The Secret to Perfect Dog Training

When I graduated from veterinary school nearly 20 years ago, I knew a lot about veterinary medicine, but very little about finances. In order to learn some financial survival skills, I took a personal finance and an investment class designed for economics majors. Within the first week, I knew the investment class would provide me with perhaps the most important information of my life, because the instructor, a highly successful investor, promised to tell us the one secret in investing that would make everyone rich. For days he hinted that the secret was coming, and students judiciously came to class knowing that if they didn’t hear it firsthand, they would miss out on the most vital piece of information that would cross their ears during their entire undergraduate career. Then, in the third week of classes, the time had come.

The professor stated, “As promised, I’m going to tell you the secret of investing now.” He paused dramatically as silence overtook the room like darkness during a solar eclipse. And then he whispered the advice, “Buy low. Sell high.” The class uttered a collective groan. Hardly a secret, his advice was the obvious plan of action; but a plan that few investors actually follow.

The Solution to Most Pet Behavior Problems is Simple
It turns out that the solution to most behavior problems in pets is equally simple and IF you follow the plan, equally successful. All you need to know is one thing— that animals repeat behaviors that are reinforced.

That means that if your puppy or adult pooch behaves badly, by say barking at you through the sliding glass door when he’s outside and you’re inside, jumping on you when you arrive home from work, or dragging you down the street on walks all you have to do is identify what’s rewarding the unwanted behavior, remove it, and instead reward a more appropriate behavior. For instance, you would avoid letting the Barking Bowser in when he’s barking and instead reward him only when he’s quiet. You’d stand quiet and stationary in order to remove your attention from the jumping greeter and then pet, praise or give treats to him when he sits (click here to see a video of this). For the persistent puller, you’d stop walking immediately before he is about to pull and only walk forward when he’s on a loose leash.

The approach for cats, horses and other animal is the same too. For instance, say you have a cat that meows at you to be fed or to get your attention. Simply remove your attention, in this case by ignoring him, and reward him with petting or treats when he’s quiet. Sounds really simple and it is, but the key is to consistently reward the quite behavior and avoid accidentally rewarding when the cat’s noisy and then to reward longer and longer periods of quiet until sitting quietly for long periods is his habit instead of meowing. Here’s an example using my cat Dante. In this video you can that at first I have to reward for just an instant of silence, but as soon as I can get that several times, I start rewarding for longer periods of quiet. Also once I get one reward for quiet, I try to give additional rewards while he’s still quiet and before he has a chance to meow again. It’s also handy that I taught Dante to sit quietly for treats before I started working on his problem behavior so that he already has a behavior that he knows earns him rewards. Otherwise I’d have to wait even longer to get the first bit of quiet that I could reward.

This Solution Works for All Animals
The beauty of this approach is that it doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about a pet or other animals. It’s how all animals learn. So you can apply the same principles to a housecat, hamster, parrot, or even a lion! Here’s an example of a lion with a history of what the trainers thought was over-motivation for food. When the lion came in for its meal it would roar and pace and ignore the trainer commands to practice the important exercises needed for regular husbandry and care such as touch a target, sit, or stand still. This is clear case of the trainers being inconsistent about rewarding what the want. In this training session depicted below, the trainers try a new strategy. Instead of confusing the lion by telling it what to do, the trainers are quiet and they just wait for the lion offer a behavior they want. In this case they are training the lion to lie calmly turn its head 90°. They start but just rewarding a slight head turn and systematically reward greater head turns. This highlights the importance of being quiet and focusing on rewarding the correct behavior at the right time instead of spewing words, which often just act as noise and confuse the animal. Because the trainers can just focus on rewarding the behavior they want and make sure they avoid rewarding the unwanted behaviors—pacing, roaring, fidgeting—the lion learns quickly the head turn two sessions.

