Running Aframe Training: Phases 1-3

These phases are all about building value for the target behavior (four feet in the box), adding a cue, and testing that verbal cue before continuing on to adding additional layers and challenges to the behavior. 

I begin in a neutral location to the box.

  1. Dog steps into box
  2. Mark & feed in box (room service) 
  3. Mark & feed out of box (tossed cookie) 
  4. Repeat steps 1-3, for 5-10 repetitions 

I like to mark and feed in the box initially so that the dog understands that it is about getting all four feet in the box, vs just running through chasing your tossed cookie. 

When you reward your dog, keep their bodies facing the direction they are moving in as best you can. We do not want to teach them to come to the target and face you, we want them to stay on the line that they came off it. 

When you reward outside of the box, you want to toss the treat about two of your dog's body lengths away – enough that they can collect their treat, turn around and have time to look for their target. Try to keep the treats on the direct line that will take them back to the box – we don't want to add in angles at this point. 

You may be wondering why I stop the dog in the box or on the mat. This is a running aframe class afterall! I do this for the first phase, so that he dog is very clearly thinking about “get all four feet in/on the target”. I have found without this phase, the dogs quickly learn to just chase the tossed reward and are not actually thinking about the target at all.


In this demonstration of Phase 1, I am using a mat with Shrek. If they mess up the mat, you can try to fix it while they are chasing their tossed treat, but it's not a big deal if you can't get it done in time. 

In this demonstration of Phase 1, you'll see that Dibz is not immediately offering to step into the box. Notice that I take *any* approximation: turning back towards the box, one foot in, two feet in, etc, and I even alternate between lower and higher critera, until he's finally moving more fluidly towards the box. Some dogs will ust immediately go “yay, target!” and start interacting, and others will need things split more finely, and that's ok!

Phase 2:  

I keep the same position relative to the box. 

  1. Dog steps all 4 feet into box 
  2. Mark & feed out of box 

Repeat this pattern for 5-10 reps. 

Mechanics matter here – hands at sides, and only say “get” when you anticipate the 4th foot getting into the box. This should naturally cause your dog to pause slightly, as they wait for you to either mark room service or tossed food. This thoughtfulness is what I am looking for. If your mechanics are sloppy, your dog will soon be chasing the food, and only watching your hand, accidentally coming in contact with the box. 

I am aware of the stepping on the box, and if she stops with less than 4 paws in, I reset to the same direction she came from. This is how I would handle any error at this stage. 

Naming the Behavior 

Phase 3: 

I keep the same position relative to the box. 

  1. Dog steps all 4 feet into box 
  2. Mark & feed out of box
  3. Dog collects reinforcement
  4. Insert aframe cue 
  5. Dog steps all 4 feet into box 
  6. Mark and feed out of box 

Repeat for 5-10 reps to add the cue. 


I use the cue that I will call the aframe, and once we put the box on the actual aframe and backchain it, the behavior will be “climb the frame and hit the target on the way down”. 

Test Your Verbal Cue

Now that you've got the target (box or mat) on a verbal cue, let's test it! Ways to test your cue are: 

  1. Take a step back from the target, so there is empty space between you and it. Set your dog up in the same locations to approach the box. How do they respond? Do they seek out the target or do they gravitate towards you? 

1B. Take another step back. Still good? If so, move on to 1C. 

1C. Turn your body so that you are parallel to the target, rather than facing it. You'll turn so that you're facing the direction your dog is heading in. While they are collecting their cookie, turn and face the new direction before verbally cueing the box.

Test Your Verbal Cue

Change your dog's approach to the box. Using your tossed treats, set your dog up to approach the box on different angles, rather than straight on to the box.

Increase the value of the reinforcer you are using. Since we are still tossing treats, the reinforcer you hold in your hand is a distraction to the dog when they are trying to seek out the target. If you've tested the cue in the above ways, the dog is comfortable moving away from their reinforcer to earn that reward. What if you increase the value of that reinforcer? Is your dog still willing to move away from you to seek the target out? You may have to begin close to the target again to help your dog be successful, but then should work back up to being at least 5-6 feet away from the box, even when you have something that they really want in your hands. 


Show me what you've got! We want to be sure that the dog is purposefully seeking out the target vs running over/into it incidentally before moving on to adding other distractions, like a pre-placed reward or your motion.