Home Getting a Dog Getting Started Training A Dog Dog Fun Videos The Great Debate About Us

Core Rules

There are 6 main Core Rules that you will come back to for setting up Training Plans or Troubleshooting Problems.  Core Rules will most likely be added to and improved on in the future.

1. Positive / Negative / Distractions & Distance  

2. A to B Rule

3. Premack Principle

4. Training Every Second

5. Energy Spectrum (Hyper vs Tired)

6. Training Phase vs Management Phase

7. 33 Repetitions

Positive / Negative / Distractions & Distance

At any given second a dog can either do a Positive behaviour you want or a Negative behaviour you don't want. You want to ensure a dog is doing a Positive behaviour as much as possible (100% of the time). This won’t always happen in the beginning. A dog will quite frequently do a Negative behaviour that you don't want. You want to quickly switch your dog back to a positive behaviour

Positive - You can make it very fun, easy and exciting to do a positive. Your dog may then decide that this Positive behaviour is so much fun that they do not even want to do the Negative behaviour. This would then eliminate the Negative Behaviour. This is the premise of Treat or Clicker Training. An example would be a dog that likes to jump and you do not want that dog to jump. You could reward that dog for sitting by giving them a treat. You could also reward them for sitting by letting them play a game of Tug of War or Fetch. There are many other things you could reward a dog with for this behaviour.

Negative - Sometimes you try to make a Positive Behaviour very fun and exciting but your dog says "Yes that is fun but boy do I like to do this Negative behaviour!" If you cannot make your Positive Behaviour more fun and exciting then all you are left with is using a negative consequence to deter that negative behaviour. Let’s use the same example as above. Let's say your dog likes to jump and you try to reward your dog for sitting but your dog says "Jumping is way too much fun and I feel more rewarded for jumping than I do for sitting, even though you are trying to reward me for sitting." If you cannot make it more fun and exciting to sit then all you are left with is using a negative to make jumping less appealing. A method that works very well is giving the dog a squirt in the mouth with Bitter Apple Spray when they go to jump. Your dog will think that jumping tastes bad so the reward for sitting is much better. We also refer to this as the principle of "Would you prefer $100 or a slap in the face?"  You are in essence making it very fun and exciting to do as you asked and not very fun to do a negative behaviour. Many dogs will continue to do a negative behaviour if a negative consequence is not placed on that behaviour. This is referred to as the Bank Robber Principle. This is where a dog thinks "What is the downside if I do this negative behaviour?" If there is no downside then the dog will often continue that behaviour. Betas or Alphas are the most likely type to require a negative consequence on a behaviour if positive doesn’t do the trick. Omegas are pretty compliant and require little to no consequence to do the right thing naturally.

Distractions & Distance - Once your dog understands there is a reward for doing something you like or they respect you enough to follow through on the command and they understand there could be a consequence for doing something you don't like then everything else is considered a distraction or distance. This is where we could say "My dog will sit inside the house but will my dog sit with 100 rabbits running around?" This is the exact same behaviour (sit) the only difference is the distraction level has changed (going from quiet in your home to a hundred rabbits running around). Some may sit with rabbits running around but would they sit if you were 50 feet away from them? This is distance in effect. This brings us to Rule #2, the A to B Rule.

A to B Rule

(you will benefit by watching the video on this one as it is easier to explain with hand gestures)- B is your goal. This is what you want to achieve with your dog (let's say sit with 100 rabbits running around). A is your starting point (let's say sitting inside the house). The jump from A to B can be quite significant so we often need to break it down into multiple steps between A and B.

We find it easiest to train the commands at a low level of distraction, A, and then increase distance (this is why you see distance levels between distraction levels on the A to B Scale). Once the dog does sit and down commands to a distance in low distractions you can then increase the distraction by playing back dog barking sounds or other noises on your stereo (YouTube works great for all different kinds of sound distractions). As soon as you play back strange sounds you have increased the distraction level and therefore you often need to go back close to the dog and give commands, possibly even luring the dog to the ground. Then you can increase distance again.

This would be an example of steps to training your dog to sit with 100 rabbits running around:

  1. Sit inside the house.
  2. Sit to a distance in the house.
  3. Sit in the backyard.
  4. Sit to a distance in the backyard.
  5. Sit with dogs at a distance.
  6. Sit with dogs closer.
  7. Sit with rabbits at a distance.
  8. Sit with rabbits closer.

This is a bit oversimplified. Even taking 10 footsteps closer towards a distraction can be a significant step. To actually train this could take several weeks worth of work. Some dogs may be almost no work and others may be over a year of work.

