Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 6, continued


Part 2 how to teach your dog to stay.

One of the first approaches to teach a stay is to just add duration to your sit or down cue. When you first teach a “sit” you mark the behavior the moment your dog’s butt hits the floor, right? Yes or click & treat. Once you have a solid sit (you get it at least 80% of the time) with either a hand signal or verbal cue you can start to add a little duration. You do this by delaying the marker.

Ask your dog to sit (count one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand) mark the behavior & treat. If your dog got up before you got a chance to mark the behavior just give him a quick oops (and no treat) and start over. Now you have a 3 second sit. As your dog gets more comfortable you can GRADUALLY increase the delay of the marker to 5 seconds, 10 seconds, even up to 15 seconds. But if your dog starts getting out of position before you can mark the behavior you’ve upped your criteria too quickly. If this happens drop your time to something your dog can easily do, and gradually increase the time, being certain of your dog’s success.

For the TDI test you can leave your dog in a sit or down, all instructions here apply to both behaviors.

Remember there are 3 components to a stay (see post Therapy Dogs International testing TEST 1: ACCEPTING A FRIENDLY STRANGER):
• Duration (how long)
• Distance (how far)
• Distraction (how much other stuff is going on)

You will work up to having a reliable (good 80% of the time) sit (or down) for 30 seconds before you add any distance. When you add distance — pivot in front & take 2 steps back — you will reduce the length of time, back to 10 seconds. Repeat for several days. If your dog is not successful you either need to reduce the amount of time or get closer. Once your dog can comfortably hold his sit for for 30 seconds with you 2 steps away, see how he does when you are 6 feet away, but again cut the duration back to 10 seconds gradually working up to 30 seconds. You will work up to a distance of 10 to 15 feet, for 30 seconds. (The test is a distance of 10 feet and duration is how long it takes you to walk out and back.)

When you add distractions make sure you reduce distance (start off right next to your dog) and reduce the duration, back to 10 seconds.

As your dog gets more proficient you will want to test your dog periodically but remember you want your dog to be successful, so set him up for success through gradually increasing your criteria.

Good luck 🙂


Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 6


This test evaluates your dog’s training for sit, down and stay.

I am going to split this blog into two parts. Part one how to teach your dog to sit and down. Part 2 will be how to teach your dog to stay.

In TDI testing you can use more than one signal or cue, so do your dog a favor and make sure you give him as much information as he needs.

I suggest people start training most behaviors using a hand signal (vs. verbal cue) first because dogs are masters at reading body language. Once your dog understands that the hand signal means do a certain behavior you can then add the verbal cue by saying it just before you use your hand signal.

Let’s start at the beginning with teaching sit. You’ll start by taking a tasty treat and holding it just at your dog’s nose. As he starts to sniff the treat very gradually raise your hand, just enough to elevate your dog’s muzzle 90 degrees. As your dog’s nose rises in the air his butt should head to the floor (it’s physics). The moment his butt hits the floor use your marker and give him a treat and release him from the exercise. Repeat 5 times. Practice this a couple times a day for several days. At this point your dog should be pretty good at sitting this way. This is when you’ll add your verbal cue “sit” just before you bring the food to your dog’s nose. Practice this for a couple days. Your dog should be sitting very well by now, as long as you have food in your hand.

Now for the transition to having no food in your hand. NOTE: You MUST stop using food in your signal hand after the 1st week or two or your dog will become dependent on it! Here’s how you go about making this transition — initially put the food in your non-signal hand, pretend as if you have food in your signal hand use your hand signal and say the verbal “sit”. Your dog should sit. When he does give him a treat and release him from the exercise. Repeat 5x.

Up until this point you should be reinforcing (feeding) your dog for every sit you ask for. Once your dog can reliably give you a sit 80% of the time that you ask him to sit i.e. if you ask for 10 sits you’ll get at least 8 on the 1st request, you can start to randomize when you will reinforce the behavior. You will reinforce the 2nd sit, the 5th sit, the 6th sit, the 8th sit, etc. The key is to be RANDOM. This is how you work to remove food from the immediate training picture.

You will teach the down using the same principals that you just used for the sit:  food in your hand signal, followed by adding the verbal cue, and then transitioning to no food in your signal hand, and finally randomizing your rewards.

To get the down it is usually easiest to ask for it when your dog is sitting. You will NOT mark that sit (or you’ll never get beyond that point) you can feed it if you want to but don’t mark it. Once your dog is sitting you will take a piece of food from his nose and bring it straight down (as if on a string) to the floor. Your dog’s nose should be following the treat in your hand. Once your hand’s at the floor you may want to move the treat either in toward your dog’s body or out away from your dog’s body, along the floor. This sounds contradictory but it really depends on the dog — I think it may have something to do with their individual structure. Anyway, at first you will mark any behavior even approximating a down, such as a leg extension, even the bowing of the head. hopefully you will get a full down within the first 5 tries. Once your dog is giving you a nice down you will progress in the same manner you did with the sit outlined above.

