Super Smart Tot…by Lisa Harmon

Thursday-Friday overnight was much much better for the housebreaking efforts! About 3 am he started getting fussy and frustrated about being confined to the kitchen, so we did something new:

Soda carton games!! He grabbed it, chewed it, carried it, and generally gave it a thorough working over.

Friday morning was exciting: the first visit with our clicker trainer, Lisa, from On the Spot Dog Training. She was Kenai and BB’s trainer too, and once Levi’s bladder infection is taken care of, Lisa will be vital in his socializing.

As usual for a puppy training session, it started off with the objective of beginning leash training, but then moved into “Levi”, “leave it”, backing away from the deck railing he can fit and fall through, and “off” commands as well. We even got some outside piddles to reward.

Boy was I slow with the click and reward at first…

I’d been asleep when she came, which didn’t help. I really have gotten out of practice with the clicker. But guess who’s walking beside me on a loose leash? He had a full  hour of training time and didn’t want to quit!

Here’s the blow by blow of our training time condensed in case you’ve never clicker trained before:


He didn’t care at all about the collar. Yay! Never even needed a reward, never scratched at it, nothing. Boy did I get lucky. Yet another reason to get a puppy used to having things on his body very young, at 8 wks or even sooner.

We put the leash on, and he did the baby thing–right into the mouth for a good slobbering and chew. The moment he spit it out he got a click n treat.

He ran around dragging it, played while dragging it, followed me while dragging it, I followed him while it was dragging along. Then I picked it up and stood still.

It went taut as he wanted to go over there, and as soon as he moved so the tension released, he got a click and a big reward. We did this a couple times, and the closer he got to me, the more treats he got at a time.

It took about 30 seconds before he stopped pulling it at all, and followed me. Having a naturally attentive, food motivated puppy pays off!! Now that he’s got the basics, it’s practice for duration, eventually followed by ignoring distractions on his own.

From now on, I can take Levi out the back door deck leashed into the fenced part of the yard to relieve himself. At night, it is a relief to me to have him in a fenced place. No worries about stray dogs I can’t see in the dark, nor him falling through the deck railings.

Leave It

We began with a treat in the hand, and persistant little grey shark that he is, it took him awhile to lose interest. When he did, though, he got the click and the treat. This is what Sue Ailsby ( calls “zen”. Levi is a little slower at this one: he’s very tenacious.

Once he’d leave it after a sniff or two, he got the command just before he would move his nose back, followed by a click and the treat.

The whole process was repeated with the treat on the floor, covered by Lisa’s hand. Then I had a turn at the leave it, using the same proceedure.

We had to do the whole business over again when the treat bag caught his attention. I can see already I need to make a list of permantly off limits items.

The list for him is smaller than a companion since I want him to retrieve, and he has to be willing to mess with items before he learns to pick them up and bring them. But electrical cords are a forever no-no.

Deck Railings

Sorry no pics of this: I had a clicker in one hand and treats in the other. I’m trying to convince Mom to start using the camera. I only have 3-4 pictures of Kenai with me, and I want more of Levi and I together. Getting her to do it though…

While he was leashed I went and stood in the yard, Levi wanted to stick his head through the railing to see me. Lisa had his leash so he couldn’t actually fall through, and just one step back got him a click and a treat.

We did this in various places around the deck, then began at one end and headed towards the stairs one move back at a time. It’s a long deck so we wanted him to learn he could just go on down the stairs to come to me.

Then he was in the yard and I was on the deck. Levi being Levi, he wanted to climb up the supports under the deck. Of course he’s way too little and it’s way too tall, so I got to capture “off”, saying the word just as he started to get off (click and treat of course)!


This was alot for a little tots at one time, but Levi totally enjoyed it, remembered it all even after his nap, and didn’t want to quit. He loves “training”! And he learned it all at warp speed. He’s one sharp little Dane, my young Hungarian man. (Don’t tell me Danes aren’t smart as Collies, folks, I know better!)

My homework is consitancy, and getting faster with the click as well as treat delivery. Levi’s homework is to be Levi–no problem there!

Name and Come

This is Ira the Therapy Dog and his Dane buddy, Cooper.

