Why Adding Structure to a Training Session helps your Reactive Dog

These are all key skills that dogs need to be able to walk on a lead without pulling, barking, spinning or biting. Key skills that make our dogs easier and safer to live with.

Dogs are observant animals, they notice so many little details about us when training, that we need to respect this and commit to being detailed in return. I structure a training session with my:

  • Start session cues

  • Working together, during a session, cues

  • End of session cues

  • Free time between session cues.

Once you are in a routine, you will see how easy these cues are to implement and how quickly the dogs respond. The benefit of these simple routines is that the dogs are learning to manage their own arousal levels; getting excited when a session is going to start, remaining focused during a session, and switching off after a session. These are all key skills that dogs need to be able to walk on a lead without pulling, barking, spinning or biting. Key skills that make our dogs easier and safer to live with.


The routines encourage our dogs to stay connected and aware of our actions without the need to continually verbally prompt. These are the key skills a dog needs to be able to recall successfully when off lead.





Start session cues - I am not training until I focus on my dog. Focusing looks like, turning towards to the dog, looking to them animating and speaking positively. Before this I would expect my dogs pick up the cues that training is about to begin and start to respond. You can expect your dog to start becoming interested and looking for opportunities to train once you begin to collect your food and equipment together. In fact, class participants would comment that their dogs began to get excited when they started to pack their training bag, long before they left home!





Working together cues – my focus stays on my dog. I have made a promise that I am training, and that rewards are available. It would not be fair of me to take a phone call, stop to answer a question or walk away to turn the video camera on. Any hesitation or disconnection on my part risks negatively impacting on my dog.





End of session cues – I show my dog my empty hands, say ‘that’ll do’, laugh, make a fuss of my dog, pick up equipment etc. I can put my dog on a lead by my feet, send my dog to a resting target or allow dog free time. Not all dogs need end of session cues but I have found they give my anxious rescue dogs clarity which allows them to relax.






Free time between session cues – my body language has changed, my focus is redirected towards my notes, watching the video back or planning the next session. The contract with the dog has changed, they are on their own time. If I let my dog roam freely, I cannot seek to control their actions as well. If my dog is likely to make a mistake, I can tidy up to make the environment dog safe, shut doors or manage the dog’s movements with a lead or resting place, to honour the deal.






Whilst putting in these simple but detailed routines may seem like extra work, I do know that they will make a positive impact on your dog’s behaviour away from training, boost your dog’s confidence, improve your training sessions and build that deeper connection we are all looking for.



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