Dog Training

10 Tips for a Happier Dog (and Owner)

Here are 10 things you can do immediately to improve your relationship with your dog.

  1. My clicker
    My training clicker

    Start training your dog. You can teach your dog basic obedience in just 5 minutes a day.

    If you’ve never done any training, start with this: Make your dog sit before you put down his food. You have to feed him twice a day, so you’re getting at least two training sessions daily with this. (You need to do more, but we’ve all got to start somewhere.)

    Dog training is so obvious, I thought it was stupid to include here. But the more I get to know dog owners, the more I realize most people don’t bother with any kind of training. Sadly, the few that do are watching Cesar Millan, which leads me to #2.

  2. Stop watching The Dog Whisperer. I know Cesar Millan is great with dogs and the show is very dramatic and entertaining, but realize that you don’t have the charisma, experience, and temperament to mimic him.

    My dog and I go to the dog park several times a week, so I’ve seen a lot of human-dog interaction. It’s most evident in the “big dog” side, where owners are nervous, don’t know how to read a dog’s body language, and overreact. At the sound of a loud bark, the humans would immediately “dominate” their dogs. I see people yanking on collars and trying alpha rolls, and it never works. The same people and dogs come back next week, and have the same problems. Their dogs aren’t learning anything except they have a mean and irrational owner.

    If you believe in the dominance myth, click here to learn something.

    There is no scientifically validated data to uphold the belief that you must eat before your dog, or keep them from sleeping on your bed, or walking in front of you, and owners should not be led to believe this and live in a state of fear and anxiety over their dog’s possible takeover of their home.

    The problem isn’t that Mllan is evil (as some claim), but that his students typically get emotional and cause more harm than good. The issue with using physical pain as a method is it’s easy to get frustrated and lose your temper. And when you get mad, you’re more likely to go harder on the leash corrections or pokes and injure you dog. He stays calm and never raises his voice. How about you?

    Finally, every time you hurt your dog, you chip away at that special human-dog bond and weaken his confidence.

    If you need a “dog whisperer,” go with Paul Owens.

  3. Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson
    Must Read

    Read Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson. If you read only one dog book in your life, this should be the one. I consider it required reading for anyone with a dog or thinking about getting a dog.

    Next, you’ll read The Other End of the Leash, Calming Signals: On Talking Terms with Dogs, anything by Ian Dunbar, and one or more positive dog training books.

  4. Watch dog training videos Maybe you’re not a book person. If you must watch TV, learn from It’s Me or the Dog. Victoria Stilwell says there’s no place in dog training for yelling or hurting your pet. You can pick up humane training tips on her show.

    You can also find many free videos online, such as Sophia Yin’s site and Youtube.

  5. Watch this TED video. Ian Dunbar gives an introduction to sensible, dog-friendly training.

  6. Schedule meals and bathroom trips. If you’re free-feeding your dog, it’s harder to predict when he’ll have to poop. Put him on a schedule and stick to it. Place the food down for 30 minutes. If he doesn’t finish it by then, he has to wait until the next mealtime. When you can predict and time his peeing and pooping, housebreaking is much easier.

  7. Spay or neuter your dog. Besides helping with the pet animal overpopulation in the world, fixing your dog can only improve your dog’s behavior. It eliminates his sexual frustration and reduces the risk of several illnesses including cancer. Combined with proper training, the surgery is also helpful in reactive/aggression issues.

  8. Kong Chew Toy
    Kong Chew Toy

    Invest in a chew toy or treat. My dog doesn’t care about chewing his Kong beehive as much as he likes working away at it when stuffed and frozen. If your dog has a problem chewing your shoes or remote control, give him something else to chew on. Kongs are durable toys that can withstand aggressive chewing. Other chewable goods include ropes, plush toys, and bully sticks.

    Tip: Don’t give your dog “hand-me-downs” like old sandals or shirts. You’ll confuse him because now you’re also asking him to understand what new and old mean. Set your dog up for success. It’s easier to encourage good behavior than it is to remove bad behavior. Buy a few toys specifically for chewing and playtime, instead of using old things around the house.

  9. Exercise your dog at least twice a day. If Millan gets anything right, it’s that your dog needs to move. You have to walk your dog at least twice a day. Regular exercise will deplete energy levels, as well as reduce stress and anxiety, and that helps reduce unwanted behavior. If your dog is doing things like chewing furniture or digging holes, it could be simple restlessness that can be solved by tiring him out. In addition to walking, activities like dog park visits, flyball, agility training, frisbee, etc. are stimulating, fun, and exhausting for your dog.

    Note: Exercise is not a substitute for training. If all you do is make him run, you’ll have a tired dog, but he’s still not trained.

  10. Work your dog’s mind. This is related to training, but could be as simple as giving him a Buster Cube or similar toy. You want him to work for his food, whether that’s a long walk or problem solving. Giving your dog mental stimulation helps with easing anxiety and distracts him from being a nuisance. A big part of training is simply replacing bad habits with good ones.