About Learn to Earn

By Dr. Yin. From her Blog posting


Say Please by Automatically Sitting is the Foundation Behavior

In this Learn to Earn program, the idea is to use everything your dog wants to your advantage as rewards for training purposes. The dog will learn to earn everything she wants by politely and automatically saying please by sitting.  She will at the same time, learn that performing undesirable behaviors such as jumping on you cause the potential rewards for those behaviors to go away.

For the fastest training, dogs should earn their meal throughout the day when you are home. That means no food in the food bowl. Instead you’ll carry food around with you in your pockets,  a bait bag or have it available in easily accessible containers  throughout the house. Then, throughout the day, when you are home, you’ll reward appropriate behavior.

How the Learn to Earn Program Trains Leadership and Communication Skills in Humans.

This program consists of setting clear rules for the dog to automatically sit for all resources. The human learns to communicate the rules by immediately (i.e., within 0.5 seconds) reinforcing correct behaviors as they occur, and preventing the dog from receiving rewards for undesirable behaviors. So a large part of this program is teaching owners the exact body movements and timing that help them convey a clear message.

Leadership is established when humans can set clear guidelines for the dog’s behavior and can effectively communicate the rules by always rewarding correct behaviors as they occur while preventing or immediately removing the rewards for undesirable behaviors before they are accidentally reinforced. The owner must stick to this plan long enough for the good behaviors to become a habit.

When owners can meet these criteria, their dog learns to view them as consistent, predictable, and able to guide. Alternatively, when rules change randomly the dog may view the owner the same way you might view a boss who keeps changing his mind. Overall with the Learn to Earn Program, rather than complying out of fear, dogs can choose to follow human direction because doing so leads to rewards and then doing so becomes a habit. This model reflects a good understanding of the underlying cause of improper canine behavior and leads to a stronger dog–owner bond.

How the Learn to Earn Program Leads to Self Control in Dogs.

In general, dogs have impulse control issues because taking things without asking, barging through the door,  blurting out of turn, and pulling with all their might have worked so well in the past. For some dogs and breeds of dog there may be a physiologic or genetic tendency to towards having less impulse control which means their humans must carry out the program more thoughtfully and consistently than owners of the average dog.

In this program we turn the house rules onto their head. Whereas taking things without asking worked before, the only thing that works to get them what they want now is to automatically say please by sitting. We start with easy situations such as requiring dogs to sit for treats or kibble delivered by hand. This way we can quickly build up a high rate of reinforcement leading to a faster rate of learning. Next we systematically work with more difficult situations such as sitting to play fetch or for the opportunity to chase squirrels and then we expect longer or more bouts of desired behavior for fewer and fewer rewards.

The Benefits: How the Program Changes Your Dog’s Perspective

Because dogs learn that the only way they can get what they want is by sitting and looking to you for permission, the learn to earn program teaches them to control their emotions (self control) even if that means remaining calm in order to:

get attention from you or whatever they want most.
that paying attention to you, your words, signals and guidance are important it gets them what they want.
when faced with a difficult situation, they can and should look to you for guidance.
Consequently, the Learn to Earn program is useful for dogs with fear, anxieties (including separation anxiety), arousal issues or hyperactivity, inability to focus on their owners, as well as just general lack of training and unruly behavior.

Why training during all interactions throughout the day and for all resources, including all of their food, is important.

This training throughout the day and for all resources, including each kibble, may seem a huge inconvenience but doing so will make a huge difference. Here’s why we do it.

So your dog will develop a habit rather than a trick: If you only train in specified sessions, your dog may just learn to behave during those training sessions. The things you do at the start of such sessions, such as pulling out a treat bag or placing a special collar or leash on, will become the cues to behave for just that short time rather than behaving well all the time.  Then, if on top of that you add other resources such as petting, attention, and play, when she wants these things, you’ll increase your toolbox of rewards even more. Add to this removal of all rewards for undesirable behavior and now you have a formula for changing the dog’s behavior patterns virtually overnight (meaning days to weeks instead of weeks to years).

The necessity and benefits of tethering your dog to you at first.

In the first days of training your dog should be tethered to you on leash at all times when you are at home and she isn’t in her crate or pen, dog-safe room, or tethered to an object near you. When she’s not tethered to you, she specifically needs to be in some type of situation where she can’t practice unwanted behaviors, such as barking, pacing and others that reinforce poor impulse control. Tethering to you is especially important because:

If your dog’s near, it’s easier to reward good behaviors as they occur. Otherwise you tend to forget and miss opportunities, which makes training take weeks or months longer.

Because she’s supervised, it’s difficult for her to practice or perform unwanted behaviors.

Tethering to you teaches your dog that when she doesn’t want to pay attention to you, she can’t just blow you off, walk away, and then get rewarded by something else, such as a dropped food wrapper that she grabs. That is, tethering her to you helps prevent rewards for undesirable behavior.
I use a Buddy System hands free leash ( for the tethering to me or to furniture. I keep my dog on a regular flat buckle collar or on a harness that hooks to the front such as the WalkinSync®, Freedom Harness® or Gentle Leader Harness.
How long to continue the plan.