When you increase distraction levels or distance a dog will almost always make mistakes. For some dogs nothing will appear to be a distraction and listen 100% for their humans. For the majority of dogs out there this will not be the case. The reason we mention this is to reduce stress and frustration on your part. If you think dog training will go really smooth and easily you will get very frustrated and stressed out. We can pretty well guarantee it will not go smooth and easy. Many people will think "I know you can do this here, why can't you do it over here?" Once you understand that a dog will almost always make mistakes when you increase distractions or distance it will take a lot of stress and frustration out of training. Think of it this way: When you complete Grade 1 you then go to Grade 2. Just because you are now successful at Grade 1 does not mean you will get Grade 2 one hundred percent correct. You will make mistakes at Grade 2 and then you will go to Grade 3. The process then starts all over again. You make mistakes and then you succeed. Increasing distractions or distance for your dog is like them going through different grades in school.

Next we will describe what happens when you increase distraction levels. The easiest way to explain this will be with a numbered list:

1. They may get this 70-100%

2. They may get this 70-100%

3. As you start getting higher in distractions they may only get this 50%. Many people will wonder "should I spend longer here or go back to an easier version?" We will often go back to a half way easier version (let's say 2.5 - this method is like grades in school) and then work our way up from there.

Sometimes we will go to an even harder version (level 4 - this method is the speed reading rule method). Then when we come back to Level 3 (this level) it will seem much easier for the dog to understand and they can get that one 70-100%.

4. They may get this 50% so you can jump to #5 and then this level 4 will be easy and so on.

Here is an example: When we are training dogs to understand distance commands where they understand how to do Sit or Down from 250 meters away, they may get confused when we go from right in front of them to 2 steps away to even 3 or 4 steps away, no where close to 250 meters. So we will go back to 1 or 2 steps and do a few easy ones and then we may go to 15 steps away. At 15 steps they will be very confused but as we work our way back they may understand at 5 or 6 steps away. By going to a harder level the previous level by comparison seems much easier.

This idea stems from Speed Reading. When you take a speed reading course if Level 1 is your reading level they have you go to Level 10 where you laser your eyes down the page very quickly. Then they slow you down to Level 4 where you are still scanning much faster than your regular reading level and they test you on what you read. You don't think you retained much but you are surprised at what you remembered. In order to get faster at reading you always have to go way past and then come back to a lower level. The interesting thing that we found was at the course we took the instructor had a daughter in Softball (baseball). She was one of the worst hitters on the team and would always strike out. She decided to apply speed reading rules to baseball. So she took her daughter to the batting cage but not the softball cage she put her in the hardball cage. This girl can't hit a softball so there is no way she is hitting a hardball flying at her at 80 miles per hour. The instructor said she "half ticked" the ball was the closest she got. However when her daughter went back to softball it just seemed like a beach ball floating through the air and she started knocking them out of the park and became one of the best hitters on the team. You can apply this to many areas of your life including Dog Training. Sometimes we have to make it extra hard for Fido so he then understands the level you were actually trying to get him to succeed on. Mistakes are absolutely necessary in learning. The better you get the bigger the mistakes you will likely make in the future. By comparison smaller levels will seem like a piece of cake.

Premack Principle

If you have a dog that is fearful of anything they may not do the command even if they understand it. Let’s say your dog knows their commands but when you go to put a harness on your dog they freeze up or try to bite the harness to get it off.

The first thing you will try is the Premack Principle. This is where you:

  • Take something your dog doesn’t like a little (harness in this case)
  • Link it to something they like a lot (food, toys, outside, attention, etc.)

Often times when we first put a harness on a dog for training they try to bite at it, wiggle out of it or freeze up. What we do is as soon as we get the harness on the dog we take them outside since most dogs love being outside (if your dog doesn’t like outside then you will have to use something else they like).

Once outside they want to sniff and check things out and often forget about their harness. We almost always have a Long Line hooked up to the dog so they cannot run off. We may squirt Bitter Apple Spray on the long line before going outside to deter the dog from biting the Long Line.

After sniffing around for a while they have totally forgotten about the harness and Long Line. We will begin giving commands for recall “This way” with a tug of the line to get the dog to follow. See notes on Recall for further explanation.

The top 3 Top Things a Dog will Work for:

  • Food - Treats or Kibble.
  • Possessions - Fetch or Tug toys.
  • Attention - The praise they get from you.

People often give many of these things away for free. If you make your dog work for these things you place extra value on them (See Pack Structure). We have used all of them in different ways to motivate different dogs.

