Medical Alert Dog Academy

We Assist, Detect and Alert With Creativity, Persistance and Intelligence

Access To Service Corp

Access To Service Corp is a not for profit Arizona corporation created to educate the public about service dogs.

We are based in Tucson Arizona but have clients and trainers who use our educational system and training methodology worldwide.

Tools Of The Trade

Canine Game Theory

Play Training


Often the beginnings of behavior problems that one may encounter down the road with a dog, are directly related to the restrictions we put on a puppy, specifically those things a puppy does in play that we don't consider to be play - running around like a crazy dog, tugging and play fighting. You will even hear many trainers and behaviorists tell people not to allow their dog to play tug of war, and especially not to allow it to win a tug of war game, because it will cause aggression. Basically, we start confusing an animal when we stop them from doing something that they consider play but for whatever reason we don’t. dog problems arise after we have had our puppy for five, six, or seven months. Because the fascination with our “new toy” has worn off. What happens is the bond we had established, breaks. Dogs are very social animals, if we start neglecting them emotionally. We’re telling them we no longer want them in our pack. That’s how your dog sees it, anyway.

By not allowing a dog to be a dog, we are inadvertently stifling one of the most important behavioral remedies for a dog’s long-term happiness – fun - which is directly tied into any future behavior problems that your dog could develop. I've had many clients tell me that their dog doesn't know how to play. In most cases, if the owner follows my instructions, the dog will spontaneously start to play in about 6 weeks.

A dog only knows three ways to play with another animal, regardless of the other animal's species. Those three ways are play fighting, tug games and running around like a maniac while playing, ‘You can’t catch me; you can’t catch me’. I'm not including anything that is an activity that generally involves prey drive like chasing cats or pouncing on squeaky toys, only those things that are play between two or more dogs.

Many people ask about playing tug games (tug-o-war) with their puppy or dog. It is not only OK for you to play tug of war with your dog, but it is also an intricate part of your dog or puppy’s overall physical and mental well-being.

Can you let your dog win at tug-of-war?

Of course, you can, it should really be a fifty-fifty proposition. Meaning you win half the time and you let your dog win half the time. If your dog always listens to you when you tell him to stop doing something, then it doesn’t really matter who winds up with the prize most of the time. Because in my book if you have a dog that listens to you when you say “OK, that’s enough” that’s all the obedience you will ever need.

So, if the only thing that’s been holding you back all these years from playing tug games with your dog is the notion that it makes him aggressive, forget about it and start playing like a dog. You can find about a gazillion tug toys at your local pet shop, pick up a couple and have some fun.

We often prefer tugging to chasing a toy but do use both in combination. If the dog likes to chase a toy, but won’t tug, we try to develop the dog’s love for tugging so that the dog wants to end the chasing by grabbing, pulling and winning. Most times, we want the dog to grab the toy immediately when it’s presented (or when the dog is cued to “get it”).

Games of chasing, where a toy is dragged on the ground by a piece of rope, can be a really good reinforcer in many situations, mainly as a jackpot for focus and endurance. But even then, the intensity and joy will be better if the dog really wants to grab the toy.

Not all dogs automatically like a game of tug. It’s a reward that often needs to be developed. Our opinion is that it always is worth to teach the dog to play if you want to get the most out of the dog you have. The dog might not have to enjoy tugging as much as food, but he should play with high intensity when we present a toy. For some dogs, tugging will be” the motor” in training, the motivation that makes training worthwhile for the dog. For other dogs, food will be” the motor”, but they can still learn to really engage in tugging between food rewards, so that you’re able to gain from all the great things that come with tugging. And with time and good training, the dog’s priorities might change.

We feel that playing is addictive. You can starve a dog and get him to work better for treats, but it doesn’t work that way with playing. Play regularly with your dog to increase his love for playing. But don’t play for long. Always end the game when it’s at its best and make sure that you are ending the game, not the dog. You want the dog to be a bit disappointed when the game ends, dancing after you to get it to start again. That might mean that the first sessions are so short that the dog doesn’t even get to grab the toy, just chase it with high intensity, before it goes away.

Pick the right opportunity to start playing with your dog. You don’t want to present a toy and fail in getting the dog to play. It’s a common mistake to give up way to fast if the dog isn’t immediately turned on to the game. Some dogs are slow starters in the beginning, but don’t give up. Don’t try to force the toy on the dog, rather act as if the toy is really valuable to you and you’re having a lot of fun with it. Experiment with different ways to get your dog started. Pick really fun toys and make sure that there is a piece of rope or a long handle on it, so that you can drag it along the ground and get it away from your body. Turn away from the dog and drag the toy away.

You can absolutely use food to reinforce tugging and transfer the value from one reward to another. It does require good dog training skills and it isn’t my first choice. It is really important that the criteria are raised fairly fast and that the dog is really engaging in the game before the food is presented. To use few, but really attractive food rewards is better than to use many pieces of low-quality food. Timing is also really important; make sure that the dog is really into the game of tugging before you start using this game as reinforcement.  If you use food to reinforce play, it’s still important for you to be active and have fun while playing. You want the dog to find out how fun playing can be even without food rewards.

