Puppy Kindergarten Week 1
Week 1 Skills:
- Introducing the Paw Pad (luring first, then stepping on without lure)
- Impulse Control – Introduction to Ground Tethering
- Body Handling
- READING: “YES” Marker Word
PAW PAD: Introducing the Paw Pad
Goal Behavior: Puppy stands with front feet on Paw Pad and maintains a STAND
position in a straight line alongside the handler.
Why: This is the foundation training for the HEEL position.
- In a quiet location, place Paw Pad next to a wall that will be on the puppy’s left. The ideal place is a wall opening or corner so the puppy can see to the left. Paw Pad must be perpendicular (short edge) to the wall.
- Puppy should be off leash for this exercise (use an xpen, if needed)
- Handler stands beside the Paw Pad facing forward with their feet positioned so the front edge of the Paw Pad is touching the midline of the left foot. Handler’s feet need to be squared and together. This will make it so the puppy’s front feet will be in line with the handlers pant seam.
- Treat pouch full of rewards.
- During a session, small breaks of holding the puppy can be given, but a puppy may need a 10-minute break to BUSY and get a drink and relax. Session can be repeated after.
- Pay attention to your treat hand. It must be in front of the puppy’s nose, or slightly to the left when delivering a treat. Puppy’s head must NOT curl in front of the handler’s left leg. If puppy’s head does curl, check placement of your treat delivery.
Steps: Luring on to Paw Pad
- Standing 1-2 feet behind Paw Pad, while holding the puppy in left arm, load right hand with several treats.
- Place the puppy on the floor, and transfer treats to left hand.
- With treats loaded in left hand lure the puppy forward to the Paw Pad and position your feet alongside as described above.
- As soon as the puppy places one front foot on the Paw Pad begin PEZZING. The puppy’s second foot should follow onto the Paw Pad as PEZZING occurs. PEZZING: Release one treat at a time from your left hand in rapid succession. Caution: It is very common to drop food while PEZZING. It is imperative that the puppy does NOT get the food; therefore, keep the puppy busy eating from one hand while you pick up the dropped reward with your other hand.
- Before you run out of treats, resupply the feeding hand (left) with more treats using your right hand. Do not move the feeding hand away from puppy as the puppy is likely to follow the food.
- While puppy has both feet on Paw Pad, continue PEZZING to keep puppy engaged and in place for 10-15 seconds.
- Gently pick puppy up and place him/her about a foot behind the Paw Pad to repeat the procedure.
- Lure the puppy back onto the Paw Pad and repeat procedure.
- Several repetitions should be done before ending the session. Keep in mind the puppy’s engagement, maturity level and food interest. If puppy isbunsuccessful, immediately end the session.
- When training is finished, remove the Paw Pad so puppy has no access to it.
Steps: Offering to Step on Paw Pad Without Lure
- Review previous procedure (luring) one time to remind the puppy what the expectation is.
- Pick up the puppy after review.
- Place puppy about a foot behind the Paw Pad while the handler steps into position beside the Paw Pad and wait to see if puppy will offer to step onto the Paw Pad.If the puppy does, mark with YES, reward with a treat and begin PEZZING. If puppy doesn’t offer stepping onto the Paw Pad, you may mark and reward any movement towards the Paw Pad, shaping the behavior. The puppy will quickly learn any movement towards the Paw Pad will get him a reward.
- If puppy appears to not understand the desired behavior, you might need practice luring once again.
Steps: Moving to Direct Delivery of Treats
- Place puppy behind the Paw Pad and wait for him to put his 2 feet on the PawPad.
- Hold several treats in right hand, for an immediate mark and reward when his feet hit the Paw Pad.
- While puppy is on the Paw Pad and chewing previous treat, pull hand away from puppy’s nose by 3-4 inches. If he remains still on the Paw Pad mark with YES deliver a treat and move hand away again. Handler should remain in bent over position; standing up too quickly may cause puppy to move off the paw pad.
- As long as the puppy is able to remain still with hand moving away, increase distance between hand and puppy’s nose.
- Slowly start to stand up as you increase distance.
- Continue to increase duration between marks when you feel puppy is able to stand still.
- Start reinforcing the puppy intermittently, one time after 1-2 seconds, another after 3-4 seconds. This will help keep the puppy engaged in the game.
