Frustration, the Crucial Element in Dog Training and Behavior Chaining!

"I Am SOOOOO Frustrated Right Now!"

The irony about this article is that dog training can simply be super frustrating!  Everything about working with animals at some point has its frustrating moments, but all good things in life come with frustration and some sacrifice!

However, this article isn’t geared to the fact that training and working with animals can be so frustrating for us, it is to help us use the “gift” of frustration to have a better dog!

What’s that you say?  How can frustration ever be a gift?  But it is an essential part of good positive reinforcement training!

Let Me Explain

I don’t believe in forceful dog training, as those of you that read my articles know, I am a fan of positive reinforcement and clicker training.  In my opinion positive reinforcement creates a superiorly trained dog to the dog that is yanked and pulled and forced to comply with commands.

A dog that is forced, timidly awaits the next command and what might be required of it.  It is often fearful and unsure of its environment and it is scared to make a mistake so it chooses to show very little behaviors that are not forced upon it.  It may comply with obedience commands but it usually does so out of fear and it is not taught to think for itself.

A dog that is trained with positive reinforcement is encouraged to think for itself and show a variety of behaviors.  Not all of these behaviors it shows will be rewarded or encouraged, in fact some of the behaviors may be considered naughty; however it is trying different things to get what it wants.  When the naughty behaviors are ignored they most often extinguish or go away.

With positive reinforcement, it is easy to manipulate your dog to do the things you want him to do; but, there are crucial steps to help your dog get from step one to step two and accelerate their learning to build a behavior chain.

A Behavior Chain: is defined as a chain of responses broken down into smaller steps using task analysis. Parts of a chain are referred to as links.  The learner’s skill level is assessed by a professional (you the owner) and is then either taught one step at a time while being assisted through other steps forward or backward working toward the total task.

For example;  I have extensive experience training Service Dogs for people with disabilities and you don’t just teach a dog to go over to the refrigerator and get out a soda, shut the door and bring the soda to the person in one fell swoop.  What looks like one behavior must be broken down into very small behaviors that can be rewarded and worked toward the eventual total behavior.

Teaching your dog to sit or lay down is a simple behavior, one where only one successful behavior is required.  Frustration in dog training is essential for behavior chains.

I think frustration is the least understood training technique in positive reinforcement, and yet I believe it is probably one of THE most important facets of good training and it is imperative to use to help your dog move quickly from one step to another.

Let’s go back to the first scenario about opening the fridge and getting something out.  Because I don’t want to get into the intricacies of teaching the retrieve, let’s just assume my dog knows how to retrieve on command.

The next step is to teach him to tug an item so that he can open the refrigerator door.  I would show him a soft tug-able item and ask him to retrieve it from my hand, clicking and rewarding him for correct responses.  Next I am going to wait for a frustration response.  I know what I want, but I need to teach him to show a variety of behaviors so that I can reward him and show him what I want from him.

"Oh I Get It Now!"

I would stand still loaded with treats that he wants and is eagerly looking for with the tug in my hand and I would wait patiently.  He will probably try to put the item in his mouth or retrieve it for me, however this time I am NOT going to click him for this response.  I WANT him to get frustrated and show me an alternate behavior.

I would ignore any behavior that does not lead to what I want, if he barks, whines, sits or lays down simply ignore it.  If he seems stuck walk a foot a two to get him moving and be patient.  Don’t yell or give a command that means nothing to him, just wait.  Within a short amount of time, which will probably seem like FOREVER he will undoubtedly take the item and yank with frustration…CLICK and tell him what he is doing by giving him the command “Tug”.  Even if it is a slight tug, click and reward with a jackpot!

Frustration with the lack of being rewarded for one behavior leads to other behaviors that can be chained together for the final task!   If you continue to click and reward for the same behaviors and never up the ante the behavior will never progress or change.

Frustration in your training program is crucial to good learning and understanding and the willingness to show a multitude of behaviors.

The key to remember is not to get frustrated yourself!  If you dog is not understanding or progressing like you think he should, simply back up and try again later.  Yelling, anger and frustration on your part will only shut him down because he will become fearful to try new things!

This is why force training doesn’t work to create a thinking dog.  Dogs who are forced are too scared to experiment with new behaviors, they would simply rather wait for a command or to be forced to accomplish a task.

I like a thinking dog, and I like a challenge it means I can have dog that are able to accomplish amazing feats because they are happy and joyful about learning.  But in order for them to progress in their training program I have to know just how far to push them with frustration to help them accelerate to the next level.  My dogs are never afraid to make a mistake or show a wrong behavior because they enjoy the learning process and they know if it is not rewarded, it was not what I wanted!!

Good luck and have fun together!


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  1. Jan says:

    I’d ALWAYS been told to START at the END of a chain and NOT at the beginning. Obviously, you start with the front-end command – but what are your feelings on ‘end-of-chain’ training? – I know it is easier for us (humans) to figure out, for sure!


  2. Cindy Cone says:

    Will someone please help me?? When I get home from work my dog goes crazy with happiness and jumps and jumps and jumps. How can I make her stop jumping?


    Gale Reply:

    I bet at one point, you would make a big fuss of the puppy, saying how cute the puppy was in a high happy voice. And this is the basis for the behaviour.

    Is someone home all day with the dog? If so, train the dog to go to a bed or mat within sight of the door, and practice it with the bell, with just the keys, other people, until any noise by the door means that the dog goes to that mat or bed.

    If no one is home, why don’t you crate the dog? Dogs sleep all day, even if you are there, so let your dog sleep in her bed? When you get home, sort your mail, take off your coat, go to the bathroom, and then open the crate door without a word and let the dog out to do her elimination. When she comes in after that, THEN make a fuss of her and let her tell you about her day.

    Many times we make our own problems and wonder where the problem originated.


    Lucy Reply:

    I have had several dogs and they are always excited when you get home because they miss you so much! I turn away from them and wait. They want to see your face (usually), so by turning away they put all 4 feet back on the ground and try to get around to your face to jump again. Keep turning your back (don’t talk or you can so say no, down, etc) when she jumps, then turn around when the feet are down and give LOTS of attention, petting, praise, etc. If she starts jumping again, turn your back again. It will take a little while, but she will get it and start meeting you with all 4 feet on the ground, probably wiggling like crazy. Also, depending on how long you have been gone, she might need to really go outside, so I would take her out as quickly as possible. You might be able to get her to meet you at the door with the leash eventually.


    marianne Reply:

    to get your dog to stop jumping, simply turn away from him, fold your arms and say nothing. as soon as your dog has all fours on the floor, then you turn and give him the attention he’s seeking.


  3. Gale says:

    You have to establish a good relationship with your dog, and then take it in small steps until you determine your dog’s response times.

    Positive reinforcement works very well. How likely were you as a kid when your father yelled “Get over here NOW!!!” Ditto for dogs.

    There are many ways to correct a dog’s behaviour… and here is the difference:
    Positive reinforcement: Present something good; the good behaviour is more likely
    Negative reinforcement:Take away something bad; the good behaviour is more likely
    Positive punishment: Present something bad; the bad behaviour is less likely
    Negative punishment: Take away something good; the bad behaviour is less likely

    Teaching your dog makes him want to learn more and more.

    To get consistent behaviour, you need DASH
    D: Desire… the dogs relationship with your and his willingness to work with you
    A: Accuracy of expectations and behaviour….. this means you have to set clear rules and expectations so the dog knows the level of effort he has to put in.
    S: Speed… how fast the dog responds
    H: Habitat… dogs don’t generalize, so train in different areas and with different people.

    As for where you start any chaining, I think it depends on what you are wanting, but I usually start at the beginning… If I want a dog to go into a crate and he doesn’t want to… bring out the bedding and click for one foot, the not until 2 feet touch, then all feet on the bedding, and then move it into the crate a bit and repeat, until he dog is in the crate.

    Works like a charm for me.


    teresa Reply:

    Do you like making life more complicated than needed, have u actually got dogs, do you work with real people and their dogs? all day, every day/? in the real world/? I have never heard so much complicated bunkum in all my life. I have worked with dogs for nearly 30 years, have retrained so that I move with the times, run puppy and training classes and want to set my clients up to win, all this complicated rubbish just to get a dog to use a crate happily is setting them up to loose interest, dog and owner, and to fail. re train before you hand out any more silly advice to people, please…


    Minette Reply:

    This is crucial to good dog training and understanding, and its fun! My dogs are thinkers and I like that, they are also titled and well behaved! I am proud to use positive reinforcement and know the tricks of the trade!


    Gale Reply:

    There are many methods of training, and opinions. Like toothbrushes, opinions don’t need to be shared.

    Use what works for you.


    Lisa Reply:

    Hi i have a cross mini foxie and Jack Russell he has more Jack Russell markings and stature about him, besides being boistruse he has picked this horrible habit that he does daily which is he goes to the toilet in the house in one paticular room same spot each day WHY? only once every afternoon i can’t work it out.


    chris Reply:

