Work to Eat Drills and Skills

MAY 21, 2019

Written by Puppy Love London dog trainer Sophia Barquero at her blog The Leash Rack


Finding the time to train your dog can be difficult and frustrating. Consistency and deliberate practice are the largest predictors of success in training, but sometimes it can be a challenge to find that quality one on one time to work with your dog on behavioural goals. We hear you!

Although classrooms are great places for dog’s to learn (such as puppy class), the real practice for everything taught in class is found in your home and neighbourhood. One hour of practice a week, crammed into a busy Saturday will do little for your dog, therefore breaking up your training into small bits throughout the week is the best course of action if improvement is your goal.


Great Focus guys!

Training sessions should be short, successful and productive. Your dog should enjoy the session and you should keep the ‘momentum’ of their success relatively high. In other words, the session should be all about the dog ‘winning’ or succeeding at the desired skill you are training. For example, if you are practicing Sits in your home, your dog should be enjoying the session, fully engaged and performing the behaviour at least 8 times out of 10 repititions.

Training sessions should also be frequent, since your dog is essentially learning a new ‘skill’ that will be used in your day to day life. In order for the behaviour to stick and to be ‘proofed’, repetitions are going to be an unavoidable part of your routine with your dog. This is where people tend to struggle. Like any skill (even the ones humans need to learn), if it is not integrated properly into our routine and it is not fun, following through with a training plan can be a big challenge….so we have created a little tip and training game just for you to try!

A simple way to implement training into your daily routine is to use your dog’s meal times as training times. This rule is called Work to Eat, but it doesn’t necessarily mean your dog has to work for their entire meal or at a specific time – do what works best for your schedule. Some options for your training sessions could be:

  • Train early in the morning around breakfast for 5 minutes, and at dinner time for 5 minutes before feeding your dog the rest of their meal

  • Use the entire meal for training, followed by some play time

  • Feed half of your dog’s meal through training, the other half through a treat dispensing puzzle or mental stimulation toy (need ideas? check out our post here)

  • Practice training games that are fun and keep learning interesting for you and your dog

By switching your dog’s meal times to training times (even if it is just for 5 minutes) you will create a dog who is eager, motivated and interested in working with you consistently, making your training schedule a breeze!

The Game

The Set Up

This game involves rewarding focus and direct eye contact, in addition to impulse control. It also involves rewarding the dog at a distance from you (from the bowl to be exact). If your dog loves and recognizes their food bowls (most do) this one will be great for you to try as it requires offering a behaviour before being allowed to feed from their bowl!

  • For Novice dogs, keep a leash on them for this game. For intermediate dogs or more advanced options, try having your dog off leash.

  • Set up your food bowl about 2 feet in front of you, and get your dog to sit next to you in heel position (close to your left leg or right leg).

  • Grab a piece or two of kibble from your pocket, and toss the food into the bowl ahead of you. Your dog will naturally stare, or pull towards the food. This is where your leash comes in handy (if your dog is a Novice) or your impulse control is tested (if your dog is advanced)

  • The goal is to have your dog look at you for 5 seconds. Despite the temptation of the reward in front of them, they are focusing on YOU. Once your dog has performed the desired skill, mark the behaviour and release them to take their food from their bowl!

  • Repeat this for 5 minutes and see how quickly your dog catches on!

Trainer Alison and her dog Kingston rocking the Focus Game!

Extra Tips

New dogs or young puppies will naturally spend more time staring at the food in front of them than you – this is ok! Try not to coax them to look at you; we want them to problem solve. If they are on leash, hold the leash back and wait for them to become bored with staring and glance at you. Mark and reward this and build the skill!

Meal times can be great training opportunities if we get creative and enjoy the process of learning rather than dreading it!

Happy Training

The Power of Playing With Your Dog

MAY 14, 2019

Written by Puppy Love London Dog Trainer Sophia Barquero at her blog at The Leash Rack


The desire to play with our dog’s is one facet of dog ownership that just comes naturally. New puppies are almost always interested in playing with their toys (and with anything that you own too!) and we take pleasure in seeing older, newly adopted or re-homed dogs ‘re-learning’ how to play.

