Ahimsa Dog Training, Seattle

Marley to Lassie in 7 days – How to Be the Center of Your Dog’s Universe

Does your dog pull on leash or not come when called? Do you wish your dog would listen more? Follow our daily plan below to jump-start your dog training. Your dog won’t actually be Lassie yet, but you will have a lot more focus than you do right now. Focus is the essential foundation before you can train anything else.

For this exercise, we use either a clicker or a word, like “yes,” to mark instant that your dog earns a reward. Every time you mark (click or say, “yes,”) you owe a your dog a tangible reward, like a food treat or toy. (Read more about clicker training). When you mark a behavior, give your dog the reward within a few seconds.

Days 1-2: Mark and Reward every time your dog looks at you on his own.

The idea is to catch your dog focusing, and pay handsomely. Try to mark the exact instant he turns his head toward you, so that you are rewarding the choice of turning his head.

  • Tip 1: If you’re not going to train for a spell, either put him in his crate or tell him “All Done” and when you’re ready to train again, say his name and click/treat the turn toward you. I recommend not doing this while you’re eating your own dinner. That’s a perfect time to say “All Done” – meaning no chance for rewards until further notice.
  • Tip 2: Use your dog’s food in quiet places, like in the living room, and better rewards when your dog does it around distractions. We call that “hazard pay.”
  • Tip 3: Don’t forget to praise your dog!

Days 3-4: Mark and Reward about every other time your dog looks toward you.

We are now weaning off the treats a little. Continue to use praise for most head turns or eye contact.

  • Tip 1: Every time you mark, you still reward, you just won’t be marking as much.
  • Tip 2: Get a little picky – click for the faster head turns or whatever is somehow ‘better.’

Days 5-7: Wean off of the treats.

Be unpredictable, rather than paying for every 3rd glance. Make it random, but mark & reward about 1/3 of the time. Then 1/4 of the time, then 1/5. Do it gradually, so that your dog won’t suspect the odds are getting longer.

Vary the type of reward, too, and where it comes from. Mark and then pull a hidden toy out of a tree or off of a shelf. Mark and pick up a stick to toss.

After that, carry treats on you for a while anyway, so your dog doesn’t get the connection that no food = no rewards.

Training your dog to focus is just a foundation, but it’s essential that you get this before you train other things. Use this new Lassie-like focus to train other skills. And any time your dog needs a little boost, go back to this 7 day plan and you’ll get your Lassie back on track!

For more ideas on keeping your dog quietly focused, say in class, read my “Stop Barking” page.

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37 Responses to “Marley to Lassie in 7 days – How to Be the Center of Your Dog’s Universe”

  1. Sandi Curry Says:

    Grisha, when I first read this post my initial thought was, “getting consistent focus after only 7 consecutive days of training? I’d be happy if I had achieved that with Zeke after 7 consecutive WEEKS of training!” We now are on Month 8 of near-daily clicker training. We started in a confined area of the house, moving to short sessions on a nearby block that is void of his triggers, which are in ascending order of freakout; joggers, cyclists, other dogs and squirrels. I get consistent focus on the trigger-free block, but receive his focus only about 25% of the time during walks in “the real world”, where he gets the high reward treat of braunschweiger dispensed from a tube.

    That being said, we have made progress in significantly reducing his reaction to all the triggers with the exception of squirrels. However, even though I click, treat and praise profusely for the eye contact I do receive on 25% of the walk, sometimes I believe he thinks his job is to scan the environment as a way of protecting me, like a Secret Service agent who is supposed to be looking at everything BUT the President! Could that be true?

  2. Catherine Says:

    Day 1: Went to the kitchen for some treats for Jake and had his immediate attention, so clicked and treated as soon as he started following me and staring at me. He is now conked out as I type this, will look to click and treat again as soon as he looks at me again.

  3. Catherine Says:

    Day 2: Jake varied between staring at me on our walk this AM and intensely focusing on the dogs and joggers we encountered. All looks at me were well rewarded. For awhile I wondered if he’d get a permanent crick in his little dog neck.

  4. Dana B Says:

    I’m going to start lassie training tonight— A Question before I start… In the house Yogi looks at me all the time when I have treats and a clicker, should I put a cue to this? like “focus” or “me”?