Some people assume they’ll have to continue this intense program forever. The reality is that if humans work at this diligently their dogs will progress more in a week than most dog-human teams learn in many months. But just so you have an idea of how long you will go.

Continue the complete indoor program including tethering:

In general, a dog should stay on this tethering stage until she readily and automatically quickly sits when she wants something—food, attention, to go out the door, etc—and also has a 100% come when called the first time you call even when there are distractions in the house. To develop that 100% come when called you will go through stages where the dog is dragging a long leash so you can specifically work on come.
For most problem dogs that I work with in my house, this takes just several days or at most a week. For more difficult dogs this stage may last much longer (3-4 weeks for me which means much longer for you).
Continue the sit for everything: Until you have the perfect dog that you want. Remember that impulse control in one situation will affect arousal and control in another. So that if our dog goes bonkers over squirrels and over tennis balls, say please by sitting in order to play fetch is important for getting him to behave well around squirrels too.


Here are the first steps to implement Dr. Yin’s version of the Learn to Earn Program, which teaches humans the leadership skills they will need, as well as teaching impulse control in dogs. From excessive barking and jumping, to aggression and separation anxiety, one of the common issues is that these dogs tend to lack impulse control and their humans need to find better ways to provide guidance and leadership.
By Dr. Sophia Yin

In the last blog, I presented and overview and the reasons behind my version of the Learn to Earn Program. In this blog I will cover the basic steps.

#1 First Teach Your Dog to Automatically Say Please By Sitting for Treats

(Read Perfect Puppy in 7 Days, section 5.2 and watch Training Dogs to Sit: Say Please by Sitting and  Training Dogs to Sit: Say Please by Sitting Part 2 ).

Just hold a treat when you have a hungry dog (on leash) and quietly wait for her to sit. Once she sits, immediately give her a treat (kibble or treats) followed by a few more sequentially for remaining seated. Then take a few steps backwards, far enough so she has to get up and follow, and repeat the exercise. Repeat the exercise 5-10 times and stop while she still wants to play more.

Randomly play this repeat sit game during the day. The goal is that she thinks sitting is fun and trotting after you and sitting fast becomes a game. Even try to get 10 repeat sits in a minute. When she can do this easily, start rewarding her on a variable ratio where she may get rewarded every 1-3 times she performs the behavior correctly. For ways to make sit even more fun and compelling, read section 5.2.2 in Perfect Puppy in 7 Days.

#2 During the Day Keep Her Tethered to You When You’re At Home (or to furniture close by when you’re at home) and Reward Her For Saying Please Until the Behavior Becomes a Habit

For many dogs, once they know the sit-for-treats exercise well, which usually takes just 5-15 minutes, they are ready to be tethered to you when you are at home in situations where they would have access to interacting with you. Tethering allows you to reward Fido with treats (kibble) for sitting repeatedly so that she learns sitting and focusing on you is fun. If she tries to nudge, paw or jump on you to get the treats, stand still like a tree and ignore her until she sits. For instance, if you’re working at your desk and she puts her paw on your lap, immediately stand up so it’s clear that doesn’t work, then when she sits and looks at you, give her a series of treats. Or if you walk to the kitchen and clean the counters and she sits, reward her with a series of treats. As she improves, use fewer treats and space them further apart.

When your dog’s attached to you on leash, she should sit and remain seated when you are stationary and then walk by your side on a loose leash (not ahead of you) when you move from place to place. Choose the same walking side you use when you take her on walks.

If your dog tends to dash ahead, remember to always stop in your tracks immediately as her front feet get ahead of yours, even before she has a chance to get to the end of the leash. That way by the time she does get ahead, it will be clear to her that you have become firmly planted like a pole and are going nowhere until she come back and sits in front of you.
Your dog’s response after a couple of days to a week will give provide clues as to how consistent you’ve been. If when she hits the end of the leash she comes back to  sit and look at you, you’ve done a great job. If, when she hits the end, her first reaction is to pull harder, you know you’ve accidentally trained her that pulling gets her where she wants to go.NOTE: Many owners will need to practice the leave-it version 2 below as well as one or two heeling games (such as repeat sits on the left side and rewarding walking at attention) before their dogs are ready to be tethered to their owners while the owners are walking around the house.

NOTE: When the dog is tethered to furniture near the owner, the dog can have a toy for entertainment.

#3 Apply the Say Please by Sitting Exercise to the Game of Leave-it Version 1

(For a more complete version of this exercise read Perfect Puppy in 7 Days section 5.4) and watch Dog Training Demo: Leave It).

This exercise teaches the dog to 1) look to you for guidance in new situations, 2) that she can’t get what she wants unless she asks you for permission anyway, 3) that blocking means she can’t get by, and 4) that a release word such as “ok” means she can have what he wanted.

