I frequently talk about the importance of scaling back on duration without compromising criteria when you are training in environments that are challenging for your dog.

For example, I have suggested that if your young, distractible, or novice dog is not ready to heel for twenty steps in public then scale back on duration – expect excellence but only for three steps.  The importance of this approach was discussed extensively in the Behavior Chains series, so I won’t revisit that issue here.

I’ve created a list of criteria and behaviors that give me the best chance of success when the environment is challenging:


1) generally completed in three seconds or less. 

2) performed primarily facing the handler

3) performed on leash.

4) move my dogs towards some future performance goal


The first two criteria allow the dog to succeed more frequently and the third is for safely  – when working young or distractible dogs in new locations, I’ll use a leash to make sure my dog remains safe if they do decide to head off in another direction.  And the final one is strictly for me; it makes me happy to see my dog demonstrating skills that I’ll eventually use in the performance of finished behavior chains.

Here is my list for Brito:


Bounce to a position (sit, down, back up, front position, side position)

Bounce to heel position



Place (between legs)

Obedience finish (left or thru)

Fetch to front – facing me (glove or dumbbell)

pivot in heel position – all directions including sideways and backwards

pivot on a disc

platform – send no more than a few feet or recall onto the platform


Find front

Heel – starts, left turns, right turns, about turns, forward to halt

If I’m paying attention, I can do many of these behaviors in a few minutes.  Then I switch dogs and Lyra gets her turn.  Lyra’s list is pretty much the same, except I substitute “touch” for bounce.  I usually work each dog two or three times, and then we’re done for that outing.   Remember, I’m not teaching a behavior; I’m teaching an attitude and a habit about working in public – a CER (Conditioned Emotional Response). 

At home these dogs are in radically different training places.  Lyra can complete most of the exercises she’ll need for AKC competition while Brito continues to learn bits and pieces.  But in public Brito is actually more advanced than Lyra, in spite of the fact that he is slightly over a year and she is three years old.  Lyra has behavior issues to work through and that takes time.  Train the dog you have.

Brito has grown to the point where he can work for longer than three seconds and he doesn’t always need to face me, but in brand new or very complicated locations, this is my current “go to” list of options.  

In this video, Brito is on his second turn.  We are working on a horse trail, which is challenging because of the range of smells.  Note that I do not accept poor quality work (remember your behavior chains!), and while he always has the option to leave, if he leaves and then returns, he still must do another “3 second nugget” before receiving reinforcement.  Simply returning is no longer reinforced because I believe he is beyond that stage.  I am very happy with him here and I think most of my choices were good.

As a bonus, if you pay careful attention to your dog’s behavior, you’ll also begin to learn if your dog gives you his best work when he first arrives and is fresh or after a round or two of warm up.  This information will serve you well when you are considering a pre-trial routine