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The Top 10 Golden Rules of Dog Training for a Well-Behaved Companion

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

10 Golden Rules of Dog Training


Are you a dog owner looking to provide the best care for your dog? If so, you've come to the right place. My goal in writing the 10 golden rules for dog training is to help dog stewards, both new and seasoned, learn some quick and effective tips to ensure their dog's and their family's well-being. By implementing the strategies I'm about to share, you'll be able to create a happier and healthier life for your family dog.


Golden Rule #1 MANAGE THE ENVIRONMENT


A white bull terrier dog and a tipped over trash can.
Rippy pretending to get in the garbage.

Manage the environment, then teach the appropriate behavior.


Management prevents your dog from making bad choices during training. Routinely managing their dog's environment to set the dog up for success is what skilled trainers do. If your dog practices unwanted behavior repeatedly, for example, stealing socks, your dog will get better at performing the undesirable behavior of sock stealing!


One of the most common mistakes dog owners make is to allow their dog too much free access to everything too quickly. If your dog is being destructive, going to the bathroom in the house, or not coming when called, then you need to put management in place. 


Managing the environment is an integral part of increasing the success of your training. 

Make sure your dog is practicing what you want them to do by managing the environment and providing proper feedback for what you want them to do.


Topic Tip: Use dog kennels/crates, gates, exercise pens, visual barriers (parked car or side of building, leashes, harnesses, muzzles as management tools to help your dog successfully navigate difficult situations. Keep tempting items out of your dog's reach, lock the trash away and shut doors to out of sight rooms to prevent your dog from getting into trouble.


Golden Rule #2 GET OUT OF THE BUBBLE


Two dogs in an open tent
Rancho & Dobi

Socialization, what it is and what it isn't.


Get your dog out of the bubble, also known as socialization! So many dogs nowadays live in a bubble, rarely getting out to experience the real world. That bubble is your house and your yard!


Can you imagine never leaving your home? Of course, you'd freak out the first time you experienced anything new, like going to the veterinary hospital, home supply store, or pet store, where there are many new people, sounds, sights, or smells. It all can add up and overwhelm your dog.


If you have a puppy, start giving him positive exposure to the people, places, and things he will experience as an adult. With an adult dog that hasn't been exposed to anything except their bubble, you may need to consult a professional in canine behavior if they seem overwhelmed or frightened.


A key component here is to understand that socialization and positive experiences do not mean interacting with every new dog and person they meet. It means teaching them how to behave with every new person, animal, place, or thing they meet, and sometimes that's just sitting quietly and watching.


Topic Tip: For more help socializing your dog, join our email list at www.droptheleashdogtraining.com and get free access to our Canine Connection Kickstart: A 5-Day Socialization Adventure. 


Golden Rule #3 MINDSET


woman with pink jacket and golden retriever dog lying down in front of her
Shelby & Timber

How do I help my dog get it right?


Change your mindset from "How do I make him stop!?" to "How do I help my dog get it right?" and reinforce that behavior.


People form mindsets through prior experiences and emotional milestones, and when these mindsets aren't producing the results you want, we call them counter-mindsets.


Maybe your dog has lunged at the neighbor's dog every time you've passed by for the last 365 days on your nightly walk around the block. You may think your dog is being unruly or dominant. But, the fact is we don't really know what your dog is thinking because we are not mind readers.


Maybe the next time you walk your dog, move across the street when you get near that neighbor dog, giving your dog some space.


Barking and lunging can be some of the behaviors we call "distance-increasing" behaviors. Animals perform distance-increasing behaviors when frightened or uneasy with whatever they are barking and lunging at.


Another mindset to change is what behaviors you focus on. It's easy to recognize every little thing your dog does wrong, but we tend to ignore them when they do the right thing, like laying quietly at our feet or sitting or standing quietly and watching you.


Topic Tip: Catch your dog doing something right and tell them what a good dog they are.


Golden Rule #4 ACCEPT THE DOG IN FRONT OF YOU!


A Golden Retriever sitting in between two Pomeranians.
Phoenix, Storm, & Rumer

Accept and love the dog in front of you.


Your dog is not just a pet; they are unique individuals with their own experiences, emotions, preferences, and quirks. As responsible caretakers, it's crucial to recognize and appreciate their individuality, understanding that they navigate the world in their own distinct way.


Communication plays a pivotal role in our efforts to forge deep connections with our dogs. Speak to your dog as you would explain the world to a 3-year-old – simple, gentle, and filled with warmth. Although we can't be sure of the depth of their understanding, dogs have been coexisting with humans for centuries, long before the advent of formal dog training. They've adapted to human speech, tone, and emotion, forming a unique bond with us.


Talking to your dog might be the key to helping them navigate our human world. By communicating clearly and consistently, you provide them with valuable cues and information about the environment. Use your voice to reassure them, offer encouragement, and create a sense of security. Even if they don't comprehend every word, the tone and cadence of your voice can convey a wealth of emotion and meaning.