    He’ll just follow me around like a shadow when I have treats out. Is it more of a incognito training, where I get out the treats but wait half an hour until I start clicking and treating for his attention? should I be walking around or staying put. I mainly want to use this to get his attention when we’re walking or when I want him to do tricks/ training outside of my living room.

  5. Grisha Says:

    Great question, Dana! Yes, incognito is best. I like having the treats in little jars around the house, so you’re not carrying the food on you. Then either click (good to hide it in your pocket) or say ‘yes’ and run together to the jar to get a treat. Even kibble (regular dog food) works if you’re around the house.

  6. Grisha Says:

    Hi Catherine,

    It sounds like it’s already coming along well! If he’s having trouble disengaging from the joggers/dogs, see what you can do about walking a little further away from them – crossing the street or arcing into the swale instead of walking directly at them. Not walking directly at each other is one way dogs signal good intentions, like a white flag.

  7. Dana B Says:

    Day 1 When I walked him around the neighborhood, I usually have a tough time getting him focused right away (takes him 10 minutes to get over the fact that he’s outside!). I started immediately clicking and giving him treats all during the walk when he turned and looked at me, he stayed much closer and didn’t bite/tug the leash once. However, there were zero distractions this time (no bikers, walkers, dogs) besides the glorious smells in the grass and some dogs barking on the other side of fences, which have never bothered him much to begin with.

    Today I plan on doing this method when we go outside for potty breaks (he loves looking for the stray cats) and at the dog park.

  8. Dana B Says:

    Day 2
    Turns out he doesn’t pay attention to me while going outside for potty breaks, but I did my best and he didn’t catch on very well. Around the house – once he figured out that he got treats by paying attn to me he just layed down at my feet in his eager-look-i’m-laying-down that turns into i’m not getting treats fast enough-bark. so i sent him home (crate) and that ended the lassie training for the day.

    Day 3
    Our walk went very well again, a little leash biting, but other than that he did well with distractions (trash, a few dogs not on leashes) he either ignored it or in the case of the dogs he sat and waited for them to come barreling down the street towards him, but when that was over he gladly followed me again. I cut back on the treats, it didnt’ seem to have much effect, I’m going to still treat him generously when he looks at me on the potty breaks since he doesn’t do that.

  9. Lauren Fanning Says:

    HI Grisha, So, I had a couple of false starts with Gracie because of work interruptions. We are starting today in earnest and I have a question. Gracie is very food motivated and is responding very well. So, well, it is more like begging some of the time. Certainly, she is focusing on “me”. Should I just consider this as part of the process or can I make some distinction without risking extinction.


  10. Grisha Says:

    Hi Lauren,

    Thanks for trying this out. It will sort of have the same feel as ‘begging,’ because it’s a lot of focus. If you’re eating your own food or want her to leave you alone for some other reason, give her the ‘all done’ hand signal (show empty hands, rotating wrists), say ‘all done’ and ignore her. Since she’s doing so well, if you can keep the treats off of you so that’s not the cue for focus, that’s better. The treats are in jars on shelves or whatever so you have quick access, but not physically on you as you walk around.

  11. Grisha Says:

    Hi Dana,

    Sounds good! On Day 2 when you sent him to his crate for barking, that’s just fine. You can start up again when he comes back out or you can also say that he’s good enough indoors and it’s time to mostly work outside.

    When you say cutting back on the treats didn’t have much effect in the day 3 report, you mean he was still working well or that the treats didn’t have an effect in the first place? It sounds like the former (which is good), but I just wanted to make sure.

    On the potty walks where he’s not focusing, that may be ok, since he needs to get to the task at hand instead of looking at you. But if you do need more focus, work on the Lassie stuff inside for a few minutes, moving around inside, then out on the porch, etc. That’s a lot easier for him to succeed than doing nothing, going outside into the distractions, and only then looking for attention.

    Great job.

  12. Grisha Says:

    That’s funny, yes, he’s a secret service agent protecting you!