Of all the obedience “commands”, I want 2 in particular to be so solid as to be second nature: their name means look at me, and come. The down, stay, wait and such are very important too, but name and come are lifesavers for us both.

When they were little, 8-16 weeks old, anytime they looked at me, followed me, or came to me was rewarded heavily. And then we began little “come” games from Sue Ailsby’s clicker training levels

Now at 4-6 mo old, their name and come games are getting harder, and more rewarding. There are distractions to ignore, like kids running nearby, and shopping carts, and car horns, and people walking between us. Sue’s level 1 needs a 20 foot distance accomplished to move on to level 2, but I am less concerned about distance than distraction.

Come is made up of many parts, and if you have broken it down into those parts, you’ll know where the come went wrong if they don’t finish the behavoir chain. There is 1) recognizing a cue, such as a name or whistle, 2) disengaging their interest from what they were doing, 3) moving their bodies towards you, 4) ignoring distractions 5) proximity to you.

Some people may want a come front, where the pup sits directly in front of them, some may want the pup to take up a heel position…but the basic come has 5 seperate behaviors in the chain. There are dogs that won’t disengage, dogs that will start your way but get distracted by their best doggie bud over there, and dogs that will get near but not stop where you want them.

If you practice and reward each and every step of the come, the odds are the pup will put all those related parts together in order. My pup will have learned their name means look at me, so they have to disengage once they recognize that cue to get their reward.

A pup that is coming to me can see my excitement and the wonderful reward I have for them, which helps them ignore other things. We’ve also practiced ignoring movements and sounds and smells, so they are primed to ignore. And reaching me has killer good rewards every time, and not the same ones, either! Mix it up for fun!

The life of an SDit (service dog in training) is crammed full of noise, movement, and scent distractions. Just go to a Target and close your eyes for awhile if you don’t believe me. They have to become king of ignore! So I will spend as long as I must in level 1 come at 20 feet to get it smack down perfect regardless of what’s around.

Every time I call their name and they look, they get a click and treat, and usually a lovely big hug. The problem with my past Danes was they get bored with repetition: the same old thing with the same old treat just gets deadly dull. So I had to find better treats as the ignore it became harder, and more than just treats for a reward.

Many police and other working dogs use tug toys or ball chases for rewards and to sustain excitement. It works!

Affection, laughter, an infectiously happy and proud emotional response from you makes the “obedience” a fun and bonding experience.

At 4-6 mo old, a Dane pup may be pushing 100 pounds, but their brains and behavoirs are far from mature–they’re still “little”!

So play, and fun, and love are the best rewards of all. We have to deal with the “stubborns” at this age, and the “do it how I want” ways of a developing puppy. But that’s okay, because I want a grown up dog that can think for themselves: I want a problem solver!

So the name means look becomes “if I look, she might have my jolly ball, that’s better than sniffing the grass”. The trick is not to set the pup up to fail: don’t call them if there’s a chance they won’t come.  Never let your little Einstein figure out they can ignore you!

If you think your pup is such a nose hound they won’t disengage their attention from that spot in the grass, go back to the beginning. Be right next to them, and wordlessly lure their nose up with a favorite treat or toy. Even lifting their nose by one inch is worthy of a click and reward! They disengaged the nose–take it and reward it and build on it.

If your pup is likely to lose interest in you on the way and go play with their pal, then practice ignoring their pal as a seperate step. Make getting to play with their pal a reward for the come chain. They only get taken off leash to play with their pal if they look at you and take a step or two to you.

If you have to, have a friend hold their leash and reward each and every step in the come chain as they go. And don’t be surprised if what a puppy was good at a couple weeks ago goes to pot on you this week. You’re working with a creature that is changing physically and emotionally every day. They aren’t grown up yet!

PS. I have paid a deposit on a new puppy. It will be a blue male Great Dane, from Lean on Me Great Danes, a kennel in Hungary. He is only a few days old right now, but in 2 months, the “rubber meets the road”, and I move from laying out a plan of training to living out a plan.

So I got 2 months to finish my planning! Not to mention getting new carpet, a digital recorder to record grocery, park and other sounds…a new puppy bed, line up a doggie day care for socializing, decide on a food, stock up on treats, get new collars/leashes…Here comes the fun folks, for real, and lots of PICTURES!

