Friday, August 11, 2023

Obstacle Course Games

 Games Based Training involves coaching and concepts instead of dominance based obedience.

This is Post 3 in the Games Series!
If you haven't read Post 1: Train Smarter, Not Harder with Games or Post 2: Helping Distracted & Fearful Dogs with Games be sure to go back and visit them!

What are Canine Coaches

You may have heard me use the term Canine Coach before or if you've done any online training with me you've heard about the Crazy2Calm Canine Coaches. While many people still refer to us as the Dog Trainer (which is totally OK) this games based approach to training makes us more like a Coach. A good trainer should be able to teach each owner how to be successful as a dog/owner team. 

As a Canine Coach, it's my job to guide the owner and dog towards things that will be make life easier and more fun for both them. This might involve teaching the owner and dog how to walk nicely down the trail instead of have the dog dragging the owner down the trail. Owners come to me with all kinds of issues; biting, jumping, counter surfing, pulling on lead, barking at people...this list could go on and on. As a Coach, I will observe the human/dog interactions and make small adjustments to the way they are doing things, giving them a change to improve bit by bit over time. Just like humans, dogs can't change their habits over night and big changes take more time to learn. Small changes that feel good and often natural can make the world of difference for my clients.

One of the ways we help the dog and owner make small changes into new habits is to set up obstacle courses designed to help them practice the new skills they are learning together.

Building Obstacle Courses

Check out this video of Canine Coach, Faith playing with her dog Echo on an Obstacle Course

Obstacle course make learning fun! We all learn better when we are having fun!
Obstacle courses improve teamwork as communication becomes more clear!
Obstacle courses build good habits that often reduce the chances of bad behaviors happening!

Gone are the days where most owners desire to dominate over their dog with an iron fist. Today people have dogs because they love having them around and simply want to co-exist successfully together. While dogs have lived with humans for thousands of years, that doesn't mean they are born knowing how to navigate or survive in this human based world. This is why puppies bite, jump, steal food and many other bad habits that drive owners crazy. 

Dogs with bad habits are not bad dogs! They simply haven't learned the behaviors their owners love. Instead of a team that works together, dog and owner sometimes work against each other without realizing it. 

Often this is due to a communication gap or language barrier. A good Canine Coach will help you bridge that gap and develop teamwork that leads to better communication, increased skills, and become a stronger team. 

Obstacle courses can be set up to teach just about any skill or concept you want to teach your dog. Start with defining the overall goal for the obstacle course.

"I want to help my dog earn reinforcement for walking in the heel position while having fun!"

I created a game with buckets, similar to horse barrel racing, where teams can practice heel and turning around corners/objects in a predictable or unpredictable pattern. Some dogs do better when they can predict what the owner will do, while other dogs focus better if they don't know what's happening next. The bucket heel zone obstacle allows us to figure out what the human can do to make heeling easier for the dog to succeed. You can also build some speed variation into the bucket game for dogs that like speed or humans that want to make it more challenging.

Once you have your first set of obstacles to practice your main goal, I'll also set up a few other obstacles that my dog has already practiced and does well it. Then you can spend 1-3 minutes doing the bucket game, move on to perhaps a parkour station, then maybe some mat training or basic obedience stations, then circle back and repeat. This can help keep your dog engaged and having fun longer with a mix if mini-sessions, under 3 minutes each, then rolled together in a longer session or 10-15 minutes.

Obstacle Course to Teach Cues

Any good trainer to tell you to avoid using a verbal cue until your dog is good at the behavior. Using a cue for heel before your dog knows the position can add confusion to your training. Playing games such as doing obstacle courses that rely on your dog staying in heel can build the excitement and reinforcement history for that skill, then slowly you add in the verbal cue while the dog is doing the skill correctly.

