Teaching a Hold with Reverse Luring- Zen Keeper

* Update Jan 2018- I have been informed that the technique I referred to as reverse luring was not actually how "reverse luring" is done.  I have since renamed the version I use to Zen Keeper- i reference to it as a "doggy zen" version of a keep going signal.
Please visit this new blog post for more details of the method: 

Over 2 years after I posted about using Reverse Luring to train duration behaviors it remains my most popular post.  I am thrilled that while reverse luring is not my invention, I am able to help spread it's use to other trainers around the world!  And by far the most common search landing on it's page is how to use reverse luring in teaching a hold.  While the short video I made demoing the technique does show using reverse luring to teach a hold, the video was never meant as a how to guide and the clip showed dogs at the intermediate level.  Not as helpful to those looking for more step by step instructions!  So due to so many people having questions, I decided to make another video!

Note- I personally almost always train a shaped retrieve to hand BEFORE I start hold training.  I find that teaching dogs to move with an object in their mouth is usually easier and thus develops a strong reward history with the object before beginning more stationary work.  There are many ways to shape a retrieve and I outlined my methods here.

Zumi was a perfect subject for my video as I started teaching her first hold lesson earlier this month and just a few lessons later she has a pretty solid 5 second hold of a variety of objects.  Unfortunately due to the quickness in which she picked up the skill, I didn't have as much video of her struggling in the initial stages as I had hoped for.  For those new to training a hold, realize that the first 3 seconds are the hardest to get!  Typically once I build to 3 seconds it isn't long before I have 5 then 10 then 30+ seconds!

Video below:

And more written steps for those who like to read :)
1. Once I have a dog who already knows how to bite an object and target my hand with it I begin hold training.  My first step is reviewing the concept of don't stare at the food, offer a behavior.  If this is brand new to the dog I usually start this concept with hand targeting.  Can the dog do a nose touch to my hand if my other hand has food visible?  Don't be tempted to cheat and move your hand away!  If the dog wants to stare at my food hand I let him!  Too much staring and I might just reward for the dog offering eye contact, but then I'll help them out by wiggling my other hand.  This is a very important step and can be hard for many dogs, so don't skip it!  I find that working on the concept of moving away from food is crucial to a lot of advanced obedience training!

So at the end of this step the dog is confidently biting the object even with food held out at nose level.

2. Tug backs.  Most new dogs will have a very loose grip on the object as they bite it.  To get more full bites I typically reward the dog for closer and closer steps to actually tugging back on the object.  Downside of this is that many dogs will start offering backing up with the item as they go to bite it.  I don't care, it's easy to train out later :)  Regardless of what you choose to do, try and click for more solid bites vs wussy mouthing!

3. Shaping.  No different than any other method, you need to build duration very slowly.  You can either keep your free hand on the object as the dog bites it, or briefly let go.  I personally have better success letting go.  Remember the click ends the behavior so I don't care if it falls to the floor when it drops!  At this step I try and get to using reverse luring to help the dog with a feedback system.  Open hand=dog is correct, closed fist or removed fist=dog was wrong (ie dropped the object or rolled it in his mouth).  In the super early stages I often don't have time to even open my hand (as the dog goes to bite the object) as I click almost right away!  But very gradually try it.  For many dogs the movement of your hand towards their mouth also helps them as it takes their brain off of what is in their mouth and onto the choice they have to make to not go for the food!

Keep working on it!  Patience!  Build up to 5 seconds slowly :)

4. Proofing.  Now you should easily be able to have your hand in the open palm/closed fist feedback and start moving your hand around to tempt the dog.  Move the hand above the dog and towards the ground.  Try having the food on a table you reach for.  Be creative and build your dog's confidence as you further their understanding of what you want.

5.  Movement.  In the above steps you were likely giving the dog the object while they were already sitting.  The dog moving and then being asked to hold is a novel concept!  Experiment with what is easier for your dog to start this concept.  Maybe picking it off the ground and then holding?  Being given the object and then asked to do a trick like spin, or shake and still hold it?  Carrying the object while heeling and then a brief hold as you stop?

