Beyond the Backyard Instructor's Guide CoverLate last year Denise Fenzi released her book, Beyond the Backyard: Train your dog to listen anytime, anywhere! and with it she released an instructors guide, for dog trainers who wanted to offer it as an advanced dog training class.

I’ve run through the program several times now with my own classes; I’ve found it to be an excellent program for teaching distraction proofing basics and helping to bridge the gap between rewarding all the time and weaning dogs off of cookies.

While working my way through the program, I’ve come up with a number of “games” that I use as bonus games, if we work through all the material listed for any one week — I got a request to share what I’ve come up with… so below you’ll find a number of advanced dog training games I like to use in conjunction with this class.

Simon Says Tell Your Dog…

One of my favorite games to play each week during this class is Simon says (detailed instructions here) — the first week, I usually play the game and then explain, after we’ve seen a few people goof, that the reason people don’t always do what they’re supposed to (or NOT do what they’re NOT supposed to) is because they’re focused on something else; I then explain that the same is often true of their dogs.

Playing the game each follow week serves as a reminder, which helps people remember to be a bit kinder to their dogs, and it’s a great way to warm up both dogs and people, before starting into the rest of the material for that week.

Getting Closer! Dog Distraction Game

An easy game to play during Week 2 or 3 is the Dog Distraction game. Often, people take this class hoping to proof their dog’s behavior to scents and other dogs in addition to food — so I like to include a few exercises to help them with that.

One of the most basic is the “Getting Closer” game. Pair students up and have them start across the room from each other (each pair should have significant distance from the next pair — as much as you can easily create).

Have them ask their dogs for a behavior (rewarding using the two treat method Denise shares when the dogs get it correct). Each time the dogs are successful, they take a step closer to their partner; if they fail, they take a step backward.

Remind students it’s not a race — and each time their dog moves forward or backward is a vital piece of information. They’re asking “Can you do this here?”

Getting Closer! Toys and Scents Distraction Game

Just like the dog-dog version of the game, class members can place a toy or “interesting smell” across the room. They can practice loose leash walking toward the object — as soon as the dog begins to tighten the leash, they should retreat, calling their dog back with them, and then restart the exercise.

They can also work their way gradually closer while practicing their various cues (sit, down, etc) and taking a step closer each time their dog is successful. Remember to reward each correct cue. When they arrive at the object, they should release the dog to smell it or use it to reward their dog with play!

Distraction Proofing Stays

Another game I played in my most recent run through of this class was a “stay” game. I had all but one dog line up and “stay” — the final dog practices loose leash walking from front of line to back, while the other dogs stay in position. Then owners release dogs and reward.

First time through I have owners stay with their dogs, right beside them, while the “walker” goes past.

Then, the next time we play (later that class or the following week) those owners who think their dog can handle it choose to leave their dogs — they can stand between their dog and the “walking” dog, or on the far side, based on their dog’s ability.

Other versions of this game might be to do recalls (very hard) of one dog at a time while the others held their stays; to have someone “run” past, rather than walk; to have a person bouncing a tennis ball walk the length of the line instead of a dog; etc. During later weeks, cookies can be off the handler and on the far side of the room — so the dogs hold their stay while the walking dog passes by, and their their handler goes and gets their cookie before releasing them.

I’d recommend splitting the class into 2 groups for this if you have 6 to avoid the dogs getting bored, but students seemed to love this game.

Remote Controlled Cookies

During the last few weeks of the class, we’d also play Simon says but with everyone’s cookies on one central table in the middle of the room — and then students would leave their dog in a brief stay each time (or every few times) to go get a cookie for their dog. This was a fun way to work with cookies off the body.