There are lots of games you can play with your dog to stimulate his mind and help keep him occupied and out of trouble. Best of all, they're fun for you, too!

What Is a Game

There have been many different definitions and attempts at defining the term "game" but for the purposes of dog training, here is a definition that fits in the instructional setting as well as for life experiences.

A game is a challenge, created by the rules that govern it, bound by the cooperation between the players of the game who all have the same purposes, intentions and focus; all of which results in a quantifiable goal.

Just so we are all on the same page, I will also define the terms used in the definition.

Cooperation-To work together toward a common goal, justly and honestly. Cooperation implies the ability to engage in communication with understanding; to be honest about intentions and purposes and the rely of information; to do one’s rightful share of the work; to effectively perform one’s job and assist in the survival of the players until the goal is reached.

Players-As an adjective, to be "game" is someone who is eager and willing to do something new or challenging with the purpose of reaching a goal or creating something new. This person is a "player". A game can have one player or multiples. These players can be working cooperatively or separately, even in conflict as a means to deter the other players from reaching the stated goal.

Quantifiable-Capable of being measured. For instance, if you were playing the game of 1-2-3-break which has the goal of the dog learning to stay in the position asked for until released, you could measure your progress with duration of stay, level of distractions, how many different environments the behavior is perfected in and the distance the handler can move away from the dog.

Challenge-A test of one's abilities or resources in a demanding but stimulating undertaking. A challenge also invites the player to learn new things, refine already known behaviors and abilities, create new pathways and new worlds thus guaranteeing survival.

Rules-A rule is a statement explaining what someone can or cannot do in a particular system, game, or situation. The rules of the game are the structure that allows the goal to be reached. Rules create the boundaries, set the tone and make cooperation inevitable.

Goal-The end toward which an endeavor is directed, an objective. Having a goal is often what differentiates between play and a game. A game can have more than one goal. For instance, coming back to the 1-2-3-Break game, there are several goals - 1) learning to stay in one place 2) waiting for a release 3) creating self-control in the face of distractions.

Purpose-The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists. Each teaching game has a stated purpose, a reason why the game is being played.

Intention- a determination to act in a certain way; to have in mind a purpose or plan, to direct the mind, to aim. Without intention, we go nowhere. It is determination in the fullest sense, almost the need to move forward.

Focus-A central point, as of attraction, attention, or activity.



Structured Games

The job of a teacher is to instruct in a manner in which the student not only understands the concept but is inspired to embrace it. This also implies communication takes place; the act of communicating is more than speaking, showing, hearing, or watching. Merriam-Webster defines communication as:

·         an act or instance of transmitting

·         a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior <the function of pheromones in insect communication>; also :  exchange of information

·         personal rapport

Starting with puppyhood, dogs learn basic skills and behavior patterns that establish how they interact with the world. Much puppy activity is designed to help them learn to focus, to follow directions, to move from one activity to another, and to develop cognitive, social, and physical skills. Early learning should develop constructive patterns of behavior leading to a strong work ethic and skills applicable to living in a human world.

Modern trainers recognize that the traditional pedagogical approach to training, whereby a dog is led through a series of basic movements and words of command, does not lead to a dog that can activity engage in their own lives in an alien environment ( our world).  This recognition has plagued dog trainers for the last few decades as science-based learning is attempting to shape dogs to live more as companions then partners in survival.

Albert Einstein believed that play was the highest form of research. Certainly it has been proven that children who are active in unstructured play, not only have more advance social skills, but also have larger vocabularies; better problem solving skills; more independence, imagination and creativity; and are more adept at risk taking than those who are less involved in play. Play provides the foundation for learning in a child's world and opens the door to a world of learning opportunities.

Play does the same for our dogs.  If left to themselves, puppies learn about their world and each other via play. Play provides for learning skills; the confidence to takes risks and learn from failure without repercussions; the ability to bounce back from hurt and unintended trauma and discovering how to move the body through the environment. 

But play isn't always enough.  Intricate behaviors that we require from our dogs need something more.  Play is an unstructured learning activity. Unstructured learning activities are open-ended. They are not rule-governed; they rely on the use of imagination to engage with various learning materials.  The reinforcement in play is just having fun.

Games are structured. Structured learning activities have a clear beginning, middle, and end. There is generally a rule or set of rules, and each piece or type of piece plays a clear role in the completion of the play activity. The materials themselves often indicate the instructional methods or skills needed to complete the task and the reinforcement necessary for motivation and repeatability are inherent in the activity itself.  That reinforcement is also fun but includes the satisfaction of breaking through the challenges of the game and reaching the goal or achieving the prize.

Varying learning activities to include structured activities, which teach dogs to follow directions to complete a task, and unstructured activities, which allow dog to explore their unique movements and style, will help them to acquire a multitude of skills.

How To Play These Games are very few trainers that teach using games.  There are rules to this type of training that you should be aware of.

1.       Do not look for perfection, you are playing a game, eventually your dog and you will gain proficiency, but for now, just play the game as instructed.