My SDiT Rosalind struggles with getting her leash tangled on everything, including herself! I've always taught my dogs directional cues by capturing the direction changes on walks with a verbal cue. As an adolescent Roz is way too distracted on walks right now to learn these cues. To make it easier, I set up an obstacle course at the Training Center to teach her the concept of going the same way around things as I do. This helps me to teach the left, right & follow cues that will help us navigate public spaces together as a team instead of every man/dog for themselves.

Canine Coaches are happy to help!

Canine Coaches have lots of great games to teach all the skills you and your dog need. We want you to succeed and therefore we are committed to modifying our games based on all the individuals (human and canine) involved. 

Games grow Concepts
Concepts grow Skills
Skills grow Confidence
Confidence grows Optimism
And Optimism grows Resilience.

If you're ready to start playing the games to help your team grow, reach out to our Canine Coaches so we can help you create the teamwork you've always wanted between you and your dog. Reach out to us at and we will find a package that will work for you!

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Games Help Distracted & Fearful Dogs

Games Help Distracted Dogs

These 3 dogs (Azul, Roz, & Maverick) are all Service Dogs which means they need to be able to focus on the job no matter what is happening around them. Many dogs are easily distracted in the presence of other dogs. Games such in this picture can help dogs learn to focus around distractions. This is a calming game to help the dogs relax after a play session. Their job is to stay on their station and listen for their name to be called to release them. It may sound simple, but it's not easy for dogs that were just racing around.

Games can be set up differently depending on your overall goal. You can set up something with lots of movement if you want to get your dog responding to cues more rapidly or your can set up something with very little movement if you want your dog to calm down. For dogs that struggle with rebounding after something really exciting or fearful, you can design games that start fast and slowly switch tracks to calmer, slower activities.

Often people get stuck on thinking a dog will rest when they get tired, then give dogs more exercise when bad behaviors start to happen. Sometimes a puppy chewing on your shoes needs a walk or play time, but sometimes that puppy chewing on your shoes really needs a nap but does know yet how to settle. Just like children, dog's do not come pre-installed with an off switch. Thankfully games can be used to help teach a dog calming behaviors that they can do without destroying the house. You wouldn't go on a roller coaster or something really exciting that gets your adrenaline up, then simply lay down for a nap. It's not really fair to expect our dogs to do that on their own either.

As in the picture above, the dogs became really aroused or excited by playing with each other. They played roughly 20 minutes in the Go-Go-Go mindset. When they'd had enough, they came to me for human interaction. All 3 dogs followed me around the Training Center while I gathered the stations. This took them from a running state of adrenaline rush down to a slower but still moving state of mind. Once the stations were set up, they all chose their own station. I started with simply asking them all to come to me for a treat, then get on a station for a treat, having them all move back forth. Then we slowly transitioned to everyone holding their position until their name was called to come get a treat and return to their station. All of this was taught with previous games starting with 1 dog at a time.

This brings me to another point in why we need to use games for training, No matter what game you set up, there is always a way to make it slightly harder, slightly more entertaining, slightly more reinforcing for the dog. Games always start simple and build up! Watch this cone game with Azul to see how we start with a simple Go Around.

In this Movement Puzzle the frisbees represent a start and stop place where reinforcement will be delivered. The cones start out really close together so Azul can learn the basics of going around. Then the cones start to move out further apart to work on the concept of working at greater distances. Azul struggles when I change things to quickly, so I have to change my game set up to make it easier. This meant I had to get another cone to fill the empty space so he didn't take a short cut. Azul already knows the cue to go around but he's never played this game before so he's moving slowly. At the end Azul tells me he is done with this game by going in between my legs. This tells me he wants to play his favorite game of moving together as a team with Azul standing between my legs. We are a bit out of camera range for this game, but I think you can tell what we are doing.

Games Help Fearful Dogs

When Lana first came into the Yooper Paws Training Center she was extremely scared, timid and barky! Like many owners, Lana's person didn't quite know what she was getting into when she agreed to give Lana a home. While Lana's person knew a great deal about training Aussies, she needed help figuring out how to deal with the fearfulness. We spent 6 sessions building up Lana's confidence around other people and dogs, teaching Lana how to process the threats in the environment better and how to communicate her needs to her person. Lana's person learned to read Lana's micro movements to better predict when Lana would feel the need to lash out in a barking frenzy. Helping Lana feel safe, calm, and happy in the environment was our goal.

