Please read the INTRODUCTION before you start working. Be sure your dog has passed the Level One behaviours, Level Two behaviours and Level Three behaviours before starting Level Four. The first behaviours in Level Four are here.

This colour indicates behaviours that are mandatory.

This colour indicates behaviours that must be done without food, clicker or other training aid, in a ring or similar.

This colour indicates behaviours that are optional. In Level Four, a dog must pass 4 of the 8 optional behaviours. Pick your optional behaviours with an eye to what sports you’re aiming your dog for, or whatever looks like it would be a fun and interesting behaviour to teach your dog.


Dog seeks out, takes 2” jump over & back, body language cues only (being near jump, the dog should commit and jump following handler’s body language for direction). This is an optional behaviour. DISCUSSION: With the height at 2″, the behaviour here is to go between the uprights, and to volunteer the behaviour. Volunteer behaviour builds enthusiasm, responsibility, and commitment – useful in all kinds of sports!

EASY BEGINNINGS: My favourite way to start this is shaping. Sit down, make yourself comfortable a few feet from the jump. Click her for noticing the jump, for looking at it, walking toward it, interacting with it (don’t be afraid, let her touch it), getting to the other side There’s luring in this shaping as well – by where you toss your treats, you can control how she approaches the jump and how fast she goes over it.

Or you stand to one side and cue her to go around on of the uprights as if it were her pole. If she has trouble with this, put her regular pole right beside the upright for a couple of repetitions until she knows what you want. If I wasn’t at all interested in obedience competition but was working on agility, I’d either start this way or use a baited target.

Or you could stand at one pole and simply toss treats back and forth from side to side until she’s volunteering the jump, trusting that there’ll be a click and treat on the floor on the other side when she gets there.

My second favourite way to teach the High Jump, though, is to stand on one side of it holding the dog and facing her toward the jump. Show her a treat and toss it over the jump. Let her go get it (you were standing close enough to the jump and the jump was low enough that there was no thought of her running around it). As she’s picking up the treat, step forward to the jump, stick your hand with another treat over it, and lure her back to your side. Once she understands that and you’ve been able to back away from the jump a bit and she’s continued to go over and come back between the uprights, and since you’re working on Level Four, you can ask her to Sit in heel position, Stay while you toss the treat, then you can release her to get the treat, at which point she should automatically turn and come back over the jump to you standing up straight in “give me a Front” position. Have you noticed that you just taught the dog EVERYTHING she needs to know about the High Jump except height and the retrieve? If you’re asking yourself what else there is to the High Jump besides height and retrieve, break it down further: Stay while I throw something. Go when I tell you to. Go over the jump between the uprights. Search for something. Find it. Pick it up. Turn to come back. Come back between the uprights. Front. Finish.

For testing this Level Four behaviour, though, we’re going with the agility-style behaviour, which is for you to stand within a foot or two of the upright and simply have her follow your body language from one side to the other and back again.

PROBLEM SOLVING: THE CLUMSY OAF IS TRIPPING ALL OVER IT! Don’t worry about it. Teach her to go joyfully from one side to the other and when you start raising the height, she’ll start jumping.

SHE’S GOING AROUND IT! Training isn’t the same as testing! Ask for virtually nothing in the beginning, and for Heaven’s sake don’t ask for thinking. I’ve taught the High Jump to dogs using a leash spread on the floor across a doorway – this has all the elements of a High Jump: uprights (the sides of the door opening), and something to jump over (the leash). Then I put the 2″-high jump right at the door. Thus no dekeing around the uprights (there’s a wall in the way). Unless your dog has some unfortunate history with High Jumps, though, and unless you ask for too much in the beginning in the way of height or distance, this behaviour will be a no-brainer.

ADDING A CUE: Not yet, let the sight of the jump make her eager to perform it.

CONTINUING EDUCATION: Change your position in relation to the jump. Agility trainers work “around the clock”, meaning they want the dog to be able to aim for and perform the jump from any angle and any distance, so if they start sending the dog from 6 o’clock, the next time they send from 7 o’clock, then 8, then 9, then 6, then 5, then 4, then 3, then move to the other side and do it again.


Dog holds the loose leash 80’ through milling dogs, appropriate cues, dog in control without excessive interference from handler. DISCUSSION: The key point at this Level is that the dog is giving Loose Leash as a default behaviour, not because the handler was constantly cueing it. Just in case you forgot. An “appropriate cue” here would be, perhaps, getting the dog’s attention before you head into the fray. Most dogs aren’t attracted to EVERYTHING, so chances are that this behaviour at some Levels will be easier than at others. Don’t just say “My dog isn’t interested in other dogs”, though, test it out anyway!

EASY BEGINNINGS: You didn’t start your food distractions by covering the floor with food. Don’t start this Level by plunging the dog into a play session with ten other dogs and expecting a loose leash! Start with one other dog. Remember to BACK away from the distraction as the leash starts to get tight, and reward for a loose leash. When you can walk past another dog on a loose leash, add a third dog, then a fourth. Build up slowly. When your dog can walk by, say, 6 other dogs on leash without attempting to tighten the leash, take your numbers down to 1 other one again, but have that one off leash, wandering around. When you’re successful, add a second other dog. Now you’ve got playing – “milling” – and running. Get the distance you need to explain that the leash stays loose no matter what, and build back up to the point where you can walk through them with the leash loose again.

PROBLEM SOLVING: I JUST GET FLUSTERED AND WIND UP HAULING HER AROUND ON A TIGHT LEASH! You’re too close to the other dogs. Reread the Leash behaviours for Level Two and Three. Get out of the fray. Distance is your friend, here. Maybe 3′ away from another dog is far enough away. Maybe half a block isn’t far enough. Work your dog, not your expectations! Get far enough away that your dog can give you a Loose Leash. Then AND ONLY THEN work closer to the other dog(s). Back up. Increase your rate of reinforcement.