My eventual goal is a full formal retrieve of pick up off the ground, come to front, sit, and hold.  You can see how that is lots of steps!  For my dogs, the pickup and hold is somewhat hard at first, but the hold and then move into a sit even harder.

Good luck!  Feel free to write with any tips!
Baby Vito in levitating dumbbell hold!


Zumi 24wks

Such a busy girl!  Overall does a really nice job of trying to be calm in the house though.  Mainly gets in trouble for not caring who or where she steps on in trying to get where she wants to be.  Where Zumi thinks she belongs she creates a space regardless of whether there was room before!

Still managed to hang onto bedtime privileges despite face huggings.

She will be finishing up her last puppy agility class this week.  It's technically an ongoing class, but now that she's getting close to 6 months I just don't feel it's the most appropriate class for her. Nothing dangerous for her puppy body, just not stuff I really want her rehearsing.  Biggest downside is going to be losing the opportunity to be in a group class.  I suppose I could put her in an obedience class it's just that I hate attending more structured type classes where every dog has to train the same thing for 5-10min at a time.  That's why all but my Puppy Prodigy classes are upper level obedience. It allows me to lead either unstructured free for all type classes or one dog at a time Ring Confidence classes.

Training time I've taken the leap to teaching scent articles.  Not going so well on teaching her that I actually want sniffing, even with food on the bar, so I'm likely going to switch methods and take out the possibility of a retrieve pretty soon.

Random running pictures from this last week's park adventures!

 Super Duck!

 Girl loves her sticks!

Crazy eyes!


Spring Swimming

Spring really is here!  I've had off work the last few days and have enjoyed taking my dogs to a park every day.

On Saturday we happened to go to park with a lake.  Still frozen in the middle, but thawed a good 15ft or so out from the shoreline.  I told Vito 40 degrees was still a little chilly to go swimming, but eventually he broke me down and I relented.  Happy Toller!

And Happy Corgi!

Zumi has never gotten to go swimming before and while she raced on in the first time, she was much more hesitant on future trips.  The thawed parts weren't deep enough to actually swim, so the dogs just waded in and out.

While the Duck wasn't quite sure what to think about actually being in the water, the act of being wet made her crazy!  Lots of zoomies and super enthralled with Vito running in and out of the lake.  She wanted to be joined at his hip!

Vito wasn't thrilled.

I'm guessing that I'll still have a good month or so before the beach portion gets taken over by children, so we will be back!


Hugging Tollers

Earlier this month I decided to have another go at Vito learning to hug a toy.  Gracie learned it very well, Lance learned it to the best of his stubby paws ability, but Vito just could not hold his bear without spiking it to the ground.  Vito learned to wrap a paw around a toy very nicely as long as he was in a sit and only needed to use one paw.  And Vito has a very nice beg.  But Vito has always begged with paws straight up to the sky, a clearly incompatible behavior with hugging his new friend.

So I resumed training this month and new that it would be difficult to get Vito to learn to beg with his paws down.  I went back to using a pole that I had used with the other dogs.  But Vito was back to clawing and just being more frantic than actual thinking.  Definitely couldn't balance in a beg position while wrapping feet around it.  As I went back to training just a single paw I tried some reverse luring to help calm the franticness.  Improvement.  And then I switched to using my leg for a thicker object to grab, but one that he didn't need to actually balance with.  More progress.  At the end of a few lessons I did try briefly using a stuffed toy again and we had much better success!  That being said, I know Vito is not yet ready for the toy and we will keep up practice on my leg and gradually making my leg higher and higher.  Video for those who like video!:

Zumi is also learning to hug a toy and during one session when Vito was close by she offered whacking him :)  I seized it and now we have Hug Your Brother!  Her third session of training this trick is below:


Lance 2.5 Months Check

The Corgi is continuing to do well post herniated disc and were almost at the 10wk mark.  It's been a week of granted off leash privileges in the yard.  So happy!!!

 Lots and lots more rolling around.

I was a bit worried those first two days last week as Lance seemed to be handicapping himself in the yard.  But he has still continued to do well with his exercises and got another perfect chiropractic checkup.  And then this last weekend he decided to run.  Lots of zoomies as he used to do.

Facial progress pic below.

