The Learn to Earn Program for Puppies and Dogs: Becoming Your Pup’s Leader

Jason Cook

apl-smDr. Sophia Yin, a leading veterinary behaviorist, has put together the Learn to Earn program to teach new dog and puppy owners how to be effective leaders and to mold their pups into polite, happy pets.  Training begins the moment you bring your pup home.  If you teach your pup that polite behavior gets her what she wants, she will behave politely more often.  If your pup learns that she can get what she wants by being rude and pushy, that behavior will increase in frequency.  Every time you interact with your dog, you are teaching her which behaviors work for her.  Help your pup put her best paw forward by only rewarding desirable behaviors, and by removing rewards for undesirable behaviors.

Being a good leader to your pup means providing rewards and motivators that she wants to earn.  While some people lead by force and coercion, the more effective way to lead is through clear communication.  Instead of thinking of yourself as the boss of your dog, think of yourself as your dog’s partner.  Not only is this type of leadership kinder, it also teaches your pup to trust your ability to lead and helps the two of you to form a stronger bond.  Our dogs have to understand what we want in order to behave appropriately.  The only way that they can do so is if we give them clear cues and signals.

The basics of the Learn to Earn Program as laid out by Dr. Yin are:

  •  Set clear house rules.  Be consistent about what you expect of your pup, rather than continuously changing the rules.  In the Learn to Earn Program, the rule is that your pup must say please by sitting automatically for everything she wants.
  • Communicate the rules by rewarding correct behavior.  Reward good behaviors as your pup performs them, and remove rewards for unwanted behaviors.
  • Stick to the plan.  The new behavior of sitting to say please is not just a “trick,” it should be practiced until it becomes a habit for your dog.

It is very important to realize that you are training your pup during every single interaction you have with her.  This is the key to forming good habits that will last a lifetime.

The benefits of the Learn to Earn program are that your pup will learn emotion self-control and impulse control.  She will understand that she gets good stuff by being calm and polite, rather than excited and pushy.  Your pup will also learn that you are fun and worth listening to.  Finally, your pup will begin to look to you for guidance in situations where she doesn’t already know what to do.  You will have your pup’s attention, which is essential when it comes to training. Teaching your dog these things fosters good communication between the two of you.

Say Please by Sitting

Good behavior and good habits begin by teaching your dog to say please by automatically sitting.  This is the foundation of the Learn to Earn program.  When your pup sits, immediately give her a treat.  Feed her several treats in a row if she continues to sit.  Then, move away from your pup and encourage her to follow you.  When she catches up, ask her to sit again.

When your dog jumps, remove your attention.  Hold your hand with the treat in it at belly button level.  Stand up straight and be quiet so that your pup understands that you are ignoring her.  You’ve removed the reward for jumping, which is your attention.  Once your pup realizes she is not going to get anything by jumping on you, she will sit.  When she does, reward her with several treats in a row.  Avoid pushing your pup off you when she jumps.  Most dogs interpret it as a fun game, and it will only encourage them to jump more.  Instead, remain still until your pup sits.  Many times, we humans accidentally reward jumping by giving our dogs attention.  If you sometimes don’t want your dog to jump, but reward her for jumping at other times, you will confuse her.  She will not think of you as a good leader because you seem unable to decide what you want.

Say Please to Be Petted

In order to reward your pup for quiet sit behavior, you must think before you pet your dog.  If she is performing any kind of attention-seeking behavior, such as pawing you, barking, or rubbing against you, you must avoid giving her attention.  Instead, give her attention for sitting politely.  If your pup starts to jump while you’re petting her, remove your petting hand.  Make it clear to her that you are not giving her the reward of petting when she jumps.

Say Please to Go Through Doors

Do not let your dog rush through doorways.  Have her sit while the door opens.  When you are ready for her to go through, say “okay” or “let’s go,” and then walk through the door with your pup.

Say Please to Play Fetch

Fetch is a great game for active dogs.  It is a much more efficient way to burn energy than taking your dog for a walk.  Wait for you pup to sit before tossing the toy.  If she jumps to get the toy while you are holding it, pull the toy away so that she learns that jumping removes the toy.  As soon as your pup sits, toss the toy.

Say Please to Greet People

When someone wants to greet your pup, tell the person to wait while you get your pup to sit first.  Once she is sitting, get down to her level to encourage her to keep four paws on the ground while she is greeting the person.  Feed a steady stream of treats while the person is petting your dog, so that she remains seated.  As your dog calms down, you can space the treats out more.  As calm greetings become a habit for your pup, you will no longer need treats because petting becomes the reward.

By following the Learn to Earn program from the first day you bring your pup home, you will be setting your pup and yourself up for success.  Your pup will look to you as her benevolent leader, and will be eager to respond to your requests for good behavior.  The training should always be fun for both of you.  No force or coercion is necessary to train your pup to behave politely.  Your dog will be willing to do whatever you ask of her if you provide consistent, positive reinforcement for good behavior.

For More Information:
Read Dr. Sophia Yin’s book, Perfect Puppy in 7 Days: How to Start Your Puppy Off Right.