I DON’T HAVE A CLASS AVAILABLE WITH A BUNCH OF DOGS IN IT! If there’s a dogpark in your area, go there. Work OUTside the park so you TOTALLY control how close you get to the other dogs. No dogpark? Go to a regular park. There’ll be a sidewalk or path with people walking on it. Some of those people will have dogs. You can walk toward the dogs on the path, backing up off the path when your dog starts to make a mistake. You can walk on the path behind other people, following them, and back up when a mistake starts. If anyone with a dog expresses an interest in your dog (and they will, people with dogs can’t help themselves), enlist them to help you train for a few minutes.

ADDING A CUE: No cue for Loose Leash Walking EVER. LLW is a default behaviour. The leash is on, the leash is loose.

CONTINUING EDUCATION: Budgies won’t breed unless they’re surrounding by many other budgies, but a single pair will frequently breed in a daycare! If you’re suffering from a lack of other dogs, try working outside a schoolground fence at recess!

ON THE ROAD The dog must pass the Level Two tests in a strange location.


Dog takes and holds two objects in her mouth (one at a time), one of them metal. DISCUSSION: But, you say, my dog is a natural retriever. Why does she have to “learn” to retrieve? Well, if you’re completely happy with the retrieve you have, she doesn’t. BUT if you’re planning on going into any competition that involves the dog picking something up and giving it to you or taking it anywhere, I’d strongly suggest you teach her exactly WHAT you want her to pick up, HOW you want her to hold it, HOW LONG you want her to hold it, and WHERE you want her to put it. “Natural retrieving” is a huge lump. It’s very difficult to fix a problem in the middle of a lump. What kind of problems happen in retrieving? She chews the dumbell. She throws the ball at you or drops it on the ground. She takes your mitts to the far corner of the yard. She punches the dumbell with her paws before she picks it up.

The problem is even more acute for Service Dogs. A credit card with holes in it is about as useful as a sock with no toe. All these problems can be easily fixed in the small slices making up a trained retrieve. The dog can be taught to hold the dumbell by the bar directly behind her canines. She can be taught to hold it securely, not mouthing or chewing. She can be taught to hold the credit card gently, and to hold a door-opening rope in her molars to give her more power.

At this point, don’t worry if your new dumbell hasn’t arrived yet. You can use a pencil. A piece of dowel. A spoon. Your finger. A soft toy – yes, but it isn’t much like anything else she’ll have to pick up, so I’d use that as a last resort.

EASY BEGINNINGS: You have a solid, enthusiastic touch on an object (we’ll call it a dumbell). Now you need to get it in the dog’s mouth. How can you explain this?

You could ask for TWO touches before you click. Not clicking the first touch will usually make the dog give you a “Hey, Stupid!” reaction – the foundation of shaping! By “Hey, Stupid”, I mean the dog gives you one touch and gets no reaction. At that point she looks at you, practically screams “Hey, Stupid! I TOUCHED it! Weren’t you paying ATTENTION? LOOK!” and she bashes with her nose again, just to be sure you could see it that time. This second, slightly frustrated touch will frequently be harder than the first one. You might even feel her teeth click on bar as she bumps it harder than before. Click! If it isn’t harder than the first one, well, at least you got two touches, so you’re still ahead of the game.

You could determine how hard her touches are, then, in the next 10 touches, fail to click the lightest one. If you pay close attention and, in every 10 repetitions, fail to click the lightest one, her touches will get harder and hard, and that’s what we’re looking for. Sooner or later, as her touches get more aggressive, just by accident, she’ll open her mouth. CLICK!

You could ask for ten touches, then put a tiny dab of peanut butter or Cheez Whiz or the bar. As she opens her mouth to lick it, click. Click the next bazillion open mouths.
The bottom line is “play around with it”. If she’s just not going to open her mouth, try the soft toy.

Above all, DO NOT LET GO OF THE DUMBELL! You can BOTH hold on to it at the same time!

Once you’ve got her opening her mouth on the dumbell, you can start working on some duration. Don’t click for half a second after she puts her mouth on the bar. If she takes her mouth off it, do nothing but wait for her to offer it to you again.


SHE PUTS HER MOUTH ON IT AND THEN SPITS IT OUT SO FAST I CAN’T GET ANY KIND OF HOLD AT ALL! A normal step in the progression. She’s been putting her mouth on the dumbell and you’ve been clicking. The click ends the behaviour, so she thinks the behaviour is to grab the dumbell and ungrab it as quickly as possible. Relax, we can fix this. Of COURSE you’ve been clicking as she hit the dumbell, rather than as she was moving away from it again, right?

Click X10 for the grab. Now let her grab and ungrab it, and you DO NOTHING. Sit there holding the dumbell out with an expectant look on your face and do NOTHING. She’ll hit the dumbell once, spit it out, look at you, give you a “Hey, Stupid!” and hit it again. CLICK! You got two grabs for the price of one! Keep asking for two grabs before you click. If you start to lose the grab, by all means go back and pay X10 for a single grab, but then ask for the double again.

Ailsby’s Principle Of Laziness says that it’s easier to hold something than to grab it twice, so if you keep clicking the second grab, the behaviours (spitting it out and reaching for it again) between the two grabs will get slower and less enthusiastic. Sooner or later, she’ll ask you if maybe she could just sit there holding it with you instead of actually spitting it out? And you’ll agree that yeah, that would probably be OK… And bingo, you’ve got your longer hold.

MY DOG HATES METAL! WHY DO WE HAVE TO DO METAL? We have to do metal because not picking up metal is a distinct handicap in many sports and jobs. And because there’s nothing inherently bad about metal, it just tastes different than wood, so it’s an excellent test of your ability to start from scratch and explain something that’s really new to the dog but looks to you like an old behaviour she should already know!

ADDING A CUE: Nope, not yet. Let the sight of the dumbell be the cue to grab it.

CONTINUING EDUCATION: Notice that no part of this Level involves trying to get the dog to pick the dumbell off the floor or hold it without your hand on it. Following the written Levels for this behaviour will get you a lovely, happy, enthusiastic, CORRECT retrieve, so don’t jump ahead on that! If you want to throw something, throw something that isn’t important in a sport or job you want your dog to perform. If she chomps her chewtoy on the way back to you, that’s not going to screw up your obedience retrieve OR your credit card!

Keep your hand firmly on the dumbell. This way you totally control WHERE she’s holding it and HOW she’s holding it. Dogs chew things between their molars. Keep the bar directly behind her canines, and she’ll hold it steady. Click ONLY for a quiet hold. When you click, she can let go, but it won’t drop, of course, because you’re still holding on to it.

