For 40+ years we've helped over 300,000 dog trainers just like you!

Learn more about Leerburg

$6.99 Flat Rate Shipping

Learn more
Ask Cindy Our Newsletter Free Catalog

Leerburg Dog Training Blog

The best source for dog training news, tricks and treats, right from world class leaders in dog training.

The best source for dog training news, tricks and treats, right from world class leaders in dog training.

5 Keys to a Successful Dog Training Session

Often times we’re asked, “how can I get more focus and engagement out of my dog when training?”.   What we have learned throughout our years of training is that if we can control certain elements of our environment before and after the training session, we can achieve a higher state of intensity and focus in our training.  So, if we may, we’d like to break down 5 points that help us dramatically in the overall flow of our training sessions.

1. Use reward based training

Perhaps the single greatest realization in the last 100 years of dog training was the implementation of reward based training.  To put it simply the dog works for you, and you pay it for a job well done.  I think an easy analogy would be to ask yourself how you would feel if you went to work everyday, doing your best.  But, instead of receiving a paycheck your boss gives your a hug and tells you how wonderful you are, and how appreciative they are of your performance.  The reality is, as good as it feels to be stroked and praised, it feels a whole lot better to get paid.

If you can find the object of your dog’s desire, be it toy or food, you can teach your dog to work for that reward.  Using reward based training brings higher levels of drive, conviction, and integrity.

2.  Make sure your dog is hungry

Luckily for us, food drive is present in each and every dog, naturally.  But, like every other drive, the level of food drive expressed in the dog is going to be determined by a multitude of factors like genetics, breed, individual character, environment, diet, etc…  With respect to those factors, lets just say for now that we would like to achieve a higher level of food drive.

We find that mornings and evenings (when dogs are naturally the most active) are the prime times to train.  Conveniently, these are also the times when most people feed their dogs.  So, it only makes sense to train before feeding times.  These are also the times when the dog is going to be the most hungry and coupled with reward based training, you will be able to capitalize on this element and bring more drive and compliance to your training.

3.  Have a solid game plan

Having a game plan is essential to having a productive dog training session.  If we are training, we are always working on something or another.  Whether it be polishing up a behavior, or creating a new one, there is always something that is going to be at the forefront of the list in terms of the day’s session.Having an order and format to your training will help keep you on track, instead of meandering around the field wondering what you should work on next.  Having a logical flow to your training will create a rhythm to your session, also yielding a higher level of drive and commitment.

4.  Confine the dog before and after the session

Confining your dog before training is also a great way to increase drive, and compliance in your session.

Lets face it, when the dog is confined, life is pretty boring.  So when a dog is taken out of the confinement, they are usually pretty pumped to do whatever is presented to them.  In turn, think of a dogs mental state if we wake them up from a nap on the couch to train.  Obviously, the dog is not going to have the same level of motivation.  So this factor alone can make us more interesting and fun to the dog.  If we couple this usable drive with the fact that the dog is now hungry because of the time of day we are training, and the fact that we are using high value reward based training, you can almost instantaneously create much more drive and engagement.

It is also important to confine your dog immediately after your training session.  Dogs live in the present, truly.  So, if we confine the dog in a neutral place after training they will sit in confinement and think, or stew even, on the thing they were doing last before being confined.  Believe it or not, the dog will actually continue learning on its own, while being confined.  This is precisely the reason “time outs” do not work for behavior problems.  But, alas, that’s another blog..

5.  End on a high note

Another question we get asked frequently is “how long should my dog training session be?”

When teaching and advancing behaviors, it has been our observation that if you are able to finish your session not only on a successful repetition of the behavior you are working on, but also at the point where the dog has reached a maximum level of drive or enthusiasm, it yields the highest result of maintaining drive while advancing learning.

If we end our dog training session at a point where their drive to train has reached a maximum level, the dog brings this level to the next training session.  Thus, increasing drive.

On the flip side, if we end our session at a point when we have worked too much and the dog becomes bored, or non-engaging, we decrease the dog’s drive and work ethic.   Resulting in a less motivated effort by the dog.

These are just a few observations that we have been able to apply when we are training our dogs.

We encourage you to take these ideas and apply them to your own system of dog training and see if it yields the results we have experienced!

Take care and safe training.