Now You Try
The basic approach is truly this simple. And as with that time-tested investment rule, if you follow it, you are destined for success. Now it’s just a matter of approaching all problems systematically by thinking about the behavior you’d rather have and how the unwanted behavior was unintentionally reinforced. Once you do this regularly your understanding and relationship with your pet will be behaviorally rich.

Here are some videos and blogs to give you some ideas:

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

5 Essential Dog Commands

Are you looking for the best commands to teach your dog? Although having a trained dog isn’t the same as having a balanced dog, teaching your dog basic dog training commands can be helpful when tackling behavior problems despite whether they are existing ones or those that may develop in the future.

So where exactly do you start with teaching your dog commands? While taking a class may be beneficial for you and your pup, there are many dog training commands you can teach your dog right at home. Below, we’ve listed the best list of dog commands you and your pup are guaranteed to enjoy.


Teaching your dog to sit is one of the most basic dog commands to teach your pup, thus making it a great one to start with. A dog who knows the “Sit” command will be much calmer and easier to control than dogs who aren’t taught this simple command. Additionally, the “Sit” command prepares your dog for harder commands such as “Stay” and “Come.”

Here’s how to teach your dog the “Sit” command:

  • Hold a treat close to your dog’s nose.
  • Move your hand up, allowing his head to follow the treat and causing his bottom to lower.
  • Once he’s in sitting position, say “Sit,” give him the treat, and share affection.

Repeat this sequence a few times every day until your dog has it mastered. Then ask your dog to sit before mealtime, when leaving for walks and during other situations when you’d like him calm and seated.


Another important command for your dog to learn is the word “come.” This command is extremely helpful for those times you lose grip on the leash or accidentally leave the front door open. Once again, this command is easy to teach and will help keep your dog out of trouble.

  • Put a leash and collar on your dog.
  • Go down to his level and say, “Come,” while gently pulling on the leash.
  • When he gets to you, reward him with affection and a treat.

Once he’s mastered it with the leash, remove it and continue to practice the command in a safe, enclosed area.


This next command is one of the more difficult dog training commands to teach. The reason it may be hard for your dog to master this command is that it requires him to be in a submissive posture. You can help out your dog by keeping training positive and relaxed, especially if your dog is fearful or anxious. Also keep in mind to always praise your dog once he successfully follows the command.

  • Find a particularly good smelling treat , and hold it in your closed fist.
  • Hold your hand up to your dog’s snout. When he sniffs it, move your hand to the floor, so he follows.
  • Then slide your hand along the ground in front of him to encourage his body to follow his head.
  • Once he’s in the down position, say “Down,” give him the treat , and share affection.

Repeat this training every day. If your dog tries to sit up or lunge toward your hand, say “No” and take your hand away. Don’t push him into a down position, and encourage every step your dog takes toward the right position. After all, he’s working hard to figure it out!


Similar to the “Sit” command, the “Stay” cue will help make your dog easier to control. This command can be helpful in a number of situations such as those times you want your dog out of the way as you tend to household chores or when you don’t want your pup overwhelming guests.

Before attempting to teach your dog this command, make sure your dog is an expert at the “Sit” cue. If he hasn’t quite mastered the “Sit” command, take the time to practice it with him before moving on to the “Stay” cue.

  • First, ask your dog to “Sit.”
  • Then open the palm of your hand in front of you, and say “Stay.”
  • Take a few steps back. Reward him with a treat and affection if he stays.
  • Gradually increase the number of steps you take before giving the treat .
  • Always reward your pup for staying put — even if it’s just for a few seconds.

This is an exercise in self-control for your dog, so don’t be discouraged if it takes a while to master, particularly for puppies and high-energy dogs. After all, most dogs prefer to be on the move rather than just sitting and waiting.

Leave it

This last command can help keep your dog safe when his curiosity gets the better of him such as those times when he smells something intriguing but possibly dangerous on the ground. The goal is to teach your pup that he gets something even better for ignoring the other item.