In the picture below a puppy is wearing booties for the first time. Many dogs do not like having booties on and will try to get them off. There is a handful of kibble in front of the dog. This puppy really loves kibble. The puppy can then think Booties = Kibble therefore the puppy will associate good things with Booties being on. This also helps to distract the puppy from the booties which in turn helps to get the puppy used to the booties.

Example: We worked with a Black Lab named Jack who was very fearful of people. Being a Lab, Jack loved food, so we thought this would be a piece of cake. The problem was Jack wouldn’t accept food when around strangers, even at a distance if you were to try and treat him he wouldn’t take it.

So next thing a person would think is that a Lab loves Fetch. Well Jack didn’t care for fetch as no one had taught him (we did get him onto Fetch after 6 months of working with him). So Fetch wasn’t going to be a motivator.

Luckily Jack loved Attention. So what we had to do was really cut back on the Attention we gave Jack when we were at home alone (this is hard for many people to do including us because these dogs are often so darn cute and cuddly). However we persevered and really cut back on Praise and Petting. When people would come over and Jack would settle down a bit we would really lay on the praise. Since he hadn’t had any for a while he loved it all that much more.

Problem was it only got Jack 80% of the way there to liking people. So we cut back on Attention again even when people were around. Jack feeling like he was really missing out on petting started going up to guests we had come over to accept petting. (A key step here is to have your guests ignore the dog completely and a fearful dog will warm up much faster.) Jack started warming up to people faster all the time. Once we got him onto liking Fetch he really started warming up fast. He was also starting to take treats from some people. Now we were using all 3 methods (Food, Possessions, Attention) to get Jack to warm up to people.

We had Jack for 9 months and he made a tremendous improvement, it seemed like a miracle if you saw what he was like to start. He then went to a family where they continued to work with him and he gets better all the time. If Jack were to have been properly socialized when he was younger we wouldn’t have needed to do all of these baby steps. This goes to show how much proper Socialization can make training a dog much much easier.

Add video of Jack with quad for socialization if we have it?

Training Every Second

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that you are training your dog every second of the day. Whatever your dog is doing they are getting better at. So ask yourself this very second, what is my dog doing right now? That is what they are getting better at doing.

You want to ensure your dog is always doing something you want or at least always try to point them in that direction.

The best way to ensure your dog is always doing what you want is to follow another Core Rule (listed below) called the Energy Spectrum (Hyper vs Tired).

What we mean by this is if you want to have your dog walk on a Loose Leash properly it is easier to begin training when the dog is a little more tired. If your dog is right full of energy they will pull the hardest on leash at that point. Most people think “my dog is hyper, let’s go for a walk”. When going for a walk the dog pulls the whole way and when they finally start to tire out and walk well on a leash the people go home. Think about the Rule Training Every Second, what did they train their dog to do during that walk? According to the rule the dog was trained to pull on leash and when the dog was finally starting to walk well the people went home. So a large amount of time was put into a Negative Behaviour (pulling on leash) and a very small amount of time was put into a Positive Behaviour (walking nicely).


The example above demonstrates on the left that during that second the dog is pulling on leash. The more this dog practices pulling on leash the better she would get. So we keep training with her and then the picture on the right shows when she starts to walk in position where we want her. The more we practice with the dog walking in the proper position the better she gets at that.

Before training, this dog was run for 2 miles at a jog to help tire her out. She probably could have done 4 to 6 miles to make things easier. To get her to walk properly as shown in the picture on the right took 32 minutes of training. After that point we kept practicing walking for another 1.5 hours to really seal in her mind that is where we want her to walk. The more she practices a Positive Behaviour the better she gets at it.

So from now on think that your dog is being trained 24 hours per day. If your dog is really tired and they also don’t like car rides the best time to take them for a car ride is when they are really tired. We used this technique for our German Shepherd puppy that we wanted to be an excellent traveller. Any time we were going into town we would exercise her so that she was sleepy. Then we would load her into the vehicle and she would lay down to sleep. We did that each time before a car ride. To this day even if it is first thing in the morning and she is right full of energy if we load her into a vehicle she will lay down and be calm and quiet.

The opposite is usually what happens. Dogs often get loaded into a car when they are hyper to be taken somewhere to be exercised. This means the dog is always in a hyper state when in a vehicle. Therefore that becomes their habit.

Even if you are away at work your dog is forming a habit. One lady we knew would leave a TV channel on for her dog. What she didn’t know is that there was a certain dog commercial that her dog started to bark at aggressively. This became her dog’s habit while she was away at work. The same would hold true for dogs that bark through a window at any passing dog or person. If your dog was being quiet while you were away at work then they would get better at that.