Beginning Down and Sit

Capturing is the easiest method of informally reinforcing a down or sit. At some point a puppy will sit, so you click and reward them. Same with the down. All you have to do is watch. The first week or two a puppy is with me, that is how I reward the action, and being to put a word to that action.

When they begin to offer a sit while I make their breakfast, they get a word when the tush hits the floor, and a click/treat when they can get up again. They need to learn the words sit and down before I can expect them to do it when I say sit.

But now I’m talking about more formal training around 12 weeks or so; doing the action on verbal or hand signal cues. I am going to use Sue Ailsby’s training levels for formal obedience

To begin to teach sit, I will lure the little nose with a treat going backwards slightly over their heads. They will almost automatically sit to reach up and back for their treat. If they back up, I just practice with their furry bottom right in front of the couch or a cabinet.

I try only to lure with a treat 2-3 times, then I try it with a treatless hand. If I get a sit, there’s a click and several rewards as fast as they can take the treats. I try to get rid of the treat as quickly as I can, so I can reward rather than lure.

As soon as they have the word with the motion, I will click the moment the tucas touches, and the can get up to get the treat. Then we do it again: sit, fast click, up for treat. This passively teaches them the click not only means a reward but a release.

Over time I slow down the click and have them wait just a little longer, and  a little longer so I am sure they understand that click means the sit is over. But while they are learning it, I try to get a click in every few seconds–it keeps the short puppy attention span focused!

If I need to, I’ll get a sit, click fast and have a game of tug, or hugs, or crazy ball chase. Then they have to sit, get the click before a crazy ball chase. Or a sit before their food goes down. Or a sit before we go outside.

As they become good at it, I increase distractions: we sit outside in the park, or we sit in the parking lot, or we sit where other puppies are doing things (watching an obedience class). I won’t use sit much, since my next puppy will be a mobility service dog. But sit they must know!

Down is easy to teach from a sit: simply lure the nose down to the floor, and when the are all on the ground, click and treat them.

Again, after a few times I lure with a hand that has no treat, then give a fast click and let them get up to get the treats and affection from me.

Don’t underestimate the power of affection and play as a reward! Puppies have an innate sense of fun, and if the sit and down is part of a game, they will be game for it!

Gimme a down, click, chase down the bully stick. Gimme a sit, click and come get a lick of cream cheese. Try not to be too serious about teaching, or the pup will feel the pressure. Do what you need to do to make it fun for you as well, and you’ll get much better results.

I try to have the sit, down, stay, and wait solid before 16 weeks when I will take the pup to an obedience class. That makes the class more of a distraction ignore exercise than a place to learn sits and downs!

Beginning Targeting

This is a “funny”, though I’d not teach a Dane to bop a kid on the head. But dogs and puppy already know how to target in their instincts: find their stick, find their favorite place to snooze and the like.

But by targeting, trainers mean a pup can find an object or place and touch it, down on a mat and the like on command.

I’ve been playing find it games with the little tot, which is a baby version of targeting. With the little ones, we have to build upon their ability to identify objects, places, and people before we can send them to them for a reason, right?

Later on, instead of just touching it, they will learning for example to sit, and wait on that mat. We want them soon to actually do something about that object or place. Those of us who are training a service dog want them eventually to learn to pick up the little trash bag and go to the dumpster with it, or have a nice down stay on a mat when we go eat out.

The first step of targeting is learning what the object’s name is, and next is to find, now we want them to touch!


One of the most useful targets to target is the handlers hand: this becomes an alert, or to reach up and feel that there is an overhead obstacle for the sight impaired. And it’s a terrific way to redirect a pup’s attention from that loud bang to paying attention to you.

I’m using Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels, and she’s got a great obedience plan laid out in little baby steps for forgetful and sometimes in a hurry me!

Karen Pryor’s website also has a simple to follow and excellent article about targeting.

So simple to teach, with an open hand and a treat between your fingers. When the pup touches your hand to get the treat, click and give them that treat and a few more. Do this a few times, then offer an open hand without the treat. If they touch it, click and give them lots of treats and affection. That what you wanted!

Keep practicing the open hand touch a while, the add in a twist. The hand moves a little. If they follow, click and jackpot with the good stuff they like.