    A week to Lassie is too much to ask for, but 7 days is enough to start building a strong foundation and for people to see great progress. Also, perfect practice makes perfect, not just practice. So the thinner you slice the problem, the faster the progress will be. Each ‘next step’ should be easily achievable for the dog. You want a nice steady ramp up, rather than several giant steps to climb. Does that make sense?

    So you’re getting consistent focus on the trigger-free block. If he’s only succeeding 25% of the time in the real world, then that’s too big of a leap. What’s “Trigger Free Block + 1” ? Maybe one step off of the block? Maybe toy on the ground in the block? I’m a huge fan of setting out your own distractions. A loaf of bread is a great training partner.

  13. Catherine Says:

    Sorry not to post for awhile. It is going well with Jake on focussing, not that he was bad about that before. We are at the point of every third or fourth time he looks at me, he is treated.

  14. Grisha Says:

    Hi Catherine, so that’s Day 5? Thanks for doing this experiment. Would you say you’re getting any more focus than, say, last week?

  15. Dana B Says:

    Days 4/5
    Yogi is doing really well on walks, we hit more distractions and when I stopped walking b/c he was pulling he’d look at me, click, treat/praise, and then he’d forget about why he was pulling and hold his gaze a little longer (yay) – enough for me to get him back to walking and not pulling.

    As for potty breaks, he goes potty then I just do a quick little walk around the complex, he looked at me once yesterday, then today he was looking at me at every chance! it was great, and easier to pull him away from searching for cats.

    At the dog park, no big difference, he’s always been a dog that checks in with me from time to time and never loses sight of me :).

    I’ve been working on upping my praises and lowering the quantity of treats, which is hard since I’m so used to treats for everything!

  16. Lauren Fanning Says:

    After day 2 of rewarding Gracie whenever she looks at me, she seems to be much more routinely focused on me and what I am doing, and sometimes very much so. We have friends staying with us in our studio and they have a dog who can benefit from the same training. So, whenever she is with me, I am doing the same with her (Caity). Since they have a different concept of consistency, I am not sure how much it will help, but I believe dogs can learn situational behavior. If I expect and behave better, she will do better, even if she goes home to a more laissez-faire envirorment. Gracie is 14ish and ran her little legs off yesterday like she was a pup. So she may sleep most of today.

  17. Ann Says:

    Decided to start Day 1 Saturday rather than Friday. I had been out of town for 8 days and dog was staying at my boyfriend’s. Since I’ve returned he seems very UNfocused on our walks – more than usual.

    Day 1 – Sat. He is not looking at me much except when he sees his triggers or something that he is not sure about (person he’s not sure about, dog barking from behind fence that he’s not sure about, certain bicyclists.). This is good but the fact that he is barely looking at me otherwise is a little odd. Stopped a couple of times to wait for him to turn and look at me. He did not always do it, even when I said his name. (We also did a Greenlake exercise with other dogs on leash and he was very good about focusing on me – maybe it was the steak and hot dogs but who cares. I was pleasantly surprised.)

    Day 2 – Sun. Still not much focus on me. (A little perplexing.) I have been stopping and waiting for him but he does NOT look at me more often than he does look at me yet he does seem to be aware of me, just not looking. (Again, except for his triggers and things he’s not sure of – which is very good.) Even when i say his name, he is only looking at me about 1/2 the time which is much less than he was doing before. He is being very sniffy and wants to mark everything. Most of the time I can call him away, but sometimes not.
    Yet, overall, he is fairly calm, just seems more interested in the surroundings.
    What’s up with this? Is it because we have not been walking in our neighborhood recently? Maybe I should start Day 1 again tomorrow. There’s not much to cut down on in terms of treats.
    Ann (& Obi, formerly known as Lucky)

  18. Grisha Says:

    Hi Ann,

    Since you are having a set-back from being gone, a repeat of day 1 is a pretty good idea. Let me know how it goes!

  19. Dana B Says:

    I’ve been stuck at days 3/4 but introducing him to more distracting environment, he’s very food motivated so heavy praises he doesn’t hold much value for (at least that’s what what my impression has been!). I tried at our training sess, more distracting walking/ running routes, and at the dog park. not an amazing improvement, but he is focusing on me a lot more during our walks (even our potty breaks now too and not just cats!) — I’d love to get him to focus on me during training classes, he forgets I’m there, but tonight I plan on upping greatly the value of treats I have and hopefully get him to listen better.

