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You will notice that this text is also included in the Preventing Behavioural Problems and in some of the articles on dealing with dogs with behavioural issues.   It is very important for your pet to look to you for guidance and leadership.  You will have a wonderful relationship with this type of training.

There are many names for this type of training.  I’ve heard it called ‘Work to Earn’, ‘Nothing in Life is Free’ or ‘Doggie Boot Camp’ or ‘Structuring Your Relationship with Your Pet’.  I like the name Leadership Training as to me it describes the relationship you want to have with your pet.  I don’t want my dog to be a slave and I don’t want to be a drill sergeant.  I want to be like the best boss you can imagine.  I want to be the type of boss who has high expectations of my employee but also supports them in meeting those expectations.  The type of boss that if you make a mistake will say ‘lets see what we can do to make sure that doesn’t happen again’.  The type of boss that publically acknowledges you when you do a good job.  The type of boss that you want as your best friend but you would never lose site of the fact that they are the boss.  It is not about dominance, it is about cooperation and making your dog want to please you.  Your dog should recognize that if he/she pleases you, then good things happen for them.  This is how I see it anyway. If you need more detail or want a different version of this approach, I’ve copied the whole textbook article at the end for your reference.

This training requires a few obedience commands such as sit or down to start with.  More is better to keep the dog interested.  To motivate your dog at first, use a high value soft, chewy, dog treat can be used at first (see the training treats article for more information on treats).  Once the dog understands the process, then you can start using their own food so as not to create an overweight pet or a picky eater as long as this is still adequate motivation.

This picture shows a dog sitting and being given a small treat.  Also notice the focused and relaxed behaviour that is the goal with this process.

For leadership training the dog has to work for everything.   His/her pay cheque includes food, toys, walks, treats, and pets.  So, if the pet comes up and puts his/her head under your hand for a pet, you ignore the attention seeking behaviour.  When you want to give attention you then call the pet over and ask him/her to sit. If the pet does so, then you give attention.  If the pet chooses not to comply, then you don’t give a reward (i.e. no saying sit, sit, sit, sit….etc).    If the dog is barking, you ignore the dog. Once the dog stops barking wait a few minutes and ask the dog over and give a command.   If the dog follows the command, then give a treat and TLC.  So, do this for anything the pet wants, no exceptions.  This will teach your dog to be calm and quiet to receive rewards.  Soon your dog will sit and look at you and offer you good behaviour which you can happily reward.

Feeding the dog their meal one kibble at a time as a reward for good behaviour is a big part of this method and can have huge benefits.  The benefits include:

  • Teaching your dog that food is a valuable resource that you control thereby elevating your status greatly.
  • Helping picky dogs be better eaters.
  • Reducing the likelihood of food aggression and/or food bowl aggression.

I would start this a few days into the program after your dog understands the new rules. For adult dogs, you can either use your kibble throughout the day or do this at the regular feeding time.  Get out the dog food and put it in a bowl on the table or cupboard and call the dog over.  Ask the dog to do something for each kibble.  Sit, down, stand, roll over, any trick etc.  When they comply, give the dog the treat.  While this is time consuming it can have great bonding and mental benefits for you and your pet.  Even if you can do this for a few days then go to just asking your pet to sit for the bowl of food it can make a big difference.  Now, if the dog is not hungry enough to comply, simply walk away and try again later, repeat until the dog eats.  If your dog is not very food motivated a 12 hour fast may be helpful (ask your veterinarian first though).  If you are feeding the meal throughout the day for an older dog, simply give them a kibble or for any good behaviour such as going outside, lying calmly on a mat, coming to you and sitting etc. Remember to check your pockets before doing the wash!!

For puppies, their focus and attention span is pretty short and you don’t want to put too much pressure on them.  Timed feedings also helps with your housetraining.   So, for them I would suggest calling them over at their meal times, asking for a sit and giving a handful of kibble.  Then let them have a little break and play a bit and then repeat.  As they get older, you can start making them do different things for a handful and progress to single kibbles!

