How to Train Your Dog Better

Think about training the right way – you'll be more effective (and it's more fun, too).

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #64

Now, when the pup stops dead, what does the person do? She turns to the puppy. She says, “Hey!” and “What’s up, Pupaloo?” and “Come on, let’s go!” She wiggles her fingers at the puppy just like that enticing passerby did. Maybe she digs out a treat and puts it a few inches in front of the puppy’s nose to get him moving.

How Puppies and Dogs Learn

So what has the puppy just learned? “Oh hai! Walking next to my human and paying attention to her is boring and pointless. However, stopping dead in my tracks gets attention, and finger wiggles, and possibly a treat.” If Pupaloo is a slow learner, he may need three or four repetitions of this scenario before he’s really got the knack, but sooner or later this puppy’s person will be telling friends and trainers that he constantly stops dead on walks. He’ll move if you show him a treat, but five steps later he just stops again. It’s so weird!

The trap this puppy’s person fell into, of course, is that she completely and utterly failed to notice her puppy’s quiet, unobtrusive, not-much-happening-here, highly desirable behavior of walking attentively next to her. Because she didn’t notice it, she didn’t reward it. Behaviors that don’t net a dog appealing results wither and die. Behaviors that get attention and treats thrive and grow.

Are You Missing Your Dog’s Good Behavior?

In any given situation, focus on what you do want your dog to do instead of on whatever he’s doing wrong.

A lot of the behavior we like from dogs is unobtrusive and easy to miss. The doorbell rings and your puppy remains quiet. You’re cooking dinner and your dog lies down without being underfoot. You’re at the vet’s and your dog calmly accepts having his temperature taken.

In each of these cases, the dog could have done something else--he could have barked at the doorbell, or jumped up toward the cooking pot, or snarled at the vet tech. But we tend to take low-key, desirable behaviors for granted. We often ignore them, when the wiser course is to reward the heck out of them and make sure to keep them strong. Teach yourself to notice those moments when your dog doesn’t bark, when he doesn’t jump up in your face, when he puts up with exam procedures that many dogs resist.

As for the woman walking her puppy, the solution to her new problem is usually to turn the scenario inside out. When the puppy stops dead, the person should be quiet and pay him no mind. As soon as he’s walking along nicely again, she should offer plenty of attention and treats.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).