Rules of Three


Whether it’s some weird pattern in the universe, or because we’re just weirdos, we always see threes cropping up. We’ve collected what we think are the most important ones to keep in mind as you work with your doggie. We’ve presented them in a list format with various links to explore more if you desire.

Scroll down to the bottom for our bonus 7 list!


Timing • Criteria • Rate of Reinforcement

This is sometimes called the “Bailey Trinity,” as it was first outlined by Bob Bailey, a giant in the field of applied animal psychology and one of the world’s foremost animal trainers. The three factors of training are important for ALL organisms, not just animals. B.F. Skinner—the father of Operant Conditioning—and his graduate students Marian and Keller Breland (Marian later married Bob Bailey), proved that any organism with a nervous system will respond to Operant Conditioning. The three factors here are not new to Bailey, although he’s written about how crucial the three, in concert, are to effective behavior modification.

Bailey has especially spoken about why designing a focused session is important. Many owners tend to have a “shotgun” approach to practice (if they practice at all) and consequently get shoddy results. It’s much better to have a few laser-focused sessions instead of a bunch of sloppy ones.

We try to not make things too technical for our students, but keeping these three important pieces in mind is still a good way to directionalize your training sessions. If we go in with a set criteria for the session, provide immediate feedback, and provide a high rate of reinforcement, our sessions will move quickly with better results.


Ongoing • Binary • Analog

According to world-renowned veterinarian, behaviorist, and trainer Dr. Ian Dunbar, effective verbal feedback must be these three things. We teach (as do many great trainers) that your voice is your #1 training tool. As such, these three crucial qualities are the driving characteristics for good communication.

  • Ongoing: it must be a running commentary on your dog’s performance
  • Binary: it must communicate correct and incorrect. Our Marker System does the bulk of this work
  • Analog: it must be representative of how the dog is doing in that moment.

This concept lies at the core of our training system at Simpawtico and we literally harp on this in every class at every level! It’s also part of our Voice Master Key.



Presents • Compliments • Massages

We’ve called this the “Positive Training Trifecta.” We’re really big on the idea of Reward Events, where a reward is an interactive event that varies in duration and intensity. The trifecta is how we approach designing reward events that appeal to and motivate a dog. We want them to work hard, and it’s only fair that they’re rewarded handsomely for it!

If you’re interested in learning more, we have a whole video-post about this. Reward Events are also one of our Master Keys.



Terminal • Intermediate • No-reward

Marker training is a powerful component to an effective communication system with your dog. Once a dog is fluent in markers, the training moves much, much faster.

  • A terminal marker communicates success. Your dog’s done it right, has earned a reward, and may move to access it.
  • An intermediate or support marker says, “Keep going.” We want the dog to remain in behavior and keep working towards the terminal goal.
  • A no-reward marker means, “Try again.”

The markers that we use are:

  • Terminal: “Yes!”
  • Intermediate: “Good.”
  • No-reward: “Nope.”

If you’re interested in learning more, we have a whole video post about this. This concept is also part of our Voice Master Key.



Structure • Schedule • Supervision

This triad was originally proposed by world-class trainer, Michael Ellis, when he was discussing potty training a puppy. We believe, though, that this is an appropriate approach to ALL aspects of bringing a new dog into your home at any age.

Whether it’s a puppy, or a newly-adopted shelter dog, structure, schedule, and supervision are critical components to managing a smooth transition. It’s not just for potty training!

We’re so passionate about the gospel of Structure • Schedule • Supervision that we’ve discussed it several times in our videos:

Move Stick Stay triad

Move • Stick • Drop

Setting criteria is an integral step in any training. For each session with your dog you want to set criteria for what you want to accomplish in the session. Do you want 5 more seconds in a Stay? Do you want one more step away in a Distance-Down? Do you want your dog to perform an action without food in your hand? Even a five minute session should have goals.

As we work, we must evaluate our dog’s performance against each criterion and then adjust as necessary. To do this, we use the Move-Stick-Drop guide:

  • If your dog is successful 8/10 trials, you can move up that criterion.
  • If your dog is successful only 5–7 out of 10 trials, you’ll stick to the same criterion and keep practicing.
  • If your dog is successful less than 5/10 trials you should drop the criterion to a lower level to help them be more successful.

Criteria levels are gradual. Sometimes it’s tiny, tiny steps, and sometimes a dog can make a huge leap. Approach it intelligently and you’ll always be making forward movement!

We recommend in a single session (5-10 minutes) you only set one or two criteria to help you stay focused. “Shotgun” training is going to yield mediocre improvement. Multiple, short sessions with focused criteria are better than fewer, longer ones with many criteria.


Sit • Down • Stand

The three, classic control positions. These are the backbone of obedience. The more bombproof these three become the easier management becomes in various environments around competing motivators. Additionally, dogs fluent in these develop great character traits that carry over into other parts of their lives. They’re calmer and more mannerly. Also, as control positions, they dovetail into—and are prerequisites for—other things such as Heeling, Stay, On-Your-Bed, Terminal Positions (see below), Say Hello, and more.