    I agree we can make things more complicated then needed, the thing is I tried a number of types of training over many years and never tried click training, 2.5 yrs ago I bought in to this click training and I was amazed at the results, ya it seemed like a lot of work but once I set the ground rules and made the bridge with the clicker my dog can now learn any trick, behaviour good or bad in less then 5 mins and with in 15 mins the dog never forgets, I’ve taught my dog a behaviour in minutes, left that which was taught alone for 2 months and then went back to it and my pupil could do it perfect with out error. The other types of trainings could not come close to this type of discpline. The lunge lead had to be on or rebellion and miss trust came into play. I could never get a dog trained with traditional taining to stay for long lengths of time, I could not get a dog to find a loss item and I mean multiple items after teaching the primary Keys as a learning item. My dog just know what the other item was like the red ball (by color) and it would find just that item. Oh ya open the door, ring the bell, pop on command just could not ever figure out how to lunge my dog into that behaviour, wave good bye, bark in a inside voice vs a out side bark, warn me by barking a certain way, kiss a cat, knuckles like the teens do, hi five, roller over multiple times, set on certain carpets and stay never mind go to a certain persons part of the couch, lunging my dog could not give me that. I could never get a dog whistle to work unto I bridged it with click training, see there is no comparision to this type of positve reenforced training, I can throw a fist full of liver treats around my dog and watch the dog complete drop into a relaxed mode and look at the food, so I tried it with real bacon, steak, raw meat, chocolate, peanut butter and the dog simple knows this is a good thing to leave it alone, which caused my dog to “leave’ any thing on command and if not told it’s theirs it will not touch without a command. I can leave dog food in a bowl and command my dog not to touch or leave it and add steak to it and the dog will leave it, come how hours later and the food still there until I release the dog it will think it’s a good thing. so don’t knock it until you’ve actually tried it, there is a money back guarantee and I assure you that all your pupils will be click training in the next two months really, be a little open minded to this or find a blog that likes to train your way. really give it a try and email me your results. I guess some breeds need a good beating to get them to obey. LOL just joking. really try something new with a open mind, you will be pleasantly surprised. good day mate!!


  4. Brenda says:

    “Frustration in your training program is crucial to good learning and understanding and the willingness to show a multitude of behaviors.” – Thus resulting in a great reinforcement and positive response! Win-win! Please visit me and my dog Mike!  


  5. Kelly says:

    I have a 2 year old puppy that has a habit of stealing somthing that he should not have and run around the room until we get it off him. He is a good dog with one very bad habit. sometime it is only a sock or a paper towel but there have been time when it is a new pair of glasses or a 500.00 shoe? Help Help we have had dog training but this is still a problem? We have tried trading up system. but that has not worked and food has not worked either HELP


    Kirk Reply:

    Kelly – I have the same exact problem with my year old Golden Retriever. HELP!


    Steve Reply:

    To Kelly:

    Does it happen in the mornings, when you get home, or at all times? without additional information about when it’s happening I would suggest the following:
    1. Don’t leave any items that don’t belong to him around for him to grab.
    2.Have plenty of toys, chews, etc in every area where the dog has access.
    3.Don’t give chase anymore when he grabs a valuable item or his toy.
    4.Play chase or toss a ball “outside” during exercise time.I don’t know your schedule, so maybe in the morning after he eliminates outside, and in the evenings? Some breeds need more exercise than others. Good luck.


  6. ronni says:

    cindy, ignore the dog, pretend she is not there. Its hard to ignore a jumping happy dog but don’t acknowledge the dog at all voice or touch until the dog settles which it will but you must be patient and don’t give in. When the dog settles and is not jumping request it sits when you get to that point give the dog a very excited hello and go down to the dog and show how much you missed your dog. Do this every time you or your family comes home and the dog will soon just sit and wait for the attention.


  7. Mai says:

    can someone help me D:

    i have a little problem. see i have a 2 month old lab and he’s in his teething stage i understand that puppies need to teeth and all but the thing is he prefers to teeth on peoples arms and legs rather than his toys. whenever he sees someones legs he suddenly pounces on them and starts teething away. this is also a big problem during playtime because he can sometimes get carried away. i have a lot of scratches on my arms and legs plus 2 deep teeth scratches on my legs and one deep pierce wound on my arm and i’m afraid that i might get more since he’s getting really hyper now. so far he knows who to bite and not to bite like my little brother and cousins plus my stepdad and aunts. they’re pretty much safe from his teeth but me and my other brother, not so much. i’ve tried squealing in pain, turning my back and walking away, giving him treats but nothing seems to work and i don’t want to put him in a cage or leash him to the wall like what some people do and call it a “time out” and i never ever want to result to scolding and hitting him like what my uncle does i can’t stand seeing dogs treated like that.

    please help D: before it’s too late.


    Minette Reply:

    Leashing him is more than acceptable, it gives you control! I also don’t mind time outs…just don’t make them punishment, think of them as a time out for YOU. Then get him to do something like sit and give him a Kong filled with peanut butter in his crate. Let him know when his teeth come out you won’t play with him anymore!

    Keep an eye out, I will be posting another article on mouthing and biting soon!


