Training: What Does Your Dog Need?

The Basics

Dog training has advanced due to the generations of trainers refining their techniques more and more. People still train their dogs for obedience trials, but they also train for other purposes such as hunting, search and rescue, police work, assistance to people with disabilities, therapy work and much more.

Along with the refinement of other dog training have come specific classes for family dogs. These classes may provide you and your dog with the skills you need to live successfully in your community, or you and your particular dog may need to go further with training. Other types of classes as well as private trainers and behavior specialists are also available.

There are many different ways of training but the 2 main styles are —

Compulsion–a negative response is given immediately during or after an unwanted behavior. The intended result is that the animal learns that the performed behavior has a negative result and therefore will not perform the behavior in the future.

Reward Training —a positive response is given immediately during or after a desired behavior. The intended result is that the animal learns that the performed behavior has a positive result and therefore will want to perform the behavior in the future.

I personally use a combination of these 2 types of training. Most commonly, I will treat train (a form of Reward Training) until I am sure that my dog understands what I am asking him to do. After I am sure that he understands the command completely, then I will use compulsion training. I do not want to have to “bribe” my dog to perform his commands each time I ask him to do something. With a well trained dog, you should be able to expect them to do what you ask simply because you told them to.

Here are some of the basic commands that a trained dog needs in order to live successfully with a typical family:

1. Come: In my opinion this is the most important command in your dog’s vocabulary. This should be the best executed command as well. I may tell my dog sit twice but I will only say come once. He doesn’t want to hear me said it a second time because that time will also come with a correction. This command can mean the difference in life or death. For example — your dog is getting ready to dash in front of a car, a smaller dog is “invading” your yard, or perhaps your dog is not “kid-safe” and the neighborhood kids came over. There are many reasons that you would want to use this command and expect it to be obeyed unconditionally. Consider it a Life-Insurance policy.

Here is how I train my dogs:

  • Take your dog out on a loose leash – at least 6-10 feet long.
  • Let him run around.
  • Wait until he seems “distracted” and is not paying close attention to you
  • Step backwards to the end of the leash
  • Call his name and his command (i.e. “Rex, come”).
  • Tug gently on his leash, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, RUN BACKWARDS!
  • He will associate this with chasing you–This will get him comely quickly to you instead of “mosey’ing”.
  • When he gets close to you — praise lavishly and give him a toy, bite of food, or any other favorite reward!


(If he should happen to “come” when he was supposed to “stay” then simply take him back to his “stay location” and put him back in a “stay”.)

2. Sit and/or down: These are usually the first 2 commands that I teach. These also happen to be the easiest command to teach in my opinion. Many things you need to do with your dog start by having the dog get still in a seated or lying-down position. A “sit” gets the dog anchored in one place, and a “down” lets the dog relax there. I have 2 techniques:

Teaching Sit (For the Hyper, Food Driven Dog)–

  • Find something that motivates your dog — food, toy, or praise. I prefer food if possible.
  • Hold the food in your hand and raise your hand directly over the dog’s head
  • Many dogs will jump up and try to take it — That’s fine but keep it out of their reach.
  • Say the word “sit” (only once) and keep the food just out of their reach (approx. 2-4″ over their head).
  • Raise the food up continuing to hold it just over their heads even when they jump.
  • Many dogs will continue to jump up. Do not —
  • Let them balance on your legs
  • grab the food when they jump
  • Soon they will get tired of jumping and sit to make it easier for them to see the food.
  • They are merely re-thinking their strategy!
  • They may only sit for 1-2 seconds — Be Quick!
  • Immediately repeat the command, give them the treat, and praise lavishly.
  • Repeat the whole procedure again — he will catch on quicker this time!
  • When you notice that your dog is losing interest — wind down the training session.

Teaching Sit (For the Calmer, less driven/less focused dog) —

  • Get your dog’s attention by saying his name and give his command (i.e. “Rex, sit”.)
  • Gently push down on his back end.
  • At the same time, place your hand under his chin and push upward.
  • As soon as he sits, praise lavishly! Give a treat if appropriate.
  • Repeat.
  • When your dog begins losing interest, it is time to stop.