  20. Grisha Says:

    Good luck tonight! Hope for the best, but don’t feel too let down if he’s not ready for it yet. There’s a big jump in the distraction level from regular walks to being in the training center. Extra-tasty treats do make that choice easier for them!

    If he loses focus during class, you can always switch back to the Lassie work and skip what the class is working on. And we have visual barriers there, too, if you need them to make his choices easier.

  21. Ann Says:

    Day 1 (again) Monday: So far kind of same. Looking at me a little but not a lot. Does seem aware of me (if I say ,”Let’s go”, “over here”, he comes – except in case of cat smell or actual cat.) Just click and treat everytime he does look at me. Am going to try some in yard practice before our next walks to get him “in the groove”.

  22. Grisha Says:

    That sounds good, to do the practice first to get him in the groove. I’d also look at the value of your treats. Bits of low-fat string cheese compete better with the environment than kibble, for example. Doing it before breakfast versus after also helps, or playing fetch for 10 minutes before you leave the yard can also take the edge off. Good luck!

  23. Ann Says:

    Day 2 – Wed. Slightly better. But when very distracted/sniffy doesn’t look at me even when I call his name. Did start to treat even when he turned a little. Will continue today as Day 2 – don’t think we’re ready to wean off the treats yet. And, I’m using pretty high value treats – Steak bits and/or hot dogs for high distractions and dried lamb lung & freeze dried liver.
    (p.s. Tuesday he was with my boyfriend most of day and he took him on most of walks so i didn’t count that day as day 2.)

  24. Grisha Says:

    Good plan with not weaning off of the treats yet. You’ll want to keep rewarding a lot until you have the behavior where you want it, then start weaning off of the treats. Permission to go back to sniff can also be a good reward, sometimes better than steak!

  25. Ann Says:

    Day 3 – Thurs. Was a little better – think he is paying a bit more attention again. I tried using non-food reward – letting him go check out whatever he was focused on. When he looked at me I gave the “go ahead. check it out”. But then I remembered the problem I had with this when I was using it earlier. I was practicing the “Say please protocal/premack” principal”. We were practicing it and he seemed to be getting it but then he started doing a quick glance at me (ok), then a quick turn around and take off after whatever it was he was focused on, with me barely attached to the other end of the leash. (not ok). Kind of like, “ok, see, i’m looking at you. Bye, Vroom!”. That’s when I started to use touches or sits instead. He tends not to do that, especially with touch.
    But overall, I do think he is a little more focused. Though not ready to wean off treats yet.

  26. Ann Says:

    Day 4 (fri) & 5 (sat):
    Friday morning was great. Obi kept on looking at me for about 3 blocks on our morning walk. In fact he would barely stop looking at me. It was kind of fun and i kept laughing because when he was looking up at me he looked like he was smiling and prancing. He just looked very happy. The remainder of the day walks weren’t quite on the same level but I do feel like he is back to paying more attention to me. It was a little easier to get his attention when he wasn’t too distracted.
    On Saturday I felt again like he was paying more attention to me. Still a little hard to get his attention when he gets super distracted (like a cat or scent). But he did actually walk by a cat (with a much prompting and treating) so I am very happy with that! And it really feels like he is focused on me. Even just when walking – he seems to be following my lead and when i say, “this way.”, he seems to be responding a little more quickly.
    On both days I have still been clicking and treating all looks/pay attentions. Have not weaned off treats yet.

  27. Jennifer and Mari Says:

    Lassie Training Day 1. We tried doing this while out on our walks (I have a high-energy dog and no fenced yard, so we walk A LOT) and noticed an immediate difference. Mari was suddenly healing! Yay! Ok…so she wasn’t healing the whole while and she was still prone to distractions (seeing other people and other dogs), but healing even at intervals without her Gentle Leader lead is new for us. Around the house, I didn’t notice her looking at me much but have been rewarding when I can.

