We all want wonderfully behaved dogs, but it doesn’t happen on its own just because we wish it.  It takes time and effort to create the kind of dog and relationship you want. Here are some basic principles that can help you have a better behaved dog.

  • Have realistic expectations about your dog. No matter how good your dog is, things will get peed on, chewed or scratched/dug up. Barking / meowing, door dashing and/or pulling on the leash can happen with even the best animal.  Accept the fact that dogs are living beings and not china dolls to sit in the corner.  If you have a dog, some time during his/her life, you will loose something of value. 
  • To change behavior you have to be patient and persistent.  Change will not happen over night.  Sometimes it can take weeks or months to change behavior.  The more time you spend and the more often you work with your dog the quicker the change. Despite what some books say, most puppies can’t be housetrained in 7 days.
  • Recognize and meet your dog’s behavioral needs.  Dogs have needs for exercise, social contact with people and other animals and mental stimulation. Problem-solving toys, can provide mental stimulation. Games such as ‘find the hidden object’ and events such as agility can provide all three. 
  • Make it easy for your dog to do the right thing.  Arrange the environment so that the behavior you want is easily produced. The more often desirable behavior happens the stronger it becomes. For example, minimize distractions when you’re trying to teach your dog something new. Put scratching posts where they are easy for your cat to find and use. 
  • Make it difficult for your dog to do the wrong thing.  Arrange the environment so it is hard for your dog to make mistakes.  The more often unwanted behavior happens the harder it is to change.  Close the blinds to keep your dog from barking at those that pass by.  Scoop out your cats’ litter boxes every day.
  • Realize that animals don’t do things out of spite, for revenge or just to make your life miserable. They do what works – that is, what meets their behavioral needs, gets them rewards or allows them to escape or avoid bad things. They sometimes do some things because they are ill.  Dogs counter surf because they occasionally hit the jackpot of a sandwich or chicken leg.  Cats sometimes pee out of the box because they are sick even when they don’t act sick.
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General Training Tips

A good trainer is: Fast, Patient, Generous, Unpredictable and Variable.

In the beginning, you must reinforce a behavior IMMEDIATELY every single time you give the cue. This is called the “acquisition” stage of the behavior. As the behavior becomes more reliable, you can begin to delay the reinforcement (treat, ball, affection), or go to variable reinforcement (reinforcing every few times). You must stop being predictable! Here are some tips to make you be a better dog trainer.

• Concentrate on and reinforce the things your dog is doing right. Try to ignore behavior you don’t want to see repeated. If you can’t ignore it, manage it.

• Remember that the reinforcement (treat, ball, toy) you use has to be reinforcing to your dog! Kibble (dog food) usually isn’t enough, unless the dog is starving. Experiment with different levels of reinforcement – from regular treats up to pieces of leftover meat or cheese. Save your most potent reinforcement for the behaviors that are most difficult for your dog.

• Placement of the reinforcement is extremely important. Where your treat goes, so goes your dog. Thus, if you want your dog to walk right beside you, make sure you deliver your treats next to your leg, at the dog’s head level. Try not to make the dog jump for a treat, unless you want the dog to do so – as in a trick.

• Marking a successful behavior. As you teach each exercise, make sure your dog knows exactly what you want him to do. Do this by MARKING the precise moment the behavior occurs. We call this a bridge. So, in teaching a Down, the instant her entire body touches the ground, you say “YES!!!” and deliver a treat. As the behavior gets more reliable, stop saying “yes” every time she does it. However, each time you say “YES” a treat should be forthcoming.

• Make it harder. When you began training your dog, you lured the dog into position. Once there you gave her a treat. Now we wish to prompt the behavior, mark the proper one, and reward intermittently from an unknown place.

As an example, if you were trying to get your dog to lie down, you would begin by luring, then rewarding the behavior. By now, when you say “Down”, she lies down – but she does it much better when she sees the treat in your hand. So we have to teach her the ZEN of TREATS – in order to get the treat, she must give up the treat. Hold your treat in the hand that is not doing the signal. Show the dog your hand without the treat. Tell or signal the dog to Down, and wait for the dog to do so. Wait until she does. Don’t go back to the lure yet. When she does lie down, give her a wonderful treat from the other hand. You are teaching the dog that the treats she can’t see are even more potent than the ones she can. And it’s teaching her she doesn’t have to see the treat to do the exercise. (If she doesn’t down, she may not understand; go back to the beginning, and review until you get a good down with a lure).