More General Tips
- After marking the behavior, begin direct delivery of the reward. There should
be no food held in the hand. Your right hand must be passive at your side,
NOT in the treat pouch.
- Some puppies will pick this up quickly, others may need four or five sessions
before they understand and have the patience to stand still while waiting for
- Paw Pad should be moved off of the wall 1-2 inches at a time so the puppy
does not become reliant on the wall to keep its body in a straight line. If
puppy starts to swing its rear end out, check placement of delivery of reward.
Often times feeding the puppy with its head to the left will correct the
WEEK 1 – IMPULSE CONTROL: Introduction to Ground Tethering
Goal Behavior: The puppy chooses not to pull on the ground tether and keep a loose leash, while facing a mild distraction, such as food or a person engaging the puppy.
Why: This is the beginning of impulse control: the puppy making decisions and choosing the reward over the distraction.
- Puppy on leash
- Suitable distractions
- Treat pouch full of rewards
- General Tips
Leash needs to be short enough so the puppy feels pressure if it moves away from the handler, but long enough that the collar will be loose when the puppy stands next to the handler, about 2 feet in length. *Position is not important for this exercise.
Steps: Introduction to Ground Tethering
- Handler stands firmly on the leash with the ball of the foot. See “General
Tips” for more on leash placement.
- Handler must stay in a stationary position and allow the puppy to test the
- Mark and reward the puppy for the following behavior: Not pulling on the collar or leash. Looking at the handler.
- Rewards should be delivered close to the handler’s legs to help the puppy
feel the loose collar.
- If puppy tries to pull away from the ground tether, wait for the puppy to
release the pressure, immediately mark and reward.
- Once the puppy is choosing to maintain a fully loose collar, handler should
only mark a fully loose leash and collar.
- AC or assistant places a small distraction (a few pieces of kibble or toy) on
the floor outside of the puppy’s reach. This distraction should be enough to
make the puppy pull but not get excited.
- As soon as the puppy releases the pressure, immediately mark and reward
- If puppy remains with a loose collar, continue to reward intermittently.
- Keep practicing until the puppy shows understanding of a loose leash.
- Once puppy continues to offer a loose leash with a small distraction, increase
the level of distractions (example, leaves, sticks, toilet paper, socks, high
value food, etc.).
- Do at the end of every session when pups are tired and more willing to relax
- Use this time to also answer any additional questions raisers might have. Feel
free to put off any questions that you know will be covered in future
kindergarten classes, especially if it requires a long answer or demo.
- Do not force any dog into position – i.e., if a dog prefers to stand to be
massaged, that is fine.
- Everyone in the room should be calm during “body handling” time.
- When doing body handling:
- If pup allows a touch, praise quietly and you can even treat.
- If pup pulls away, don’t say anything, but figure out a way to thin slice
the movement so the pup will be accepting (i.e. – if pup pulls away
when handler wraps their whole hand around the pup’s paw, then
have handler just gently place their flat hand on top of the
paw…maybe the pup will be accepting of this and will not pull away,
allowing for praise and treat. Once you find an acceptance point, build
from there for that pup.).
YES Marker Word
Sometimes it can feel like a juggling act trying to manage the puppy, the leash, and
treats, especially out in a distracting environment. Using a short, consistent “marker
word” can help bridge the time between the dog’s good behavior and your ability to
deliver a treat. A good marker word is “Yes!,” because it is concise and easy to say
happily. If you consistently pair the word with the reward, the pup will understand
that he is correct the exact moment you verbally mark his behavior.
- There are three basic rules when using the “Yes” marker word:
If you say “Yes” as a marker word, you MUST give a treat reward – even if
your timing was off.
- “Yes” is NEVER used as a praise or reward word.
- ALWAYS use the marker word in this order: “Yes!” Treat
Reward Based Training: Using the “Yes” Marker Word
This month launches our series on Reward Based Training! We will be addressing
the importance of using Reward Based Training (RBT), how to use it correctly,
breaking down different aspects of the training, and troubleshooting.
To have a good basis for RBT, raisers need to have an understanding on how to use
the “yes” marker word with their pups. A “marker word” is a simple word meant to
mark the precise moment of a dog’s behavior or choice. At Southeastern Guide Dogs,
we use the word “yes” as our marker word. The marker word indicates that a
reward is coming. If you are familiar with clicker training with animals, the marker
word is identical except we are using a word in place of the clicker sound. Think of
the word “yes” as though you are taking a camera snapshot of the moment the
When using the marker word, there are very specific rules for training your puppy.
