Dog Training Deconstructed

Dog Training Deconstructed by Michelle Mantor

Whether you have a new puppy or a dog that has owned you for awhile, training may likely be on your mind because it is noted as one of the top concerns (along with nutrition) of pet owners. From house soiling to jumping on guests or not coming when called, behavior problems can be solved with training and make life with your pet much more pleasurable.

There are many books about training and it’s a subject with “a lot of legs” (more than four!). We can’t possibly cover all of the relevant information in this article, but my hope is to detail out the basics so that pet owners know the “philosophy” behind successful dog behavior modification. At that point, you may continue your own research and methods, or you may choose to visit with one of our advertising partners for more expert advice (see list at end of article).

The Secret
By now, many of you have heard about the best seller “The Secret” and you know that the great life “secret” espoused by this book is the law of attraction that states “like attracts like”… your thoughts, feelings, words and actions consist of energy that attracts to it more of its own kind. That is, negative energies attract negative energies, and positive energies attract positive energies.
The “secret” to successful dog training is understanding and exhibiting leadership with your dog. You must be alpha to the “pack” and your dog must see you as such. If they don’t view you as the leader, they will likely make a move for the position because in their world, there HAS to be a leader.

Behaviors of a Leader:
• Leaders sleep above the rest of the pack – Owner sleeps in bed and dog sleeps below the bed on the floor or in a crate
• Leaders control the food – Pack leaders in the wild eat first, taking what piece of the kill they want, then leave the remainder for the rest of the pack. Do not feed your dog from the table, while you’re cooking, etc. Always put food in their bowl to eat and feed them AFTER you have eaten.
• Leaders control grooming –  Any form of petting, brushing and touching the dog is considered grooming in dog language. Your dog must earn the privilege of being “groomed” by the pack leader. Make your dog earn affection by putting them in a sit or down before petting, brushing, etc.
• Leaders do not allow their command to be ignored – Do not give your dog a command that you are not prepared to enforce. If you tell your dog to “come”, “sit”, “stay”, etc., have them on a leash so you can enforce your command until they perform the command consistently. If you call “come” and your dog ignores you and gets away with it, they will learn that behavior is acceptable. (Note: Never reprimand your dog for not coming when called or you will inadvertently teach them that coming to you results in bad things. Rather, put the dog on a long leash/line, give the “come” command, and “reel” them in with lots of excitement and praise).

These actions are just a few ways to communicate leadership to your dog. By being a strong leader, you instill confidence in your dog and many “neurotic” behaviors will disappear as well. Although in a human world we would see it as “mean” to withhold food, affection or other necessities to show our leadership, we must remember that the canine species has a different working “order” that has made them survive for thousands of years and they respond quite well to knowing there is a strong leader in charge of the pack.

Ok, I’ve got the leadership role down, now what?

Once the pet owner has modified their own behavior to show leadership, the next step is to work on obedience training.

Obedience Training – Obedience training ranges from very basic training, such as teaching the dog to reliably respond to basic commands such as “sit”, “down”, “come”, and “stay”, to high level competition within clubs such as the American Kennel Club where additional commands, accuracy and performance are scored and judged.

One of the keys to obedience training is repetition, repetition, repetition (did I say repetition?). Yes, I did. Practice commands with your dog for 10 minutes a day and you’ll be amazed at how quickly they learn. Remember, you can put them in a sit, stay, down, etc. anytime during the day as good practice.

Testing Your Dog’s Obedience Skills – Once you feel your dog has mastered the basic obedience commands, the real test is whether your dog will perform the commands with distractions. My dog comes when called but if it’s between me and a squirrel she has spotted, I lose! And of course that’s not a good thing because it’s usually during distractions that we most need our dog to come/stop what their doing/stay to keep them out of harm’s way (they have escaped their collar near a busy street, we’ve just dropped an onion on the kitchen floor and they are about to devour it, etc.). Create distractions during your training session (i.e., have neighbor kids play ball in the backyard while you’re training).

Ready For Action!
Let’s be wildly optimistic here and say that your dog’s training has gone so successfully that you are ready for more challenge. What are your options?

Agility – a handler directs a dog through an obstacle course in a race for both time and accuracy
Obedience Trials – Obedience competitions begin with exercises that attest to the dog’s good manners – walking on a leash at the owner’s side, standing to be touched by a stranger, sitting and lying down with distractions, and coming when called. Advanced classes prove the owner’s ability to train the dog to do a variety of ‘tricks’: fetching a dumbbell, jumping different obstacles, obeying commands in an instant whether given by hand signal or voice, and finding items touched by the owner. The goal is to create a working team, a partnership with both human and canine working in sync.
Flyball – A sport in which teams of dogs race against each other from a start/finish line, over a line of hurdles, to a box that releases a tennis ball to be caught when the dog presses the spring loaded pad, then back to their handlers while carrying the ball.

Training Styles and Philosophies
Teaching, like most things in life, can be accomplished by different methods or styles. Dog training is no different. Here are a few examples of different techniques used in dog training:
Clicker training – “Clicker training” is an animal training method based on behavioral psychology that relies on marking desirable behavior and rewarding it.
Desirable behavior is usually marked by using a “clicker,” a mechanical device that makes a short, distinct “click” sound, which tells the animal exactly when they’re doing the right thing. It’s a humane, easy way to train your dog that eliminates the inconsistency of voice commands or poor timing of praise.

TTouch Method – The Tellington TTouch combines specific touches, lifts, and movement exercises to help animals release tension and increase body awareness, thus making it easier to learn new and more appropriate behaviors. By using the TTouch and a variety of other tools, like the Confidence Course, you can assist the animal in experiencing self-confidence in previously frightening situations. You can also learn how to apply the Tellington TTouch to assist with recovery from illness or injury.


The Tellington TTouch can help in cases of:

• Excessive Barking and Chewing
• Leash Pulling
• Jumping Up
• Aggressive Behavior
• Extreme Fear and Shyness
• Excitability and Nervousness

How much does nutrition play a role in training?
Diet and nutrition can play a significant role according to Crista Meyer, trainer and co-owner of Urban Tails in Midtown (Crista is recognized for her “whole dog training” approach which encompasses environment, health, nutrition and behavior). Here is how Crista sums up her philosophy on the nutrition-training correlation:

“When a dependable dog begins soiling the house for example, the first step is to check physical health as there may be a urinary infection involved.  Another consideration may be its emotional state. Has someone new moved into the home, either human or pet?  Has stress in the home increased due to finances, relationship concerns or a typical Houston flood?  Has the food changed to one that has dyes or chemical preservatives?  If the problem is limited to times of the full or new moon, homeopathic support around those days may solve the problem.

If this were a puppy being difficult to potty train however, a close look at diet would be necessary in addition to setting a consistent schedule for the puppy.  If the food being fed was of sufficiently low quality that the puppy’s body simply had no use for most of it, naturally more waste is produced.  Potty training would go more smoothly by an improved food quality, reducing the frequency and volume of stools throughout the day as well as giving the body much needed nourishment.

When physical, mental and emotional needs are met, training and behavior problems become much easier to fix.