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Blog posts by Alana Meserve

Posted on April 5, 2016

How to Teach Your Dog to Check-In

How to Teach Your Dog to Check-In


To teach your dog to check-in, start in a small, quiet room with a hungry dog and some treats your dog really likes. The idea is to be silent and wait for your dog to do the work, so just sit in a chair and ignore your dog.

After 1-2 minutes -- get up from the chair and notice if your dog looks at you, as if to say “where are you going?” If they look at you say “Yes!” and reward with a treat.

By treating when they pay attention to you, you are rewarding your dog for looking at you and encouraging a “Check-in.”

Do several repetitions in a 10 minute training session. Ignore your dog and wait for them to check-in with you. After they catch on to the game, you probably won’t need to get up out of the chair.

Remember, when they check-in with you by giving you eye contact, say “Yes!” and give them a treat.

Changing Environments

You want your dog to understand that checking-in with you will be recognized and rewarded. So practice this game in a larger room or other rooms of the house.

Play several times a day, for 5-10 minutes doing 20-30 check-in’s each time rewarding with treats.

Once they have figured out the game, you can practice in your day-to-day activities. When your dog isn’t expecting it, walk into the room and see if they will check-in with you automatically. If they do, say “Yes!” and reward them.

Taking it on the road

When you and your dog are ready, take the training on a walk.  Put a leash on and walk your dog towards the door as if you were going outside. Before opening the door, stop and wait for your dog to offer a check-in. As soon as your dog offers the check-in, praise them and give them the reward of opening the door!

Note:  If after 10 seconds your dog has not offered a check-in, make a noise to interrupt their focus and try again.

Life Rewards

Playing games like this is called a “Life Reward,” you give your dog something they want after they do something for you. Instead of always relying on treats, you can reward by opening the door and letting your dog outside, or even have them check-in with you before letting them off-leash at an enclosed park. To make sure it works, make sure your dog really likes the reward you plan to give them.

Advanced Training

When you teach your dog to check-in with you, it’s like teaching them to say “May I?” They learn that you are the leader who let’s them get things they like if they first check-in with you.

Of course, you will not always be able to grant your dog’s request. In these situations, still honor the check-in with lots of praise and a substitute reward like a treat. 

Remember training is a two way street!  To be successful both human and canine must participate. You are expecting a lot out of your dog, so stay focused and pay close attention to your dog and the environment. If you are distracted and you miss the check-in the behavior might extinguish itself. In other words, your dog may stop looking to you for guidance and direction.  

Posted on December 15, 2015

Check-in’s teach your dog to look to you for guidence.

Check-in’s teach your dog to look to you for guidence.

Mutual awareness is an important part of you and your dogs relationship – it is the essence of inter-species communication. With the right training plan, you can improve how you communicate with your dog by teaching your dog to “check-in” with you.

What is a Check-in?

At a very young age, puppies learn how to check in with their mother by making eye contact. You will notice that your dog will often offer you the behavior of eye contact, that natural behavior is called “checking-in”.

In your home, puppies and newly-adopted dogs are frequently under foot and getting in the way. Often what is actually happening is that your dog is trying to check-in with you.

Your dog is looking to you for approval and guidance. If you do not reinforce the check-in your dog may no longer look to you for guidance.

Reward the behavior

The check-in acknowledges you as the decision maker in the relationship. However it also opens up communication. Imagine your dog learning to look to you and say, “I’m feeling uncomfortable about something” or “Did you hear that too?” Knowing when your dog is nervous gives you the opportunity to assess the situation, practice some training exercises and set your dog up for success.

When your dog offers a check-in you should reward them. By responding, you are strengthening the bonds of trust between the two of you. Your dog will learn to trust you for guidance in a stressful situation.

Later you can give your dog more freedom without worrying they may get distracted by the environment and consequently make bad decisions.

See: How to Teach your dog to Check-in for more on this subtle but powerful training method. For more Zen Dog Training visit our website!

Posted on January 28, 2014

Canine Social Graces.

Canine Social Graces.

Dog Parks can be either a valuable resource for the urban dog owner or a serious nuisance.  It all depends on your point of view.   What it boils down to is etiquette.  If you understand dog park etiquette – and if other park users also understand and follow the same guidelines, Dog Parks are incrediable. When etiquette is neglected, everyone suffers… especial the dogs!

Consider  things carefully before taking your dog into your local dog park.  First thing to know is whether or not the Dog Park is a option for your dog.  Not all dogs are good candidates for dog-park play.  For instance, dogs with behavioral issues in relation to other dogs or humans should not be taken to a Dog Park. These dogs need to be socialized in environments that are far more controlled and may need the help of a professional behavior modification trainer.

Body language is the main way dogs communicate so knowing how to read your dog's and others dog's physical cues are really important.  The ideal body language is loose and playful, but dogs will exhibit a variety of behaviors as they contact new dogs and spend more time at the park. Overall you are looking for balanced play between dogs. Sometimes your dog is being chased and other times they will do the chasing.  Stiff and tense body language is a precursor to disagreement and trouble.  Try observing your dog when he is exhibiting different behaviors to get a gauge of what his body looks like in these different states.

It’s always wise to leave the park if your pet shows signs of fatigue stress or fear or if there are dogs present who seem over stimulated.  Playtime can sometimes get out of hand. You should be the one who decides how your dog plays.  The problem that occurs at most Dog Parks is that dogs are allowed to engaged in overly aroused play and as a result develop poor impulse control.  There is a fine line between over-arousal and aggression.  Some overly excited dogs respond to reprimands from other dogs by fighting back, and this is when things often escalate.  It could be all talk but it could result in injury.  You can simply interrupt play when you think your dog have become too noisy or rowdy. Teaching your dog to reliably "Come When Called" is one way to do this.  This teaches your dog to trust you to handle the situation rather than take matters into their own hands.

Most of all, if you’re ever uncomfortable about something that is going on, be a responsible dog-park user, report inappropriate actions of other users that put the safety of dogs and humans at risk to help prevent serious problems and preserve the integrity of the park.

Look for the free lecture series on Dog Park Etiquette and Culture starting @ 6:30, Feb 5th at the Robins Library in Arlington, MA.  For more information visit www.zendogtraining.net