Once your dog knows this command, use it often and for everything. This will teach him discipline, and remind him that good dogs get praised for sitting. This will help prevent problems with jumping and a variety of possible behavior problems in the future. Have him sit before eating, before going outside, before coming inside, before getting in the car — for everything! He won’t mind and it only takes 2 seconds, literally!

Teaching Down —

  • Once he has mastered the sit, have him follow the treat again.
  • This time, while he is sitting, put the treat inside your closed hand (approx. 2 inches from his nose)
  • Move it slowly out in front of him toward to floor
  • If he jumps up, and most dogs do, calmly but firmly say “no” and take the treat away.
  • Make him sit again — move the treat in your hand directly in front of his nose and say “down”.
  • Repeat this procedure until he decides not to get up. He will eventually follow the treat to the floor.
  • When he does, give it to him and praise lavishly.
  • Some dogs need a little help —
  • they will remain sitting and move their nose toward the floor without moving their feet
  • gently place 1 finger in the middle of his shoulder blades and push down.
  • (Too much touching will distract him from the treat and get him to look at your other hand.)

Remember to always end on a positive note — that way he will look forward to the next session!

3. Stay. Practicing “stays” with your dog helps your dog learn composure and the ability to remain calm. Too many dogs lack this ability, and it makes their lives harder for them as well as for their families. The stay exercise is also a way to become your dog’s leader without making a fight of it.

  • Give your dog a down or sit command
  • Walk around your dog slowly while maintaining just enough pressure on the lead for him to know it is there
  • Correct him immediately if he tries to get up
  • Praise him profusely for remaining still and reward him for a treat or his toy.
  • Slowly work your way farther and farther from him always RETURNING TO HIM to praise him for staying
  • Don’t get farther away from him than you can quickly correct should he decide to get up
  • Don’t let him get in a habit of making mistakes!

4. Walk on a Leash — A dog conditioned to work with the loose leash is easier to handle and easier to train. Instead of being dragged around by the leash, the dog learns to pay attention to the handler. Keeping the leash loose spares the dog potential injuries from training devices that can rub off hair and abrade skin. See our section on Leashing Training for specific techniques

5. Housetraining — Lack of reliable housetraining is a major cause of many dogs (especially small dogs) losing their homes. See our page on Housebreaking for specific techniques in making your canine friend “carpet friendly”.

6. Confinement: A dog crate is the logical confinement area for many situations, but it’s possible for some dogs to do well in other confinement. One way or another, you need to be able to leave your dog alone someplace safe without the dog stressing.

  • First, Buy a crate that will be comfortable for your dog when he is full grown.
  • Your crate needs to be comfortable but not so big that your puppy can urinate in the back and sleep in the front!
  • If it is too big for your puppy now, partition it off. Many crates come with dividers.
  • Place your dog’s favorite toys and blanket in it.
  • Allow it to remain open when not being used so that he can get accustom to coming and going out it.
  • You may even want to start feeding him in it.
  • Before long you will find that he will go willingly into his crate — he will think of it as his room.
  • Make sure that you teach him a command to “kennel” so that he knows when he needs to “go to his room”.

7. No bite: See our section on Chewing and Teething
Advanced Training

Advanced Training might be needed for more intense dogs. If your dog is large, rowdy, or has powerful drives, you’ll both be happier with further training. The following training will help:

1. No Jumping: You dog needs to know to greet people with 4 feet on the ground. Jumping up on people sometimes seems like a minor problem, considering the friendliness of the typical jumping dog. The whole idea from the dog’s point of view is to get closer to the face and hands for greeting, but people don’t want to be knocked over or get their clothing torn or dirty. So, to help with the jumping issue you can —

  • Remember to re-enforce the “sit”. Your dog gets nothing without sitting first, that includes attention.
  • When you get home, before petting or greeting your dog, make him sit.
  • If you verbally recognize him with his name (i.e. “Hi, Rex or No, Rex”), you have greeted him!
  • You can however, say “NO” sharply and followed by “SIT!”.
  • You can also learn to “knee” him, when he jumps up–
  • Let him begin to jump and then bring your leg up, catching his chest with your knee.
  • This will knock him backwards a little and make jumping uncomfortable.
  • You are not using your hands so he does not associate the discomfort with you.
  • Also, do not try to use your hands to knock him down — he will just learn to jump on your back.

