The Learn to Earn Program: Developing Leadership in Humans and Impulse Control in Dogs

34 | Posted:

By Dr Sophia Yin
R.I.P. 1966-2014

To download the free poster on The Learn to Earn Program from our store for free or a donation, click here.

Every day pet owners email me about problems they are having with their dogs—anxiety, aggression, unruly, lack of focus. One of the common themes with all of these scenarios is that these dogs tend to lack impulse control and their humans need to find better ways to provide guidance and leadership.

Fortunately, humans can develop the needed communication skills while training dogs to have self-control and emotional control in one fun, reward-based program called the Learn to Earn Program. In this program, humans gain leadership by controlling all the resources that motivate the pet and requiring the pet willingly work for these items instead of getting them for free. Now, the focus is on using all valued resources to reward desirable behaviors while simultaneously removing the rewards for undesirable behavior.

This overall approach has been called nothing in life is free, no free lunch, or the learn-to-earn program. Each behavior consultant has his or her own variation. The following presentation is my own version of the Learn to Earn Program for Developing Leadership in Humans and Impulse Control in Dogs. The actual program is laid out step-by-step with photos in Perfect Puppy in 7 Days (chapter 5). This blog is part of a 3-part blog that highlights the most important points of my Learn to Earn plan.


Say Please by Automatically Sitting is the Foundation Behavior

In this Learn to Earn program, the idea is to use everything your dog wants to your advantage as rewards for training purposes. The dog will learn to earn everything she wants by politely and automatically saying please by sitting.  She will at the same time, learn that performing undesirable behaviors such as jumping on you cause the potential rewards for those behaviors to go away.

For the fastest training, dogs should earn their meal throughout the day when you are home. That means no food in the food bowl. Instead, you’ll carry food around with you in your pockets, in a bait bag, or have it available in easily accessible containers throughout the house. Then, throughout the day, when you are home, you’ll reward appropriate behavior.

How the Learn to Earn Program Trains Leadership and Communication Skills in Humans.

This program consists of setting clear rules for the dog to automatically sit for all resources. The human learns to communicate the rules by immediately (i.e., within 0.5 seconds) reinforcing correct behaviors as they occur, and preventing the dog from receiving rewards for undesirable behaviors. So a large part of this program is teaching owners the exact body movements and timing that help them convey a clear message.

Leadership is established when humans can set clear guidelines for the dog’s behavior and can effectively communicate the rules by always rewarding correct behaviors as they occur while preventing or immediately removing the rewards for undesirable behaviors before they are accidentally reinforced. The owner must stick to this plan long enough for the good behaviors to become a habit.

When owners can meet these criteria, their dog learns to view them as consistent, predictable, and able to guide. Alternatively, when rules change randomly the dog may view the owner the same way you might view a boss who keeps changing his mind. Overall with the Learn to Earn Program, rather than complying out of fear, dogs can choose to follow human direction because doing so leads to rewards and then doing so becomes a habit. This model reflects a good understanding of the underlying cause of improper canine behavior and leads to a stronger dog–owner bond.

How the Learn to Earn Program Leads to Self Control in Dogs.

In general, dogs have impulse control issues because taking things without asking, barging through the door,  blurting out of turn, and pulling with all their might have worked so well in the past. For some dogs and breeds of dog there may be a physiologic or genetic tendency towards having less impulse control, which means their humans must carry out the program more thoughtfully and consistently than owners of the average dog.

In this program, we turn the house rules onto their head. Whereas taking things without asking worked before, the only thing that works to get them what they want now is to automatically say please by sitting. We start with easy situations such as requiring dogs to sit for treats or kibble delivered by hand. This way we can quickly build up a high rate of reinforcement leading to a faster rate of learning. Next, we systematically work with more difficult situations such as sitting to play fetch or for the opportunity to chase squirrels and then we expect longer or more bouts of desired behavior for fewer and fewer rewards.


The Benefits: How the Program Changes Your Dog’s Perspective

Because dogs learn that the only way they can get what they want is by sitting and looking to you for permission, the learn to earn program teaches them to control their emotions (self-control) even if that means remaining calm in order to:

  • get attention from you or whatever they want most.
  • that paying attention to you, your words, signals, and guidance are important because it gets them what they want.
  • when faced with a difficult situation, they can and should look to you for guidance.

Consequently, the Learn to Earn program is useful for dogs with fear, anxieties (including separation anxiety), arousal issues or hyperactivity, inability to focus on their owners, as well as just general lack of training and unruly behavior.

Why training during all interactions throughout the day and for all resources, including all of their food, is important.

This training throughout the day and for all resources, including each kibble, may seem a huge inconvenience but doing so will make a huge difference. Here’s why we do it.

  • So your dog will develop a habit rather than a trick: If you only train in specified sessions, your dog may just learn to behave during those training sessions. The things you do at the start of such sessions, such as pulling out a treat bag or placing a special collar or leash on, will become the cues to behave for just that short time rather than behaving well all the time.  Then, if on top of that you add other resources such as petting, attention, and play when she wants these things, you’ll increase your toolbox of rewards even more. Add to this removal of all rewards for undesirable behavior and now you have a formula for changing the dog’s behavior patterns virtually overnight (meaning days to weeks instead of weeks to years).


The necessity and benefits of tethering your dog to you at first.

In the first days of training your dog should be tethered to you on leash at all times when you are at home and she isn’t in her crate or pen, dog-safe room, or tethered to an object near you. When she’s not tethered to you, she specifically needs to be in some type of situation where she can’t practice unwanted behaviors, such as barking, pacing, and others that reinforce poor impulse control. Tethering to you is especially important because:

  • If your dog’s near, it’s easier to reward good behaviors as they occur. Otherwise, you tend to forget and miss opportunities, which makes training take weeks or months longer.

  • Because she’s supervised, it’s difficult for her to practice or perform unwanted behaviors.

  • Tethering to you teaches your dog that when she doesn’t want to pay attention to you, she can’t just blow you off, walk away, and then get rewarded by something else, such as a dropped food wrapper that she grabs. That is, tethering her to you helps prevent rewards for undesirable behavior.
I use a Buddy System hands free leash ( for the tethering to me or to furniture. I keep my dog on a regular flat buckle collar or on a harness that hooks to the front such as the WalkinSync®, Freedom Harness® or Gentle Leader® Harness.

How long to continue the plan.

Some people assume they’ll have to continue this intense program forever. The reality is that if humans work at this diligently their dogs will progress more in a week than most dog-human teams learn in many months. But just so you have an idea of how long you will go.

Continue the complete indoor program including tethering:

  • In general, a dog should stay on this tethering stage until she readily and automatically quickly sits when she wants something—food, attention, to go out the door, etc—and also has a 100% come when called the first time you call even when there are distractions in the house. To develop that 100% come when called you will go through stages where the dog is dragging a long leash so you can specifically work on come.
  • For most problem dogs that I work with in my house, this takes just several days or at most a week. For more difficult dogs this stage may last much longer (3-4 weeks for me which means much longer for you).

Continue the sit for everything: Until you have the perfect dog that you want. Remember that impulse control in one situation will affect arousal and control in another. So that if our dog goes bonkers over squirrels and over tennis balls, say please by sitting in order to play fetch is important for getting him to behave well around squirrels too.


To download the free poster on The Learn to Earn Program from our store for free or a donation, click here.

Dr. Yin passed away in 2014 but her legacy continues to live on.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

34 responses to “The Learn to Earn Program: Developing Leadership in Humans and Impulse Control in Dogs

  1. Yet another great post. As a dog trainer myself I have wholeheartedly seen the benefits of making dogs work for everything that is rewarding in their life. Too many people give the dog everything freely without thinking about how the lack of structure is going to effect the dog’s behavior.

  2. I know that consistency is the key to any training (dog, horse, child, spouse). Can an easily distracted lab be trained when he lives in a household of multiple people, all of whom interact with him?
    I’m the primary caretaker of my grand-dog, Buck. My son owns him but he lives with me because my son and family are on the road for months at a time. When they are here, I have little or no control over how he, his wife, and their children interact with Buck.
    I’ve accepted that I can’t teach them to interact with Buck the same way I do. The question is can I ever be successful in overcoming this and training him despite the inconsistencies?

  3. Wow another wonderful post by Dr Sophia Yin! I’m just totally pleased to read about Developing Leadership in Humans and Impulse Control in Dogs. This is a very present issue. I appreciate this. Thanks!!!

    1. Some of the videos we have show Dr Yin working with more than one dog. It can be done but you should also give each dog it’s own time when possible.

    1. Hi. We are having issues with the server the posters are hosted on. Please email me at and I will get you the poster you need.

  4. Hi Randy,
    I can’t open the link to the posters either. I have tried to email you but you email address doesn’t seem to be working. I have tried copying and pasting your address a couple of times but to no avail. Could you tell me what I should do to be able to obtain the posters? Thank you.

      1. I am trying to download the Learn to Earn poster and it does not appear to be working.

    1. The leashes you wear like the ones she mentions seem to range from five to six feet. I have used a regular six foot and I run a belt through the handle.

  5. First of all, thank you so much for these invaluable materials! I really appreciate them.
    But I think the Learn to Earn program link is broken. Could you please fix it?
    Thanks a lot for your time and efforts put into making them!!

  6. I just rescued a pit mix, she’s my ESA. She’s 6, 49lb, spayed, very sweet, playful, fit, medium energy, a bit sick from a URI caught at the shelter. She is used to off leash time at parks, she’s assertive with other dogs, appropriately. She is well behaved overall, but also very strong so I don’t want to risk her making any mistakes to prevent her hurting my daughter or her little friends.

    I use a rather short 5-6′ lead. .. have a retractable and 30 ft training leash. Just ordered a freedom harness. she goes nuts for sticks, tennis balls and squirrels, hard to redirect her…. jumps a little when excited but the jumping must stop immediately because my daughter is soo small. My daughter is 5. She is a great dog, very motivated to learn. Already staying to sit before i throw her a toy, etc. Where should I start? We adopted her 3 days ago. I’m a little overwhelmed. I want to lead my daughter and our dog in the most positive way I can. I don’t want anyone to get hurt.

  7. I am trying to download the Learn to Earn poster and it does not appear to be working. Brings me back to the previous page to register name etc.

  8. I adopted 2 eight-year-old beagles from humane society 2 weeks ago. Tilly is skiddish /shy when a sound is made outside, we live in town, and runs to a corner and doesn’t go to the bathroom outside, just inside the house!! I can’t get her to the door to go outside. She was abused and from a puppy mill. Milly, also from a puppy mill has MAJOR separation anxiety. She will go out the door and go to the bathroom. Milly yelps when we take her out of the kennel in the morning and when we get home from our outings. My husband is ready to take them back to humane society but they don’t want them back! Please send some guidance for us. Thank you for your time.

  9. February 9, 2019
    I got 2 French Bulldog pups when they were 3months old. The have an unusually close bond and are 2 brothers from the same litter. They just turned 1 year old. 1 of them has possession-aggression and attacks his brother without any warning at mealtime and out of a sound sleep.I am working with a vet animal behaviorist with 30 years experience who has recommended using your “Learn to Earn” program to try to break this vicious behavior. I am trying to get a printed copy of the program as a friend of mine is helping me and she too would rather read the course before we start it and refer to it as we go along. Any change it is available in a soft cover book or workbook I can buy 2 copies of ASAP? Thanks for your assistance and valuable time.

  10. I am trying to download your Learn to earn flyer but it says the link is not available any help would be appreciated.

    1. The service that hosted that flyer has gone down. We are working on alternatives. They will likely be in the shopping cart next week. Very sorry.

  11. Can this be one in a single-human household? I’m in the process of adopting a dog who is already crate trained. I’m single, live alone, and work full-time.

    Could I give him half his food in the morning before I leave for work, then use this system in the evenings when I’m home?

  12. Hi!
    I have a 4 dog household, and one fear biter of the group.
    He is an English shepard/border collie who is just coming 2.
    He is super shy, but very sweet and willing to please.
    But he has bitten a friend, and our Grandpa who lives on our property…
    Both times they were doing something out of the ordinary.
    The one was playing basket ball with us and had the ball and was bouncing it, the other Grandpa came up behind him in the dark to grabbed some animal feed buckets, also once more when Grandpa was stomping some old wire fencing into a mesh the dog walked up normally then suddenly snapped at his pants! No warning…
    Would this training work well for him? I want to train him out of his fear biting…. Thank you!

  13. Hi,

    I’m working with a male Red Heeler (Australian Cattle Dog) I adopted at about a year in November. I tethered him initially and have always made him sit for food. He’s developed what seems to me and others to be a fear reaction causing aggressive behavior along with possesiveness about me leading to occasional aggression towards my wife, and him acting like he’s going to attack and eat the neighbors in our apartment building and others outside as well as dogs. Tethering is quite difficult for all day as he gets very grumpy. We’re home almost all the time now site to Covid-19 go were going to see how using all his food as rewards for sitting and acceptable behavior goes. Any other suggestions would be great.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *