6-Week Online Class

Optimal Arousal: Consent and the Working Dog

Starts Feb 1, 2002 ~ Registration Opens Jan. 22, 2020

This course is about establishing and maintaining optimal arousal in the working dog. By “working dog”, I mean dogs who work in partnership with us, in high arousal, with strong drive / instinct for the job: herding, scent work (SAR, tracking, nose work etc.), protection, gun dog, mushing, and the like.

These dogs have strong impulses to do the work they were bred for, yet many struggle with optimal learning and performance due to excessive arousal. At the same time, we need that arousal to get the job done. Our task is to help our dogs achieve an optimal level of arousal, the mental sweet spot for learning and performance. The good news is, we can do this through training!

To move toward this optimal state, we will to focus on balance in our training — alternating between intensity and calm — to help teach our dogs to learn how to regulate themselves. We will learn their “tells” and create a plan to respond in real time to keep them ‘in the zone’ and working effectively.

Consent and control are two major factors that come into play in achieving our goal. Consent is critical for ensuring an engaged, willing partner, and asking our dogs for their consent before proceeding will go a long way towards achieving the mental state we seek.

Consent, however, is only the first of two critical questions we must ask our dog. Let’s face it, most of our working bred dogs WANT to do the work. So, while it’s critical to ask the question “Do you want to do this?”, we need to go one step further and ask “CAN you do this?”.

In this class, we will do a deep dive into Start Buttons (Do you want to do this?), including developing our dog’s understanding the he does, in fact, have a choice. Next, we’ll explore Arousal Checks (Can you do this?), and develop arousal manipulation tools that can be used both on the job and off. We’ll also spend time helping our dogs learn to manage their own arousal levels, and exploring the concept of “keep going buttons”, and “stop buttons”.

This course will provide you with a roadmap for this work, along with a series of behaviours that I have found to be effective for achieving optimal arousal. Gold and Silver students will work with me, using this foundation, to create a tailored plan for their unique dog and working situation.

Class Syllabus

Unit 1: Arousal and the Working Dog

  • Sources of arousal: Biology / environment / training
  • Arousal is our friend
  • Optimal arousal: How much is enough? What does it look like?
  • The other end of the leash

Unit 2: Working with Arousal Part 1 – Super Charging Our Training

  • Understanding poisoned cues
  • Errorless learning through loopy training
  • Impulse control vs. stimulus control

Unit 3: Working with Arousal Part 2 – Reinforcement

  • Food and toys
  • Markers
  • Movement and Control as primary reinforcers

Unit 4: Working with Arousal Part 3 – Practice

  • Balance in training
  • Dynamic vs. static impulse control
  • Premack: when food and toys aren’t enough

Unit 5: Choice

  • Coercion vs. Opting in
  • Start buttons
  • Arousal checks
  • Building the “choice muscle”

Unit 6: Putting It All Together

  • Start and end routines
  • Building in check-ins
  • Having an exit strategy
  • Transitioning to the work / sport environment

Prerequisites & Supplies


There are no prerequisites for this class.


Should you wish to put into practice what you learn, you’ll need a dog.

A clicker, food your dog enjoys, and a favourite toy or two will be useful.

Exercises are designed for small spaces, and to use items you likely already have around the house.

Gold and Working Silver students will need a video system of some sort (a phone is fine) and a tripod or means to hold the video camera steady. I strongly encourage Bronze students to video your training for your own review.

This class is offered online via the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy

What People are Saying

about learning with Hélène Lawler

“I have taken a number of online dog training courses from Hélène and I can’t say enough good things about her. Her course materials are very well thought out, organized and full of easily digestible, relevant information. Her feedback is on point, insightful and articulate and helped me navigate the intricacies of training a dog with high arousal issues.”

— Sylvie Fefer —