When she understands that a quiet mouth and a continuing hold are what make the click happen, you can try taking your hand off the dumbell, just for an instant. Put your hand on it again before you click. Build up to moving your hand around her head, tapping the dumbell, maybe even pulling on it a bit. If you haven’t clicked yet, she should still be hanging on to it.


Dog finds correct article of 2 out of 3 times, hand scent only, 1 cue each. Dog may Retrieve article, or indicate. What indicator is used must be determined before behaviour. This is an optional behaviour. DISCUSSION: A big step, switching from the smell of food to your hand scent only. Again, the challenge is not in having the dog find your scent, but in her KNOWING that you WANT her to find your scent only. Rather like a blind man teaching a sighted child to read words on paper.

We’ll be talking about this behaviour as if the dog were retrieving already. If she’s not, you can certainly still do scent discrimination, just click when the dog is definitely indicating the article. Be VERY careful, though, that you don’t start telegraphing the correct article. The world is full of dogs who get near an article and glance at mom, near another article, glance at mom. When mom starts breathing again, or stands up a little straighter, or smiles, the dog knows she’s hit the right one. This is SUPPOSED to be an exercise of having the DOG find the right one.

EASY BEGINNINGS: You’ll need a little bit of Cheez Whiz or peanut butter or liverwurst or some other paste-like substance that the dog loves, a pair of kitchen tongs and two scent articles. There are three requirements for a scent article:

They must be all the same. Two wooden spoons. Two metal spoons. Two plastic dumbells. Two paper plates.

You must be able to write numbers on them. With metal articles, you can do this with nail polish. The reason for this is that you MUST be able to tell the difference so you won’t lose track of the article with the scent on it. I’ve soon too many people telling the dog she’s wrong for picking up the right article or following the wrong track.

The dog must be able to easily retrieve them (assuming, as I said, that the dog is retrieving).

Here’s the big hairy secret to teaching scent discrimination: GET A STRANGER TO STINK UP YOUR ARTICLES! You want the dog thinking “Ick, ick, ick, MOMMY’S!” C’mon, you can find a stranger. The mailman. Clerk at the grocery store. Somebody else walking a dog. Stay away from the guy who pumps gas, his hands smell worse than you need! Have the stranger rub his hands all over your articles, spending about 15 seconds on each one. Repeat this at least every 3rd session of using your articles. Another hint: if you start with six articles instead of two, you’ll be able to work more often without “reloading”.

Alright, you’re ready. You’ve got two articles that smell like a stranger AND THAT YOU HAVE NOT TOUCHED SINCE THE STRANGER DID! Take one of them and scent it – rub your hands all over it. These are “normal” hands, hands that haven’t been washed in the last ten minutes. Take a dab of your goo (peanut butter, whatever) and put it on the bar of the dumbell, or the handle of the spoon. Put it on the floor. Go and get the dog, bring her within a foot or so of the article, and show her the goo. Let her lick it off the article.

If she licks off the goo and then brings you the article, great, give her small treat with no fanfare in exchange for the article. If she licks off the goo and doesn’t bring you the article, that’s fine too. Retrieving isn’t the hard part of this exercise, telling the dog that you want her to find your article is the hard part.
Start again. Put a little more goo on your article, put it on the floor a foot or two from the dog, and send her out to lick it off. Repeat X10 or until she can’t WAIT to go out and “find” the goo on that one article. Really silly game, eh? Run to the article and lick the goo. Oh well, humans have done stranger things than that!
At this point, once in every, say, 5 times, you can “forget” to put more goo on. Just replace the article and send her out again. When she finds it and licks it and wishes there was goo on it, click and give her a treat.

Now it gets “harder”. With your kitchen tongs, put the second icky-stranger-scented article on the floor. Put more goo on your own article, and put it VERY CLOSE to the icky article. We need to talk about this for a moment.

Most people think that putting the articles far apart will make scenting easier. And it probably does. But we’re talking about a behaviour as difficult for the dog as telling a black hat from a white hat is for you. The PROBLEM is the EXPLANATION of what you want the dog to do. “I want you to find the one I just touched, and not the one that somebody else touched that I’ve been carrying around in a bag in my car for three days” doesn’t translate all that easily. If your dog is retrieving, it will be easy for her to think this is just another retrieving exercise, and if you put the two article far apart, there’s no reason for her to think otherwise. So put them together. If you’re using dumbells, you can butt them right up against each other.

So you have the icky article and the goo-and-hand-scent article side by side. Send the dog out. WOW WHAT A CLEVER DOG, SHE FOUND THE GOO! AMAZING!
OK, yes, I’m being silly, but REALLY – scenting is just that hard for the dog. All we’ve done here is give her a reason to point out the scented article. Again, if she’s bringing you the goo article, trade it for a small treat.

Work this until she knows why she’s going there, is eager to get there, and has been right 10 times in a row. Now you can go back to replenishing the goo 4 times out of 5. Work 20 sets of five. Then replenish the goo 3 out of 5 times. Be sure that you keep up her enthusiasm for the job, that she’s not making mistakes, and that you’re not clicking until AFTER she’s clearly told you which article she wants (or is retrieving it).

This is another excellent place to be working your 300-Peck durations. If she makes a mistake at this level, go back to re-gooing every time, then leave out one in 5 again, then 2 in 5, then 3 in 5, then 2 in 5, and finally only once in 5. If you have to, you can go all the way back to goo on one single article on the floor. If your dog is retrieving, you can be trading the article for a treat each time she brings it back.

At least every third time you put the goo article out, re-scent it from your hands.
By the way, change your stranger every once in a while! More than one icky scent on the same articles is great, too.

PROBLEM SOLVING: I HAVE OTHER JOBS FOR HER INVOLVING SCENTING, AND I DON’T WANT HER TO RETRIEVE WHAT SHE FINDS! Not a problem. Police tracking dogs don’t retrieve, and neither do drug and agriculture dogs at border crossings or airports. Decide what you want her to do to indicate that she’s found the scent (let’s say Sit, for illustration). Send her out, she finds the article, she licks the goo, you ask her to Sit, click and reward. Keep that up until there’s no more goo to find, only your scent, and keep cueing her to Sit when you know she’s found the right one, until she starts to Sit automatically. You’ll be working with the articles slightly farther apart than a retrieving dog should have them, giving her room to indicate the way you want her to.

