Thresholds: Set Up for Success

Training can be fun for everyone and very productive if handlers work with their dogs’ duration, distance, and intensity thresholds.  Working at threshold means that the dog is focused, thinking, and learning. 

Frustration can set in for both parties when human expectations get in the way.  It’s easy to breach the dog’s thresholds.  What is YOUR dog telling you?  Dogs are individuals, too, and what works for one isn’t always effective with another. 

Here are examples of training scenarios where many a handler struggles to achieve desired results.  Most training requires a plan, practice, time, and patience!

Leash Walking

The first phase of setting up for success in training great leash walking skills is the auto check in.  How frequently does your dog make eye contact with you?  If this is rare in the house, it will be virtually non-existent outdoors.  To set up for successful leash training, reinforce your dog’s eye contact anywhere and anytime.  Shape it rather than cue it. 

Beginner leash walking should involve a short, quiet route.  The goal is to take a short walk without losing your dog’s mind.  This is not managed with equipment or an abundance of chicken.  There is a connection between dog and handler that is evident in the frequency of the dog’s check in.  Build up the time and length of route. (No phones, please.)

Cross the street when you pass a “barking dog” house.  Provide lots of directives and information to your dog to maintain your connection.  You are not avoiding, but de-sensitizing your dog.  At some point, you can remain on the same side of the street. 


Criteria setting and generalizing the behavior is the key here.  Every dog starts with a threshold duration and 2 seconds is a common beginner benchmark.  Increasing duration and distance before the dog is ready is a sure way to set the dog up to fail.

Practice “stay” in a variety of contexts.  This generalizes the behavior.   Thresholds will vary, depending on context.

Social Transitions:  Greetings

Dogs are social creatures, so why are meets and greets a challenge?  These interactions set the dog up to move over a threshold level of arousal in numerous ways.  Greeters can be effusive (intensity), they kneel down to the dog (distance and intensity), they lean over the dog and pet him on the head (distance and intensity), the greeting goes on too long (duration), the approach is too close, too soon (distance and intensity), multiple people and/or other dogs are present (duration, distance, and intensity).

Take into account all the ways your dog can lose his mind with greetings.  You can help set him up to learn appropriate greeting behaviors.  Observe and respond to what he’s telling you.  Standing nearby with a verbal hello – no immediate petting- can help the dog regain his mind.  It’s all a process. 

Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2019 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC