Keys to Successfully Training Your Dog


This article is a work-in-progress but if you attended my seminar at the P.A.W.S. Animal Adoption Center on 10NOV18, I wanted you to have at least an outline of what I discussed. I encourage you to check back at this link < > as I finalize this article.

Recognize That Your Dog Is A Sentient Being with Feelings

Dogs are thinking and emotional creatures. They clearly demonstrate positive feelings such as happiness, joy, and contentment. A dogs emotions can also have a negative nature, like anxiety, sadness, fear, and anger. Whether positive or negative, the emotions of you and your dog can both affect training. Make sure that both of you are in a positive and healthy emotional place before beginning any training session. Take the time to learn how your dog expresses their emotions. < FMIIntroduction to Canine Communication – >

Recognize That Training Will NOT Resolve Negative Emotions

Training a dog to sit, or down, or to come when called will not typically resolve the dogs fear or anger. Asking a dog to do something counter to their emotional instincts may in fact make their emotional response more severe. This is often misunderstood by trainers, veterinarians, and shelters or rescue groups. Those that are unaware may suggest that a dog with aggression or reactivity issues towards dogs or other people, or both will improve with obedience training. While such training can be wonderful for helping an unruly dog to learn manners to make them easier to live with, it will not inherently make their fear go away or their anger dissipate. If a dog is reacting to people or other dogs, putting them in an environment where they are confronted by their triggers may in fact make their reactive behavior become more likely and more intense. Dogs and the people who love them can be helped but they would be better off working with a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) or a veterinarian accredited by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB). It is also imperative that no aversive of any kind are used with these dogs as a response to their reactivity or aggression.
< FMI – What Is A Pet Behavior Consultant? >

< FMI – Reward Based Training versus Aversives >

Accept the Dog That You Have

When you get a dog, you may have certain goals and ambitions for that dog. Your dog may have a different agenda. It is important to recognize that not every dog will be the dog we want them to be. When I brought my Golden Retriever Tikken home, it was with the goal and the hope that she and I would eventually compete in agility. Tikken had no real interest in agility so I found something else for her to do that she enjoyed, being a therapy dog and visiting seniors and children. < FMIAccepting the Pet You Have >

Work As A Team & Be Consistent – ALWAYS!

Training your dog will be much easier if you and your dog have a relationship based on mutual trust and acceptance and the simple fact that you enjoy being with one another. The old model of dog training was based on the idea that you and your dog were on two different teams. I can tell you that after twenty-three plus years of working with people and their dogs, those that view themselves as being on the same team and working together are not only happier but they are also more successful.

If your dog lives with more than one person, or frequently is around other people, you need to recruit those people to join the team and to work with you and your dog. It only takes one person around your dog to undo what you and your dog have accomplished together. You know that one person that continues to encourage and reward your dog for jumping up on them? They are not helping. Even extended family members, those that might only see your dog every couple of months, can and should be part of the training process.

Consistent rules, training methods, and cues are essential to successfully training your dog. All those involved need to understand and be doing things in the same manner.

< FMIWhat Is Dog Training? >

ALWAYS – Manage to Prevent Behavior You Do Not Want

At some point, almost all dogs will exhibit a behavior we do not like. While we do not need to accept these behaviors, in most cases, we do not always need an elaborate training solution to stop the behavior. Sometimes the simplest and most effective solution is to use are allegedly more powerful brains to develop a strategy to prevent the behavior. For example, if our dog is anxious and uncomfortable around the grandchildren when they visit once a year, keep the dog in another room with their favorite toys or board them when the grand kids come to visit.

Many of the behaviors we do not like, such as jumping, are inadvertently rewarded by us because we give the dog attention whenever they exhibit the behavior. Attention can be looking at the dog, talking to them, or touching them. The same often happens if you have a dog that steals socks. They can quickly learn that stealing socks from the floor or the laundry basket results in a rousing game of chase. Since they love the game, they quickly learn exactly what to do to get you to play. Would it not be easier just to keep the socks somewhere the dog cannot get to them? As Ben Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

ALWAYS Focus on Rewarding Behavior You Like

Equally important to ignoring undesirable behavior is the need to reward behavior you like. A reward can be many things and will vary from dog to dog, but in most cases, it will be food. If you ignore the dog when they jump up on you and instantly reward them with a tiny morsel of food the instant they have all four feet on the ground, they will learn much faster. One of the most frequent errors I see people make when training there dog is to failing to reward behavior, or to stop rewarding the behavior before it is firmly established.