If you fail to follow these rules, this can break down the meaning and effectiveness
of the word “yes.”
Rules for Training with “YES” Marker Word
- When marking a behavior your treat delivering hand must stay in a
passive position at your side. This means, NOT in your treat pouch,
reaching for the bag, or hiding from the puppy.
- If you say, “yes” as a marker word, you MUST give a treat reward – even
if your timing was off. In order to keep meaning to the word, a treat must follow every single time the word is used. If you use the word, but fail to give a treat reward, the dog will start to not trust that the word equals a reward and it will water down the meaning. This is almost a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” type of scenario. If you ask your dog for a “sit,” but he does a “down” and you make a mistake and say “yes,” you still need to give a treat reward…and be more careful of your timing the next go around!
- “Yes” is NEVER used as a praise or reward word. This is a very easy habit
to get into and difficult to change the way you use it, once you are in this
habit. Because of this, try not to be too hard on yourself if you accidentally
use it as a praise word. However, don’t forget that every time you use the
word “yes,” a treat MUST follow!
Using “Yes” to Advance Skills
Once your pup is solid with using “yes” for basic behaviors, then you can use the
marker word to your advantage to help advance your pup’s skills. First, once a pup
has learned a skill, the raiser can begin to fade the use of the “yes” marker word. To
continue to help your pup generalize, you will still be able to use treat rewards and
praise, despite no longer using the marker word. Giving the treat reward
intermittently or fading it altogether can happen gradually, in this phase. However
you want to make sure that you always continue giving praise! As a side note, we
will be discussing this more in-depth during our Blue Cape Journal series on Reward
We can also help our pups advance their skills by using “yes” to mark duration. Once a
pup has learned a basic behavior or command, extend the amount of time before
saying “yes!” As the pup gets better with a short time/duration, extend further and
further before saying “yes.” You can use quiet praise during the duration time to let
your pup know he is doing the correct thing, but do NOT use the word “yes” during
the duration time. Don’t forget to tell your pup to “break” at the end of the duration.
As an example, here are the steps to teaching a pup to SIT, without and with
First, we have our pup learning to SIT and with no duration.
Next, we have our pup who knows how to SIT but is advanced and learning to build
duration into the SIT command.
We are aware that many raisers have been using the “yes” marker word for some
time, but that some may have been using it differently than explained in this post. It
does take time to retrain our brains, so please know that your AC, group leaders,
and PRS staff look forward to assisting you with building new habits through
coaching, group activities, reminders, etc. There are some steps you can take to help
set yourself up for success – making sure to carry treats on you (preferably in an
easy-to-use treat pouch), beginning to consciously practice the “yes” marker word
with your puppy now despite his age, and practicing any exercises that your ACs
teach in regards to the marker word during meetings. By helping your pup
understand the meaning of the marker word through adequate timing and
consistent use, you can help set your pup up for success for continuing his lifelong
learning, especially in the beginning phases of guide dog training!
WEEK 1 – HOMEWORK
- Puppy should not be run through all activities in one session, multiple SHORT
sessions are most successful.
- If puppy is having a hard time understanding, or not interested in training,
STOP, give the puppy a break and try again later.
Paw Pad—Introducing the Paw Pad (Luring onto the Paw Pad)
Goal Behavior: Puppy stands with front feet on Paw Pad and maintains
a STAND position in a straight line alongside the handler.
Why: This is the foundation training for the heel position.
- Practice PEZZING dog food into a bowl with each hand. Do this 2-3 times this
- Practice Paw Pad exercises 1-3 times per day, 5-10 minutes per session.
- Work on slowly moving the Paw Pad away from the wall as the puppy
Impulse Control—Introduction to Ground Tether
Goal Behavior: The puppy chooses not to pull on the ground tether
and keep a loose leash, while facing a mild distraction, such as food or
a person engaging the puppy.
Why: This is the beginning of impulse control.
- Practice ground tether exercises 1-3 times per day, 5-10 minutes per session.
- Ground tether distractions should be a very mild level, specific to your
- Short, brief touches on body parts.
- Practice body handling 1-3 times per day, 5-10 minutes per session.