Approximate... approximate!!!... APPROXIMATE!!!

I’m willing to bet that your just read that in a Dalek voice… and if you did, have some internet points! Now that I have your attention, I want to preach from the Holy Gospel of Dog Training and talk about rewarding approximations in behaviour.


When it comes to teaching any behaviour to a dog, we have a very clear idea of what the final product is meant to look like. But we still have to get from A to B, and how that journey looks is individual to the dog, your training skills and the environment. To get from A to B, we would have pitstops, or steps in the training leading towards the finished behaviour. T


Teaching a distance stay, for example, might look like this:

  • Put dog in sit position.

  • Wait for a couple seconds before rewarding.

  • Increase duration to 10 seconds.

  • Add stepping away from the dog.

  • Dog stays in position while you are 3 steps away.

For some dogs, these ‘pitstops’ are well within their ability and teaching a distance stay really is that simple. But other dogs might struggle with the training steps you have outlines. Some steps being out of their ability and then the training heads downhill. So, what do you do when you’re not reaching the next step in teaching the behaviour?


You’re not going get frustrated at your dog, yourself, or the training. Instead, you’re going to break the steps into smaller pieces, approximations, and reward those smaller more attainable goals.


So, your training plan might look like this now:

  • Put dog in sit position.

  • Wait for a couple seconds before rewarding.

  • Increase duration in 3 second increments.

  • Add shuffling your feet.

  • Moving one foot back and forward.

  • Moving both feet.

  • Step back while remaining in place.

  • Step back and forward.

  • Step back, wait 3 seconds, step forward.

  • Take 2 steps back and forward.

  • Step back 2 steps, wait 3 seconds, step forward.

  • Dog stays in position while you are 2 steps away.

Approximations can be used for all sorts or training, from tricks, obedience, dog sports to behaviour modification. When working with things like reactivity, where emotion plays a big role, those steps from A to B are constantly shifting. Being able to identify when the steps you have are too difficult for your dog to achieve and then adjusting them with approximations, will really help improve your training sessions and set yourselves up for success.


So next time your training is not going as planned, have think and approximate… approximate!!!... APPROXIMATE!!!