Small dogs seem to have more difficulty with the down. If you run into this problem see if you can sit on the floor with your dog. Extend one of your legs, so it”s laying flat on the floor. Your dog should be sitting or standing on one side. You will slightly bend your knee, adding a little elevation and provide a little gingerbread trail under your leg for your dog to follow. As they are crawling under your leg hold a treat at their nose so they stop their forward movement for a moment. Lightly & slowly lower your leg — your dog should now be in a down! Mark the behavior, give them the treat and release.

Next time we’ll work on teaching your dog to stay!

Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 5


In this test the dog is evaluated on how well he walks through/amongst a crowd of people (at least 3).

Once your dog is comfortably meeting & greeting strangers calmly (Exercises 1 & 2) and walking on a loose leash (#4) they have the skills to start working on walking through a crowd successfully.

You probably already walk your dog on leash through your neighborhood. If your dog just casually notices other walkers and continues to be calm in their presence, you are off to a great start — reward your dog for his good behavior!  If however, you have one of the social butterflies who believes all strangers are for greeting then you will have some work to do.

If your dog gets excited upon seeing people on the street you may want to do one or both of the following:

• Take your dog a little further off the street, or sidewalk, so they will not even have a chance to interact with the approaching person/people.

• Initially you may also want to ask your dog to sit, as it’s harder to get up and lunge if your dog is already sitting.

While you’re dog’s sitting feed him tasty treats while the person/people pass by. As soon as the person/people are out of reach stop feeding your dog and continue on your way. After a few trials of this your dog should be able to sit still without constant feeding. If your dog holds his sit on his own as the person/people walk by mark the behavior as the people get out of reach and give your dog a jackpot (5 or 6 tasty treats) for doing the behavior so well on his own.

Once the sit calmly is mastered you can try to continue walking as a person/people approach, but you may still want to be a couple of feet off the street, away from them. If necessary you can hold some tasty treats at your dog’s nose as you walk by. Praise a lot if your dog doesn’t give the people any attention! You will gradually increase the difficulty (allowing your dog to be closer to the oncoming person/people) until your dog can pass by others with hardly a care.

You will want to be proactive. When you see a person/people approaching start talking to your dog and getting his attention on you. Praise him a lot for choosing to give you attention instead of giving it to others.

Once you are having success you may want to take your dog into town or to a local park where you can expect to really meet up with some crowds. You must remember that you want to set your dog up for success, not failure. So don’t over expose him to too much stimuli (too many people) too quickly or early on in his training.

Also, in preparation for testing you will want to make sure your dog is comfortable with folks who might be jogging or even on a skateboard or rollerblades. You would train for these stimuli using the same methods as above.

Good luck 🙂

Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 4


Loose leash walking (LLW) is a real challenge for a lot of dogs & handlers. Why do dogs pull on leash? Probably the #1 reason why dogs pull is that it works! Scenario: Dog pulls handler follows, dog gets to go where he wants to. From the dog’s perspective, what’s not to love!

So, how do you modify this behavior? When you first start out you might find it helpful to use a training aid i.e. a no pull harness or head halter (see my earlier post “Collars and other equipment” for more information). The reason for this is that if your dog doesn’t practice pulling it will be easier to teach him what you expect/want which is loose leash walking.

Set yourself up for success: start your training in a low distraction environment, make sure your dog has already been well exercised (at this stage LLW is not meant for exercise), have lots of tasty training treats in your pocket and allocate sufficient time to allow yourself to be successful i.e. don’t start LLW if you only have a few minutes to practice. Start off by folding up your leash so that your dog only has about 3 foot of leash to work with — LLW can be done on 3′ (unless you have a very short dog). If you give your dog too much leash he’ll have a greater opportunity to pull. Hold your leash in one hand and have your treats in the opposite hand. Your dog should be/walk on the same side where you’re holding your treats — yes your leash is crossing your body. Bend over if needed and place a treat just in front of your dog’s nose and give him a cue, something like “let’s go” and take 2 or 3 steps. If your dog’s walking right with you use your Marker (see earlier post as reference: Positive Reinforcement Training and using a Marker) and stop & give him a treat. Continue stopping & reinforcing your dog every 2 or 3 steps. Set a goal for yourself, can you get 50 feet without your dog pulling? If so Yippee! Practice at this distance and rate of reinforcement several times a day if possible for about a week, all with low distractions.

If your dog starts to pull STOP your forward progress — be a tree. Your dog will likely turn back and look at you like “Is there a problem?” at which point you can coax him back to your side, with a treat if necessary and then start again. If your dog doesn’t turn back they will likely sit, if necessary say their name and proceed as if they had turned back to you.

The key is consistency. Dogs live wonderfully on random reinforcement, so if you aren’t consistent and let them pull sometimes then they will continue trying to pull. However, your dog will not be able to LLW all the time. Longer duration LLW is something you will work up to. So make sure you set the stage for LLW with these steps: shorten your leash, have treats ready in your hand (on the same side as your dog), use your cue word “let’s go”, reinforce every 2 or 3 steps and don’t go more than 50 to 100 feet at a time.