But Lance is able to move his right ear back a little bit.  Not consistently of course when I want to show off to people what he can do, but I've seen it flatten back multiple times now!

Have also started full obedience training again minus the jumping exercises.  


Zumi 5.5 months

With the snow finally gone leaves are the coolest thing ever.  Loose leash walking skills suddenly need more work when it's windy!  Well and anytime another person looks available to be jumped on...

Since she turned 5 months old we've also let Zumi graduate to sleeping on the bed.  Still needs quite a bit more work on not laying on top of faces when she first crawls in, and after the 6am pilling of the Toller, but overall doing well.  To help with the smaller available bed space for us, and the fact that the mattress was at least 11yrs old, we upgraded to a new king size this week!  Happiness!

Resource guarding issues still there, but zero escalation from what she was doing at 8wks.  Some of it gone, like her food bowl guarding with the other dogs walking by.  The rest seems to have remained at kinda appropriate doggy communication about her toy/sticks but just too quick to jump to the growl versus being relaxed about a dog walking by.

No hint of any weird social issues recently, yay!  Even switches between her kibble and toys in public!  Toys seem to win out over kibble pretty well, but any higher value edibles she may get overpowers all else.

Best friends still.  Kitty at least finally has a job- keeping Zumi occupied.

Training things
- Made huge progress with her formal retrieve!  Since she now seeks out my hand regardless of where I move my hand I started training the hold using reverse luring.  About 2 lessons of immediate spitting and then the lightbulb clicked and we have a solid 5 seconds of sitting with the dumbbell I give her.  Now adding in her grabbing the dumbbell and doing different movements like spins with the eventual goal of grab-assume a sit-hold.

- Doing well with her stand/sit/down transitions with feet on a perch.  Off a perch she has no clue about stand, and her sitter is usually broken with down being default position for anything I say.

- New trick started of jump into my arms!  Currently it's just jump onto my lap as I'm crouched.

- Also started new trick of shaking her head.  Vito's cue is are you crazy? but I'm hoping that won't be hers :)

- Backward circles are the current broken trick of the week.


Vito does Team!

Back to USDAA agility with the Toller.  The last USDAA trial wasn't exactly great for Vito and really was the worse he has done in a long time.  But last weekend playing UKI and doing some toy runs at the trial helped him a ton so I was hoping for some Happy Toller!

Friday I did Team for the first time ever!  Never been brave enough before to enter with how unpredictable Vito can be in attitude.  And really if the decision was made after the last trial there is no way I would have entered Vito!  But my nice teammates promised a no pressure day and at the moment of my commitment Vito really had been doing well in agility.

And then he blew me away.  5 runs, the most Vito has done in a single day in a long time, and all were super happy and moments of full speed running!  As a bonus Vito didn't even have a single course error all day!  After the first two rounds, Jumpers and Snooker (his 2 least favorite games!) Vito was actually sitting at #2 individual dog!  Of course he can't hold onto that but I was so proud of him.  Our team ended up finishing in 3rd place overall!
Look how fast he actually ran in Jumpers of all classes!

Saturday Vito was in 4 runs.
Started with Gamblers and some good speed, and then unfortunately the judge was just in the wrong place multiple times on our opening path and we bypassed several obstacles.  Somewhat Sad Toller. Couldn't do the gamble of weave poles angling away from me and popped out at number 10.

Standard was much happier but a bit slower in the speed department compared to Friday's runs.  Just knocked the last bar but otherwise good.

Biathlon were the last 2 runs and the courses looked very challenging!  Only a handful of dogs made it through the courses without an off course and Vito was one of them!  Fancy Standard completely clean and Fancy Jumpers Vito was just over time by 4 seconds.  Not the fastest runs, but Vito tried so hard!
Fancy Standard

Fancy Jumpers

Since Biathlon is time + faults, Vito ended up taking 2nd as pretty much everyone else got eliminated.



Love the snow being gone and the ground not full of mud!  Certainly already doing better than 2014 where winter lasted forever and skipped spring, and then summer gave way immediately into winter again.

I also realized that I have practically no pictures of the dogs doing some tricks.  Lots of video, no pictures.  Remedied.


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Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.- Roger Caras

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