  • Place a treat in both hands.
  • Show him one enclosed fist with the treat inside and say “Leave it.”
  • Ignore the behaviors as he licks, sniffs, mouths, paws and barks to get the treat.
  • Once he stops trying, give him the treat from the other hand.
  • Repeat until your dog moves away from that first fist when you say “Leave it.”
  • Next, give your dog the treat only when he looks up at you as he moves away from the first fist.

Once your dog consistently moves away from the first treat and gives you eye contact when you say the command, you’re ready to take it up a notch. For this next training method, use two different treats: one that’s good but not super-appealing and one that’s particularly good-smelling and tasty for your pup.

  • Say “Leave it,” place the less-attractive treat on the floor and cover it with your hand.
  • Wait until your dog ignores that treat and looks at you. Then remove that treat from the floor, give him the better treat and share affection immediately.
  • Once he’s got it, place the less-tasty treat on the floor but don’t completely cover it with your hand. Instead, hold your hand a little bit above the treat . Over time, gradually move your hand farther and farther away until your hand is about 6 inches above.
  • Now he’s ready to practice with you standing up! Follow the same steps, but if he tries to snatch the less-tasty treat, cover it with your foot.

Don’t rush the process of teaching your pup any one of these dog training commands. Remember, you’re asking a lot of your dog. If you take it up a notch and he’s really struggling, go back to the previous stage.

This list of dog commands can help protect your dog from dangerous situations as well as improve your communication with him. Taking the time to teach your pup these common dog commands is well worth the investment of your time and effort. Remember, the training process takes time, so start a dog-obedience training session only if you’re in the right mindset to practice calm-assertive energy and patience.

7. Relationship-Based Training

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

Relationship-based training combines several different training methods, but focuses on a more individualized approach for both dog and human. It is the relationship between dog and human that drives everything.

This method strives to meet the needs of the dog and the trainer, to foster communication, and to strengthen their bond. Basically, it’s about being mutually beneficial.

The person must know how to read their dog’s body language, what rewards most motivate their dog, and how to meet their dog’s basic needs before each training session begins. Positive reinforcement encourages good behaviors.

The dog’s environment is controlled to limit possible unwanted behaviors. New information is built on previous success.

For example, a dog must learn to “sit” in a quiet room before trying to perform the command in a park with squirrels and kids and other distractions. Difficulty increases gradually.

When a dog doesn’t perform the desired behavior, the human must figure out why instead of punishing. Is the dog focusing on distractions? Hurt? Unable to hear? Or just unwilling to perform?

This relationship-based training leads to a deep and meaningful bond, but it takes time and patience. It may not have enough to differentiate it from other training methods, but rather seems to be inclusive of many aspects of other successful methods.

You may find that your relationship with your dog improves regardless of which training method you use, and certainly that bond will help you continue your training.

What dog training method works best for you? Are there any other methods that you find helpful? Let us know in the comments below!

How Should You Train Your Dog?

There are two common methods of training a dog.

The first is the aversive-based method. The second is the reward-based method. Aversive-based (discipline) training is when you use positive punishment and negative reinforcement techniques with your dog. Reward-based methods use rewards only for the behaviors that you want your dog to follow.

Aversive-based training uses techniques like loud, unpleasant noises, physical corrections, and harsh scoldings to get your dog to act the way you want. On the other hand, reward-based training uses rewards whenever your dog does something you want it to do. Treats, belly rubs, or other dog-pleasing actions are used to reinforce that a behavior was good.

Different experts prefer one method over the other. The one that you use is completely up to you.

Some people believe that a rewards-based method sets up an "event sequence" for your dog where they associate you with happy feelings when they do what they're told. Aversive-based methods do just the opposite, where they fear you. That fear means that your dog does what they are told to avoid unpleasant feelings.

Product Review: Don Sullivan's "Perfect Dog" Command Collar

The Don Sullivan "Perfect Dog" Command Collar is basically a plastic prong collar. It includes a DVD and a whole lot of hype. Apparently there's even an infomercial, which I would probably know if I watched TV. The Command Collar comes in two sizes and is adjustable for necks as small as 5" and as large as 24". It is available via TV and also the website as part of a training package, it can also be purchased on Amazon for cheap.