SHE WON’T RETRIEVE METAL! That’s not a scent discrimination problem. That’s a retrieve problem. Work on it as a retrieve exercise, completely removed from scenting.

ADDING A CUE: When she’s running out to the articles, enthusiastically searching and consistently finding the right one, start telling her what it’s called – Find Mine, Whazzat, Search – whatever. Do NOT, however, use a Retrieve cue. If you point her at two articles and cue a retrieve, and she goes out and retrieves the wrong one, she isn’t the one who’s made a mistake. You TOLD her to retrieve, she DID retrieve.

When my dog knows how to retrieve but hasn’t yet thought of picking up the right article when she finds it, using ONE article only, I’ll wait until she’s just finishing licking off the goo, then I’ll use my Retrieve cue, very quietly. Saying “Oh, by the way, as long as you’re out there, how about bringing that sucker back?” If she knows how to Retrieve, I want her bringing the correct article back to me before we go on to two articles, because I don’t EVER want to make a mistake telling her to Retrieve and having her brain pointed at the wrong article when I ask her.

CONTINUING EDUCATION: When you’ve reached the point where she’s cheerfully finding the correct article with only one re-gooing in five repetitions, you can start smearing a little goo on your hands instead of on the article. This means a lot less goo on the article. It’s just an indication – a reminder. At any time if she makes a mistake and retrieves the wrong article, look at the ceiling, count to five, take it from her as you would a large long-dead rodent – yes, complete with that facial expression, by your fingertips, and put it away somewhere where neither of you has to think of it again for the rest of the day. Have your stranger re-scent it before you use it again. Replenish your goo and send her out again.

The next step would be to not replenish the tiny bit of goo on your hands every fifth time, then 2 in 5, etc. And one day, when your articles are clean and freshly stranger-scented, you try scenting one article with just your bare hands.


The dog Sits from Down with one cue only. This behaviour must be done with no food or clicker in the ring or area. DISCUSSION: Sit from Down? Isn’t that backwards? Not really. Sit from Down isn’t any more difficult than Down from Sit, it just isn’t how we normally think of the dog working.

EASY BEGINNINGS: First, give it a shot. You’ve done a lot of work on Sit so far, it’s possible that if you say Sit, your dog might just Sit. End of discussion, congratulations!

But if it’s NOT that simple, it’s NEARLY that simple. Probably the easiest way to get a Sit from Down is to lure. Put the treat in the dog’s nose and pull up and slightly back. As the nose goes up, the front end comes up with it. Click when her front legs get up high enough to call it a Sit.

After you lure X20, if she hasn’t figured it out yet, you might also try leaning toward her or taking a small step into her personal space.

PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE JUST WANTS TO STAY DOWN! Relax and play with it a bit. Let her nibble on the bait a bit, then very slowly raise it until it’s just out of reach. If the elbows come off the floor at ALL, or even, in the beginning, if she stretches her neck to follow the treat, click and reward.

You could also do Sit from standing X20, then ask for the Down and THEN lure her into the sitting position while her body is still thinking about it.

Big dogs and big puppies frequently find lying down a lot more rewarding than sitting, so you might have better luck starting this when you’re getting ready to feed her a meal, or at the time of day when she’s most energetic.

ADDING A CUE: If you’re planning on using a hand signal, you’ve already got it – your hand moving upwards over her head from in front of her nose.

If you want to use a voice cue, you can add it when she’s readily getting into the Sit following the lure. Say Sit, THEN lure, click, treat. OR you can wait until she’s popping up into a Sit every time you ask for a Down and tell her the name of what she’s doing: Sit!

OH NO we’ve wrecked the DownStay! No we didn’t, we just asked her not to think about it for a moment. Sitting up has become the default behaviour. When you’ve got this the way you want it, you can go back to your 300-Peck DownStays, get them right again, then work the Sit from Down until it’s right again – keep bouncing back and forth until she understands the cues for each of them.

CONTINUING EDUCATION: The only thing left for you to do is to get the behaviour without having the treat in the room. When she’s responding well to the voice cue, put the treats and clicker on a nearby table. Ask for the Sit, say Yes!, and reach for the treat on the table. Next, move further from the table and do it again. This is 300-Peck distance – when she fails to Sit, go back to the table and start moving away from it again. Pretty soon you’ll be in another room.


Dog Sits and stays for 2 minutes while the handler walks 40’ away, turns and faces the dog, and makes a formal Return. There will be two distractions. DISCUSSION: You’ve spent a lot of time teaching the dog to hold eye contact. Now you want to walk around behind her, and she needs to let you go. Naturally she’ll want to get up to watch you all the way around. Fortunately, clicker training is very good at explaining what you want here!

In obedience trials, the Novice Sit Stay is only for 1 minute. This may be the first time you’ve asked your dog for MORE than a competition behaviour. Exciting stuff, but you’ve got a lot to work on here. Returning around behind her, increasing the duration of the behaviour, and increasing the distance. You’ve got an excellent start, though, with what you’ve taught her already about the Sit Stay, and with all the other duration behaviours you’re working on in this Level.
Before we go any further, let’s develop some actual criteria for the SitStay. Up until now, we were just trying to get the dog to stay THERE, but now we can get a bit more picky. The butt is on the floor. The elbows are not. That seems simple enough, but there are a lot of things that can go wrong. Excited dogs, for instance, can pretend they’re sitting with the entire length of the back leg, from hock to paw, flat on the floor, but the knees almost straight, so the butt isn’t on the floor. NOT a Sit! Relaxed dogs can “Sit” from the Down position by tightening a couple of muscles and raising their elbows off the floor. NOT a Sit! My dog can whine. NOT a Sit! Some dogs can scoot slowly around the floor without seeming to get out of position. NOT a Sit! Some dogs keep their butts down and their elbows up and stay in place, but dance their front feet around. NOT a Sit!

