Teaching Good, Better, Best


by Catherine Steinke, CPDT-KA

Last week I used the example of motivating with food to get your dog to look at you, move toward you and finally seek you when hidden. You’ll want to practice that game many times, so that your dog is highly inspired to find you. It’s pretty important that those early sessions are distraction-free so that each time you play the game, the call-word “Here” is being associated with the desired behavior, immediately, and then the reward, which should be predictable and highly exciting!

The next step after teaching your dog that the recall game is FUN, is to teach him that it’s BEST. For this, you’ll need a partner. Both of you will have food. Your helper will show your dog food but not feed her. While your dog is staring intently at your helper, you’ll walk away a short distance within easy sight and say your dogs’s name and use your call-word, “Here”. Say NOTHING else. Watch for your dog’s ear to move, head to turn or ANY sign he’s aware you called. Immediately act happy and excited – this usually brings the dog all the way to you. Feed the dog and tell him how brilliant he is. At that moment, your helper should come over to you and ALSO feed the dog. I call this game, Double Good-Guy. Double because both people pay the dog for the desired behavior of running toward the one who called. You can repeat this in both directions.

A key point in this game is that the helper is only a very mild distractor at first. Just hold the food but don’t tease the dog. But as the dog starts understanding that the way to get the helper to let loose of the food is to run to the caller, the helper can start trying harder to distract the dog! It’s a lot of fun – but be fair and don’t challenge the dog to failure. Help him succeed and reward well for it. Pretty soon, you’ll have the dog convinced that, in the house at least, the “Here” game is better than anything else going on.

Next, practice playing the game in familiar, low-distraction environments like your fenced backyard. Be sure that the rewards the dog is earning is BETTER than the distractions around him. If you keep his “pay” equal to the task required, you are being a fair employer and building trust and enthusiasm for tackling the work.  “But,” you ask, “Do I always have to carry treats?”  Great question. I’ll answer it next week.  If you can’t wait for that, come to our DogSmart class – we hold one nearly every weekend – and we’ll tell you the secret in person! www.whs4pets.org

Catherine Steinke, CPDT-KA is the Behavior Program Manager for Willamette Humane Society

(503) 585-5900 ext. 318