Toss a treat on the ground and then block her from getting it. If she tries to make a dash, quickly sidestep (like a basketball player on defense) to make your block. Avoid grasping her leash with your hands (in basketball you’re not allowed to grab!). Each time she makes a move, thwart her by positioning yourself in her path fast enough so that she knows you mean business. Because you’re not confusing her with distracting words chatter (e.g. you are completely silent), she’ll figure out that she can’t get to what she wants and then sit and look at you. Immediately give her a treat while she’s still sitting and then give a few more for remaining seated. When she’s stably looking at you instead of the treat on the floor, move aside so she has a clear path to the treat but be ready to block her again if she starts to get up. Give her a series of treats for looking at you and when she’s stably looking at you then release her with an “ok” and point to the treat to indicate she can get up and get it. Repeat this exercise until she immediately sits and remains focused on you until you give the release (generally at least 5-20 practice trials). At that point you can add a cue word “leave-it” right before you drop treats so that she learns leave-it means sit patiently and look to me for permission and you might get the opportunity to have it.. You can also start practicing in more realistic settings, such as by randomly dropping food in the kitchen or a toy in the living room, telling her to “leave-it” and then blocking her if needed so she doesn’t get it.

#4  Then add the Leave-it Game Version 2

In this version you toss the treat out of leash range and then stand completely still. When Fido pulls to the end of the leash and you fail to budge, she’ll soon figure out pulling gets her nowhere. Since she’s been rewarded so much for sitting and looking at you, she’ll turn back and sit in front of you. Give her a sequence of treats and then when she has a stable “watch” then say the release word and point to the treat. Make sure she can get to the treat on a loose leash or you will have negated what you just did. Note that this exercise helps teach Fido that when she gets to the end of her leash she should turn and then sit and look at you.

#5 Now Require That Your Dog Sit Politely for Everything She Wants.

For more detailed instruction read section 5.3 in Perfect Puppy in 7 Days, watch Sit for Petting: Stellah Learns Self Control

Say please by sitting automatically to be petted: This is the most difficult exercise for people because humans tend to pet their pets without thinking. So it’s an exercise for humans to be aware of when they are unconsciously rewarding the wrong behaviors. This exercise is especially important for dogs that jump on people for attention or that are highly motivated for petting and attention and anxious when they don’t get it when they want it (such as with separation anxiety). In this exercise only pet your dog when she’s sitting. Pet in short 5 seconds bouts so that you can reward her for remaining sitting. Remove your hands and even stand up straight and look away if the dog even starts to get up. For wiggly dogs you can start by giving treats while simultaneously petting so the dog will hold still, and stop the petting and treat giving at the same time. Then work towards petting followed immediately by giving treats before the dog starts to wiggle. Then pet while the dog’s getting treats but space the treats out in time. Then stop giving treats altogether and just reward with the petting. For dogs that are really wiggly, hyperactive, or anxious, require that they lie down instead of sitting to be petted.

Say please by sitting automatically to get the leash on or have taken off: Wait for your dog to sit politely before you go to put the leash on. If needed, you can give treats while putting the leash on. If treats are needed, practice putting the leash on at least 5-10x in a day. That way, by day two or three, treats will no longer be required.

Say please by sitting automatically to go through door: The leave-it technique applies to waiting to go through doorways. Instead of letting Fido rush past you, first wait until he sits to open the door. Then when you open the door, block him, as you learned in the leave-it exercise from coming out. Only let him through the door when he’s sitting stably and focused on you.

Say please by sitting automatically to get out of the car: If your dog loves riding in the car, and in particular getting out, then have her sit patiently before you let her out of the car. Again use the blocking exercise to train this. Ultimately the goal is she automatically sits and waits for your release word and doesn’t need any treats.

Before you toss a toy: When Fido wants to play fetch, wait until he sits to toss the toy to him. If he has huge arousal issues around toys, then actually teach him to sit or lie down and remain seated even after you toss the toy. This exercise is particularly important for dogs that get more aroused and unruly during or after playing fetch and with those who are possessive over their toys.

Say please by sitting in order to get you to approach: For dogs that are overly dependent and who whine or bark when you are out of their reach because they want your attention, tether them to furniture and walk away. Then go up and pet them only if they will sit when you are just outside of their petting range. When they understand this association, then graduate to expecting them to sit if they want you to approach. That is, we want them to learn that whining, barking, and howling do not work to get your attention; rather, sitting or lying down and controlling their emotions is what gets you to approach and pet them.

These are the standard times when dogs should say please by sitting but also tailor the “please” to your needs. Some dogs may need to understand in additional situations (such as coming out of their crate ) that they only get what they want when they are calm and collected. Overall these exercises will help your dog be calmer, more focused and exhibit better self control. As a result he’ll be able to be more attentive to your signals and directions.

Conclusion: That’s the basic overview of the program. For exercises in detail read Perfect Puppy in 7 Days: How to Start Your Puppy Off Right. This book is appropriate for puppies as well as adult dogs and their owners. This plan as detailed above will provide you with a dog who’s focused on you inside which will you can then use to build on his focus with you outside and in more distracting situations.


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