2.       Do not play for more than five minutes at a time.  You can do three or four sessions of five minutes each in any one day, but no more than five minutes per session.  This way of training is exhausting, demanding and powerful.  Five minutes is all you need.

3.       Play the games in order.  Do not skip around.  Each game builds on the ones before it.  If you skip around not only will your dog not learn the lesson, but she will get confused and you will get frustrated.

4.       Do not over think the instructions.  If you wonder if you should put your dog on a leash, read the instructions.  I will tell you when the leash is needed and when it’s not.

5.       This is not obedience; we are teaching behavior not how to sit when told.  You should be building self-control in your dog because you will not always be there when she might be tempted to counter surf or dig in the closet for your shoes.

6.       Even in your five-minute sessions, take breaks to play with you dog, just play.  A little tug after your dog does a game fantastically goes a long way to building your dog’s self-confidence.

7.       Play only one game per day.

8.       When a game calls for you to push your dog back so you can run away, you need to watch your dog’s reaction to being pushed.  Start with barely pushing your dog a quarter of an inch and watch the response.  If your dog responds well, try a little harder.  Shy dogs are not good with the push, so you may want to just run with no push. For dogs that get too excited, keep the push very light or delete the pushing.

9.       Do not correct your dog for what you consider bad behavior or the wrong choice.  Dogs do what gets them rewards and what avoids pain and discomfort.  If in the teaching process, before your dog fully understands the game, you correct him for a wrong choice, what are you teaching him?  You are teaching him to avoid this game.

Tools of the Trade - Equipment Makes a Difference

There are a zillion pieces of equipment out there purportedly for training our dogs. Some equipment is necessary in specific sports and working dogs. Agility, IPO, flyball, Treibball and others have their specific equipment needs as they are required for the sport. Service dogs, especially assistance dogs, require training for opening and shutting doors, turning lights on and off, and other various tasks. Training these tasks takes equipment. But for basic obedience and most foundation training the equipment needed is only dependent on where you are training. Mostly you can train "naked" - no equipment at all except you, the dog, some food.

Equipment and Tools for Structured Games

I'll start first with what is needed for playing these games.
1. A dog
2. A human
3. Food
4. Toys
5. Secure space

For about 10% of the games you'll need:
1. Collar
2. Leash
3. Bowls
4. Crate or X-Pen
5. A helper human

Occasionally you'll need specialty equipment:
1. Cardboard boxes
2. Platforms of some kind
3. Boards of all sizes
4. PVC pipe of all lengths and sizes
5. Some type of upright like a traffic cone or an agility weave pole
6. Hula hoops or an old hose to mark off a circular area

Scavenging through the free section on Craig's List or frequenting garage sales will garner you most of what you'll need.

Most of these games require only you and your dog and a secure space to work in. Nothing else is required. For those games asking for food or toys, they are mostly interchangeable depending on your dog. Some dogs are food motivated some aren't, not even when the food is being used as a distraction. Some dogs don't play with toys or do naked play with just the human. I had one dog who from 3 months old until 11 months at which point she passed her PhD in Canine Life and Social Skills, only wanted to be able to lick her owners face. She did not want food or play of any kind.

Structured game training is not about control, it is not about perfection or even really about obedience. It is about teaching a dog the rules of living with you, getting his understanding of those rules and his willing compliance.

Self-control is much more important than the human control of "obedience". Most methods of training are about controlling the dog; ensuring that the dog does what you ask, when you ask and how you ask him to do it. Most of those methods also use some form of avoidance to achieve a level of control over the dog and have fanciful and complicated tools to create this control. Those tools generally deliver to the dog pain or discomfort that must be avoided. The dog learns how to avoid what the tools deliver by doing the actions you "command".

So what is not needed for playing these games – ever:

1.       Prong collars – their purpose is to stop behavior, to stop movements we don't like. When playing games, we are encouraging behaviors, especially behaviors involved in gaining reinforcement according to the rules of the game. When playing games, we are not out to stop our dogs from doing anything.

2.       Pinch collars – see prong collars.

3.       Shock collars (also known as remote trainers, e-stim, stimulation collars, ForceFree™ method, e-collars, training collars, e-touch collars). Same goes for shock collars as with prong collars. The intention of these devices is to "stop" not to "encourage".

4.       Whips

5.       "Dominance" collars

6.       Choke collars

7.       Slip collars or slip leads

10.   Head halters, especially those that clip under the chin as the chance of injury is great. Your dog will be playing, which implies movement and in many of the games that movement can be intense. A head halter would only restrict that movement.

11.   Front clip harnesses or other harnesses that restrict the natural movements of a dog

12.   Clickers - I include clickers not because I feel they are "bad", they are just unnecessary as each game has as part of its components the environmental cues, the reinforcement and in many cases a "bridge" to say "you're done, come get your reward".

Honestly, I train my dogs as naked as possible, and encourage my clients to do the same. This means collars and leashes only when they are part of the game as restraint to build motivation and speed, to ensure safety or to prevent departure.

