Ask the Trainer: Dog Skills

Summer 2004


Leslie McDevitt
Certified Dog Trainer, Behavior Counselor
Y2K9s Dog Sports Club
Wyndmoor, PA

Leslie specializes in clicker training and using positive reinforcement to modify problem behaviors in both pet and performance dogs.


In my beginner obedience classes, I distract the dogs by letting them lick out of a peanut butter jar! Their owners call them away from it, and when they return to their owners, they are delighted to discover that their owners were hiding a second peanut butter jar.

This exercise is strengthening recalls, and using the “Premack Principle.”

This principle tells us to reward the dog with what they most wanted in the first place; it tells us to “use the environment to reward the dog.”

Example: Dog wants to take a swim in the lake, so do your obedience exercises near the lake and send the dog into the lake as his reward. Or, if you are working on recalls, repeat sending the dog into the lake, calling them out again and then sending them back in. Or, should your dog enjoy the playful attention of another dog, then call him away, reward him, and send him back to play.

Your dog will learn that coming away from distractions is part of the fun, not the end of it, because you are putting yourself in control of access to the distractions. This is a very powerful principle in dog training and helps build very reliable recalls and “leave-its.”


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