[View original post here]


  1. Avatar
    April 24, 2017

    Hi Mark,
    My 11 month old doberman is still very wild. In the exercise yard he still jumps up at my kids and plays very rough. He is 90 pounds of solid muscle. Since the yard is big, it is very hard to control him. Also, I have a prong collar on him for walking, but he continues to pull me, and of course, when he see another dog or people he wants to go after them.

    any advise?

  2. Avatar
    April 24, 2017

    How often do you work with this dog in solid foundational obedience every day? Note: EVERY day. And as for the kids.. your dog is a teenager. Perfection will escape him for a while. Take him to a good obedience class. Not force-free behaviorist. Obedience. And work with him every day for about a year.

    • Avatar
      April 25, 2017


      THANK YOU!!! Yes, I work him every day…He has a lot of drive.


  3. Avatar
    Mike Krugman
    April 25, 2017

    Hi Mark:

    I have trained and dual certified a bed bug detection dog, a Black Lab, using the 5 steps but this question is about step #4. He does work from time to time and on the days he is not working I keep his training going. He has been living in a 12×12 kennel since the day I got him. Before I got him, he was trained to live in that kennel, most likely from puppyhood but I don’t know for sure. I’ve had him since June, 2016 and he is now 3 years old. I’m getting conflicted about leaving him In the kennel for long periods. For example, in the morning, I bring him out, break him then begin his training session. He searches for bedbugs, finds them and gets rewarded with his own kibble. The session lasts from 30-45 minutes, depending on when I feel it should end on the high note. After the session, if it’s a good one, I play with him for a little while, then put him back in his kennel. About 4:00 in the afternoon I bring him out and do the same thing. At 8:30PM I bring him out to break for the night. The rest of the time he is in the kennel. I’m feeling it’s too long, but I’m afraid if I leave him out longer it will mess up his routine and he may not be as motivated as he is now. What are your thoughts on this? Help is appreciated.

  4. Avatar
    May 9, 2017

    Hi there! I have a 12 weeks old german shepherd and he is amazing. He is 90% housebroken, understands come, sit, give paw lay down and leave it. I have been using Positive reinforcement with the clicker but now it’s working less and less. I’m making research to find a good dog trainer when he will be around 4 months but the thing is: I want to bring him to obedience class (more old school and strict) but my fiancé refuses, he wants to find a positive behaviorist. He sorts of anthropomorphizes the puppy. He already doesn’t want me to crate him as ”we don’t put family in cage”. Everywhere I look I read those positive reinforcement stuff comments, that a prong is animal abuse… but I feel like my little buddy is so intelligent and soon will be so strong I might need a firmer hand. I don’t want my dog ending up resenting me but I don’t want to have to give him away when he’ll be 100 pounds! Is in some cases positive reinforcement is not enough? Am I right to be looking for a firm trainer? Thank you!

  5. Avatar
    Mike Krugman
    May 10, 2017

    Emmanuelle: I’ve been training dogs for a long time using positive reinforcement. You say you use positive reinforcement with a clicker but now it’s working less and less. The key to positive reinforcement is that the reward you give him must be the type of reward he would run through a wall for…his most favorite thing on earth. It could be a toy, it could be a tug, could be treats. For food motivated dogs, I’ve been buying mozzarella cheese in the blocks and cutting them up to make small squares. I haven’t had a dog yet that didn’t love them. As for crating…crating a dog does not harm him at all. In the dog’s world, the crate is his own place…his safe haven. For any of this to work you and your fiancé have to be on the same page. If not, your dog won’t train properly. As for prongs…I don’t use them. If anything, I use a head collar. You may not even need that. Find that one thing he will run through a wall for and carry it with you on walks. Click and reward him when he does well, don’t click or reward if he doesn’t. He will figure it out quickly. Try a regular flat collar first, then if he doesn’t respond well enough, go to the head collar. Dogs don’t resent people for training them. They want to be trained. They want to be a good pack member. You and your fiancé have to be pack leaders together. Remember…your dog views you and your fiancé as pack members and needs a pack leader. The last thing you want is for your dog to assume that role. I hope this helps you and good luck with your dog.

Sorry, comments are closed.

20% off Select Michael Ellis DVDs, streams, and courses good through Thursday, July 23, 2020 at 11:59 PM CT