The three stages of training your dog

I am often asked for advice on how to curb dog behaviors that have become detrimental to people and dogs living harmoniously in the home.  This can be barking, jumping, destruction of items in the home, or resource guarding.  Almost every time it is because these behaviors have been allowed to continue since puppyhood (or since the dog has been in the home) and they are no longer cute.  In each instance I go back to the basics.  For me, it’s explaining that dogs need to know the rules of the home in order to live there – just like with children, there needs to be boundaries and a clear understanding of what is and what is not allowed.  I have found that it is easiest to understand if broken down into three categories.

Basic Obedience

This is the sit, down, stay portion of training.  A good way to get this type of foundation is to take a good obedience class.  This not only gives you the foundation to build on, but encourages your dog to learn to pay attention to you.  Having their attention establishes you as the “parent”, the “rule maker”, or the “giver of all good things.” Practice commands randomly in and out of the home so the dog understands that the words and hand signals mean the same no matter where you are. I often have new clients do sits 25 times per day at random times and places.

Rules of the home

This is my favorite part of training.  This teaches your dog what is acceptable and what is not in your home – it’s how he “pays his rent.” For example, I would not allow a child to jump all over me while I am walking through the door, yet I see dogs do it all the time.  We need to show our dogs it is not acceptable.  Now is where we use what has been practiced in basic obedience and use it in everyday life.  When you walk through the door now, you can calmly as for a sit – a sitting dog is not jumping.  You are changing your dog’s habits.  Repetition and praise will help your dog understand the rules.  I like to keep a plastic baggie of Cheerios in different places in the house so I can reward good behavior whenever I see it – they are small enough to not be distracting, and they don’t go bad if left for a long time.  I have two very large dogs, so I don’t like for them to be in the kitchen while I am preparing a meal – it can be a safety hazard.  I picked a spot just outside the kitchen where they can see what’s going on but not be in the walking path, asked for a sit, stay, or down, stay, and go about my preparing.  When we first started out, they would get distracted by the food I was making and wander into the kitchen.  I just took them back to the desired spot, and repeated what I wanted them to do.  When they got better at staying out of the kitchen, I will sporadically go give them a treat to reward them for doing what I asked.  Now, because I have been consistent, when I go to the kitchen, they go to their spot where they can still be involved, but out of my way.    You can set as many rules as you like (you can always bend them later if you want), but the sequence is the same.  Say what you want, show what you want, reward what you want.  A side benefit of this is that your dog will feel more self-confident because he knows the rules and knows you are in charge of making the rules so he doesn’t have to make up his own rules.

Special Circumstances

This is where I would categorize things like resource guarding, separation anxiety, or dog reactivity.  These are issues that can be helped with the first two categories, but may not be cured without some specialized help.  These are issues that happen in specific circumstances and I would urge you to seek the help of a trainer.  Each of these issues call for a more one on one training plan as each case is different.  If you have been consistent with categories one and two, you will have a much easier time tackling specific issues because your dog will already have trust in you and be comfortable doing what you ask of him.

Having the company of dogs should be a fun and non-stressful thing.  By everyone knowing what the expectations are, the household should be the calm and welcoming place it should be.  It’s never too late to begin.  Just be consistent and patient – it will happen.

Terry Meeks is a dog trainer, APDT Member an CGC Evaluator in Pinellas County, Florida.  Find Four on the Floor Dog Training at and on Facebook.

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