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Denise Fenzi
04 Oct

Finn - choosing to work

Here's Finn, an adult Golden Retriever who already knows how to work in obedience.  He is now learning how to choose to work. Note the emphasis on choice.  In Finn's first lesson with me, it took about three minutes before he even glanced at his trainer.  Today (second lesson), he not only chose to work, he chose much more quickly.    His handler is doing an excellent job; I look forward to watching their progress.

Here's the same dog 20 minutes later.  This time he is working in a more distracting area; near the bushes. He can chose to work but he is prevented from getting to the bushes by the leash.


Finn will remain at this stage for a few more lessons.  Over time, a few changes will take place.

1)  He'll be expected to turn in to his handler and to choose to work more quickly.  If he does not, he'll be returned to his crate and given another opportunity after a time out.

2)  His handler will learn to make the work very interesting, so that Finn receives an additional bonus for choosing to work.  Right now, the heeling is boring (on purpose) so Finn is choosing between earning a reward (cookie or toy or praise) and the distractions of the world.  When he masters that, he'll receive a new reason to work; the work itself will draw his attention.

3)  He'll be expected to work for extended periods of time before receiving his reward of either praise/play, a treat, or a toy.  Right now the work in only a few seconds.

As his ability to choose to work improves, so will the expectations that are placed on him.

Never confuse positive training with permissive, "slow to progress", or boring.  Good positive training has all of the qualities of good traditional training - high expectations, consequences, and both handler and dog responsibilities.


Absolutely! That is where I learned the basic concepts. I don’t’ call it CU since I have tweaked it but it is very much based in the CU philosophy of choice.

Posted by dfenzi on October 07, 2011

Hi Denise,
“When he masters that, he’ll receive a new reason to work; the work itself will draw his attention.” Can you elaborate on this statement?

Posted by Schering on October 06, 2011

I think it is the handler’s responsibility to make work fun and interesting. You can watch my youtube videos to see what that looks like. My user name is dfenzi.

Posted by dfenzi on October 06, 2011

Interesting. I am reminded of the Control Unleashed game Give Me a Break.

Posted by Ellen Clary on October 07, 2011

Nancy, if the dog is working (not finding an alternative) but without enthusiasm, then the handler needs to find ways to make the work more interesting. What that means depends on the dog. Also, if a dog is fragile (emotionally) I approach this whole thing differently – fragile dogs will work without energy because they are nervous. This dog is not fragile. But, that topic is too big to address here.

Posted by dfenzi on October 05, 2011

Love the videos. It’s helpful to watch something that’s being narrated a bit. Some time ago I tried to teach this game to Dragon but I didn’t set it up quite right and didn’t practice it enough to improve my mechanics, and then I forgot about it. On Sunday, after your seminar, I finally did a proper session with a new cue and he was catching on nicely. Now I just need to remember to actually use it!

Posted by Joanna on October 06, 2011

If the handler stays next to the dog, then she is ‘participating’ in his sightseeing. Dogs enjoy the company. I want him to make a choice between sightseeing OR mom/work not between mom/sightseeing and mom/work.

Posted by dfenzi on October 05, 2011

Denise, so what do you do when the dog works but only half heartedly? Into the crate? Also do you continue to reward with food and then gradually reward with play that you can do in the ring?

Posted by Nancy R on October 05, 2011

Melinda, you can do this for a short period of time but then you MUST make the work much harder. If not you’ll make a lazy and entitled dog. Within a few weeks, I expect Finn to be able to do full exercises before he gets anything – but if he chooses not to work then that is always an option that is available to him. The opposite of “not working” is not “do whatever you want”. It’s “go back to the house while I do something else” or “hang in your crate for a few minutes”. This is only the very first step. Finn is a very confident dog who can easily handle the pressure of high expectations applied early on. My guess is that Phoenix is the same.

Posted by dfenzi on October 05, 2011

really dumb question here. Why do you keep telling the trainer to “walk to the tail”? is this to take the trainer out of the picture in hopes the dog will look for her?

Posted by beth on October 05, 2011

Hope to see much more of their progress and the steps you applied to teach Finn

Posted by Nancy Eaheart Ripperger on October 04, 2011

I really like this approach. I spent too much time thinking I had to “make” Phoenix work when I should have been letting him choose to work.

Posted by Melinda Wichmann on October 05, 2011

I think an adult dog can figure out pretty quickly if he’s being crated for time out or just life. I’ve had no trouble using it for both. I suppose if it were a concern you could find a different type of time out, but a crate sure is easy…..

Posted by dfenzi on October 04, 2011

I’ve always been told that you only want a positive association to the crate . I realize they have to have a time out some where ! Could you shed some light on this elementary question .

Posted by Roz Merryman on October 04, 2011

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