The Function of Play

Remember when you were a kid and were always playing? You often made mistakes, but those mistakes never got in the way of you trying again, trying something new, and ultimately coming to a place of success.  Dogs and other species are no different when it comes to the learning process that games and play offer.  Failure is only a platform to try harder, mistakes are only a tool for learning the correct movements and processes, frustration and stress are minimal and enhance rather than detract from reaching the goals of the game.

Why Play?

“Play is training for the unexpected.”  Marc Bekoff, Contemporary American biologist

Play does so many positive things for us in terms of learning. When we play:

·         We build skills like confidence

·         We strengthen relations with others

·         We develop creative skills

·         We problem solve and tinker

·         We learn to be flexible

People who play learn to question something, predict an outcome, and evaluate their predictions through the process of play. When we play, we persist through challenges -- and we even enjoy it. Play builds excellent social and emotional skills and helps create an atmosphere where those skills are valued. Probably one of the most important aspects of play is the way it treats failure and mistakes as non-punitive, ensuring that we have opportunities to learn from whatever went wrong. Yes, play makes failure fun. I love the use of the word "tinker" to describe play. It's serious work, but it's also fun work. Play values the process of learning as well as well as what has been learned.

The ideal of interactive, highly-engaging training and education is ancient. A Chinese proverb says: "Tell me, and I'll forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I'll understand." However, the gap continues to grow between antiquated, passive training methods and methods that engage not just the dog but the owner in an easily learned, fun system of learning. With game-based learning tools to bridge that gap comes the promise of vastly more behaved and engaged dogs and educated owners—ones who embrace learning rather than view it as a disruptive burden.

Play energizes us and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities.
Stuart Brown, MD

Anticipation is associated with interest, readiness and ultimately wonderment. Understanding is associated with empathy, skill and ultimately mastery. When I look at these emotions and descriptors, I get excited about creating them in my classroom. I want to work in a room where we create things like joy, ingenuity, awakening and even balance. I'd love to foster these elements of play by actually creating time to play.

There are other attributes of games that facilitate learning. One of these is the state of being known as play. Much of the activity of play consists in failing to reach the goal established by a game’s rules. And yet players rarely experience this failure as an obstacle to trying again and again, as they work toward mastery. There is something in play that gives players permission to take risks considered outlandish or impossible in “real life.” There is something in play that activates the tenacity and persistence required for effective learning.

There are three key moments in game play with important implications for learning. The first is when a would-be player approaches a game and expresses a wish to participate: “Can I try? Can I join in?” The second moment comes when a player asks, “Can I save it?” In other words, “I’m deeply invested in this experience, which has value and meaning, and I’d like to pick up where I left off.” The third moment comes when a player attains a level of mastery and offers advice to a novice: “Want me to show you how?” A corollary to this moment occurs in the community of practice that arises around games, when one player asks another, “How did you do that? Will you teach me?”

Why Do We Focus On Play

Play is nature’s way of getting the young to do the work of growing up. Play is a sort of super vitamin. It not only makes puppies happy, it also makes them more focused and, as a child educator argues, smarter. As she puts it: “Play builds brains.”

Play is how puppies learn about themselves, others and their universe. Play is the biggest force you have in rehabilitation for your dogs, and the thing that many people just don't really have in their toolbox!

Play is so crucial that all mammals do it. “In play,” says Peter Gray, a professor of psychology at Boston College, “young mammals practice the very skills that they must develop in order to make it into adulthood.” Young predators practice pouncing on dead leaves. It’s not “real” hunting, but it’s making them limber and quick. Meanwhile, the prey animals are practicing how to get away from the pouncers. Squirrels’ play looks like a whole lot of tag.

Why would Mother Nature program animals to frolic, even though it wastes valuable energy and puts them at danger? Wouldn’t it be safer for them to just huddle close to home all day? How come they gambol out in the open? Because play is even more important that conserving energy or hiding at home.

Basic rehabilitation for fear and stress issues involves putting your dog in a situation where there is a mild version of what he fears or what stressed him out and then making available to them pleasurable experiences that they not only enjoy but that relaxes them both mentally and physically. This is called counterconditioning, in shorthand.

Many people use food as the pleasurable experience, feeding dogs around their stress triggers, in an effort to change their internal responses to or their opinions about those triggers. But food doesn’t always work with the fearful.  It’s too dangerous to take attention units off the dangerous environment in order to eat.  The body also rejects food as the energy to digest it may be needed to flee.

Others use toys, which are also pleasurable to many dogs, and those can involve getting dogs to move around which can help with stress relief in general (when you’re nervous, it just can feel better to run around than to hold still). Since dogs tend to love at least one or the other and many love both, why do we focus on personal play so much in this class?

Why do animals play? Well, why shouldn’t they? The real question is: Why does the existence of action carried out for the sheer pleasure of acting, the exertion of powers for the sheer pleasure of exerting them, strike us as mysterious? What does it tell us about ourselves that we instinctively assume that it is?

