies so that we can be careful not to give him a troublesome treat.
  • Don’t bring prong, choke, shock, or citronella collars.
  • Don’t bring Flexi or other retractable leashes.
  • Puppies and dogs should not meet while on leash in class, or while coming and going. There will be opportunities for off-leash play for compatible puppies, and good neighbor exercises for older pups and dogs.
  • Don’t feed a heavy meal before coming to class. In fact, your in-class treats can serve as your dog’s breakfast on class day!
  • If your puppy or dog is ill, please leave him at home to recuperate, but feel free to come to class without him so that you can learn what’s on the agenda for that day.

Puppy eBooks

Training Video


Homework 1

  • Play with your puppy.
  • Catch your pup in the act of doing five different things you like. Click and Treat. Repeat.

Homework 2

  • Have your dog “Wait” for you to put her food bowl down for each meal.
  • Couple handling with treats a few times a day.

Homework 3

  • Practice Loose Leash Walking in a new location. Remember that three good steps are so much better than thirty steps on a tight leash.
  • Look for features on your walks that can serve as parts of an Out-and-About Confidence Course.

Homework 4

  • Surprise your dog with ten treats in ten seconds at least three times a day.
  • Practice the Name Game three times a day.

Homework 5

  • Discover a new opportunity to help your dog choose an appropriate behavior.
  • Write down the first five steps that you would train.