It's essential to set realistic expectations for our canine companions. Dogs are not small humans; they're a different species with their own set of instincts and behaviors. Sometimes, what we expect from them can be unrealistic. Imagine if every person you met wanted to touch you – it might not be pleasant. Similarly, your dog may not enjoy constant interaction with everyone.


Understanding your dog's social preferences is crucial. Some dogs are social butterflies and thrive in bustling environments, while others may prefer a quieter, more serene setting. If your dog enjoys socializing, a trip to the dog park might be their ideal outing. On the other hand, if they prefer solitude, quiet moments on the couch or a peaceful walk in a serene environment may be more to their liking.


In the end, the key is to cherish the unique individual that is your dog. Embrace their distinct personality, communicate with them in a way that resonates, and appreciate the nuances that make them who they are. By doing so, you strengthen your bond and create a space where your dog can thrive and live their best, most authentic life.


Topic Tip: Establish a consistent communication routine by talking to your dog regularly in a calm tone, reinforcing positive behavior, and using simple explanations to help them confidently navigate our human world. Please pay attention to their responses and body language, fostering a harmonious bond through clear, patient communication.


Golden Rule #5 PROVIDE ENRICHMENT


Australian Cattle Dog puppy sleeping in an empty pool filled with toys and plastic bottles.
Baby Roo sleeping in her sensory play pool.

Provide enrichment for your dog with enrichment toys, breed-specific activities, exploration walks, playtime with you or other dogs, exercise and alternative feeding sources to release anxiety, frustration, and boredom!


Dogs are opportunistic scavengers and carnivorous hunters by nature. Designed to hunt and scavenge, they sniff, track, search, orient, eye, scan, wait for prey, stalk, chase, grab, bite, kill prey, and dissect and consume it. We have selected many breeds of dogs for specific roles, such as hunting or guarding. You may have seen your dog exhibiting some or all of these behaviors, such as dissecting and ripping apart a stuffed toy, carrying food out of their food dish and eating it in another area, sitting and scanning the horizon, or pointing at a robin in the yard.


Since your domesticated dog belongs to specific breeds bred for particular purposes, the sequences it performs will vary or may even be nonexistent. Things that aren't prey or aren't considered prey, such as toys, other animals, or people, can trigger these sequences. We designed most of our dogs to work for us in one capacity or another. Laying in the house, kennel, or a lonely backyard all day can cause boredom, anxiety, and stress, thereby creating behavior problems. For most dogs, letting them out into the backyard alone isn't fun or enriching, except for perhaps one of the guardian breeds that loves sitting and watching over their kingdom!


Check into agility or herding clinics if you have a herding or working breed. If you have a hunting or hound type of dog, take them for long romps on a leash where they can sniff and explore or even find their toys. Or, if you live in a more rural area, there are many online resources and things to do on your own or at home.


Topic Tip: Research your dog's breed or breed type! An excellent resource is the YouTube video playlist by Kim Brophey, The Dog's Truth - The Reality Check Nutshell on Dog Breeds.


Golden Rule #6 BE CONSISTENT


Black and white Border Collie lying down  in the grass
Molly

Your dog doesn't know the difference between training and real life!


You've heard you must be consistent with your dog, but what does that mean? It means preventing your dog from practicing the behavior you want to change with management and teaching new acceptable behaviors using patterns, routines, and rituals.


Does your dog jump on everyone when they come in the door?


Put a barrier across the entryway to prevent your dog from accessing that area when they are excited about visitors arriving, management. 


Teach your dog the desired behavior, such as keeping all four paws on the floor at a separate time from when visitors arrive. Once your dog has calmed down, invite the visitors to approach the gate, ensuring your dog doesn't jump on them. Praise your dog for maintaining the four-on-the-floor behavior while still behind the gate. This approach helps establish a new acceptable pattern of behavior when visitors come over.


Topic Tip: Dogs don't know the difference between training and real life. If your dog practices jumping on people sometimes and you are trying to teach them not to jump at other times, your dog doesn't know which one is the right way to behave. 


Golden Rule #7 USE REWARD-BASED TRAINING


Kitten, puppy and cattle offering behaviors for a trainer.
Zaniah (kitten), unknown puppy, & Roo

An argument for using the carrot and not the stick.


Meghan Herron, DVM, primary author of the referenced study, asserts that the primary motivation behind dog owners seeking the assistance of veterinary behaviorists is to address aggressive behavior in their pets.


The study's findings indicate that various confrontational training approaches are ineffective in rectifying undesirable behavior and may even incite aggressive reactions, such as intimidating dogs through actions like staring, striking, or physical manipulation.


Utilizing confrontational training methods has been shown to instill fear in dogs, leading to defensive aggression directed towards the person employing such aversive actions. The study reveals that the highest incidence of aggression occurs in response to aversive interventions, even when the intervention is indirect.