Photo by Erin Koski

When I first found this collar in the thrift store, I mistook it for a Good Dog Collar. The Good Dog Collar is another plastic pinch collar, it is currently being sold by Starmark as the Pro Training Collar. The Command Collar has the advantage of being easier to put on the dog because it has an actual clasp, while the Starmark Pro Training Collar has to have the link forcibly separated each time.

Having correctly identified my plastic prong as a Command Collar, I felt the need to investigate the "Perfect Dog" training method that goes along with it. The first thing I saw was a lot of hype, along with the statement that this system works for every dog, handler, and situation on the planet. This broad statement allows the seller to brush off any complaints or lack of success as a failure on the part of the handler. "This system works, if you aren't getting results you must be doing it wrong, or not trying hard enough." The Perfect Dog website is absolutely littered with incredible claims that it will start working in seconds, and solve any behavior problem while ensuring total off-leash reliability in 4-8 weeks.

Like the Dog Whisperer, the Dogfather is just repackaging decades-old training methods and polishing them up for a generation who hasn't seen them yet. There's a reason the high-level dog training world largely abandoned correction-based training for so many sports, and it wasn't out of compassion for our precious puppies. Competitive trainers began adopting reward-based training methods twenty or more years ago purely for the advantage they provided. The old-school choke chain push-pull training fell out of favor simply because positively-trained dogs started winning in the obedience ring.

Despite all the many claims on the website and presumably the infomercial, the Perfect Dog system will likely not facilitate better dog-owner communication. What it will do is use the phenomenon of learned helplessness to teach that dog that certain behaviors make bad things happen. A side-effect of learned helplessness is avoidance of new behaviors because they might cause bad things to happen. My dogs may not be Perfect Dogs, but they aren't afraid to offer new behaviors and express their emotional states because they know that I am a safe person to be around.

Pros: Not as severe as a prong collar, in my opinion. I tried this collar, a medium prong collar with bare prongs, and a medium prong with rubber tip covers, on my arm. I also tried them on my husband's arm because he puts up with stuff like that. In his opinion, the Command Collar was the least severe of the three, but barely discernible from the rubber-tipped prong. Easy to put on, and not as obvious a training collar as some. Way easier to use than the Starmark Pro Training Collar.

Cons: It's made out of plastic. Seriously. I have absolutely no doubt that the links on this collar will wear out or break over time, and the cord section is also kind of suspicious. The Dogfather website says this is ok though, because nobody is supposed to need to use this collar long-term after their dog is "fully trained", It is also more harsh on the skin than either of the metal prongs, I am currently covered in the most amazing hives and found the Command Collar quite painful on the itchiest spots on my arms. For that reason I would avoid using this collar on dogs with sensitive skin. It also appears to be less effective on thick-coated dogs like huskies, so there's actually sort of a narrow range of dogs on which this collar could be used both comfortably and effectively.

Bottom Line: The magical "Perfect Dog" training system sounds too good to be true because it is. The Command Collar itself is sort of an ok training device for people who use prong collars. I personally won't be using this collar on anyone, but if I did I would definitely use a martingale collar as a backup because I am absolutely certain the Command Collar will fail at the worst possible time.

Any dog trainer who has been successfully training dogs, or more accurately, their owners, for over 30 years, must be doing something right, and this is the case with Don Sullivan.

Now you can watch and follow Don for no less than 5 hours as he teaches you his methods with this DVD set. It is the next best thing to having him stand next to you as you train your dog. The best thing is you can go back over each lesson again as often as you want until both you and your dog have it nailed down.

The result will be a happier, calmer, more obedient dog, which is great for their well-being. Better still, as their owner, you can be proud of what you have both achieved as you walk confidently down the street with your well-behaved dog.

Watch the video: Everything You Need to Know When Training Your Puppy. (July 2021).