So we’ve got lots of NOT Sits. What’s a Sit? The dog’s butt is on the ground, or as close as it can get given the musculature and structure of the dog’s rear. The butt stays still, though the tail is welcome to wag. Elbows are off the ground, with the front feet as close to the back feet as is comfortable for the dog, so the front legs are almost perpendicular to the ground. Front feet do NOT move. Some dogs are more comfortable if they slide back off their hocks so their weight rests on one hip. Some people don’t mind if the dog looks around the room, others want total concentration on the handler. Others don’t mind the odd weight shift as long as the paws don’t move.

EASY BEGINNINGS: You have 20′ and 20 seconds. Work those a few more times just to be sure they’re solid. Now, decide which of your criteria you’re going to work on in this one short session. It doesn’t matter which one, but do NOT work on more than one in a session. Of course, you can have ten sessions a day, if you like, and work on one different criteria in each session. Just don’t get into the very bad habit of increasing time and distance together!

a) I’ll start with time (you’re welcome to choose distance or the return if you like). You have 20 seconds. From here, you can probably up your “peck rate” to every two seconds, so you’ll be increasing your stay-away time: 20 seconds, 22 seconds, 24 seconds, etc. When the dog fails – that is, breaks the Sit Stay by getting up, whining, lying down, moving her front paws, sliding out of place on the floor, or whatever – go back to an easier level – maybe 15 seconds, or even 10 seconds, and go up by 2 seconds again. When you get to 30 seconds, try going up in 5-second increments BUT drop back to 2 if she can’t handle it!

It’s hard to practise these long-time behaviours, I know. It’s boring for you (it isn’t boring for the dog because she’s working toward an immediate goal). I always start thinking of all the “more useful” things I should be doing. What keeps me on track best is deciding on some really ugly chore I’ll do as soon as I finish practising Stays – like cleaning toilets. With incentive like that, I could practise Stays for HOURS!

b) Distance, is, of course, partially dependent on time, but keep resisting the temptation to do them both at once. Try to stay around, say, 10 to 20 seconds for your time as you increase your distance. Again, use 300-Peck to get you where you’re going. 20′, 22′, 24′, 26′, and go back to 10 or 15′ when she makes a mistake. It’s quite possible for her to lose her nerve in here somewhere (or in a) ). If that happens, don’t be afraid to go right back to Rapid Fire for a simple Sit.

c) If you haven’t done the Level 4 DownStay yet, I’d suggest you go and do it now before you start returning around behind her on the SitStay. It’s easier for her to learn this in a Down than a Sit, and once she knows how to do it when she’s Down, it’ll be easier for her to stay Sitting as you return around behind her.

She’s used to you approaching her while she’s Sitting, and giving her a treat in that position – her in a Sit, you in front of her facing her. Now you need to be able to step to your right, go around behind her, and come up into Heel position with (still Sitting) on your left. She’s going to want to get up to turn with you as you go behind her – after all, we’ve been teaching her that through all the Levels. You’re going to have to dance around, to the left, to the right, back up, come forward, one step toward her tail, back to the front, one step toward the tail on the other side, and so on. Click when you’re in different positions, and have the treat ready to pop in her mouth before she has a chance to get up. Of course, if she DOES get up after a click, that’s OK, you’ll just have to be faster next time.

As a bit of a reminder, once she kind of understands that she’s to continue to hold the SitStay as I walk toward her and then around behind her, I like to give her a treat as I start to walk by her. That lets her concentrate for a second on the treat, by which time I’m coming up the other side, where she’s going to get another treat. Pretty soon I can eliminate the first treat and she knows she’s sitting there waiting for me to get into Heel position.

d) Finally, you can start putting all the elements together. Again, don’t increase the difficulty of the whole thing by too much at any time. You’ve got 20′ AND 20 seconds, and you’ve got 40′, and you’ve got 2 minutes, and you’ve got the return. You could then take your 20′ and start increasing from 20 seconds to 1 minute. Then go back to 20 seconds, and increase your distance from 20′ to 30′. Then build up your time to 1 minute again. When she’s really solid, throw in your return, and use it most of the time from now on.

PROBLEM SOLVING: WE CAN DO THE STAY, BUT SHE WHINES EVERY FEW SECONDS AND SHUFFLES HER FEET! No, actually, you CAN’T do the Stay. Treat whining and/or shuffling exactly as you would treat getting up to go play with another dog. Whining and shuffling are NOT a SitStay. I can’t think of any venue, from pet to competition obedience, to Service Dog, to agility, where whining and shuffling are an acceptable definition of a SitStay. Eliminate them NOW before you have them permanently. When she whines or shuffles, she has failed to do the behaviour. Go back to ONE second and build up again. Every time she fails, go back to ONE again.

CONTINUING EDUCATION: Different locations. You can practise your Stays in public places by carrying an extra leash with you. Put the extra leash around a solid object like a park bench, then go do a bit of Heeling or something, then come back and with minimal fuss attach the bench leash to your dog. Ostentatiously take off the leash you’ve been using and put it on the ground behind her or take it with you. If she fails, she’s still attached to the bench, but if you’re working correctly, chances are she’ll never realize it at all.


Dog Stands from Sit on one cue only with the handler 10’ away. This is an optional behaviour which must be performed with no food for clicker in the ring or area. DISCUSSION: Adding distance. Be sure you have a very reliable response to the cue before you start moving away from the dog!

EASY BEGINNINGS: There’s nothing new here except getting the same behaviour in the same way at more of a distance. When you change ONE thing, of course, you make everything else simpler, so you’re going to add your food and clicker back into the equation until you have the distance behaviour reliably.

You could tie the dog’s leash to a wall hook, pole, or sturdy bench, but I find that any pressure on the lead tends to make it more difficult for the dog to change positions. You might have more luck putting the dog on the other side of an exercise pen or baby gate so you can concentrate on getting the behaviour and not have to fuss about maintaining the distance you want.

Ask for the Stand. Click and treat X10. Move ONE step away from the dog, and start again. This is another good place to use 300-Peck. That is, click for one step away, click for two steps away, click for three steps away, click for… when the dog fails to respond to your cue, start back right in front of her again. Click for one step, click for two steps, etc. If you hit a plateau, you can shorten your distance again and try moving back only a couple of inches at a time instead of a whole step. Another trick is to click each distance five times before moving on to the next one.