Other Resources:

Dr. Sophia Yin - Learn to Earn Program: http://drsophiayin.com/docs/LearntoEarn11.2009.pdf

Following is an article from a textbook:



Why: Structure and predictability can be very important for animals, especially those that suffer from anxiety. By providing guidance to the pet during all interactions and rewarding calm and quiet behavior, you establish a new way of relating to your pet that rewards desirable behavior and provides added structure and predictability for the pet. You are also constantly practicing having your pet respond to your commands when there are relatively few distractions. This will increase the chance that your pet will be able to focus on you when there are distractions present.

When: This program is integrated into your everyday life and all interactions with your pet. It is not to be done during a “special training session” but instead is a fundamental and long-term change in the way you interact with your pet. Every time you interact with your pet, you should first ask the pet to do a command.

Who: All family members should abide by these new rules for pet interaction. All dogs in the home can participate.

How: It is important that the human involved in these interactions remains calm, controlled, and patient. These exercises are not about forcing a dog to respond; it is a simple request and, if completed correctly, compliance is rewarded. Commands should be given in a soft, calm voice—do not shout or repeat commands. Say the pet’s name, then the command, then pause and give the pet a chance to respond.

Use commands that your pet knows: For some pets, you may use the sit command frequently. For others, they will have a larger repertoire of commands to select from, such as sit, down, shake, watch me, etc. Noncompliance is not rewarded; essentially the dog is ignored for noncompliance. However, you can try giving another command
in a few minutes. Once the dog “learns” the new system, they are usually very compliant.

Giving attention to your pet: Attention-seeking behaviors such as pawing, barking, meowing, jumping up, etc., should be ignored—no attention should be given.

This includes eye contact, touching, or speaking to the pet. Attention should not be given on demand, but either for compliance with a command as described above or when the pet is calm and quiet. If your pet is asking for attention by standing or sitting quietly, ask the pet to comply with a command and then pet them. The goal is not to ignore the pet, but rather ignore the attention-seeking behaviors. If this is too difficult, try a signaled nonattention time. For a set period of time (perhaps using a timer), you will not pay any attention to your pet’s demands for attention.

To help the pet understand what is happening, you can also add a signal such as a towel or blanket on your lap. When the time begins, place the towel on your lap and ignore the pet. When the time limit has ended, remove the towel. For the rest of the time try to ignore attention-seeking attempts and have your pet earn all things. As your pet learns what the signal means, they often will go lay down when they see the towel come out.

Structured interactive time: All pets need social interactions, play, exercise, and grooming. Make sure to incorporate these into your regular routine on a predictable

What: As a general rule, your pet should be given a command before engaging in all interactions. This includes giving any attention, food, access to new areas, etc., to your pet. While many people are “trained” to give a command to their dog before giving a treat or a meal, most people give away attention for free. Therefore, you may need to focus on making sure you request a command prior to all social interactions with your pet. Listed below are four possible responses from the pet and the recommended human reaction to these responses. Also noted are common errors in human response that you should avoid.

Dog’s response to command Human action Avoiding common errors

Your dog responds immediately to your command.
Provide the dog with a reward. The reward may be attention, food, access to a different area, etc. Some people reward noncompliance—don’t do this! 

Your dog does not respond to the command.
Give no reward and terminate interaction with dog (e.g., look away, walk away, etc.). Do not repeat command multiple times. Do not physically manipulate dog into compliance. Do not nflict interactive punishment for

Your dog anticipates the command and performs it before your request.
Ask the dog to perform another command prior to rewarding. Don’t reward the action if you didn’t give the command; these exercises are intended to improve leadership and encourage the dog to look to humans for direction.

Your dog exhibits aggression either during the command request or during delivery of reward.
Aggression always results in social isolation.  Immediately turn away  from the dog and exit the area or put the dog in a time-out spot until it has calmed down. This social isolation is a form of punishment and gives the dog a chance to calm down.  Do not interactively punish the dog: aggressive dogs are aroused, and interactive corrections may serve to escalate the aggression. If the dog is aggressing, trying to escort it to a time-out spot may be dangerous. If this is the case, just leave the dog alone where the incident occurred.

This handout may be reproduced without written permission.

Authors Drs. Horwitz and Neilson