Do that for a while. Then, delay the treat for a tad, and when you do deliver it, do so from a desk or counter. Then give it for two downs (twofer), then three, then four. But never go to no rewards. Try to vary your reward as well; different kinds of treats, a tug toy, or ball playing after a short session.

• Never take a behavior completely for granted. That leads to the Straight A Student Syndrome. If no one pays attention to you when you’re being good….you’ll be bad!  F students get a great deal of attention when they make a C, and they learn that creating havoc leads to more attention. Pay attention to the correct behavior!

• Targeting. If you want your dog to follow your hand cues, one of the ways to accomplish that is by the use of a Target. This technique also fades the use of the treat quickly. You teach your dog to watch your hand for instructions. Begin by showing him your palm. Put your other hand behind the back of your first hand with a treat in it, and stick them both in front of his nose. Most dogs are curious; when he touches your palm, say “YES!” and give him the treat. Do that 20 times. The 21st time, put your treat hand behind your back. When and only when he touches your Target hand, say “YES!” and give him the treat. Do that many, many times. Now move the treat someplace else, and do it again. Now have the dog follow your hand, and when he touches say “YES!” (the yes is a MARKER word that means “you got it!”) Now say “Touch” or “Target” when he touches your palm. When he’s got that, stop giving him a treat when he touches your palm with no signal. When he’s got that, make him do two touches for one treat…then three then four, etc., but never stop giving rewards completely.

Crime and Punishment

A word about the use of punishment. Punishment ONLY WORKS if it’s appropriate, delivered at the instant the erroneous behavior occurs, and is identifiable with that behavior. It is very difficult to appropriately punish a dog, since you CANNOT EXPLAIN TO THE DOG WHAT HE DID WRONG.

Most people punish at the wrong time. For instance, if you were going to punish the dog for not sitting, you must do so as the dog is getting up. Not after he has done so. Not after he is walking away. Not after he sneezes, or scratches. If you wait, he will identify the punishment with the sneeze, scratch or walking, and it will not be effective.

At its best, punishment focuses on what the dog did wrong, and doesn’t tell him what to do. This is why it is much more effective to just give a Negative marker (wrong, or uh-uh, or OOPS or Too Bad) and go back to the behavior, preparing to reinforce correct behavior.

In the home, punishment is virtually always counter-productive, since the timing is almost always way off, and the dog identifies the punishment with the punisher — you. She will begin to cower or act submissive whenever a certain set of criteria are met. For instance, you walk in the door after being gone for a long time and look around. Sometimes you then begin yelling, sometimes you don’t. What follows is very predictable — the dog goes into a submissive posture (“that guilty look”), just in case. She also may begin refusing to come when called (would you come to an unpredictable punisher?), or she will crawl, and sometimes submissively urinate. Not effective.

Punishment is also ineffective because it teaches animals to suppress milder warning signals (growling, raising of hackles). Aggression always occurs after a series of warning signals.

Go for positive reinforcement. It works better, and produces a happy, obedient dog.

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Teach your dog to RETRIEVE!

Foreword: Once Rover has learned RETRIEVE, you can do almost anything. Even if it is a simple thing like “fetch your ball,” or more complex like “get me an egg”. Believe me, I have heard of a dog who would go every morning down to the chickens, open the gate, get an egg, close the gate and come back with the egg unharmed (except for a lot of doggy slobber all over it, that is)! Well, that might not be on of your near future goals for teaching your Rover, but once you teach this retrieving trick, you can let you imagination take over.

Directions:There are two ways to teach Rover RETRIEVE depending on what kind of dog he is.

Fetch for the Rover who loves his ball: Since you have a Rover who loves his ball, and sometimes getting the ball back is a battle of it’s own, here is the perfect way to teach RETRIEVE.

Simply throw the ball and have Rover chase it. Once he gets the ball, call him back to you. If he comes, praise him but IGNORE the ball. Don’t try to take it or you’ll soon have a Rover who will always drop the ball coming back half way to you. If Rover is being a bad boy, and decides to enjoy HIS ball in the other corner of the yard, you’ll have to use a rope. Tie the rope to Rover and throw the ball again. Now call him and if he doesn’t come give tug on the leash. You don’t want to pull him in, instead you want him to come to you on his own will. Or so HE thinks!