Lana and her person now join in on the Wednesday morning walks almost every week. She used to bark at the sight of one dog, and now she walks with 3-5 other dogs successfully. On our Distracted & Fearful Dog Walks, we stop to play games throughout the walk. We use games that help dogs learn to walk passed other dogs on the trail, learn about being the leader of the walk and following other dogs, explore the environment, and focus on their person when requested. Lana and her person display awesome teamwork on these walks as they support each other along the trail.

We also introduced Lana to nosework! This one thing of learning how to use her nose to find an object of interest or a specific scent has helped Lana tremendously. Lana went from barking and asking to leave the Training Center to now wanting to run into the training center for some fun. I try to always have some good things for Lana to sniff, lick, and chew when she arrives so that she can have some safe exploration time. Then we set up for our nosework session. Check out this video that shows a simple set up where Lana is trying to find the scent in a box.

Lana sure makes finding the scent look easy! Many times she goes right to the box with the scent without even questioning the other box. Since Lana is still working on confidence building we provide lots of searches where she can easily be successful. The video above is just a short clip of the session, if you want to watch the full video it is over 20 minutes long and available on the Yooper Paws YouTube Channel.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Train Smarter With Games

Training Smarter, Not Harder with Games & Puzzles

When people come to their first session at the Yooper Paws Training Center, they are often surprised by our training style. I hear things like, "This is so much fun!" "This is so easy!" "All we do is play games!?!?" As positive reinforcement based trainers, we want to teach dogs what TO Do vs what NOT to Do. Playing games based on teaching skills and concepts allows us to heavily reinforce the behaviors we want. If we use reinforcement the dog wants, getting behaviors becomes much easier. Teaching in a way that both owner and dog have fun, makes learning so much easier. For those who are not familiar with Games & Concepts Based Training let me break it down a bit.

Watch this Movement Puzzle with Azul

Movement Puzzles are designed to reinforce skills we want our dogs to be good at while teaching concepts that can be applied to life skills.

In this puzzle all Azul has to do is put his front paws on the trampoline and return for a treat. I start by standing really close to the trampoline and using hand targets to guide Azul back and forth. Once Azul has the idea, I slowly back away from the trampoline. This is to teach the concept of sending the dog out to do a job and returning to their handler once the job is done, creating long distance work.

This is Azul's first time doing this puzzle so he's moving pretty slow, but with a few sessions he will start to build up some speed.

For dogs that find speed and movement reinforcing, the game becomes so fun that they don't even realize they are learning.

Here is Roz doing the same puzzle.

Roz has done 4-5 sessions already so I can build distance and speed much faster with her. I can also slow down my rate of reinforcement faster with her because she already knows and loves the game.

Games based dog training allows us to repeat behaviors without acting like a drill sergeant or forcing a dog to do something they don't want to do. We can play the game using body language to guide the dog to the behavior we are after without giving any cues. Then once the behavior is well known we can associate a verbal cue to request the behavior. By training this way, we avoid punishment when our dog struggles doing a behavior they are still learning. We can reinforce a behavior that's almost correct and slowly shape that behavior to the skill level we want.

Since learning this way is fun for both owner and dog, they are more likely to practice by playing the games between sessions. And your dog trainer can always tell if you've practiced or not!

Let Yooper Paws of Love or the Crazy2Calm Canine Coaches help you learn how to set up puzzles to train the skills you want your dog to have! Email us at

Continue to Post 2 in the Games Series to learn about helping distracted & fearful dogs with games.

Adding More Enrichment

As dog owners, we use reinforcement to reward our dogs for the behaviors we like. Enrichment is often confused as being an extra great or j...