We know at the present time that all animals, beginning with the ants, going on to the birds, and ending with the highest mammals, are fond of plays, wrestling, running after each other, trying to capture each other, teasing each other, and so on. And while many plays are, so to speak, a school for the proper behavior of the young in mature life, there are others which, apart from their utilitarian purposes, are, together with dancing and singing, mere manifestations of an excess of forces—“the joy of life,” and a desire to communicate in some way or another with other individuals of the same or of other species—in short, a manifestation of sociability proper, which is a distinctive feature of all the animal world. Peter Kropotkin

Social play has its own vocabulary. Dogs have a particular body posture called the ‘‘play bow’’ — forelegs extended, rump in the air — that they use as both invitation and punctuation. A dog will perform a play bow at the beginning of a bout, and he will crouch back into it if he accidentally nips too hard and wants to assure the other dog: ‘‘Don’t worry! Still playing!’’

Other species have play signals, too. Chimps put on a ‘‘play face,’’ an open-mouthed expression that is almost like a face of aggression except that the muscles are relaxed into something like a smile. Baboons bend over and peer between their legs as an invitation to play, beavers roll around, goats gambol in a characteristic ‘‘play gait.’’ In fact, most species have from 10 to 100 distinct play signals that they use to solicit play or to reassure one another during play-fighting that it’s still all just in fun. In humans, the analogue to the chimp’s play face is a child’s smile, an open expression that indicates there is no real anger involved even in gestures that can look like a fight.

Play is an activity that is different from the nonplay version of that activity (in terms of form, sequence or the stage of life in which it occurs), is something the animal engages in voluntarily and repeatedly and occurs in a setting in which the animal is ‘‘adequately fed, healthy and free from stress.’’ That last part of the definition — that play requires that an animal be stress-free and secure — suggests that play is the biological equivalent of a luxury item, the first thing to go when an animal or child is hungry or sick.

This is why we spend time learning how to play, in a way that is enjoyable for your dog and that he’ll do in various (trigger-free) locations away from your house. When we have this, we have both a more sensitive way to measure stress in our dogs, and we have an assurance that we aren’t picking a difficulty level that interferes with the success we’re aiming for.

Staying on task. Focusing. Creating. Cooperating. Communicating. Play fosters almost all the traits we’re are trying to develop in our dogs, especially those with reactivity or fear issues.

Play As Reinforcement


There are many things that dogs consider reinforcing. It’s said in the clicker training world and elsewhere that food is the primary reinforcer. Personally, I don’t agree with that.

The human tendency is to talk things to death. When working with our dogs, even though we also tend to unconsciously use non-verbal (body language) communication rather than spoken sounds to communicate with each other, we tend to ignore the body language and concentrate on the verbal. Dogs use body language primarily in communication. So anything verbal must be taught and conditioned.

Dogs are very aware of their environment and take most of their cues from it. This is why some trainers claim that dogs do not generalize well – meaning that learning a behavior (trick) in one place doesn’t mean they will do it elsewhere. Environmental cues are as subtle as the smells in the space where the training is occurring or as large as a piano right next to the dog. How you stand, what you are wearing, where the treats are, how you move your hands, all have meaning to the dog as part of the behavior learned.

Naked Play

I’ve said many times that I train as naked as possible. What this mostly means is that I refrain from using tools like leashes, collars of any sort, restraints and other objects. But I do use toys, food, equipment for jumping, tunneling, going around, under and through, and various other objects with the intention of teaching a dog how to live in a human created world.

Naked Play however is without all those objects. There is just you and the dog. This type of play emulates how dogs play between themselves but adds the human element. This would include games of chase, push, wrestling, and even quiet games of petting, brushing, or just laying around together.

In training, naked play would cover chase, push and wrestling. Targeting can also be used as a form of play between the dog and the human. Any movement that is joyful for the dog, reinforcing for the dog, that doesn’t involve objects of any sort, is naked play.

Naked play can be trained. Heeling games, scent games, social interactive games can all be trained to be reinforcing and later used as the reward for other behaviors and tricks. In the sports world, now that the emphasis is changing from compulsive based methods to reinforcement-based methods, naked play becomes very important as you cannot take toys or food into the ring. You can however let you dog know, with play, that she is doing a great job in between competitive exercise.

Naked play is play that occurs between you and your dog – and nothing else. There are no toys, balls, or food to provide a focal point. All of the interaction occurs directly between the two of you. This skill is difficult to master because each dog is a unique individual, requiring careful attention and study to know how best to engage; there is no formula or shortcut.

• Naked play almost always generates a good deal of shared energy and creates a bond of cooperation and teamwork. • Naked play relieves stress. • Naked play encourages natural focus because you become important. • Naked play can be used anywhere as a means of reward and reinforcement when food and toys are unavailable or unacceptable.

Object Play:

Over the decades, I’ve heard many arguments for and against playing with dogs. The most involved discussions are generally about how playing with your dog can create an aggressive dog. This is mostly apparent when talking about the game of tug. When taught respectfully and with rules, tug and fetch games are not only a great way to develop self-control in a puppy, they are also powerful trust building exercises. Puppies that trust their owners are much less likely to run off when called, to steal forbidden items and play keep away, to refuse to give up a fetch or tug toy during a game, or to become resource guarders.