I’M THREE FEET AWAY FROM HER AND SHE WON’T STAND UP! Go back to her and work close again until she can do it reliably. Until she’s thinking about Stand even in her sleep. Stand got to be so much of a default offering for my Stitch that at one point I had to hold her in a Sit to lift her front feet to put her harness on. Every time I reached for a foot, she’d pop into a Stand. When she’s thinking about the Stand near you, go back A COUPLE OF INCHES and ask her again. Anytime she fails to respond correctly to the FIRST cue, move close to her and start again.

CONTINUING EDUCATION: Can she Stand when you’re sitting down? Can she Stand when you’re standing? When you’re lying on the floor? Before you throw a ball? Before you open a door? While you put her collar on? Play around with it a lot. Most dogs can Sit and Down, but a dog that can stand on cue at a distance is really impressive.

And of course, once she’s got the Stand at the required distance, start moving your treats away from the place you normally train, and asking for a Stand when you’re in other situations without the treats in evidence.


The dog Stands on appropriate cues and remains standing while the handler walks 10’ away and back. No formal “Return” is required. This behaviour must be performed with no food or clicker in the ring or area. DISCUSSION: We’ve taken away the tester now, asked for the Stand at some distance, and removed the food. Make something more difficult, make everything else easier. Notice how we’re teaching one part of the Stand For Examination, then another, then increasing the difficulty of the first part, and in the next Level we’ll start putting them together.

EASY BEGINNINGS: In Level Two the dog had to StandStay for 10 seconds right beside you or in front of you. Work up to that again – don’t assume your dog remembers it just because you passed it several months ago.

Using 300-Peck duration training, work up to a 30 second StandStay. Click for 10 seconds, start again. Click for 11 seconds, start again. Click for 12 seconds, start again. When she’s holding 15 seconds, start increasing your time by 2 seconds each time. When she makes a mistake, moving ANY paw, start back at 10 seconds again. If she temporarily can’t handle 10, go back to 1 second.

When she’s able to successfully give you a 30-second StandStay, cut back to 10 seconds and start increasing your distance. Move one step away from her, click. Remember that the click ends the behaviour, so try to get the food to her before she moves, but if you can’t, that’s OK. The click told her what she was doing right. Start again. Move 2 steps away, click. Start again. Move 3 steps away, click. Don’t rush. The distance is naturally building the time up again.

CONTINUING EDUCATION: Practise in many different locations around the house, around the yard, on the sidewalk, at the park. Start using the StandStay to earn life rewards – ask for a StandStay before you open the back door, before you let the dog into the car, before you give her a meal.

Keep practicing your SitStay For Examination. By the time you get to Level Five, youll need the dog balanced on this behaviour – not afraid of examination, not out-of-control excited about the examination, and clearly understanding the behaviour that gets the click.

TARGET Dog follows and catches a touch stick, on the end only, with her nose, eager to touch the stick. There should be a voice cue, but it is not necessary in the presence of the stick. At some time the dog should demonstrate response to the cue. DISCUSSION: We’re now moving from a passive touch of an object she can reach without moving too much, to hunting down the object. If your dog has a good prey drive, the trick will be getting the behaviour without her grabbing the stick. If she has no prey drive, you can teach her what will appear to be one with the behaviour.

EASY BEGINNINGS: Start with her near you but preferably not sitting. And not under COMMAND to Stand. We don’t want her anchored to a spot before we even begin! Remind her about touching the stick with her nose. Work it until she’s eager to touch it. Move it around her head – up high, down low, to the left, to the right, stretched out in front.

When she’s In The Game of touching the stick, move it very slightly off to one side too far for her to reach without moving a foot. Click when she touches it. She may reach for it and miss and expect a treat, but hold still, do nothing, keep looking expectantly at her. If she was really In The Game, she’ll take the step and hit it. If she doesn’t, do another 10 repetitions around her head just SHORT of forcing her to move to touch it, and then put it just out of her range again. It’s generally easier for an animal to start moving to one side or the other rather than straight forward, which is why we’re asking for the initial step to be to one side.

When she can take one step, she can take two. As she’s successful to the side, you can gradually move the stick around to the front so she’s stepping FORWARD to touch it.


Your rate of reinforcement wasn’t high enough – that is, she wasn’t eagerly playing the touch-the-stick game before you started moving it further away from her. Your click-rate before you move it further away should be AT LEAST faster than one every 6 seconds, or ten times a minute.

Your criteria was too high – we’re asking for another half inch, not a foot:

Touch THIS
Touch THIS
Touch THIS
Touch THIS
Touch THIS
Touch THIS.

Your timing may have been off. Are you sure you’re clicking when her nose actually touches the stick?

CONTINUING EDUCATION: A chase-able touch stick is a very useful tool. I use it for teaching spins, weaving between my legs, moving the dog here and there. Get her going farther and faster to touch it. Get her chasing it around your body as you pivot. Get her going over a low jump to touch it.


Dog and handler demonstrate “101 Things To Do With A Box” or chair. DISCUSSION: Many instructors suggest this to beginners. I don’t. Asking a beginner dog and handler to play “101” is lumping. It scares them. Without a clearcut goal in front of them, they tend to panic.

101 is about thinking. It’s about teaching you to see what the dog is offering you, and to teach you to guess what’s going to come next. It’s about teaching the dog to offer behaviours, to think about what she’s doing and what the results will be, and to keep working when she didn’t get what she wanted the first time. Stick with it, it’s worth the effort. Watching a dog play 101 is as close as you will ever get to knowing what she’s thinking.

EASY BEGINNINGS: Sit on the couch. Get comfortable. Have lots of treats and a clicker. Dog in front of you on the floor. What’s your criteria? ANY MOTION. Not any BIG motion, but ANY motion. In fact, if she BLINKS, there was motion. If she breathes in or out, there was motion. Flicks an ear. Drops her nose a quarter inch. Shifts her weight. Wags her tail.

