Framing and Dog Training

I train dogs for a living and am a positive trainer.

We rely on reward and repetition and allow the dogs to make the decision.

Most people don't believe me when I tell them that leaving the decision up to the dog works better than making it for them. It just doesn't make any sense that we leave decisions up to the dogs – it goes against everything they know about training dogs.”How can they do something if I don't tell them what to do?”

Learning is a Journey

Telling a dog what to do too early short circuits the learning process.

Giving the answer to the test:

“The answer is 'C'… shut up kid, I said the answer is 'C'!”

might help the kid pass this test, but it's not learning. Change the test and failure is all but guaranteed.

Learning is a journey, it's not a destination. It happens in the preperation for the test, it's not just getting the right answer.

The reading, the research, the mistakes made in homework – that's where learning takes place. If a student makes that journey, they can pass any test.

Our clients often try to direct their dogs to do things that short circuit the learning process. They try to take short cuts to pass the 'test' (get the behavior).

This is a problem because we, as teachers, don't really care as much about this particular behavior at this particular time. We are more concerned with the learning process.

We want to give the dogs the opportunity to learn the underlying concepts so they can perform this behavior any time any where and be wildly successful, at which point we drop the cue on it. (grossly simplified, but you get the idea…) This also allows the dog to learn variations of this behavior and other similar behaviors very quickly.

If we drop the cue on it, or even worse, give a command (do this or else) too early, we get limited understanding, confusion and a high percentage of failure. Sure we might get to the answer faster, but what if the test changes? The learning hasn't happened. If the learning hasn't happened the dog has a very limited understanding of that behavior.

Jedi Mind Trick

“You don't need to see our papers.”

– Obi Wan Kenobi

The other day I was talking to my intern about why words matter in dog training and told her a trick that I use to stop people from bossing their dogs around and instead guide them on their journey. 

“Stop telling him what to do. That's his responsibility.”

As soon as it's phrased like that, Bang! problem solved.

They say OK, and demand that their dog do it without their prompting. It's really amazing.

She laughed and thought it was cool. 

We had a personal lesson (I use personal lesson instead of private lesson because I avoid conservative talking points and/or concepts as much as i can in my life.) today with one of those liberal couples that probably has a McCain / Palin sign in their yard (don't even get my started…).

I asked the woman several times to stop prompting her dog, and she could not. She kept doing it. So, with my intern sitting beside me, I said,”Stop telling her what to do. That's her responsibility. It's her job to make these decisions, not yours.” 

At which point my intern looked over and smiled at me, and we watched.

Immediately, my student stopped telling her dog what to do and instead let the dog make the decision on her own.


This is framing, folks. Did I lie to her? Did I shade the truth? Did I mislead her? Did I take advantage of her?


I simply expressed myself in a manner that activated her values. It was simply effective communication.

It works, it's powerful, it is widely misunderstood and Democrats do a miserable job of it.


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    • k9disc on October 1, 2008 at 11:06
  1. train my dogs.

    it is, for me, about building a relationship. there is learning on both sides. and educating on both sides. i suppose the only real thing i want my dog to know is when they hear my death-curdling scream, it means danger and to stop or come back or watch out.

    and i do think you’re right. the rest we figure out together.

    in fact, i’m amazed that my dogs understand so many human words. i know about three of their words/expressions: i need to go out, i am hungry, give me a snack puleassssse. oh, and i want to play. and i want to go for a walk. there’s also rub my belly. okay so, i know a few more than i thought.

    still… that doesn’t compare to the few hundred dogs know. my guy, sam. well, i had to resort to spelling or code, like “i’m taking the d(og) for a w(alk)” or where’s the d’s b(all)?

    thanks for your sweet essay.

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