Food Play

Dogs have a drive to chase prey which for our domestic dogs includes chasing toys, butterflies, leaves, and food. We can use this desire to chase increase the value of the food that we are offering the dog as reinforcement by bringing it alive with movement. The use of food in training is very common, and very advantageous. But food alone has its limits - dogs can become full, and not all dogs have strong enough food drive alone to overcome the challenges of everyday distractions. Adding movement to our food delivery skills is a crafty way for the handler to increase the energy and appeal of our food rewards in training.

Remember that the delivery of the food is what is important in these four chase games. The control positions of sit, down or stand (focus) are only necessary as something to reward/reinforce. You will see faster and faster drops into positions as you continue these games because chase is so much a part of a dog’s instincts and is inherently rewarding in itself.

Engaging your dog’s chase/prey drive during the learning cycle keeps your dog motivated and interested.

Food is considered the primary reinforcer. It is the culmination of the hunt and the scavenge. Food can be used as reward, lure, bribe, reinforcement and because of that can also be used as a distraction. Food can also get “boring”, you dog can get satiated (not necessarily full, but not “needing” anymore). In order to solve the problem of food being used as a lure or reinforcement and having to constantly switch the flavor of food being used due to boredom and/or satiation, make your food delivery resemble the parts of the hunt. Have your dog chase the food by throwing it or chase your hand while you are holding the food. This is one of the reasons that food dispensing toys are so popular, the dog has to exert some effort to get the food and think about what it takes to make the food appear.

Food play can be one of those avenues that can turn a totally play disinterested dog into a tugging fiend. Soaking toys in gravy, treating the delivery of the food like its prey, offering treat dispensing puzzle toys and putting food in Velcro lined pockets in tug toys all work to transfer the value of food as a reinforcer to toys.

Quiet Play

Play is many things. Being quiet and just enjoying each other’s company is just as rewarding and as much a learning experience for both of you as active, sweat producing play. When your dog is lying down begin by gently rubbing (like petting) him. As he becomes more accustomed to the idea, start gently massaging the back, sides, neck, then move on to the legs, head, and finally (this should be last) belly. Because by forcing a dog to expose the belly, you are forcing him to submit to you and this is the opposite effect you are trying to accomplish.

Massage Therapy is naturally relaxing and calming. By massaging the muscles, it forces the body to release endorphins and other hormones which provide an opium-like effect and causes the dog to relax. These substances (and other hormones in the body, such as adrenaline, nor-adrenaline, and corticosteroids) are associated with reactions to physical and psychological stress and adaptation to stress; therefore, it assists the brain to become more accepting of new, and what may usually be frightening, stimuli. TTouch type touches are another way to relax your dog which at the same times working out the kinks and trauma that may be locking up their energy.

Tactile rewards are rewards that involve touching your dog. Because all dogs are different, they like being touched in different ways and on different body parts. Like any other reinforcer, you can condition a dog to love being touched, but if you just experiment, you can probably find that special spot that sends your dog into doggy nirvana.

Tactile rewards, like food, do not have to be passive. Because tactile rewards are so individualized, trainers must watch their dogs carefully to have a sense of what works. Trainers that appreciate personal play spend a good deal of time simply studying their dogs, watching interactions with children, strangers, and other dogs. This time spent watching your dog is excellent both for general relationship building and also for finding the keys to engage your dog's playfulness and willingness to engage in the learning process.

Social Play

Begin socialization in areas of calm and away from excited stimuli, such as the park on a quiet day. Perform Massage Therapy on your dog on the premises where you are doing the socialization. This will help to calm him and allow him to become more accepting of new stimuli.

Introduce a puppy slowly to adults or calm children. During these introductions, be certain that children especially do not run up to a puppy causing him to startle.

As puppy becomes more accepting of new situations gradually introduce him to new and more advance stimuli; each time performing the Massage Therapy at the location where socialization is to occur. Socialization of a shy pup should be done very gradually. One set back can be very hard to overcome and put you back to square one.

Shaping With Markers

Marker training has been one of the most effective of any method I have seen in my 40 plus years of training dogs. Marker training is mostly a black and white method of indicating what is the right movements that make up a behavior.

Marker training provides a method that allows a human to communicate with his dog at the exact moment his dog does something he likes. It provides a non-punishment-based method of telling a dog that you like what he is currently doing, and you want him to continue to do exactly what he is doing at this moment in time.

The process of marker training looks something like this:

1) Get a dog

2) Decide what you are going to use to "mark" behaviors. This can be a word, a sound you make, or a sound you create with a tool like a 'clicker'.

3) Decide what behavior you wish to teach

4) Picture in your mind, or write down, the different movements that produce the final behavior that you want your dog to do

5) Watch your dog. As soon as he makes one of those movements, "mark" that movement and reward the dog.

6) Keep watching your dog. He should make the same movement, if he does, mark and reward.

7) Repeat #6 several times and then wait a little longer to see if the dog can add to the movement the next logical move toward the behavior you have decided upon.