Wait a minute – wasn’t this about a box? Never mind, we’re starting small. I want you BOTH to be successful. Let’s start with her head. Just look at her head, and click ANY MOTION at all. She flicks her eyes to one side, click and toss the treat on the floor. Watch her head again. She picks up the treat and stares at you. No click. She stares at you. No click. She glances in the direction you tossed the previous treat. Click and toss the treat back over THERE again. She picks up the treat and stares at you again (has it occurred to you that after she picks up the treat, she CHEWS or SWALLOWS – that’s a clickable motion. And then she TURNS HER HEAD back toward you – that’s a clickable motion. So if you dog is really into clicker training already (and if you’re up to Level Four, she should be), you can ignore those motions and wait for one that’s separated from the diving-for-the-treat behaviours. If your dog is stuck, stressed, confused by the whole idea, you can click the chewing or swallowing or turning back toward you.

What you’re aiming for is to increase the number of the dog’s responses. Get her moving. This will increase her “clicker stamina” – that is, it’ll help her understand that drifting to a stop doesn’t work with clicker training. She has to figure out what you’re paying for at the moment, and offer you more and more of that behaviour in order to get paid. Right now, you’re paying for motion of any part of the head. If your dog is offering all kinds of behaviour, marvelous. If she’s not – especially if she’s a crossover dog with previous training in some other method – you may HAVE to click the blinks and chewing in order to get her In The Game.

OK, now you’ve got her moving, get a cardboard box, smaller than the dog. Put it near her. Sit back on the couch. Click for turning her head toward the box. Looking at the box, walking toward the box, arriving at the box. Now what? Click whatever she does when she gets to the box. She might touch it with her nose – click. She might touch it with her paw – click. She might take step to go around it – click. She might bite or lick it – click. When she’s really into it, when your click-rate is at LEAST once every ten seconds, STOP CLICKING WHATEVER YOU WERE CLICKING.

Now we’re getting into the “One Hundred And One” part of the game. The game is designed as a creativity enhancer. There are two ways to play, depending on the dog’s enthusiasm and your own. The first is to click one box-behaviour each day. Say she was touching the box with her right front paw and you were clicking that. Click it for maybe two minutes, and then remove the box and go do something else. Come back tomorrow and click the original behaviour ten times. As soon as she’s excited about offering that behaviour again, STOP clicking her for touching the box with her right front paw. You need a different behaviour, or a variation on the original. Maybe she belts it hard enough that it moves. OK, click that. Maybe she puts both front paws on it. Maybe she jumps on it. Maybe she bites it. WhatEVER. Take the next thing she gives you and click that. When your click-rate is up again, when she’s really in the game and having a good time, remove the box and go do something else. The next day, don’t pay more than ten times for her first behaviour OR her second behaviour.

If your dog is really clicker-savvy and already knows how to up the ante on a behaviour, you can try playing the second way. That is, you don’t click ANYTHING she offers you more than ten times. Touch the box with the right front paw, click for ten of those, and then don’t click them any more. She bangs the box three more times with her right front paw, then glares at you and gives you the “Hey Stupid” reaction – HEY, STUPID! I TOUCHED IT! AREN’T YOU PAYING ATTENTION? That frustration makes her jump on it with both front paws, just to be sure you notice. Touch the box with both front paws, click for ten of those, then don’t click them any more. Gradually, as she learns that no click means she has to offer you something else, you can work up to the sophisticated-dog version of the game, where you don’t click any behaviour more than twice.

PROBLEM SOLVING: SHE DOESN’T DO ANYTHING! HOW CAN I CLICK? Look harder. I had a crossover dog at my house one day. I noticed that ten seconds after she ate a treat, she’d swallow one last little bit of saliva. Every time. So I started clicking the swallowing motion. In the beginning, this meant she was getting one click and treat every 10 seconds. Six a minute. A fairly slow rate for a beginning, but she wanted the treats, so she was with me. She had no idea what the silly clicking noise was, but I was dishing out a treat every 10 seconds so she was going to hang out with me and get all she could. And every time she ate a treat, ten seconds later she’d swallow again.

By the time I’d handed out twenty treats, the second swallow had speeded up considerably. It was now only four seconds from the actual treat-swallow. Which meant our click-and-treat rate was up to twenty a minute – a very good, fast rate guaranteed to keep her in the game. And the clickable second swallow had gotten more pronounced. It now included a definite lip-sucking noise.

Another twenty treats, and I got a definite smacking-kiss noise with every swallow. At that point I gave up all thoughts of playing 101 with her and started putting a cue on the smacking noise. Jesse, Do you love me? SMACK! Which, you have to admit, was a SUPER trick, and who could possibly imagine that you could teach a dog to make a smacking noise on cue?

The bottom line is, if your dog “doesn’t do anything”, you’re still looking for large lumps of behaviour. She doesn’t have to play a tune and juggle dog biscuits here. Remember that game you played when you were a kid where everybody had to freeze and stand absolutely still? Consider sitting still, staring at you, like a statue, your basic behaviour. ANYTHING that isn’t that is clickable. When my pup is intent on Stay, she her nose slowly, slowly, slowly, rises. If I’m getting that nose-rise, I know I could walk across the room and do jumping jacks and she’d stay there. Nobody else notices this because it’s a very tiny motion. THAT’S a clickable motion.

BUT IF I PLAY THIS, SHE’S GOING TO BE JUMPING ALL OVER WHEN I WANT A STAY! Sure she will, for a minute or two. Until she figures out that what you’re paying for at that moment is sitting still. Don’t worry about this, it’s a momentary aberration. Reread the instructions for teaching the duration behaviours (Watch, SitStay, DownStay, StandStay). A dog that’s offering behaviours when she needs to be still is simply a dog who doesn’t understand duration behaviours yet.

ADDING A CUE: I’ve never had a voice cue for 101. My cue is situational. When there’s an object, a dog, and a clicker, the dog automatically starts trying to discover what makes the click happen.

CONTINUING EDUCATION: Consider the amazing benefits of having a dog who tries to discover what makes the click happen! My Service Dog In Training – I dropped her leash, so I shaped her to pick it up and give it to me. Agility – any obstacle means treats to her. Is she supposed to jump on it? Jump over it? Walk on it? Go through it? Obedience – the broad jump is SO easy to teach if you pay for getting from one side of it to the other one day. The next day you pay for getting from one side to the other by putting fewer than four paws on it. The next day it’s two paws, and you can usually “jump” from there to jumping from one side of it to the other.