One of the most unique aspects of dog development is that they retain their juvenile desires for social interaction and play as they age. Their love of playing doesn’t end when puppyhood is over. So it is often the case that owners want to play with their dogs but are not sure how, because play also brings about behaviours that we sometimes may not enjoy. These behaviours include growling, barking, jumping and excitability. While these behaviours can be intimidating and alarming at first, we want to encourage you to seek what style of play works for your dog, and learn the benefits it can give your training routine, as well as your relationship.


Puppies love to play! It is how they explore the world so it is important to start them off on the right routine.

How Play Impacts Training

The benefits of play in training are often seen in dog’s who are trained for high level competition. Sports such as Obedience and Agility revolve around the dog’s ability to perform a specific set of tasks accurately, while demonstrating drive and composure. In most sports, food rewards are not allowed anywhere near the trial field – which means that dogs are performing these tasks without an immediate reward. So, how do trainers get this performance? The foundation of it revolves around play and building motivation to work together.


We include a large amount of play into our training sessions, sometimes with food and other times with toys.

Most puppies exhibit curiosity and interest in novel items, it’s what makes them so much work when they are little. Exposing your dog to ‘play time’ encourages them to become independent and confident, but directly playing with them sets an amazing foundation for their life long training plan.

Playing with them, whether through tug of war, food play, or ‘chase me’ type games allows your dog to create a bond with you that revolves around direct interaction with you. If they enjoy being with you and actively seek you out, then your training foundations become easier to solidify later on when teaching, for example, focus and engagement or loose leash walking.

You also create motivation for a reward that does not always revolve around food. A toy, or direct interaction with you becomes the ultimate ‘fun’ thing to do for your puppy and eliminates the obsession that some dogs have with food rewards in training. These types of rewards are called secondary rewards (toys) and environmental rewards (access to play), and both are long term reinforces for good behaviour. This is how our dogs are able to compete and trial successfully: they find the ‘training game’ (which is really just play disguised as rewards for good behaviour) fun!

Your dog does not need to be a competition prospect to learn and benefit from these skills. You can easily implement play to perfect behaviours and teach it in a way that is controlled and safe.

How to Encourage Your Dog to Play

1. Find what motivates your dog

While some dog’s prefer tug like toys, others enjoy a ball (like Ebony!). Others prefer a frisbee and some enjoy stuffed animals. Whatever toy your dog tends to gravitate towards, use it. We do not choose what motivates our dog’s – they do. It is what makes them individuals and unique, and with some careful observation about the kinds of toys they tend to pick out of their toy bin more frequently you can likely see a preference emerge!

2. Keep the toy fun and novel

We are all guilty of letting our dog’s have access to ‘too many’ toys at once; your living room may currently be littered with them! Instead, keep your dog’s favourite toy hidden and bring it out for brief periods of play with you. When play is over, the toy gets put away. You can also rotate which toys your dog has access to at once, so that every time they see an old one, it’s just like new again!

3. Start rewarding simple skills

Getting our dog’s to start working for ‘toys’ is pretty simple: just start rewarding with it! When you bring out their favourite toy, wait for them to calmly sit for you before verbally marking that correct behaviour with a YES and tossing the toy for them. This can instigate a game of fetch or tug, where you can continue to reward good behaviours. A few examples of behaviours to reward are…

  • Eye contact

  • Sit or Down

  • An ‘OUT’ command

  • Loose Leash Walking for 5 paces

  • Heeling for 5 paces

  • Spin

  • Target

Need an example of what a controlled, calm play session looks like? Check out our video below and don’t forget to have fun with your dog. Happy Training!

Copy of Loose Leash Walking Series: Part Two


Now that we have introduced the importance of Engagement in your loose leash walking, we can start to build other behaviours!

As mentioned previously, loose leash walking is a culmination of impulse control, handler awareness, engagement, and focus. This blog post will overview training your dog to focus on you in environments you may encounter on your walks.  

Focus is all about teaching your dog to look at you or ‘check in with you’. Similarly to engagement, focus is an incompatible behaviour to pulling – if your dog is focused on you, they cannot pull you towards distractions. Most often, dogs learn to focus quickly at home and in their yards but out in the ‘real world’ they struggle. As a result, this is where a large portion of your training for this skill will be practiced. As soon as your dog is successful in the home and around it, it should be practiced outdoors and in various environments.


