How Dogs Learn

Eight week old yellow Lab puppy with red shoe in his mouth

A puppy left to wander the house unsupervised usually comes up with a behavior you might not like…such as chewing your favourite new shoes

No Punitive Action

Never punish or reprimand the puppy for something that he has done after the fact. A dog’s perception of time is not the same as ours. If you are punishing your pup for a mistake he made even one minute earlier, he has no concept of that. He may have walked into the room after chewing on your favorite shoes and then plopped down to relax. You give him a very terse ticking off. He thinks that you are cross because he is lying down.

In your absence, a dog decides things for himself.

The mistake was yours for not supervising your puppy. In your absence, a dog decides things for himself. You can not get angry when your unsupervised dog makes a choice that you do not like.

After enough episodes like this, you have a basket case of a dog on your hands. He has no idea when you will fly off the handle, or why. Very confusing, unfair and potentially destructive to your dog.

Always Give Your Puppy a Better Alternative

If you see the pup doing something that is inappropriate, stop him and direct him to what it is that you want him to do, whether that be to go outside to do his business, or chew on something you give him instead of something you cherish.

100% Management

If things seem overwhelming, you may need to examine how much free time the pup has. Is there any unattended time? 100% management also includes backyard time. Not providing your puppy with full supervision and management is a very common mistake that many new puppy people make. It is much easier to prevent problems than correct them. If you don’t, he may develop habits you can’t live with. And ultimately the dog pays for it in the end. It is not the pup’s responsibility. It is yours.

It would be unrealistic to assume you can watch over your dog 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is where a crate comes in. Please refer to House Training for more information on crate training.

‘No,’ the Big No-No

Another thing to avoid doing is screeching the word NO! The word is negative and overused and if heard often enough the dog will start to tune it out. When you need to run interference, be fair, kind and consistent, and make it count as a learning opportunity. Please read on to learn more about how you can do this.

Don’t roll the dog on his back or try to muscle him into some submissive state. These are uneducated myths concerning control and leadership. They do not work and more importantly they most certainly will create more trouble.
Never Hit Your Dog

There are appropriate ways of letting your dog know that he is doing something you don’t want him to do. There are also inappropriate ways. Never hit your dog. Avoid screaming at the dog; never rub your dog’s nose in a bathroom accident. Don’t roll the dog on his back or try to muscle him into some submissive state. These are uneducated myths concerning control and leadership. They do not work, and more importantly, they most certainly will create more trouble.

The consequences that you dole out to your dog should match the seriousness of the canine misbehavior, keeping in mind the nature of dog, and whether or not you are doing your job to keep the dog safe and effectively teaching the dog what you want him to do.

Potent Consequences

If you are doing your job properly, then one of the most powerful negative consequences to your dog is for you to ignore him when he’s doing something you don’t want. How often do we see people chasing their dogs and screeching at them? This is a game to the dog and, in most cases, great fun for him. There is a game of “chase me” going on. “Yee-Ha! Let’s go!” Here are some very effective and strong ways of letting your dog know that he has just missed an opportunity to do something right.

Withholding Rewards

We aren’t going out the door until you sit.

You will not get this toy until you sit.

You may not chew on this bone until you sit.

You will not get this bowl of kibble until you sit.

Straightforward and very effective.

Eight-week-old Border Collie puppy lying quietly in metal crate with no cushions or blankets in it, as an example of positive dog training.

Puppy getting a bit of quiet, safe downtime

Time Outs: Turn the Other Cheek

Similar to a “time out” that parents give to kids, a time out is exactly what it sounds like.

The dog is cut off from any inappropriate behavior he is doing while interacting with you. In order for the time out to be potent, it must be immediate. Simply ignoring the dog when it is safe and possible is very effective in many situations. Once the dog is doing what you want, reward him. For instance, the pup is nipping and biting at your hands. Fold your arms, stand up and walk away.

A time out can last 15 to 30 seconds. You will need to adjust the time depending on the infraction and the effect the time out has on your puppy.

You are telling the critter you do not like the ferocity at which he is playing, to be more gentle, chill out. You may need to do more than one time out. Your timing is very important. The dog must be timed out at the very moment he is breaking the rules in order for this to be an effective snub of the behavior.

Time outs also need to be practical. Standing up and walking away when a puppy is chewing on the dining room furniture is not going to work.

In the instance of a puppy who is playing too rough, simply placing the pup in his crate can be a good management tool to calm him down.

Young woman holding puppy in arms while young man holds on to his puppy in back garden, as an example of positive dog training.

A trainer gives an over exuberant pup a quick time out by picking him up.

Don’t Turn Your Back On Me!

That’s right, the old back turning trick: especially great for puppies who will not seem to quit jumping up on you and everyone they meet. What you are saying to the jumping puppy is, “I am not going to greet you or acknowledge you while you are flying around in the air.” As always, good timing is essential. Ideally, you turn your back on the puppy as he is attempting to jump on you. Be sure and reward the pup when you get the behavior that you want: not jumping, sitting, whatever the case may be.

Note: Jumping up to greet humans is natural dog behavior. We need to teach the dog an alternative, such as to sit when he meets people.

Twelve-week-old Retriever with her front paws up on the back of a young woman’s legs. Woman is turned away from dog

Turn your back to a puppy that jumps up.

Twelve-week-old Retriever sitting next to young woman who is facing her puppy

Turn back once the puppy is in a sit and reward.

Puppy Push Ups

Just the simple action of luring a wild pup through an extended set of sits and downs is often very effective in chilling them out. You may choose to treat or not to treat at the end. You may do as many as 10 to 15 sits and downs.

Refer to illustrations in Junior Obedience covering sits and down.

Squatting down, a young woman holds a dog treat to a ten-week-old Bassett Hound puppy’s nose while she is in a sitting facing her

Lure the pup into a down

Still squatting, the young woman lowers the dog treat in her hand while the Bassett Hound puppy keeps her nose against the woman’s hand as she lowers her body down towards the ground
Still squatting, the young woman is holding her hand directly above a ten- week-old Bassett Hound puppy’s nose who is lying down

…then into a sit

Still squatting, the young woman raises her hand holding a dog treat while the Bassett Hound puppy keeps her nose against her hand as he starts stand up from lying down.