Cooking up Some Great Behaviors

Do you have a good Recipe for Success?

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Astro heeling with wreath

I love to eat and to cook, so it’s natural for me to love to use food analogies when it comes to training dogs.

A goal behavior can be like a gourmet dish, full of complexities, subtleties, and layers of strategically positioned ingredients, all executed in the right order. When we bake bread, for example, we can’t just throw everything into the oven, hoping that it will miraculously metamorphose into a loaf of edible bread. No. We have to be sure we spend sufficient time on each of the small steps that eventually come together to become that loaf of bread. It takes time, thought, and effort. If one step goes bad or we omit a vital ingredient or fail to spend the correct amount of time on a step, we have to stop right away and correct it so that the whole deal isn’t lost. Remember those cookies that didn’t have any sugar in them? Pretty disgusting, right?

If you think of any dog behavior goal as a recipe and start to break it down, way down, into its component parts, it can be a lot easier to tackle both for the dog and the trainer.

Let’s take two common behavior goals and break them apart into possible parts just for practice. Since we are dealing with two beings working together, we’ll have to break down the human end of things, too. Our behavior greatly affects the behavior of our dogs.


1. Human tosses object

2. Dog chases after object

3. Dog secures object in his mouth

4. Dog returns all the way to the human with object in his mouth

5. Dog relinquishes item to human

That’s a lot of steps! Each of them can be broken down even further if needed. Dogs and humans often have conflicting ideas about the definition of fetch. The human often expects all 5 steps to happen automatically without any effort on his part. The dog finds Steps #1-3 super easy. After all, #2 and #3 are genetically programmed behaviors, and #1 is a behavior the dog has trained the human to do! The majority of dogs need to learn how to do #4 and #5, but they tend to get much more practice with the first 3 steps and make a modification to #4 (“run towards something other than the human,” e.g., the famous “keep away” game), and completely omit #5.

Part to “Heeling with Attention”

• Dog’s front feet line up with human’s feet

• Dog’s body is parallel with the human’s body, facing the same direction as human’s

• Dog twists its neck upwards and towards the human's face

• Dog makes eye contact with the human

• Dog maintains this position no matter how fast or slowly the human is moving

• Human turns towards and makes eye contact with dog

• Human walks

Okay, if you were a dog, how much of “Heeling with Attention” comes naturally to you? You would probably say, “you gotta be kidding me, right??? That’s insane! ZERO.”

It is kind of insane when you think about it, but it can be achieved if all the component parts are trained positively and thoroughly. It’s a heck of a lot of work, however, especially because these are not genetically programmed behaviors, and it’s physically challenging for the dog. In addition, it’s not a very practical, day-to-day means of travel.

Now you... what suggestions do you have for the "ingredients" that may go into the following behaviors?

Play Dead, Treat on the Nose, Getting into the bathtub for a bath

Think really small. What is the dog doing? What are his movements? What is the human doing?

Once we get the hang of dissecting behaviors, we can work with our dog on each part, then start putting all the pieces together and creating a masterpiece!

Happy Training!