Being able to hit each position is usually where people stop, but we think you should go farther with it. The transitions between the positions are important, body-awareness skills to have, too. Dogs should be able to go from any position to any position without unnecessary steps. For example, can your dog lie down from standing, or do they have to sit first? That sit in the middle is a crutch. So, in all of our Level 2 classes like Puppy 2 and Intermediate, dogs learn to practice the pattern: Sit-Down-Sit-Stand-Down-Stand. This will take them through all six possible transitions.

Stand itself isn’t on the list of the Essential 7 (below), but it’s damn useful and we teach it right from the beginning in all Level 1 classes.


Take It • Leave It • Drop It

We’ve called these three commands the “Holy Trinity of mouth control.” Not only are they great, practical behaviors your dog should know, but they help develop impulse control, which is something A LOT of pet dogs can use more of! Impulse control, as a character trait, makes for a mannerly and easily manageable dog.

The three commands work like this:

  • Take It: tells your dog they may have the thing they want. For this one you don’t necessarily need to say “take it;” any neutral release word will do, but your dog must know to wait and to take it politely.
  • Leave It: tells your dog they must forget about that thing they want. Trash, socks, nasty things in the yard…even the cat.
  • Drop It: tells your dog they must release that thing they have in their mouth. Taught during developmental Tug play, and used later when they pick up things we don’t want them to have.

We teach these in all of our level 1 classes! We’ve also got video-posts on teaching them.


Front • Heel • Place

These are the three “terminal positions.” Each one is a variation of Sit, only there’s more data included about where and how your dog should sit. These are generally appended to the end of active behaviors such as a recall (Come) which is why they’re called “terminal positions”—the active behavior should terminate in the requested position+location.

  • Front: your dog sits in front of you, facing you.
  • Heel: your dog sits next you, usually on the left, sitting by your foot, facing the same direction. If they’re looking up at you this is typically the beginning of a Focus-Heel; if they’re looking at something it’s typically the beginning of a Contact-Heel (more common in protection sports).
  • Place: your dog is sitting between your legs, facing the same direction, and looking up at you. This is more commonly used in Protection Sports but it’s a really cool thing for your dog to be able to do.

We don’t teach these in our pet dog level 1 and 2 classes, but we suggest them in our Advanced classes. All of our dogs know them, too!

Duration Distance Distraction triad

Duration • Distance • Distraction

More commonly called “The Three Ds,” these are the steps to proofing a behavior. It’s not enough that a mechanical action is performed, it needs to be performed well in a number of settings. Not only is this triad a list, it’s also in the order we typically work through them.

  • Duration: your dog needs to remain in behavior for a length of time. Stay is a classic example, but there are many behaviors where duration is a key component.
  • Distance: distance is a special kind of challenge for dogs to cope with. We need to work through this and make sure they can perform not only as we move away from them, but also that we can prompt them from a distance. Remember: dogs aren’t disobedient at distance because they’re being stubborn; they don’t naturally understand that it’s the same thing at distance! We work through this and help expand their knowledge and skill.
  • Distraction: working through competing motivators is probably paid the least amount of time and attention from pet owners. However, it’s arguably the most important of the three to do! Students in class will frequently get frustrated with their dog and grumble “He’s so good at home!” Well…nobody cares if your dog can do it in your living room. What matters is how they behave in public. We have to work through the distractions in a gradual, sensical, and sensitive progression.

This progression is time consuming—and even tedious at times—but ultimately worth it.

Soiling Preferences Triad

Substrate • Olfactory • Spatial

These are the three soiling preferences formed by puppies as they mature. Although this is not immutable, it is a strong set of preferences that the savvy owner should take time to mold in accordance with their management and housetraining regimen. For older adopted dogs, it’s something to take into account as you help them adjust to their new surroundings and to work through.

The three preferences work like this:

  • Substrate: the surface your dog prefers to eliminate on. This could be grass, gravel, or dirt (in most cases). For dogs raised inside it could be problematic if the preference is wood flooring or pads.
  • Olfactory: the smell of prior pee/poop instances (even from other dogs) will indicate “this is a toilet” and prompt your dog to go there. With a nose that’s approximately 10,000 times stronger than yours even a few parts per million will still be detected.
  • Spatial: dogs are all about geo-location and they will build a list of their favorite places in the world to go. In their yard or on your walks, you will see a higher concentration in certain places.

Understanding these preferences and manipulating them during your housetraining program will help you dial it in much faster and more reliably.



The Septad: 7 Behaviors Every Dog Should Know

The idea of “The Seven” was popularized by celebrity trainer, Brandon McMillan. Since then the concept has been picked up by tons of trainers, bloggers, and infographic-for-Pinterest designers. There are a few variations out there (as with ours, too). Nonetheless, the concept is a solid one: pick a few useful things to get really good at instead of being mediocre at twenty.

Brandon’s list includes “No,” although we don’t believe that’s command; it’s a non-instructive interrupt. We’ve aligned our list with things that can be taught in a reward-based system…more of a “To-Do” list. We use “Nope” in our Marker System anyways, so it would be redundant to have it here.

The 7 as we teach them at Simpawtico are:

  1. Sit
  2. Lie Down
  3. Come
  4. Leave It
  5. Get Off
  6. Stay
  7. Controlled Walking

These behaviors form the backbone of our level one classes, Puppy 1 and Basic. We usually also teach Stand and Drop It in early classes since they’re integral to how we work on other things, but…HECK…if the only things a dog knew was just these seven, and knew them well, that would be a damned good dog!

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