Training Single Behaviours

This is an example of a reliable sit, stay and leave. Work on one skill at a time, then put them together.

Dogs live in our world, a world that mainly relies on spoken word and lots of rules that differ between individuals. I always marvel at how dogs have been able to adapt to the restrictions we have placed upon them. Behaviours that often fly in the face of what they were born to do. Things like, don’t jump up and lick faces, don’t smell other dogs’ bums, don’t chase that bird into the pond, etc…. ??How would you feel if you suddenly found yourself in another world, where you only had your human behaviours to rely on? You wouldn’t understand the language, social norms or rules. Wouldn’t it be great if someone took you by the hand and lead you through the confusion. This teacher would have to be pretty certain about what the rules were, and would have to be consistent and kind to make sure you felt most comfortable to try all of these new behaviours.

You can be that teacher.?? Start by thinking about the single behaviour you would like to teach your dog. Write it down if you need to. The single behaviour needs to be practiced and reinforced on its own. For example, if you want to teach your dog to come- teach and reinforce come, not come and sit together. Each behaviour will need to go through the following phases to become reliable, then they can be put together.

Teaching Phase

The teaching phase is characterised by using food in your hand to lure your dog in to the position you want. You then give the food up as soon as you get the behaviour you need. At first you may also give the food half way during a behaviour to encourage your dog that they are on the right track. This phase is best done in a non-distracting environment.


Now you can take the food lure away and reinforce the behaviour after offering a hand and verbal signal. Hand and verbal signals need to be unique to each behaviour. You can begin reinforcing better and better efforts of the desired behaviour. You can also work on the behaviour in different environments, start with spaces that are easy for you and your dog. Work up to being able to practice the behaviour where you will eventually use it. Most of your time should be spent in this phase. Set your dog up for success. Set yourself up for success too.


This is where you use the behaviour in the situation you intended it to be used. Little time should be spent in this phase, this is where all of your hard proofing is put to the test. For example, if you have been teaching and proofing heeling, this is where you heel past that dead bird, spilled rubbish, or poo that your dog loves to eat or roll in (yes, it is normal)!

Think of dog training behaviours as building a house…..?If you start with a solid foundation, when you start adding pressure, the behaviour will hold firm.


Crate Training

One of the great joys of owning a dog is having it inside with you and your family. Allowing your dog inside creates so many wonderful opportunities for interaction and bonding. It also makes for a calmer more satisfied dog. ??I met a lovely man today who was walking his massive German Shepherd, I struck up a conversation with him (I couldn’t resist saying hello) and asked him if his dog lived inside with him? He laughed, and said…. “Yes, my dog lets me in sometimes”. The bond between them was evident, and much of it would be due to them sharing a life inside with one another.

If a dog is to live inside successfully he needs to learn many lessons. Often the best way to manage a new dog in the home is to make sure that they don’t have the opportunity to break any household rules. Using a crate to confine your new dog will ensure they learn how to behave in the home and will ultimately lead to greater freedom inside and outside the home. The crate is also useful for toilet training, developing your dogs’ separation confidence, and is portable, so if you take your dog somewhere just take the crate too.

So, what is a crate? Essentially it is a cage that you can buy at most pet shops. It can be wire, plastic or material (only recommended for non-chewing dogs). It can be set up anywhere in the home, although somewhere your dog can be close to you is a good idea. It should be used under supervision as the space in the crate is small, there should only be enough room for your dog to stand, stretch and lay down. Please don’t think it is cruel, used and introduced properly your dog will love it, and you will wonder how you ever did without one.

Introducing your dog to the crate should be a positive experience for both of you. If you feel bad about using it (lots of people do when they begin) just set it up with some treats inside and allow your dog to come and go from the crate with the door left open. You will probably find that they begin spending lots of time in it, especially if it takes the place of their indoor bed. You should always feel comfortable with any tools you use to train your dog, otherwise there will be little joy and where’s the fun in that?

A good time to lock your dog in the crate for the first time is after your dog has had a walk and been to the toilet. Please make sure you leave something to chew inside the crate for them. There should always be something tasty like a food stuffed chew toy waiting in there for them- this will develop a positive association with the crate. Never use it for punishment. Begin by leaving them locked in for a short time and slowly increase the time. For baby puppies this should be no more than an hour at a time of confinement. ??Each time you let your dog out of the crate it is a perfect opportunity to do some training, playing or walking. This means that when your dog is out of their crate you will be able to give them your full attention.

Anytime you cannot actively watch your dog they need to be confined in their crate. This is where the crate comes in to its own- we all lead busy lives and cannot watch our dogs all the time so the crate allows you to go about your business without fear that your dog is breaking any rules. You can also use the crate as an overnight bed, but you may need to get up during the night to let your dog out to toilet until they can last through the night.

The crate works for toilet training as dogs will not wee or poo inside the crate (unless they are desperate). Dogs are essentially clean animals- a reason we share our homes with them, they will do their best not to wee or poo in the space they sleep. Some dogs do wee and poo in their beds, however, these dogs often have another space they can go to sleep. The crate is so small it does not give your dog the choice to move elsewhere. Your dog will cry to be let out of the crate if they need to wee or poo.

This confinement will not have to last long, and soon you will be able to trust your dog inside. You will probably find that you will continue using the crate because your dog will love it.



Confidence, and how you feel when you train your dog impacts hugely on how successful you and your dog are. There may be a family member who is able to get your dog to listen better than anyone else in the home. Why is that? Watch their interactions with your dog next time. Usually confidence plays a large part in this.

Confidence is not bullying. Confidence is trusting in your ability and that of your dogs’.??I know that when I ask a dog to do something I trust they will do it for me, not because I am a ‘dog whisperer’ or ‘Dr DoLittle’ but because I am confident in my ability and will follow through with having them do what I ask (even if I have to lower my expectations for a while). This confidence can only come from experience. Yes, I have been working with many dogs for many years, but you can have the same experience with your own dog if you are committed.

Think about the kinds of behaviours you would like your dog to learn and how you are going to train this. Planning to teach your dog a particular behaviour is the first step to confident handling and consistency. Think about the hand and verbal signals for that behaviour and when you will reinforce the behaviour. Time the reinforcement (usually tasty food) so that your dog gets it as soon as he performs the behaviour or part of it. Practice the behaviour when there are no distractions around so that you become more confident at asking your dog to follow. Pay attention to how you feel when you ask your dog to perform, and only increase the difficulty level when you feel confident in your handling ability and your dogs’ ability- trust.

Planning a time to teach behaviours also leads to confident handling skills. It is no good trying to teach your dog to do something when you are feeling sad, stressed, rushed or angry. Dogs are masters at picking up how we feel. They see it in our body language, hear it in our voice, and I’m sure they smell it too. If you’re feeling ‘uneasy’ the best thing to do with your dog is play with him or work on some fun tricks. Tricks are great because it doesn’t carry the same pressure as something you are desperate for your dog to learn. However, tricks still mean that you dog needs to pay attention and follow direction- great ground work for other behaviours.

When you are working with your dog act confident, please don’t hope that they will do something for you. If they make a mistake it’s OK, that’s how they learn, it just means that they do not get reinforced for it. Take a critical look at why they did not listen, and learn from it yourself. We are supposed to be the more intelligent ones, if we can’t work it out, why should we expect our dogs’ to?

The more success you have, the more confident you will be, the more confident you are, the more success you will have. Take it slowly and have fun- that’s one of the reasons you got a dog in the first place.


Go Free!

For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of owning a dog is watching them run at full stretch. It’s so easy to see the joy in your dogs’ face when they are able to have free access to a large space. Imagine what that would feel like. Dogs spend the vast majority of their time confined to the same house, with the same smells, same sights- not much changes. But outside, everything is new, and vibrant, and smells great! How wonderful to be able to investigate all of these things at their own leisure. ??Often what happens is, people adopt a new dog and they wait months (sometimes even years) before they allow them off the lead at the park. They finally summon up the courage to unclip the lead, and their dog takes off, owner freaks out, and when they finally catch up with their dog, they put them straight back on lead, and vow never to try it again (at least for a little while). If this is the case, how is your dog ever going to learn to stay close to you if they are never allowed off lead?

There are so many recall and off lead control lessons you can teach your dog, but in order to teach them they have to be off lead. Hmmm, seems like a catch 22. There is an answer though. Before you go out make sure your dog is hungry (don’t feed them for several hours before going on a walk), take lots of high value food (raw meat, chicken wing tip, cut up frankfurt), then find a large space that is safely enclosed, and let them off inside. This is so effective for a few reasons.

Firstly, and most importantly, you are more relaxed. If you are relaxed you will spend less time calling at your dog which just sets them up to ignore you. It will also allow you to enjoy watching your dog explore and run safely- you wont help but smile watching them chase the birds, dig, roll, run through the grass, or fall over because their legs got tangled up (very funny when it does happen).

Secondly, they cant go too far so you can begin shaping their behaviour to teach them to pay attention to you and check in from time to time. Give them a bit food when they come close to you. Always acknowledged their attention with a loving word or some food or a game (most dogs love to play chasie). This is so great because you are training them without them even knowing it! I believe this is the best and most effective way to train any behaviour. While you are walking around the space get in to the habit of changing direction often without telling your dog. This will teach them to pay attention to you, it also sets them up to come racing back to you which is a great opportunity for reinforcement.

Thirdly, the enclosed space gives you the opportunity to practice some recall (coming when called) exercises (I will cover these in a later blog). After a time in the enclosed space the novelty will have worn off and this is the perfect time to practice recall exercises as now you have become the most interesting thing in the space.

Finally, an enclosed space usually has only one or two entrance areas that you may be able to see at all times. This allows you to be able to see when someone (person or dog) is entering, or about to enter, and you will be able to prepare for this. The enclosed space also stops your dog from bothering passing traffic in the way of bikes, joggers etc. You can train your dog in the enclosed space to ignore these distractions without fear of them failing, and you getting yelled at.

Use any enclosed areas you find, over time your dog will become so much better behaved off lead, and any problems you are having at home with them will also be diminished just by allowing them to run free each day. Eventually you will be able to discover a world of walking tracks which is so much more fun than pounding the pavement- snore.


The Right Dog Trainer

When you bring a new dog home it can be a time of great confusion, nervousness and anxiety. We all want the best for our dogs and we all want our dogs to fit in to our lives. When you feel anxious about your new dog it leaves you vulnerable to other peoples opinions and advice. Sometimes you can get so much of this well meaning advice that it just leaves you utterly confused. This is perfectly normal especially when you have little support.

The best way to navigate through the mass of confusion is to first find a dog trainer that you trust and feel comfortable with. Ask friends where they had their dog trained, and what their thoughts of the service were. Call the service/club, the trainer should spend time with you on the phone answering your questions and listening to your needs. You should also be able to visit the service/club and see the training in action. Talk to the clients/members about their thoughts. You should be looking for happy dogs, supported people and interested, passionate trainers.

Once you have found a service/club, your trainer should spend time getting to know you, your dog, your family, and your needs. Your trainer should love dogs, but they must be passionate about helping people. If the trainer asks you to do something you don’t feel comfortable with, it should be ok. So many people find a dog trainer and follow what they say even when they feel it is not right for them. Perhaps your trainer can work around the issue, if not, you may need to find someone else. Don’t ignore your ‘gut feeling’, it’s there for a reason, listen to it.

Even when you have a great trainer, there may be things that they suggest that you do not feel happy with. A great example of this is do you allow your dog on the furniture with you? Some trainers give a blanket ‘no way, ever’ response. But, what happens if you want your dog on the couch or bed with you? What if that is time you both really enjoy? This is where a flexible trainer would give you guidelines such as, ‘only allowed on the furniture with your permission’. Or, ‘not allowed on furniture until other behavioural problems are sorted out’. Also, do your own research, your trainer should also be able to recommend alternative sources of information, books, websites, blogs etc…

As a preference you should choose private lessons initially then move to group classes. Private lessons allow the trainer to tailor an approach to dog training that is right for you and your lifestyle. You are the expert on your life and believe it or not, you know your dog better anyone. The more relevant the information your dog trainer gives you, the more likely you are to practice and be successful, also ensuring a better outcome in group classes.

