Molly Avrin giving her dog Mountain Wild treats while training with

By: Molly Avrin of Pete's Adventure Pack 

Whether you’re going for a leisurely walk with your dog in the neighborhood, adventuring outdoors, or preventing your dog from overreacting in a given situation, one of the most useful and simple training techniques you can implement is “yes” work. “Yes” work teaches your dog to refocus directly on you when needed, creates positive associations, and helps with building reliable recall. In this article, we’ll explore what "yes" work is, why it's important, and how to incorporate it into your dog's training routine. I’ve also provided you with an in-depth video (at the end of the article below) walking you through a real-life scenario using “yes” work with a dog.


“Yes” work is a positive reinforcement method that focuses on using the word “yes” to cue the dog to refocus on the human. In return, the dog is given a food reward. I prefer to use a very high value reward like Mountain Wild’s elk and deer jerky treats. To put it in simple terms, “yes” means a special treat is coming to the dog. A real-life example may be that you are out walking your dog and your dog starts to get interested (or fixated) on some squirrels. You say the word “yes” and your dog focuses all their attention back to you and you then give your dog a treat and continue on your walk. 


  1. Refocuses your dog: “Yes” work can be one of the most simple and easy ways to get your dog to refocus on you if every single time you say the word “yes”, you deliver a treat. You must pay out with food every time the magic word “yes” is spoken. This way your dog knows that any time you say that magic word, they refocus on you and food comes their way. "Yes" becomes a very high value word to your dog when you’re super clear and consistent. 
  1. Build positive associations: Another wonderful thing about “yes” work is that it helps build positive associations. For example, if your dog is uncomfortable with new people, start saying the word “yes” and feed them a treat every time a new person is around. This will start to change their mind and feeling about new people. Now, instead of “new people are scary”, the feeling becomes “when new people are around, I look to my human and I get really yummy, high value food”. 
  1. Creates good habits: If you have a dog who is overexcited or reactive (barks, lunges, or overreacts in any way) to people, dogs or moving objects, “yes” work is an amazing way to give your dog an option that feels much better to them. Instead of your dog staying in a stressful state and barking, for example, they can now choose to refocus on you and then get a food reward for that behavior. Over time, your dog starts to naturally choose to come to your side and focus on you rather than focusing on the trigger that was making them feel stressed.
  1. Reliable Recall: “Yes” work can also be used for recall. Any time you say the word “yes”, your dog comes running and maintains focus on you because they know that a high value food reward is coming their way. It can also be a great way to recall multiple dogs at once.


1. Start simple and build up the word “YES”: The very first step is to build the association that the word “yes” equals your dog is getting a high value treat.

a. Start inside your house with zero distractions.
b. Have your treats ready in a treat pouch or bag.
c. Say the word “yes”, then immediately give your dog a treat. You are basically a human treat dispenser any time you say the word “yes”.
d. Repeat this for 5-10 minutes per session. Keep it short and sweet.
e. With some dogs it will take a day or a few days to build the word, while other dogs it may take longer. The key is to be patient, as the connection will eventually come.

2. Add distance: When your dog starts to understand the word “yes” to the point that when you say the word they stop and look up at you, you can then start to add some distance.

a. Start with your dog just a few feet away from you, while they are distracted, say the word “yes”. When they stop what they’re doing and come back to you, pay out with the food reward.

3. Change environment: When you and your dog have mastered “yes” work inside the house, move to your backyard. (Do this on a leash, especially if your dog is not off leash reliable. 

a. Starting at step one, have your dog in front of you and simply say “yes” and give them a treat. Repeat this a few times until you feel like they are getting it in the outdoor environment.

b. You can now start to add some distance in the backyard.

c. Once you feel like every time you say the word “yes” your dog stops what they’re doing and comes up to you, you can start to go to the front yard or a more distracting environment. However, remember to build distractions slowly. You do not want to jump from inside the house to outside of the house with an Everest level distraction. Make sure you are taking things slowly and setting you and your dog up for success with this technique.

4. “Yes" Work Around Triggers: Helping your dog effectively manage triggers will have a very positive impact for both you and your dog.

a. A trigger can be anything that your dog feels uncomfortable around or makes them overreact whether that be from excitement or because they are scared.
b. Timing is everything! When you see a trigger, and before your dog starts reacting, say the word “yes” and have your dog refocus on you and pay them out with the treat. Do not wait for your dog to start barking or acting anxious to say the word “yes”. You want to be very proactive during these times in order to help your dog from the moment you see the trigger.
c. Here are a few ways that you can use “yes” work in the real world around triggers:
I. On walks: If your dog sees a person or dog and is looking uncomfortable (e.g. freezing, barking, hair standing up on their back, etc.), say “yes” and refocus your dog to you and pay out with the treat.  Keep paying out with food (aka jackpot) as your dog maintains focus on you rather than fixating on the trigger.
II. In the car: Often dogs will bark at people as they walk by your car. “Yes” work can be a lifesaver here. Any time you see a person walking near your car, say the word “yes” and have your dog focus on you and then pay them with a treat. Again, continue to jackpot as they maintain focus on you.
III. Encountering wildlife: It’s very important that we keep both wildlife and your dog safe while adventuring outdoors. Whenever your dog encounters any form of wildlife, do “yes” work immediately to maintain your dog’s focus on you rather than the wildlife.
IV. When someone comes to your home: If your dog tends to get overexcited or overreact to someone at the front door, you can also use “yes” work to redirect them.

“Yes” work can be such a useful technique for many different applications. When applied correctly, it will transform your dog's behavior and enhance your relationship with your dog. Whether it's building positive associations, creating new habits that relax your dog in stressful situations, or effective recall, there are many applications for "yes" work. It’s very important to remember that when implementing a new training method such as this with your dog to take it slow and be patient. You are both learning something new, but when done right, you will have so much fun while truly transforming your dog's behavior in a very positive way!


You can learn more from Molly Avrin online at www.petesadventurepack or @petesadventurepack on social media.