As a professional dog trainer, I watch clients struggling with the
same things when trying to get their dogs to communicate with them.
Unfortunately, our society has encouraged dog owners to treat their
pets as little furry humans rather than a completely distinct
species. That's not to say that dogs don't experience similar
"emotions" or "states" as humans do. But when walking down the
aisles of the pet store these days, products are specifically geared
to ascribe human qualities to our dogs. Tshirts for dogs bearing
phrases like "bad to the bone" or "princess" encourage people to
ascribe human attributes where they don't exist. No wonder we don't
understand our dogs!
Below are ten tips that I give as a handout
to all my clients on their first training session.
only do what works for them. Period. If it has no immediate benefit
for them (that they can determine) then they will not do it. A dog
will not wash the dishes or do the laundry because there is no
payoff for a dog to do these things. A dog will sit if he
understands what you want and gets a reward afterwards for doing it.
A dog can learn to run an entire agility course just for the chance
to play a game of tug afterwards. If you stop rewarding, however,
the dog will stop working. If you put money into a vending machine
and press the button you expect something to come out. If nothing
comes out, do you put money in it again? Of course not. You stop
2) Your dog has impeccable hearing skills. He heard
you the first time. Do not chant commands at your dog. Do not repeat
yourself. A command is given once in a sensible tone of voice. If
your dog doesn’t do as you asked there can only be two reasons why:
He doesn’t understand what you want yet. Explain what you want again
and be kind, deliberate and understanding. Maybe go a little slower
- He’s decided you aren’t serious. Get serious.
If he truly understands what you’re asking then he’s lost faith in
you. Don’t wait for the mood to strike him. If you want him to sit
and he doesn’t sit, go to him, quietly get him to sit and praise
lavishly. If you’re not prepared to back up your command with
action, don’t give the command.
3) Your dog does not speak
English (or any verbal language for that matter). He just doesn’t
understand the concept of spoken language. He can only associate
certain sounds with consequences, actions and behaviours. He doesn’t
understand the cost of his chewing on your Herman Miller leather
chaise or the angst you feel from his peeing on the antique Iranian
Safavid Period carpet. The more you talk during training the more he
will learn to tune out your voice. That’s a terrible mistake to make
when one day you need your dog to STOP before he runs into traffic.
By all means, talk to your dog during your day-to-day life with him.
He loves your voice! Just be aware that during training and when
working for you, he requires a lot less noise to be able to
4) Dogs learn cause and effect very, very
quickly. If your dog doesn’t seem to be learning something, you are
not being clear enough to your dog. Consistency is the cornerstone
to dog training. That means the same thing happens EVERY SINGLE TIME
something else happens. If your dog jumps on you and you want to
discourage it, show the dog that his jumping makes you turn your
back and leave the room. Crystal clear. Every time. No exceptions.
He will learn not to jump on you if you can be consistent. If you
cannot be consistent, rethink your expectations of your dog. He’s
not a mind reader.
5) Don’t forget to praise your dog! If he
only hears about how he did something wrong how will he possibly
know when he got it right? Give him a hint, spell it out: this is
wrong and this is right! Be delighted and animated when he pleases
you. He’ll want to repeat it!
6) Control the head of the dog
and you control the whole dog. This principle is aptly demonstrated
with a Gentle Leader head collar and lure-reward training. If your
dog is not looking at you he is not going to listen to you. Eye
contact is critical to training. Get your dog looking at you and
then give a command for greater success.
7) Know when to
train and when not to train. Dogs cannot learn when they are in
pain, need to eliminate, when they’re afraid or in an overly
distracting environment. A hungry dog, however, will be eager to
focus on you if you are delivering treat rewards. If something seems
to be hampering your dog’s concentration, check the environment for
distractions, make sure he doesn’t need to eliminate, change your
location to a more familiar one or make sure he isn’t too wound up
or too tired to focus.
8) Ideally, your dog’s name should
only be paired with good news and happy situations. Growling your
dog’s name in a fierce voice is not going to leave a great
impression in his mind. Try your best to use, “Hey! AAAH! No! Stop
it! Whoa!” or some other words to signal your displeasure.
Dogs don’t exercise themselves. Ten acres of land will not tire a
dog out. Throwing a ball will.
10) A 10 lb. puppy that bites
will grow into a 70 lb. dog that bites even harder. Teeth and skin
should never meet. Ever.
Every time you interact with your dog you are training. How you
behave around your dog has a tremendous impact on how your dog
behaves. If there's something your dog's doing that doesn't please
you, try to look at yourself first to see if you might be causing
it. If we can learn to watch ourselves, our dogs will learn more