If you are taking your dog to a service/club don’t assume that the trainer can ‘fix’ your dog. It is your trainers’ job to work with you, to help you, help your dog. They should be giving you the tools that you can take home and practice. In this process you should be feeling empowered and confident, your trainer should be giving you lots of positive reinforcement and specific praise. You should come away feeling happy and good about the session.
You should be able to have the life with your dog that you want, with the flexibility and support of your trainer. After all, what I see as a problem dog behaviour in my life, may not be an issue in your life.



When we talk about socialisation it means a couple of things. It means the period of development that the puppy is going though, and it also means exposing and allowing your puppy and dog to get used to new objects, situations and people. While the period of developmental socialisation is usually over by the time your puppy is 5 months old, socialisation should continue until they are at least three years of age.

In my experience I have noticed that puppies and dogs go through changes in their personality and behaviour for the first three years. Usually the first change comes at around 6 months, another at 18 months and then another at around three years of age, and these changes are not always good. Think about your current or past dogs, and what they were like in their first few months, compared to middle age. You can probably identify shifts in their personality. If there were behavioural problems, you may even be able to recognise when they started and how they became worse.

Because of these personality changes, continued socialisation is vital for the first three years of your dogs life. During these personality shifts your dog may become anxious in situations they were otherwise fine in previously. Do not dismiss this change, this is your time to socialise, even if your dog is older. When your dog gives signals of anxiety in a situation recognise it as a sign to do something about it. Exposing them to the issue at this low anxiety level, and building their confidence, with lots of positive reinforcement and little pressure can do wonders for stopping a little problem before it becomes a big one. This is the essence of socialisation and why it needs to continue for your dogs first few years.

Many dog owners realise the importance of socialising puppies early and enrol their puppy in to puppy school for a four, or even, 12 week program. While this is a step in the right direction, it is not nearly enough. Your puppy’s’ education needs to continue for the first three years of their life if you want an adaptive, happy, adult dog. After puppy school, continue your training either by practicing the things you learned in puppy school yourself, in lots of different situations, or by joining a club that uses food/toy reinforcement training.

Think about all of the things that your dog will be exposed to in their life and continue to find the time to work on these situations with your dog by making them fun and meaningful (in a positive way) to your dog. For example, if you mainly walk your dog off lead (good on you) don’t forget to do some on lead walks and on lead greeting of people and dogs. There will come a time where you will need to have your dog on lead and you need them to be familiar with on lead greetings. We all know that practice makes perfect and the more situations your dog is practiced in the more adaptable they will be- then you really will have a dog that will fit in with your lifestyle.

If you take the time for the first few years and recognise and address little issues you will have the rest of your dogs life to enjoy. Have fun with this, take your dog to all sorts of places with you, this alone will help immensely and it is what having a dog is all about- my dog is my co-pilot.


Environment Enrichment

Imagine how it would feel if you had to stay in the same place, day in, day out, for most of your life and on your own. How would you pass the time? Wouldn’t it be great if you loved to read, someone left you with a whole library or if you loved watching TV, someone left you with a big screen and some movies. That’s exactly what environment enrichment is all about. Dogs are social creatures- one of the many reasons they have been invited to share our lives. Mostly we want dogs in our lives is because they provide us with companionship and loyalty (unless there’s a better looking dog around). But, because of this lovable trait they can also be difficult to leave home alone.

Environment enrichment can greatly decrease issues such as mindless barking and inappropriate digging and chewing. Aside from that, why wouldn’t you want to give your dog something to occupy their mind while they eagerly wait for your return? Yes, your dog is waiting for you to come home…. all day. Giving your dog something to look forward to doing in your absence is also empowering your dog to be comfortable with you leaving.