2. Chew on dog toys. If a dog has a concept of property, it’s not the same as a human concept. A dog can’t understand that something of yours would be difficult to replace, or costs money. Even without understanding why, a dog can learn—with your help, over time, as the dog gains maturity—to focus chewing on specific items. For a power-chewer, this is an important skill! See our section on Chewing and Teething

3. Refrain from chasing vehicles and children. Remember that many dog are bred to have high drives for following moving objects. This is called “prey drive” or “ball drive” and is used for herding, hunting, etc. These dogs are susceptible to learning dangerous habits without your guidance. Your best bet is to get good training help with this sort of dog early, before the chasing habit has a chance to start. To do their jobs properly, these dogs are carefully trained. Untrained, the instincts essential to their work can be turned in destructive directions.

4. Retrieve. The best game to play with a dog is also the foundation for much advanced dog training as well as a great solution to quite a few dog problems: retrieving. Ideally you’ll want to start shaping it in your dog soon after the dog comes to live with you, no matter what age the dog is at that time. Work on it a little every day, if possible.

Training Doesn’t Count until It’s Reliable

Many people will tell you their dogs are “trained” to certain behaviors, and yet the dog will not perform the behavior in the face of excitement or distraction. Training needs to be reliable where it is needed most often — around distractions, stress, and in emergencies. Not only does your dog need to reliably come when called to dinner, but also, he needs to come in from the backyard when he is out there barking at a teasing child, or when other dogs are barking and running the fence line with him.

If you had an accident away from the house with your dog and the dog was running, frightened, near a busy street, your dog would need to be able to reliably come when you call in spite of the fear. In case there is a car coming, the dog also needs to be able to stop and wait on your cue, until it’s safe to continue. Much of this depends on your learning how to handle the dog, so that you will react correctly in an emergency. That takes training for you both, and lots of practice.

Training happens when you practice properly, repeating the practice until the proper behaviors become deeply established habits. The most important behaviors such as “coming” need to be so strongly conditioned that the dog’s first impulse will be to just to obey, not stop and think first.

Training is Discipline at Its Best — Disciplined activities build self-esteem and dogs are quite capable of taking pride in doing a good job. Training builds your bond with your dog, and gives your dog a better chance at a long and happy life.

Do and Don’ts

Certain basics can make your dog more or less defensive. Keep in mind that a defensive dog is afraid. The dog may be brave through the fear, but it’s better for the dog, and more humane, when unnecessary fear is avoided.

If the word “defense” makes you think this is something you want in a dog, think again. Defensive behavior is not coming from a position of strength. If you want a dog to be protective, whether just calmly available for times of need or trained in protection work, then what you want is a stable, confident dog; not a fearful one. Defensive behavior is not a good characteristic to see in a dog you are counting on for protection.


      • Build the dog’s comfort level with you and his environment
      • Accustom the dog to being touched
      • Teach the dog to retrieve if possible.
      • Get him out and socialize him — take him with you frequently and whenever possible
      • Develop a strong communication system of touch, body language, tones, and commands
      • Dogs read faces and expressions, just like kids!!
      • Carefully direct “prey or ball” drive.
      • Train the dog to move always toward you and never away from you.
      • Teach him to bring you things that he has found, so that you will never have need to “corner” the dog.
      • Be very wary of leaving your dog for training in your absence.
      • Choose your groomer with the greatest of care. A good groomer can help your dog’s temperament and a bad one can ruin it.


    • Don’t chase a dog—get the dog chasing you but with control
    • Do not get angry — remember if he is not doing something right, he probably doesn’t know what you what!
    • Do not give your dog reason to guard food or toys by allowing other people or dogs to tease him.
    • Do not allow anyone to inflict pain or fear on your dog.
    • Do not leave a dog on a tie-out or in a fence alone if other people or dogs can get to your puppy.