Do NOT Get Stingy with Rewards & Treats

Directly related to rewarding behavior is the quality of the treat you are using. Just as most people would find a piece of fine chocolate more rewarding than a stale saltine cracker, most dogs will find a tiny piece of meat more valuable than the largest dog biscuit.

The frequency of the reward is also important, especially when training in more distracting environments or when working on more difficult behaviors like walking on a loose leash. If you are not making progress, try rewarding more frequently.

NEVER Forget to Reward Your Dog For Just Being Good

Sadly, it seems to be human nature, mine included, to be more likely to react when our dog is doing something we do not want than it is to acknowledge desired behavior with a reward. If you enjoy your dog when they are lying at your feet or calmly sitting in your lap, do not forget to reward them. If our employer forgot to pay us, would we be happy? Remember, behaviors that are rewarded consistently will be consistently repeated.

Be Thoughtful About the Cues You Use for Behavior

People like to talk hoping their dog will listen and perform a requested behavior, while dogs like to watch not understanding the need for all the chatter. Remember dogs are visual creatures. Start by training a visual cue before you even think about adding a verbal cue. Do not add a verbal cue until the visual cue is reliable; the dog responds 90 times out of 100 in any environment, context or situation. Dogs typically never develop a reliable response to a cue because people do not adequately train the cue and do not sufficiently reward the desired behavior.

Visual and verbal cues need to be consistent among all of those training the dog; they need to look the same. Remember your dog is great at discriminating tiny differences while they generalize poorly. I also find that many people like to give visual cues like a “fast-talking” urbanite that has consumed five Red Bulls too many. Or alternatively, a visual cue where the individual giving the cue has so many moving body parts, it looks like a pitcher winding up to win the World Series. Make your visual cues slow, deliberate, and simple.

Consistency is equally important with verbal cues. There is a difference between: “sit”, “siiiit,” “sit sit, sit?” and “can you sit?” Again, keeping a verbal cue short, deliberate, and simple will make training easier. Also, make sure a verbal cue for one behavior does not sound like that for another behavior.

ALWAYS Keep Training FUN! – ALWAYS!

If a training session stops being fun for either you or your dog, STOP and go do something you will both enjoy. If that is not possible, STOP and seriously evaluate why training is no longer fun.

Back when I first started training dogs professionally, I was still taking my Cairn Terrier Gus to classes on a regular basis. At one point, Kate, our class instructor, witnessed what was probably the least enthusiastic recall she has ever seen. Gus and I were at opposite ends of our field when I gave him his cue to come. He came but at the slowest pace possible, acting like he wanted to do anything but come to me. At the end of the class, after the other students had left, Kate took me aside and politely kicked us out of class. She observed that neither Gus nor I were having fun and that training was damaging our relationship. She suggested we just go and have fun. It was the last class Gus and I were part of, and we had a great relationship the rest of his life. Thank you Kate for such good advice and your honesty!

Work with a Force-Free Certified Professional Dog Trainer

No matter how many dogs you have trained or how many training classes you have attended, I would encourage you to work with a Force-Free, Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) every time you bring a new dog into your home. Such an individual has proven their knowledge experience through a rigorous examination and will typically have experience with more dogs and a wider variety of breeds and temperaments than you ever will. They should also be committed to force-free, fear-free, and pain-free training, as any other type of training will be counter-productive. Even though I am a CPDT I take my dogs through classes taught by others. Many of my colleagues do the same.
< FMIHow to Choose a Dog Trainer >


A Force-Free Certified Professional Dog Trainer will:

  • Help you understand your dog’s physical, mental and emotional needs.
  • Teach you about the myths and facts about dog behavior.
  • Help you to understand how your dog communicates.
  • Teach you how to most effectively and efficiently teach and reward behaviors.
  • Help prevent you from unintentionally rewarding undesired behaviors.
  • Coach and reward you on what you are doing, because it is not just your dog that is learning.
  • Teach you the importance of being proactive and not just reactive.
  • Help you set realistic expectations for your dog, you and your family, and your situation.
  • Show you the benefit of making training FUN! for both you and your dog.

In addition to teaching people how to train their dogs, I also help people that have dogs with often extremely serious behavioral issues such as aggression and separation anxiety. In my twenty-three years of training and working on behavioral cases, the vast majority of dogs I have seen for behavioral issues have never been trained. Training, when done proactively, can prevent behavioral issues.

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog
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Introduction to Canine Communication –

What Is A Pet Behavior Consultant? –

Reward Based Training versus Aversives

Accepting the Pet You Have

What Is Dog Training?

How to Choose a Dog Trainer

 Podcasts from The Woof Meow Show
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