Once reliable with a little move, try a bigger move. This little guy here may not be a Dane but he certainly has the idea of hand targeting! The more they follow your hand, the more reward they are getting.

Some dogs don’t like to get on the scale at the vet’s so when they are following your hand, have them step on something like a small board. Make them follow your hand to get on the couch, or up on a chair, or climbing the deck stairs.

As they get better, have them target your spouse’s hand, your kid’s hand, your neighbor’s hand, then a stranger/volunteer’s hand. Many training centers will have targeting classes you could go to, for both a targeting practice and more work on working in distracting places!


Once a pup has the idea of touching your hand, the touching needs to be transfered to an object.

This may already be a habit for a pup that’s been playing find it games. You can go about teaching object targeting lots of different ways.

One way is touching the object yourself and clicking/rewarding them for following your hand to touch it. You can put a treat on a chair to lure them to it, and click/treat when they touch the chair.

You can tap their favorite squeaky and click the very second the nose touches it. Real fast you’ll need to lure their nose to the treat so they don’t pick up their toy! But it works. Then you continue teaching them to touch things they know.

Once they have the idea, you can up the ante, like poor Kenai up there with his soda pop carton dropped in the tub. You can combine your find it games of every possible object with this targeting. There’s a great book called “When Pigs Fly” that encourages a pup to touch and mess with objects. It’s one of my favorites.


A very useful target is their bed at home, a mat you can take with you to class or in public. Once they can find it, you can begin teaching a down on that mat as your training progresses.

That mat comes to mean down and stay, it is used for nothing else. That’s a bit in the future, unless you have a furry little Einstein who can’t stop learning!

But while the little one’s learning to target, be thinking about tasks you’ll need or want from them as they grow. I’ll add again a document list of find/touch/bring objects for you to get ideas from, and tailor to your own needs.

find touch bring list

Beginning the “Come”

peek at you!

If you never train your dog to do anything else, teach them to come when you call! This can save their lives someday, if they are chasing that terrific ball right out into the street…A formal recall has several parts to it; recognizing a cue, disengaging from what they’re doing, coming to you. You can add extra steps like sit in front of me, or take up a heel position.But a recall has to start with a willingness to come to you. In the first week or two I’ve been heavily rewarding attentiveness to me, so by 9 or 10 weeks, coming to me on their own is a happy experience. If this needs more work, Sue Ailsby’s training levels begin with this come without the word “come”.

For Sue’s exercise, and mine, I want to begin to introduce the idea that they come when I call them too. Volunteers are needed, standing in a circle and one at a time getting the pup’s attention without saying “come”. Clapping hands, whistles, most any sound you make can get a pup’s attention.

Once they look at you, a treat gets dropped at your feet. They will come for that treat, and get a click before they get the treat. Then another person gets their attention and does the same thing. With some repetition, a pup will begin to immediately look when you make a noise.

I will alter this slightly, by using their name the second they look at me. I’m passively reinforcing for them that their name means to “look at me”. I also play that “Name Game” seperately, to actively teach them, but I’ll combine it with this exercise.

When the pup is readily coming on their own, even before I’ve dropped a treat, that’s when to add the word “come”.

This part I really practice alot before starting to add minor distractions, like practicing when the neighbor’s cutting the grass or the radio’s on.

Right now I’m talking about 8-16 week old pups, so I don’t expect their recall to be rock solid anywhere and all the time yet. There are a thousand distractions in a puppy’s world, so I really take my time.

Sue suggests turning it into a find me game, which is a great idea, as is her thought of playing it with hats or sunglasses etc that alter the people’s appearance. So is making an obstacle course they have to get through to reach you, like a little maze!


I slowly add all the sounds, sights, smells, and movements that a service dog might encounter in a familiar place first, like the living room or back yard. “Borrow” a shopping cart that someone pushes around while you practice, or have someone dropping things.

The idea is to gradually add difficulty, not going straight from come in the living room to come at the dog park! Build sucess upon success, and if you get a “failure”, go back down to easier stuff and rebuild confidence (and habit).

Many trainers have recall classes, and you could also take advantage of those to practice in a distracting environment (ooh I wanna play with that lab). You can take them just to watch, too. If you can get a fast learned recall, great! If not, you’ve laid the foundations to build on.


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