8) Mark and reward all such movements in sequence that will finally produce the wanted behavior

For example: The first steps of Take It

1.       Final Behavior: Take the toy from the human and hold it

2.       Closest behavior the dog already does: Looks at toy.

3.       Reinforcer for each approximation that meets the criterion: freeze dried liver.

4.       Progressive approximations – Mark each time the dog attempts any step, raising criteria as proficiency is gained.

1.       Look at toy

2.       Move toward toy

3.       Touch nose to toy

4.       Grab toy with teeth

5.       Grab toy with teeth and pull away from human

6.       Hold toy for some duration without chewing

7.       Repeat previous approximation for longer durations

Capturing A Behavior

Capturing takes advantage of a naturally occurring behavior and puts it on stimulus control. For example, every time your dog sits be ready for it, and when your dog next does that behavior, mark and reward. Do this every time your dog naturally does the behavior you wish to put on cue. Once your dog is offering that behavior in order to get a reward, add the word or sound that you want to communicate to your dog that s/he is to do that behavior now. With sufficient repetition, the word or sound or even a hand movement will have your dog doing the behavior. Sometimes Capturing takes longer to establish a behavior, but it will be reliable because it is based on a behavior that comes naturally to the dog.

To “capture” a new behavior and add a cue, think of your clicker (or other marker of choice) as a camera – you are “taking a picture” of the desired behavior. For instance, in teaching a service dog to settle whenever I am sitting down eating, reading, working on the computer or talking to a friend I would:

Start in a non-distractive environment like the bathroom. I've noticed with most of my dogs that waiting for me in the bathroom seems to be a natural behavior.

I would probably grab my kindle or phone, put the seat down on the toilet and start to read.

Keeping some attention on the dog I would wait for her to sit or even lie down

Most would say mark and reward at this point, but in my experience the mark can cause the dog to get up to get the reward and I personally don't want that. So, I just toss a treat close enough to my dog's mouth (usually between the front paws) so that she doesn't have to move to get it.

Go back to reading my book, wait for more calm settled behavior

Tossing food at intervals to get duration

While I am normally a fan of short training sessions, for an exercise such as this a longer session may be recommended, particularly for very excitable dogs. Generally, a session like this may last for 15 – 20 minutes. Because I generally teach this behavior to service dogs, sessions like this, once the dog understands to settle immediately that I do, could last for an hour.

In addition to these structured training sessions, you can practice capturing and reinforcing offered settle in other situations. You may want to have treats in various rooms of your house so that you are able to quickly reinforce un-cued offerings of whatever behaviors you want in your dog.



Shaping With Games

A game is a challenge, created by the rules that govern it, bound by the cooperation between the players of the game who all have the same purposes, intentions and focus; all of which results in a quantifiable goal.

The Goal of Shaping

Shaping is about going through the steps of an action and reinforcing each step until the final action is achieved. Shaping with markers works best with those fine motor skills and intricate movements that comprise a simple behavior. Shaping with games can increase the amount of behavior that can be learned in short period of time.

Timing, criteria and reinforcement are critical in marker shaping

Timing: Are you marking at the exact moment of the action or non-action? One of the nice things about marker training is that you don't "ruin" a dog if you make a mistake. But to actually teach a behavior, the timing of the mark must be nearly perfect. This is one of the reasons clickers are thought to be best. It's a sharp, short, unique sound that can be (according to clicker trainers) done faster than any other form of mark. Personally, I'm all thumbs and never did get the timing right. My thumb would press too fast and hurt me, too slow and not make the sound, off center and the clicker went flying. But there are many great clicker trainers out there who either have better manual dexterity then I do, or they took the time to get it right. Timing a "yes" may (and that's debatable) be slower, but for me it works. I've trained things as intricate as an ear flick using only "yes" as the marker.

Criteria: This is where many trainers seem to not understand. You MUST know what the final behavior should look like and the actual actions that build that final behavior. Planning is one of the most important steps in shaping. It doesn't matter whether you are shaping with markers, lures, targets or games. Break the behavior down, understand each step. Then when it comes time to increase criteria as you are working with the dog, you know what comes next. Without the plan, your dog with be stuck in a guessing game as you try and determine whether the action he made with lead to the final behavior or not, which often causes you to miss marking a specific movement until you figure it out.

Reinforcement: This is another area, especially with beginning marker trainers, that needs work. Reinforcement should be fast and abundant; especially in the beginning stages of teaching a new behavior. Reinforcement should be appropriate. If you are teaching an ear flick, you don't want hard to chew large pieces as you will be reinforcing tiny movement which would get lost in the effort of chewing. But if you are teaching "go around", treats could be larger and more rewarding for the larger movements of the dog.

Timing, criteria and reinforcement while shaping with games.

Timing: When shaping with Games, timing is not that critical. Reinforcement generally happens at the end of the game, occasionally inside the game if there are a lot of steps to the game, and it's always what would be considered a jackpot in marker training. The entire sequence of actions is reinforced, not a series of progressive approximations. As you play the game, the movements should flow one from the other for both the human and the dog. Flow is what is critical in shaping with games, not timing.