As a dog owner it is your responsibility to give your dog mental stimulation as well as physical exercise and environment enrichment is great exercise for their brain. Zoo’s all around the world are getting better and better at doing this for their animals. You are no different, you have an animal on your property and you are responsible for their mental and physical well being. Rest assured that if you do not provide the proper entertainment for your dog you will ‘loose’ some things in the yard or home.

There are so many wonderful things you can do and buy for your dog to enrich their environment. This is the fun part, start off by visiting your local pet shop (please pick one that does not sell puppies). There are many enrichment toys available on the market, buy as many as you can afford, if you are on a budget, invest in one stuffable chew toy, and one treat dispenser- great for dishing out treats (or your dogs dry food) when they nose it around the yard.

You can also leave your dog with raw bones (if their stomach can tolerate) as a replacement for their breakfast. Pigs ears, kangaroo tails, trotters- all of these eatable items will pass the time nicely for your dog. Chewing releases endorphins in dogs, much like exercising does for us, so your dog will feel great and will probably sleep most of the day after this.

Try building your dog a sandpit for them to dig and roll around in. Trust me, it doesn’t need to be fancy, I had four lengths of timber laying around, I dug them in to the ground a little to form a square and filled it with sand. Place some treats on top of the sand, bury some a little way down and bury the best treats even deeper. Dogs dig, and often love doing it, why not give them a place to have a little fun? At the least it will save your garden beds.

Throw a handful of your dogs food or treats around the yard before you leave home. You can even place some in a line where your dog will sniff out a track to find them. This will keep your dog busy for a little while and tired at the end of it. Sniffing and walking uses a high amount of energy, a tired dog is a happy dog with a happy owner.

Each of these ideas will only take a short amount of time and the pay off is huge for you and your dog. When you are enriching your dogs’ environment allow them to watch you do this, they will be beside themselves trying to get out discovering what you have planted in the garden for them. If you combine environment enrichment with a walk before you leave you will have set your dog up for a very pleasant time without you.

The ideas above are only the beginning, be creative and have some fun with environment enrichment. Feel free to comment and share some of your successful ‘home alone’ ideas for other dog owners to read.


Why Stay?

I often reflect on my work and am always questioning how and why I teach certain exercises. In doing so, sometimes my recommendations change. An example of this is why teach stay? I began by considering the ‘stay’ to be purely an obedience exercise that should be reserved to trials and formal obedience classes. However, over the years many clients would come to me requesting information on how to teach ’stay’. I realised that there was a need for it within the pet dog domain.

Lets look at what ‘stay’ is, at least my interpretation of it. When you ask your dog to ‘stay’ what you should be teaching them is; ‘stay where you are and do not move any of your paws or change position until I come back to you and give you a finished signal’. Taught properly it means that your dog will ignore any distractions and remain still until you return to their side and release them. It cannot be used for leaving your dog in the car, the back yard, or tied up somewhere as your dog will invariably move around, meaning that ‘stay’ really has no meaning to your dog. ’Stay’ should not be used if you are going to step away from your dog and call them to you, or ask them to change positions- use ‘wait’. By using two different words and two different hand signals you are sending a clear message that each signal means one behaviour…..
‘Stay’- don’t move until I return to you and release you.
‘Wait’- wait there until further instruction.

So why do I think you need to teach your dog to stay? I really believe that it can be used in an emergency situation. If your dog has a rock-solid stay they will not move until you are able to get to them. It could be used as an alternative for ‘come’, where you ask your dog to ‘stay’ instead of come. There might be a time where you have to leave your dog to assist someone, if your dog can stay well it may keep them out of trouble. Why not have another lifesaving tool you can use? After all, this is your best mate.

Stay is made up of three components; distance, time and distractions. You must work on one component at a time, and achieve stability before moving on to the next component. Begin inside or in a boring environment, then progress to more and more distracting places.