Once your Rover is coming to you, praise him and still ignore the ball. Now try some other commands while he has the ball in his mouth. Like HEEL, SIT, and COME. You don’t want him to drop his ball. Try not to use the word NO, as this may cause him to drop it. If Rover wants to play cat and mouse, ignore him and move the other direction and call him, if he response, praise.

Now that Rover has confidence in working with his ball, move on to another object like a dowel or a stick. You don’t want Rover to become too attached and he’ll only retrieve his ball.

Throw the object a couple of feet and tell Rover to RETRIEVEit. If he fetches it and brings it back to you, then you have a great dog. Do this with other objects, like small boxes, shoes or whatever you want. If Rover RETRIEVES them each time and brings them back to you, praise him. Your job was easy. Make sure Rover keeps the object in his mouth until you say GIVE or RELEASE. You don’t want him dropping the egg on the kitchen floor. = )

If you don’t have a wonder Rover like that (including mine) then you’ll have to try the next direction.

Retrieve for the Rover who hates his ball: Your Rover might not be as bad as mine, but I got to a point were my Rover wouldn’t even fetch the ball anymore. I could never have Rover keep the ball in its mouth once Rover did RETRIEVE it. So here is the method I used (it took me a couple of months) to get Rover to love his ball.

As I said in the directions above, don’t take the ball away from Rover every time he comes back with it. This will make future tricks, as carry a basket almost impossible. Only do this exercise for a couple of minutes, you don’t want Rover to become bored.

Take the stick (It should be only around four-inches long) and have Rover sit next to you . Hold the leash in your left hand and the stick in your right. Now say ROVER, TAKE IT and hold it in front of his mouth. Don’t worry if Rover spits it out right away. Try it again. Speed in praising Rover is very important. You want to praise him for taking it instead of praising him for spitting it out.

If your Rover is very resistant and doesn’t even want to open his mouth, grab Rovers collar. This will keep him from turning his head. Now open his mouth and pop the stick in while praising him. Make sure you don’t praise him when he spits it out though.

You want to keep Rover happy though, so DON’T practice this for hours.

Once you do a couple of sessions of this, Rover should willingly open his mouth. Praise him! After Rover gets the connection between taking the stick in his mouth and you praising him, he’ll start reaching for it. Praise is vital now, as you don’t want to have Rover back up a couple of steps. Once he starts reaching for it, you can start holding the stick farther away. Try this a couple of times and then place the stick on the ground. If he retrieves it, your work is done for the day and play some old fashion FETCH!

Conclusion: Once your Rover RETRIEVES the stick willingly you can switch to other things like small boxes, shoes, pens or whatever you want him to fetch. If, at any time, Rover refuses to RETRIEVE something, back up a couple of steps!

TIPS:  throw ball short distance then run away from your dog and call him.  If he comes back w/ball – throw it again RIGHT away.  Shape bringing the ball back.  If dog drops ball 5-10 feet away, walk up to ball, wave it in front of dog and throw it again – not too far. If dog comes back and veers away, you run in opposite direction before dog does. Only throw it 2-3 times per session.

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Three Stages of Lure – Reward Training

Its very important to phase out food rewards in training your dog as quickly as possible.   Food rewards are a great way to teach new behaviors but you do not want to be dependent on them.


  1. To phase out food lures
  2. To phase out food rewards and replace with life rewards
  3. To increase reliability by calmly persisting and insisting

Stage One: 

Teaching dogs what we want them to do. Teaching dogs ESL — English as Second Language — English words for doggy behaviors and actions.

Food Lures -> Hand-signals -> Verbal Commands

Food lures are phased out once the dog learns the meaning of hand-signals (in the very first session) and hand-signals (hand lures) are then used to teach the dog the meaning of verbal commands. .

Stage Two:

Motivating dogs to want to do what we want them to do. 

Food rewards are phased out and replaced with Life Rewards.

Get More-for-less, i.e., more behaviors for fewer food rewards

Differential Reinforcement only rewarding your dog for above-average responses with better responses receiving better rewards and the best responses receiving best rewards.

Life Rewards — Food rewards are phased out entirely and replaced with Life Rewards especially the Big Two — Walking on-leash or off-leash and Playing with other dogs.  Big Two Interactive Games — Fetch and Tug

Stage Three:

Even though a dog may understand the meaning of the verbal command and has been motivated to want to comply, there will be occasions when he doesn’t.  However, there are infrequent occasions when absolute reliability is essential for the dog’s well being and safety.  Use persistence and insistence to get behavior.

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