These include actions like:


• Hitting or kicking the dog (reported by 41% of owners)

• Growling at the dog (41%)

• Forcing the dog to release an item from its mouth (38%)

• Employing the "Alpha roll" (forcing the dog onto its back and holding it down) (31%)

• Staring the dog down (staring at the dog until it looks away) (30%)

• Executing the "Dominance down" (forcing the dog onto its side) (29%)

• Grabbing the jowls or scruff (26%)

• Spraying the dog with a water pistol or spray bottle (20%)

• Yelling "no" (15%)

• Forced exposure (forcibly exposing the dog to a stimulus – such as tile floors, noise, or people – that frightens the dog) (12%)


Conversely, employing non-aversive, rewarding methods resulted in a significantly lower frequency of aggressive responses. These findings highlight the importance of utilizing positive reinforcement techniques in dog training instead of approaches that can potentially lead to detrimental behavioral outcomes.


Topic Tip: For more information on the study, you can refer to the source: 


Golden Rule #8 TEACH IMPULSE CONTROL


Two German Shorthaired Pointers each doing a down stay on their own rug.

Teaching your dog impulse control using positive reinforcement methods will build a self-confident, well-mannered dog and make everyone's life happier and healthier.


Learn how to use humane, fear-free methods to teach your dog impulse control, such as waiting at the door, leaving things alone when asked, sitting to say "please" for access to things your dog wants, and staying when needed.


The importance of impulse control extends beyond training, as it is a multifaceted skill that evolves over time. Biological, developmental, psychological, and cultural factors all contribute to an individual's intricate development of impulse control. From a biological perspective, the prefrontal cortex plays a pivotal role in regulating impulse control. In dogs, the prefrontal cortex finishes developing around two years old. Until then, just like a teenager, your dog may not make the best decisions. Understanding these factors enhances our appreciation of the comprehensive nature of impulse control, emphasizing its significance in fostering a well-rounded dog.


Topic Tip: Teaching behaviors such as sit, wait, stay and leave it can help your develop your dog's impulse control.


Golden Rule #9 LET YOUR DOG EXPRESS IT DOG-NESS


One black standard poodle and one white standard poodle playing at the beach.
Henry (white) & Leroy (black)

Let your dog do what dogs do!


We can confine and control our dogs, but reflecting on the quality of life we provide them is essential. Imagine if you were only allowed to eat at specific times, had to request permission for bathroom breaks, and could only explore or move around within the constraints of a leash. These are some examples of how we limit the autonomy of our dogs.


The parallel to human experiences underscores the significance of allowing our dogs the freedom to engage in natural behaviors. Just as we crave autonomy and the ability to make choices in our lives, our canine companions benefit significantly from having the freedom to express their instincts, explore their environment, and interact with their surroundings.


While responsible management and guidance are essential for their safety, finding a balance that incorporates freedom and choice enhances their overall well-being. Allowing dogs the opportunity to be dogs, with the ability to make decisions within reasonable limits, contributes to a happier, healthier, and more fulfilling life for our beloved companions.


As responsible dog guardians and guides, we must ensure our dogs' safety, be their teachers, use management, and prevent them from getting into dangerous situations. We also need to allow our dogs some freedom.


Let them sniff to their heart's content during walks, watch the squirrels play, or watch the world go by. Find a safe spot to run, romp, play, and be themselves. Allow them to speak the language of their people with occasional barking or howling, acknowledging their natural instincts.


If they enjoy it, let them socialize with other dogs.


And yes, even if it means a few destroyed toys, let them have at it – it's all part of the fun. Let them roll in the grass in safe areas, chew on sticks (as long as it's safe), and enjoy being a dog.


So, give your dog the freedom to be themselves. Letting your dog be a dog ensures they live their best, most authentic life.


Let your dog be a dog!


Golden Rule #10 KEYS TO SUCCESS


Sleeping Cattle Dog puppy in playpen surrounded by toys.
Baby Roo sleeping in her playpen.

Routines and patterns are the cornerstone for helping your dog navigate our human world.


To establish a successful and enriching relationship with your dog, it's important to follow a set of foundational principles that serve as keys to success with your dog.


The first important step is the ability to predict when your dog may exhibit undesirable behaviors. Understanding potential triggers or situations allows for proactive management, enabling you to navigate issues before they escalate.


Strategic prevention through management is equally vital in steering your dog away from undesirable behaviors. Creating an environment that minimizes opportunities for such actions sets the stage for positive interactions and reinforces desirable behavior patterns and predictability. Simultaneously, reinforcing positive behaviors with rewards establishes a sense of trust and cooperation, fostering a stronger connection between you and your dog.


In instances where undesirable behaviors arise, it becomes crucial to interrupt the behavior and redirect your dog's attention toward a more suitable activity until you can apply management. This approach serves as a gentle intervention, guiding your dog away from negative actions while encouraging engagement in more acceptable alternatives. Collectively, these strategies contribute to cultivating a well-behaved and balanced dog.


These 10 golden rules of dog training provide a roadmap for a positive and enriching relationship with your family dog. From managing the environment to embracing your dog's unique personality, each rule contributes to a healthier, happier life for both you and your dog. By incorporating these principles, you'll not only shape your dog's behavior but also foster a strong bond built on trust, consistency, and the joy of shared experiences.


Topic Tip: For additional resources or help with your dog, Valeria, the driving force behind Drop the Leash LLC offers consultations and learning opportunities for dogs and their families at www.droptheleashdogtraining.com.

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