Obviously you can play 101 with all kinds of objects. An exercise bike. A park bench. A person. A chair. Playing 101 for a seminar audience, my Scuba once jumped on the seat of a chair, put her front paws on the back of it, pushed, and rode it to the ground. Because I clicked her for it, when we set it back up, she did it again.


Dog holds contact 30 seconds from 10’, 2 cues OR approaches stranger, loose leash or tight, semi-stacks, holds eye/hand contact 20 seconds from 5’. “Judge” may make minor motions. DISCUSSION: Maintaining the contact while getting the distance shouldn’t be too big a deal. If you’re on that track, this Level is really about more practise for that all-important eye contact! On the conformation track, we’re asking the dog to approach a “judge”. Whether the dog is trained to look at the judge’s face or hand is your choice. You don’t want your Sheltie looking up at a tall judge and flipping her ears up! I won’t be explaining how to train the specific conformation behaviours here – for that, look at the articles on conformation gaiting and stacking.

EASY BEGINNINGS: In all probability, you’ve already had 30 seconds or more of eye contact while you were building up the duration on your SitStay andDownStay. Hope you noticed that! To practise specifically for eye contact, though, don’t pair it with a Stay. If you’re working on a SitStay WITH eye contact and she breaks the Sit but keeps looking at you, THEN what are you going to do? Tie her leash to something solid, or put her behind a babygate so you can work on the eye contact without worrying about how to get or keep the distance.

Start from a firm 10 seconds right in front of you, and build your time back up to 30 seconds.

Then drop your time back to nothingand start moving away from the dog. Use 300-Peck distance – one step away, click. Two steps away, click. Three steps away, click, and so on. When the dog fails – when she glances or looks away – start your count at 1 right back in front of her again.

When you have your required 10′, drop back to 3′ and 5 seconds, and build up your time to 30 seconds again. Then move to 6′ and 5 seconds, and build back up to 30 seconds. And finally, walk out to 10′ and start your count at 5 seconds again, building as you can to 30 seconds.

PROBLEM SOLVING: DO I CLICK WHEN I FINISH THE COUNT? OR WHEN I GET BACK TO HER? When you finish your count. Remember you’re NOT working on a Stay of any kind here, you’re working on getting continuous EYE CONTACT at a distance. You’re concentrating on the fact of the eye contact and how much distance you have, not on whether the dog is holding a Stay, so click when the contact, time, and distance have met your criteria. Remember that the click ends the behaviour, so as soon as you click, she doesn’t have to continue looking at you.

CONTINUING EDUCATION: When you add your distractions into the mix, don’t forget to cut back BOTH your distance AND your time. Bring a mild distraction in at a distance, and start your count again every time the dog looks away.


Dog must stay off treat on floor for 30 seconds, 2 cues only. Treat is shown to dog, cues given, treat placed on floor, dog allowed to approach within 12″. DISCUSSION: Until people have learned floor Zen, they’re usually very upset at the idea of the dog being allowed to pick up treats off the floor. My goodness, we’re telling people to DROP the food! Here’s where the worry stops.

EASY BEGINNINGS: This is just plain Zen, but with the food on the floor. No big deal, cover it with your foot instead of your hand. A word of warning – take your shoes and socks off! If you try this with your shoes on, you’re going to have kibble powder on the floor or wiener-mush on the bottom of your shoe.

Show the treat to the dog. Work hand Zen X5, just to get her in the mood. Then, with no fanfare at all, just as if you were going to do a 6th hand Zen, put the next treat on the floor and cover it with your foot. If she dives for it, that’s OK, just be sure it’s covered and she can NOT get at it. Let her fuss, lick, mouth, paw. Nothing. When she starts to lose interest in it, click, take your foot off it, and FLICK IT TOWARD HER. This is the same as flicking the treat off a table in Table Zen – it just draws a line saying “of course you can have it, but you can’t have it where it is, I have to move it first.” Later on, you can hold to this philosophy, or you can add a cue or release to tell her that it’s available. Either way, stuff on the floor is no longer free for the taking.

When she’s no longer fussing with your foot trying to get the treat, you can start letting her see the treat. Lift your foot slightly to give her a peek. When she dives for it, cover it again. “Nyah, nyah, you can’t have it, Did you hear a click? I didn’t THINK so!” When she backs away, move your foot off it again. When she can stay away from it when she can still see it, click and flick it at her. This is the same behaviour as opening your hand while doing hand Zen.

Finally, start your 300-Peck Zen count – can she stay away from it for 1 second? Click. 2 seconds? Click. 3 seconds? Click.

PROBLEM SOLVING: I WANT TO PLAY THIS, BUT AS SOON AS I DON’T LET HER HAVE IT, SHE LEAVES! You’re waiting too long. In between looking at the treat and leaving, there’s a moment when you should have clicked and let her have it. Aim for the decision. If you click the decision, you’ve got her. It looks like this: “Oh, boy, a treat!” “Aw, (CLICK) darn, I can’t have it, I might as well go find my ball.”

SHE PUSHES MY FOOT OUT OF THE WAY! Clever dog! OK then, play floor Zen with a cup upside down over the treat. Or play with the treat in a crack in the sidewalk where she’ll NEVER be able to get it and you have to supply a second one for the reward. In other words, figure out some way to protect the treat on the floor without controlling the dog.

ADDING A CUE: You naturally stopped using the Off cue when you changed from hand Zen to floor Zen. When you trust her not to push your foot out of the way, you can start using your cue again.

CONTINUING EDUCATION: You’ll probably notice that as she stays away from it, she gets further away from it (just to be safe – out of sight, out of mind). You can then add distance to your criteria, so you won’t click unless she moves back at least 6″ from it, at least 10″, etc. At this point I like to start “chasing” her around with it – cue her not to touch it, then put it right in front of her nose and click when she actually turns her head to avoid it. Pretty soon you’ll actually be able to pretend to chase her with it, with her ducking around to avoid it – a very impressive trick!

Click HERE to start Level Five