LLW is VERY hard for many dogs, so make sure you lay a good solid foundation. Once your dog is walking well with you as outlined above, see if you can raise your hand (away from your dog’s nose) and carry the treat tucked in your hand at waist level. Continue to mark the good LLW behavior every 2 to 4 steps stopping and bringing the food down to your dog’s nose, or dropping it on the ground. (If your dog starts jumping just wait him out and only mark his behavior when all 4 feet are on the ground — it sometimes takes a lot of patience.)

Only when your dog is successful at this last step do you want to add distractions. Perhaps trying LLW in the back yard, even squirrels will provide significant distraction at first. Increase your rate of reinforcement and reduce the distance you travel when you add distractions.

Once your dog is LLW well you can start to use “life rewards”  like “go sniff” as reward, alternating between that and tasty treats.

Now you should be on your way to having fun walks with your dog. Wishing you much success on your walks 🙂

Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 3

Today’s segment:


In this test the evaluator will gently examine your dog — lightly touching the body, looking in ears and picking up front paws as well as passing a grooming tool over your dog’s coat.

If you regularly groom your dog the above sounds like it should be easy… not so fast! I can’t tell you how many dogs are really uncomfortable with people touching their front feet! If you have one of those dogs you need to take some time to desensitize your dog to having their feet touched & picked up. Desensitization is basically the process of changing one’s perception of something, in this case from bad to good.

I would suggest starting this when your dog’s just had some good exercise, so he’s a little tired not wired. If you can sit on the floor with him with a few tasty treats in your hand touch a paw and give a treat. Repeat. If your dog’s relaxed you can try to pick up the paw in your hand, while feeding a treat with the other. If your dog starts to squirm take it a bit slower. You don’t want your dog to have any reaction at all, except maybe a little anticipation for the treat. Practice this daily until you can pick up each front foot (alternately) with no fussing, ultimately delaying the treat until you’re done with the examination. This may take a week or two, but it’s well worth it.

Unless your dog has had ear infections you will probably not have as much of a problem with the ear inspections, but make sure you practice and make it rewarding and enjoyable for your dog.

Regarding the grooming — make sure you bring your own grooming equipment! Something your dog has experience with and willingly accepts. I’ve seen dogs freak when approached with a tool they’ve never seen before!

Good luck with your grooming 🙂

Therapy Dogs International Testing Part 2

Today’s installment:


This exercise is a natural progression from Test 1 Accepting the Friendly Stranger. Now that your dog can handle the approach of a new person without jumping up we will move to having the stranger pat your dog. The friendlier the dog, the more difficult this can be.

I suggest one of two approaches, perhaps starting with the 1st and phasing into the second.

Phase 1 — the handler will hold a bit of food at the dog’s mouth which he can nibble on while the stranger starts to pat the side of his face and lightly touch his back. Note: most dogs do not like it when someone puts their hand over the dog’s head in preparation for petting them on the head. So start with petting the side of the dog’s face instead, gradually working toward the top of the head pat.
The distraction created by the food is often enough to keep the dog from jumping on the stranger.

Phase 2 — if the dog’s been taught to target your hand (touch) then the handler can ask the dog to “touch” his hand as the stranger ever so briefly pets him. Gradually increasing the duration of the touch & petting. Again, the touching gives the dog something else to focus on other than the approaching stranger. Gradually phase out the hand target.

Let me k now if you need me to review the targeting and touch exercises.

Good luck 🙂


Therapy Dogs International Testing

One of the many classes I teach is a TDI prep class for handlers & dogs that want to go on to do therapy work. If you aren’t familiar with the testing you can see all fifteen of the exercises by checking out TDI’s website:

I will start a series of posts on how to train each of the exercises. Remember you want your dog to be successful, so don’t cut corners or jump ahead too quickly with your training.


This sounds easy enough, a stranger walks up to you & your dog to shake your hand and say hello. During the test your dog is to sit quietly while you shake hands, no jumping, no excitement and no trying to get away.

I’ve found that by explaining the exercise to the handler as “it is nothing other than a sit stay with a MAJOR distraction” the handlers find the exercise to be less daunting.

So, first you work on your sit stay. Remembering that there are 3 parts to a stay:
Duration – how long
Distance – how far
Distraction –  how much other stuff is going on around you

The first part you should work on is duration. You add duration by asking your dog to sit beside you and gradually delay the use of your marker “Yes” (followed by a treat). You might start with 5 seconds and work up to 30 seconds. Once you have a solid 30 second sit stay with the handler right next to the dog you can start to add distance, but when you do this you’ll reduce the duration of the sit, to something like 10 seconds. As your dog gets more proficient at holding the sit you can juggle the 3 variables back & forth until you have a solid sit stay for 30+ seconds with the dog sitting within a foot or two of the handler amidst other distractions.

Now you’re ready to try a casual meet & greet. The greeter should approach the handler & dog in a relaxed way, not having any direct eye contact with the dog. If the dog makes any motion to get up the greeter immediately backs away and the handler re-cues the dog to sit. It may take a few tries but you should be on the right track for a successful greeting. Once you’ve got it, keep practicing. Remember jumping up to greet is a natural reaction for most dogs!

Hope this was helpful 🙂