Am I Training the Dog or is the Dog Training Me?

This can switch very quickly. You may think you are training the dog but it helps to stop and really think about who is training who.

Example: Let’s say a dog barks at us for attention. If we ignore the dog and the dog quiets and then we praise them, for some dogs that works and teaches them to be quiet. However, many dogs we work with will learn that getting your attention always requires them to bark first. Then we say “quiet”, they quiet and we say “good dog”, that is the dog training us, not us training the dog.

Favourite Example: Years ago we worked with this family that had a Cocker Spaniel. The daughter tried training the dog and thought he was the dumbest dog in the world and couldn’t learn anything. When we showed up at the house, the dad was a smoker. The dog will go steal his cigarette lighter and run off with it. If the dad didn’t notice the dog would drop the lighter, bark, and then pick the lighter back up. The dad would walk over to the cookie jar, the dog would come over, drop the lighter, take a cookie and run off with it. We thought, how do you not figure that isn’t one of the smartest dogs you have ever worked with! That takes a lot of thought to think that through.

Energy Spectrum (Hyper vs Tired)

To save yourself a lot of grief when training your dog, do not fight the Energy Spectrum. What we mean by this is that if you want to train your dog to Stay but they are really hyper, that is the hardest point on the scale to train Stay. You are better off working on Stay when your dog is tired and naturally wants to stay in position.

Remember the top rule (Positive / Negative / Distractions)? You want to ensure your dog is always doing a Positive Behaviour. Whatever they practice they get better at.

When we are training a dog ourselves it is often on a certain time frame. When you only have a certain amount of time to train a dog you want to maximize every second. That is why we developed the Energy Spectrum as it will save you all the headaches it caused us when we were trying to train in the most efficient manner possible.

We would tend to practice Stay at the end of the day when the dog was tired. We would work on all of the high energy activities at the beginning of the day. If we needed a Dog A to be calm and quiet and wait patiently while we worked with Dog B, we would exercise Dog A before putting them aside. This way they would sleep or wait quietly. Therefore they were not practicing barking to gain our attention.

Your dog’s energy will be a distraction all on its own. There will be times that your dog is right full of energy and you still need them to wait patiently. Since Energy is a distraction you can phase it in according to the A to B Rule. Remember when we said we would work on Stay at the end of the day when a dog was tired? Well during week 2 of training we would work on Stay at the middle of the day when they were half full of energy. During week 3 we would work on stay at the beginning of the day when they were right full of energy.

You want to use your dog’s energy to your advantage to start with to set the proper habit in place. Then build that energy back into the equation.

When we are training Tracking with a dog we ensure the dog is right full of energy. We will even taunt the dog with a toy or excited praise to get them fired up a bit more. We might say “Are you ready! Are you ready!”

If your dog is scared of something such as loud noises like gunfire, fireworks or thunderstorms it can be beneficial to do desensitization exercises when they are really tired. For example you could play back sound recordings of fireworks or gunfire quietly on your stereo while your dog is resting or focusing on a game or obedience command. As they get better with the noise you can start turning it up louder on your stereo to help desensitize them more and more.

If your dog barks at the doorbell you can also utilize the same technique. Record the sound of your doorbell and play it back over and over when your dog is tired or focused on something else. The less energy they have the less they will want to bark at the door. This can work very well for a dog with excessive barking when the doorbell rings.

Training Phase vs Management Phase

When people are training their dog they are going through the Training Phase. Most people skip out on the Management Phase because they do not know there is a phase there or the importance of it.

You enter Management Phase once the dog understands what they have been trained (end of Training Phase).

Let’s give you an example that most people have heard of. A dog with a barking problem, some people will use a Shock Barking Collar. The dog learns very quickly when the collar is on and the dog barks the dog gets a shock. The dog can learn very fast not to bark. This would essentially be the end of the Training Phase. The owners may then think the dog is fully trained so they remove the Shock Barking Collar. The dog may go a couple days being quiet and then the dog barks. The owners then quickly put the Shock Barking Collar on again. The dog then quickly gets a shock when it barks. The dog may then quiet down and the owners take the Shock Barking Collar off again.

The dog will quickly learn that they cannot bark when the Shock Barking Collar is on but they are free to bark when it is off. This is called being “Collar Smart”. You may see the dog barking in the backyard and the owner comes running out with the Shock Barking Collar in hand and ask the dog “Do you want this back on?!” The dog sheepishly looks back as if to say “no”.

If the owners in this situation were to continue keeping the Shock Barking Collar on the dog once the dog learned not to bark for another 1 to 3 months of perfect behaviour, there would be more of an established habit of being quiet in place. Then the collar could be taken off and it is much more likely the dog will continue to be quiet and not bark.