All too often I see people rush through trying to teach their dogs to stay. People usually begin by telling their dog to ‘stay’ with a stern voice, and stepping off with constant hand signal, usually one finger pointed at the dog. How often do we wag a finger in front of our dog when they are doing something bad. No wonder the dog doesn’t enjoy the exercise. Try inventing a new hand signal only for ‘stay’ and speak quietly, your dog is not deaf (if they are you wont even need the verbal signal). If you take your time teaching your dog this exercise you should be able to step off confidently and not have to look back. You and your dog are partners and both of you must have faith in one-another. This faith can only come with confidence through lots of easy and fun practice.

You have so many years to enjoy with your dog, if you rush the ‘stay’ your dog will crumble as soon as you put a bit of pressure on in the way of distractions. A solid ‘stay’ is only as good as the foundation it is built upon.


Rewards and Recall

Money, hard-earned, Oxford scholars, what ever you call it, for many of us it means the same thing- reward. Reward for doing a job, with which we can do lots of other things that we value. For some, it’s not money, but we all have something we value, our currency. Dogs are the same, we simply need to find their currency. For most it is food, and this is my focus today.

Food lends itself to training so easily as it is pleantyful, dogs need it to survive, and it offers a fast way to reinforce behaviours over and over again in a short period of time. Fresh meat is usually the best choice when it comes to rewards as it is highly valued by dogs and because of this it will work very well when there are distractions around such as other dogs. Dried liver treats will not cut it when you are out and about with your dog. Reserve the more ‘boring’ food for indoor or backyard training.

Perhaps one of the best things you can do for your new dog is to hand feed them. Hand feeding means that rewards come in replacement of one or two large meals. Seperate your dogs’ daily ration of food in a bowl and take from it whenever you need to during the day. Your dog should get a small amount of food for lovely behaviour. The more you reinfroce any behaviour, the more likely that behaviour will continue. Hand feeding will also ensure that your dog does not become overweight. It is a great way to make your dog earn their food instead of being given a whole lump of food in one go, where’s the fun in that?

Hand feeding also means that you will be reminded of how regularly you can reinforce behaviour during the course of one day. Please do not think of hand feeding as forcing your dog to eat because they are fussy. Hand feeding means recognising your dogs’ great behaviour and rewarding it- training. Think of all the skills you would like your dog to learn and focus on reinforcing these behaviours with their daily food.

An example of this may be recall, the most important exercise you can teach your dog and something which you can practice over and over again by hand feeding. A fast recall can save your dogs’ life, it also puts an end to unwanted behaviours like rushing up to other dogs and people, playing too rough with other dogs. But aside from that, it is glorous to watch your dog respond quickly and come bounding towards you with a happy attitude.

The first step to having a fast recall is to set it up at home with minimal distractions. As with all aother exercises, you must set your dog up for success. Drop a bit of food on the ground or have someone hold your dog while you run away. Your dog should already be coming to you when you call him with a specific verbal signal like ‘come’. When your dog comes to you reward him with lots and lots of praise and bits of food. Be generous with your praise and food, remember, you have a whole bowl of food to get through by the end of the day and act like you really value this behaviour.

Once you have practiced the recall inside you can take your dogs’ food out with you and they can have dinner while they are out and about. You might like to mix in some extra nice goodies like fresh meat in to their meal for this. Practice the same recall exercises outside as you did at home and lavish priase and bits of food (one at a time) on your dog. This should still be done with minimal distractions, you can begin raising the level of difficulty as your dog becomes better and better at responding to you.

You can also use your dogs’ meal to reinforce behaviours when you are out like staying close to you. Simply reinforce your dog for being near by with a bit of their meal. I always had two recalls for my dog. The fast recall was ‘come’ the other was ‘hey!’ or ‘this way’ when I wanted him to make his way over in my general area I simply reinforced this with some low grade food and a ‘good boy’.

Eventually the time will come when you feel comfortable that your dog has learned all of the rules in your life, and at that point, you will find you can stop hand feeding your dog. However, I always recomend that at the least you take food with you to the park for the first year of having your dog.

Forget dog whispering and celebrately dog trainers, it doesnt have to be that hard. Hand feeding will open up so many opportunites for training your dog, and in no time, you will notice that your dog will be more attentive to you and you will be shaping behaviours like the true dog trainer you are.