  28. Jennifer and Mari Says:

    Lassie Training Day 2. Again noticing benefit on our walks. Today, even at times during high-distraction areas (i.e., the pet store), Mari was more attentive, mellower, and willing to heal more than usual. Working on Lassie Training at home remains more of a challenge for us, especially since Mari is very food-motivated. Once Mari knows I have access to food, she is very attentive, looking at me constantly, and sometimes whining. And there are places (i.e. the kitchen) where she always has looked at me, and I didn’t feel like these looks were reward worthy. (Sorry, Mari!). So, I’ve tried to be discerning and only reward her when she looks at me without begging for a treat. Alas, this hasn’t yielded many indoor treats.

  29. Jennifer and Mari Says:

    Lassie Training Day 3. Still haven’t totally captured the magic of indoor lassie training, but all in all am liking it. I feel like we have bonded more over the last few days. Wish I had done this when I first got her. She seems less hyper too, which is lovely.

  30. Jennifer and Mari Says:

    Lassie Training Day 4. Day 4 put a strain on this neighborhood of Lassie-town. It was the first day of doing Lassie Training and me working away from home. Our morning walk went ok. And she got a mid-day walk with the dog walker. But on our evening walk, Mari was hyper and distracted. I was distracted (…and maybe hyper…you’d have to ask Mari). Lots of pulling on the leash despite the Lassie treats. Then we encounter the biggest distraction ever: two neighborhood white dogs that make Mari go crazy…she likes them; she really likes them. So 3/4 way through the walk, I ended up throwing in the towel and making her wear the gentle leader nose harnass the rest of the way.

    Still feeling good about the exercise. But in terms of this experiment, should we repeat day 4? In any event, I’m not really feeling like weaning off treats yet.

  31. Jennifer and Mari Says:

    Lassie Training Day 5. All is well again in Lassie-town. We had two nice walks today and Mari continues to improve her heeling. Started to wean off the treats a bit.

  32. Jennifer and Mari Says:

    Lassie Training Day 6 and 7. Overall, I love Lassie Training and will continue giving treats in intervals when Mari looks at me. While Mari isn’t exactly Lassie yet, her heeling has improved about 60%. That’s a lot for a week! The other day in a book store a woman exclaimed “what a nice, well behaved dog.” LOLOLOL. No one haaaas ever said that to us before. Next stop: Dream Dog training.

  33. Grisha Says:

    Great job, Jennifer. It sounds like you’re well on your way to Lassie-dom. 🙂

  34. Lori Says:

    OMG after only one session Zoloft is laying down and staying for a treat. I have moved the treat farther away and made him wait a few seconds longer before he gets it.
    also he will now drop his slobbery toy for me to throw again instead of running away with it.

    Yeah click and treat!

    Looking forward to solving the jumping issue though I have heard that it’s just part of being a portuguese water dog. hope we can modify this behavior before the November rains come.

  35. sally marquis Says:

    I have two dogs: Ozzie, who has just started basic manners, and Tipper, who is a 10 year old almost deaf/blind spaniel. Here’s my challenge: Tipper is terrified of the clicker. Whenever I use it, he panics. Otherwise, he’ll do anything for a treat, except when he hears the clicker. I’ve tried treating with the clicker, but he is absolutely dead set against coming near that sound. He’ll run away with tail down and not return for quite some time when he hears it. This behavior makes training Ozzie using a clicker impossible when Tipper is anywhere near us. What I’m doing is to separate and train, but this makes consistent training as you suggest impossible. Any ideas for dealing with this? And for dealing with two dogs? Thanks!

  36. Grisha Says:

    Hi Sally,

    1. At home, just use a verbal marker with Ozzie, like “Yes.” Use that whenever you would click. Always pair it with food or toys, etc., just like the clicker.

    2. Slowly get Tipper used to the clicker, so you can eventually train Ozzie with the clicker at home. Tipper might be afraid of it because it’s one of the only noises she can hear. Here’s an article on what to do when dogs are afraid of the clicker and you want them to get used to it.

    Good luck!

  37. Christine Scott Says:

    Hi. I have 2 dogs and would like to start the Lassie training. Can I use a clicker in the 2 dog scenario? If I clcik when one of them is doing the correct beavior, will the other think I am rewarding her behavior too? I am afraid that when I click for one dog doing something good, the other dog may be doing something not so good and now I have inadvertently reinforced her bad behavior.




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