Why do we say 1 - 3 months? The lower the rank of your dog the less time it needs to practice getting it perfectly right. The higher ranking your dog is the longer they need to practice getting it perfectly right due to the fact that they are more likely to challenge and test authority.

Alpha -   3 months of perfect behaviour.

Beta -    2 months of perfect behaviour.

Omega - 1 month of perfect behaviour.

Let’s say you are using a tie-out point of a leash 3 feet long to hold your dog in place when guests come over. You may find that in 3 weeks the dog no longer tries to pull to get at guests. That would mark the end of your Training Phase. You now enter your Management Phase meaning that you should continue to tie the dog up when guests come over for 1 to 3 months of perfect behaviour before you consider not tying your dog up when guests come over. This will help ensure the right behaviour is set in place.

From our experience the Management Phase never goes perfectly. A dog will tend to make mistakes during that phase. Let’s say you are 3 days into your Management Phase and the dog makes a mistake. That sets you back to Day 1 of Management Phase. If you are at week 3 and your dog makes a mistake that sets you right back to Day 1 of Management Phase. Trying to go 3 months of perfect behaviour can sometimes take 6 months, 9 months or more.

The lower ranking dogs once they understand will not try to test, they will comply once they know what their human leader wants. If you have a higher ranking dog especially in the Alpha category you should expect a lot of tests to begin with and you can probably expect random tests every now and then till the day they pass on.

33 Repetitions

Have you ever thought your dog was being stubborn? Maybe they weren’t doing what you asked because they were being a jerk? Well that might be true. However, you will always want to consider the rule of 33 Repetitions.

With people they say it takes 21 days to form a habit.

A scientific experiment we heard for dogs stated a dog needed to do something 33 times in a row before they understood.

From what we have seen some dogs will catch on faster than 33 and a very small percentage are more than 33 times (reminded of the little dog we worked with that wanted to please so badly but never caught on with what felt like 1000 repetitions).

Remembering A to B Rule

If you remember in the A to B Rule above, we stated that whenever you increase distractions or distance, a dog will almost always make mistakes.

If you want to verify your theory of the dog being stubborn then ask yourself this:

  1. Has the dog done this command before? (Usually yes, that is why we are frustrated and thinking they are being stubborn).

  2. Have they done that command at this Distraction Level?

  3. Have they done that command with you at this Distance? (Example: A dog may sit next to you with 100 rabbits running around but will the dog sit if you gave the command to the dog from 20 feet away? Not usually.)

  4. Has the dog done all of these 33 times in a row?

There is the Key: Has your dog done this command, at this distraction level and this distance 33 times in a row?


If you answer yes then you have likely verified your dog is being stubborn.


If you answer no then it is more likely that your dog just doesn’t fully understand.

Saving You Frustration

Thinking in this manner will save you a ton of frustration. If you think the dog is automatically being stubborn you will get frustrated. This also invokes University Professor Syndrome where you think this is an easy connection but the dog has no idea.


Let’s say your dog can successfully sit at home with you at a distance of 10 feet. If you all of a sudden had a guest walk through the door would your dog listen to the sit command or would the dog get up?

Before getting frustrated you would have to ask if the dog has done the sit command with a guest walking in the door 33 times in a row successfully. This is because the variable that has changed is the distraction. Before the guest came in the distraction level was low.

Oddball Situation

Sometimes you want a dog to listen in a scenario that rarely if ever happens. To get a dog good with that scenario, the dog would have to practice in that scenario. If it is very difficult or impossible to replicate those distractions then it can be very difficult to ever get the dog to listen in that scenario.

A Way to Overcome

According to the A to B Rule you can Super Proof with other high level distractions. That may be enough to help with this oddball scenario.


A few years ago we had three dogs outside and a badger came to the corner of our house. The dogs went running over and the badger bit one dog and the dog bit the badger back and the badger let go luckily. A badger could kill a dog if they wanted to. When my wife saw this she yelled for me. I came outside and yelled the command “LEAVE IT!” The dogs scattered and my wife called the dogs into the house and I chased the badger off the property.

We have never practiced commands around badgers as they are very uncooperative to work with. However we do practice around other high level distractions and I never raise my voice when giving commands. The dogs learn that I mean business when I say things in a regular voice. If I do raise my voice, the dogs REALLY pay attention. “Uh oh, Dad is mad!”

So luckily even though we had never practiced successfully 33 times around badgers, the dogs still listened. This was due in part to Super Proofing and never yelling commands.