    Angie Reply:

    I have the very same problem, my pomeranian is 7 months old he has done this since I got him , at first I just thought it was the puppy in him, I asked the vet and she said anything you dont want them doing when they are older, you have to stop now,she suggested I tell him no and shove a toy in his mouth,needless to say this has not worked! I have tried eerything I know how, I have ignored him, told him to go get a toy, I have grabbed him by the nap of the neck,like their mother does and told him no biting, I have held him down to see if he will calm down. None of these tactics have worked. I would appreciate any suggestions helping me with this situation!! Thank You


    Mai Reply:

    Sure can’t wait to read that!
    so far my puppy doesn’t bite me only when there is food present.
    yesterday i trained him to sit and stand but the moment i run out of food he gets back to biting. i dont want to walk around with food to bribe him i dont want him to be “food-dependent” and what will i do when i run out of food, i can’t always run for the hills since he nows how to climb the stairs D:
    i can’t wait for your article Minette~!


    Barb Reply:

    When my Pup was just 2 months old, he did the same thing. He would chew on me instead of his toys. One day, he looked right at me and I gave him a firm tap on the nose and said no. He never ever has put his teeth on me again. I did not tap him very hard, but he must have figured it out because it really worked. I think it worked because he was studying me so intently when I did it.


    Mai Reply:

    hey thanks i tried that out but it doesn’t seem to work he thinks of it as me asking him to play the moment he sees my finger approaching him he goes into attack mode right now things got a bit worse since my mom now has a deep scratch wound on her leg D:my uncle tries muzzling his mouth with his hands whenever he starts biting like crazy when they’re playing and he says “NO, NO BITING BAD DOG” and when he starts to give a little whine he lets go but eventually gets back to biting
    it seems my puppy is training proof when it comes to biting D:


    Angie Reply:

    The bitter apple spray worked really well with our dog, sometimes we would just have to show it to her and she would stop what she was doing. She is 7 months old and still very “mouthy”. She literally has a toy in her mouth every time she greats someone at the door. When she got to biting/mouthing hands and arms or anything, we would grab her by her snout and firmly say no bite until she calmed a bit. It took quite a while to get this. She still nips quite a bit, but she responds to the command now. We have also found it helpful to tell guests or other family members to try and keep there arms from flailing too much around her if you don’t want to play with her, she interprets that as play.


  8. nola says:

    Hi Chet
    My son has a cute labx pup 14mths old. Taking him for a walk is really frustrating. He will “heel” briefly, then drags you along, cutting in front, sniffing everthing. He is taken for a walk everyday, so it is not a novelty getting out.
    He is a little shit at home – shredding the toilet rolls and chewing toys, shoes, remotes etc.
    Concerned grandma!.


    Minette Reply:

    exercise, exercise, exercise! Games of ball and lots of obedience homework…his mind is probably bored and he is trying to find ways to entertain himself! You must entertain him and make him tired!

    Read our articles on leash training for the leash problems and good luck to you!


  9. Angie says:

    I just posted a long request for some help with my dogs biting, it didnt show up right away, I just want to be sure I did it correctly, or are the posts screened first before being published


  10. sylvia lone says:

    I have a lovely rough collie, my only problem with him is he lays his ears back and wont show in the ring , he’s very lay back no neaves lays down and wonts to go to sleep before entering the ring i have tried bating that works out side the ring but not in. any ideas please .sylvia


  11. Angie says:

    My 7 month old golden retriever proves to be very frustrating at times. She has grown out of some of the younger age issues and currently we are trying to figure out what to do about #1 digging holes in my backyard, #2 constantly thinking she needs to go in and out the back door (she barks when she needs to go out, which is good because she gotm potty trained that way) #3 (and maybe most annoying at this point) She has an issue with coming back in the house. She will literally sit in the doorway for 5-10 minutes before she decides to come inside. Many times it takes us getting a treat to get her inside. If you try and grab her collar to get her in, she thinks it is a game. If you try and shut the door and ignore her she just sits there and barks. Any suggestions?????


  12. Jessie says:

    I have a year old chow lab mix who has a major and i mean major jumping issue.I need help with this because it is her only “bad habit”..believe it or not.She wont respond to the command “down” or “Sit” and will not respond with me turning around and ignoring her because she will still jump on my back as well.Can someone please give me some advice,she really is a loving puppy but I want a puppy…not a spring!Any advice please would be helpful.


  13. Genny says:

    Our 4 month old shih tzu looks almost exactly like this one pictured. Her potty training outside is going well, but she refuses to go on the WET grass. We’ve had lots of rain lately & seems to have set her back. She no longer will use her potty pad by the door, just wants to use it as a chew toy. Can anyone help or suggest what to do? Thanks


  14. Gloria says:

    My dog doesn’t jump when I’m just greeting him for the first time, he suddenly decides it’s time to play and begins jumping. He is a Newfoundland/lab mix and weighs in at a fluffy 120 pounds. I really can’t have him jumping…ever! Help!


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