Criteria: Criteria are planned out. Just like marker training you must know what the steps are to create the final behavior. The difference with shaping with games is that the criteria become separate games. For instance, in training a "go around". The first game would be running to the object and running back. The second game could be putting the reinforcement on the ground next to you and by using game one, the dog would run up to the object, run back and be rewarded with what's on the ground. By manipulating the environment, walking the dog through the steps of the game and rewarding each step, the dog gains understanding from the beginning. There is no guessing game.

Reinforcement: Reinforcement is large when shaping with games. You want the dog to learn that the action just performed is very valuable and could serve on its own and not just a bridge to a final behavior. The placement of reinforcement when shaping with games can be vital. You are asking your dog to play a game and showing him the "prize" that can be won if he plays the game to a win. Rate of reinforcement isn't as crucial here. If you have broken down a complete behavior into simple parts and created a game for each part, reinforcement automatically happens very fast. One of the biggest differences between shaping with markers and shaping with games is that with games there is no need for variable or differential reinforcement schedules to create motivation. The game itself takes on the value of the reinforcement and because its own secondary reinforcer. This can be seen when you teach a dog to get "up" on objects. After less than a week of "up" on various objects, your dog will offer this behavior everywhere. It becomes something that is so reinforcing, it can even be the reinforcement for other games.

How Shaping with Games Differs

End Goal: First identify the goal of your end behavior. What are you trying to train, what does the end behavior look like in your mind's eye? What are the criteria; how fast/how high/how many repetitions/how much or how little movement?

Stationary or Motion: Distinguish if you are shaping a stationary behavior or behavior of motion. The answer to the question will determine your reinforcement strategy. For example, if you are shaping a stationary behavior your goal will be to build duration for that response. Rewarding the same response but working towards extending the interval of the dog maintaining that response (a sit or down stay or holding a sit pretty). By way of contrast, if you were to consistently reward the same moment of time for a behavior of motion (always rewarding the exact same number of steps away or number of rotations around), you run the risk of turning that behavior of motion into a stationary response (the dog will predict always getting rewarded at the same place and will want to stop when he reaches that place).

Know What You Don't Want: Almost as important as having a vision of what you would like your dog to do is clearly knowing what you DO NOT want your dog to do. There are some responses that can be toxic when trying to shape your dog. That is, if these responses were inadvertently rewarded, they would make it difficult for your dog to do what you are really after. For example, imagine you are trying to shape your dog to back up away from you. You see his paws move back so you mark the response, but at the same time your dog sits. If you feed the sit, you make it difficult to get the back up; how can a dog back up when he is sitting? By knowing ahead of time what responses, you do not want your dog to offer, you will be prepared to not mark or reward the dog should your dog offer one of those responses.

Map it Out: All good training sessions start with a written plan. It is plan of action of how to get your end or "goal" behavior. Bob Bailey suggests to us all that we "Be a splitter, not a lumper." By that, he is encouraging us to chunk the vision of our larger behavior down into smaller responses that we can build separately and eventually put together to give us our targeted response. This sort of planning gives me the flexibility to move ideas around and be flexible with the elements of my plan as they move from my mind's eye to the computer planning page to the dog training session.

Manipulate Your Environment: Your first step towards you actually training the dog should be to manipulate the environment in order to set the dog up for success. Environmental manipulation reduces the number of failures your dog has, increases the success of your session as it decreases the options your dog has while working with you. In my opinion there is nothing else that is unrelated to the dog himself, that has more impact on your dog training than environmental manipulation. You can manipulate your dog training environment by:

Space: Limiting the space your dog has to work within. The larger the environment you train in, the more potential distractions to your training and the more options your dog has available to him. Keeping the environment small and sterile (without exciting distractions) helps to keep you as the focus and your training session as the focus of the dog's attention!

The steps involved in teaching a dog to do its business in a human toilet are listed below.  This shows what the progression that using games instead of shaping would be.

Potty Training

·         Put a towel on the closed seat of your toilet and a leash on your dog

·         Walk into the bathroom with your dog on leash, tap the towel and say "up"

·         If you are using a chair instead, still put the towel on the chair

·         Once your dog is up, move your body around until your dog faces you

·         Play a tiny tug game on the seat

·         Ask for "off" and walk out of the bathroom with your dog

·         Repeat without the leash until your dog is just leaping up there

·         Put the lid up. Start at the beginning and repeat all steps

You have now potty trained your dog



Some Conditions Our 

Clients Have Trained For


  • Blood Sugar Alert and Management
  • Wound Detection and Alert


  • Alert
  • Support
  • Assistance

Anxiety Disorders

  • PTSD
  • Panic Disorders

Dangerous Diseases Early Detection

  • Cancer
  • Parkinson's
  • Alzheimers
  • Kidney Disease
  • Valley Fever

Heart Conditions

  • Blood Pressure
  • Dysautonomia
  • Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS)
  • Orthostatic Intolerance
  • Neurocardiogenic Syncope (NCS) 


  • Narcolepsy/Cataplexy
  • Migraines
  • Chronic Pain
  • Allergies
  • Mast Cell Diseases