Focus – can your dog look at you reliably in multiple environments?

Focus training differs from engagement because focus is ‘cued’, which means it is eventually given a verbal command – some people may use their dogs name, or “look at me” or “watch”. Regardless of your verbal cue the behaviour is set up so that you ask for it in situations that may be helpful. These include when distractions walk by you and your dog, or when they are caught looking at something for too long.

The reason we advocate for engagement to be taught before focus is because engagement training lays the groundwork for our dog’s desire to work with us. Once we have encouraged motivation and a desire to work with us, teaching Focus becomes easy!


It isn’t a realistic expectation for our dogs to solely stare at us on a walk – that would make the excursion pretty uninteresting for them. Instead of attempting to force our dogs to stare at us and ignore distractions (which is quite frankly, difficult to do!), the goal of walks should be to balance the dog’s desires to sniff and explore while also offering us appropriate and controlled behaviours. 

So how do we start?

The goal of teaching focus through the exercise outlined below is to teach the dog to glance at the things they find interesting, and wait for them to offer you a moment of focus or attention. This method of training is called Capturing – which means that we are not asking for a behaviour, the dog is offering it and being subsequently rewarded for it. This reinforcement history will cause the dog to repeat this skill over and over in the future.

Think of it this way: Every time your dog pulls you towards a fire hydrant and sniffs it, they are being rewarded. Not by you, but by the consequences of their actions. Sniffing and exploring are reinforcers for our dogs just as food is, which means they will continue to practice the same patterns of negative behaviour. Spotting a distraction and pulling you excitedly towards it can quickly become a pattern in walks until we start to implement alternative behaviours. If we want our dogs to learn new skills, we need to start by setting them up for success and working on gaining their focus well before we walk them close to their distractions. 

The Drill

  1. Have your dog on leash in a quiet, familiar environment and have treats in your pocket. Allow your dog to look, roam, and smell where they wish.

  2. As soon as your dog glances in your direction, mark and reward. Allow them to return to gazing or roaming.

  3. When they turn to you again, mark and reward.

  4. As your dog glances at you more frequently, reward accordingly. Try ten repetitions and see how many your dog can do quickly!

Need a visual? Check out our video!


If you are practicing focus or engagement work with your dog and they pull or jump towards people, you are likely working too close to distractions. Try putting some distance between your dog and those distractions and try training them at that level for a period of time before making it more difficult.

It is important to note that many dogs find it challenging to walk by another dog on a busy or crowded sidewalk. Although city life has granted our dogs all the comforts of life, some dogs find on leash proximity to others dogs distressing, frustrating or too exciting. Therefore we don’t tend to recommend you allow your dog to walk too closely to another if you do not know how your dog will react, or if they are uncontrollable.


If you face big distractions on walks, move your dog out of the way and work on some focus!

Rarely do we recommend on leash meet and greets. They can be unpredictable and hard to physically manage, not to mention any interaction your dog gains through pulling can cause them to to be reinforced by the scenario. Instead, we suggest giving your dog some distance from another pup, and working on capturing your dogs calm focus and rewarding that skill.


– Practice these focus drills (and your engagement exercises) outside of your normal walks and activities with your dog.

– Capture your dogs focus until your dog offers you glances continuously. A good measure of success to follow is this: out of 10 repetitions, your dog should easily do 8 (this 80% average means that your dog is understanding what you want from them the majority of the time). Once they do, you may begin to cue it through a verbal marker – “Watch” or your dog’s name are good choices.

– Do not repeat your verbal cues! Keep your training clear by ensuring you are not repeating commands. This will only confuse your dog and make your training less effective overtime. Most of this training should be silent aside from your verbal marker.


Focus with distractions

Focus is a skill that is often undervalued in dog training but it is very useful! It is even more useful when you do not have to ‘nag’ or pester your dog for the behavior. By pairing this skill with engagement training, you motivate your dog to like being with you and checking in with you through direct eye contact and through capturing. This, proofed in various environments will make your walking successful!