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Trying to decide what level of training is right for you and your dog is not all that easy. Most people of the dog world recommend "obedience" training. Most dog owners, however, see "obedience" training as marching around in circles teaching their dog to be perfectly aligned with their left leg. Indeed some classes do that, but most classes for the beginner are simply using typical obedience commands as a tool to teach basic teaching and handling skills. What most dog owners really want is simply a well mannered, socially acceptable dog. How much work it takes to achieve that goal depends upon many factors the most important of which are: the patience and consistency of the teaching, the temperament of the dog, and the amount of time the dog has the opportunity to learn. The more time the dog spends as a member of the family the more easily it will learn social skills simply because it will have more opportunity to practice, make mistakes, be corrected, and receive praise for behaving well.

Effective training requires good timing. This is the most difficult thing for most dog owners to learn. A critical difference between the way people learn and the way dogs learn involves the use of language. A parent can explain to a six year old child that an action (praise or punishment) is related to an event in the past. Language connects the present action with the past event. Even more importantly language can be used to identify and describe for that child exactly what behavior merited the action. Dogs, for the most part, lack language skills. Good timing becomes critical to connect the action (your praise or correction) to the event.

Learning how to communicate without words is the most important basic skill you can learn in a good quality basic obedience class. If the instructor has the skill to teach you to read your dog's body language and how and when to react to it, then you will be well on your way to a polite, socially adept dog. For example: Suppose you want to teach your dog not to chase a cat. The least effective way of doing it is to yell at the dog after it returns from chasing the cat. The second least effective way is to yank the dog back as soon as it starts to run after the cat. The most effective way is to correct the dog for thinking about chasing the cat. HUH? How do you know what the dog is "thinking"? Observe the dog. It's attention will be on the cat. Observe the body language of the dog - see the tension rise - if you've let the tension crest you have waited a smidgen too long. Don't wait until the dog actually tries to take the dinner off the table, express your disapproval when the dog shows an interest and focus on it. By timing your response to the point at which the dog is forming the intent to act, but has not yet committed to it you will be able to make the strongest connection between your response and the act.

The best basic dog training classes teach you why to do what and when. Most mediocre training classes teach by formula. The mediocre instructors have little or no understanding of dog behavior, or how to read dog body language. Good timing is very difficult to learn by yourself, with only a good book or video tape. If you don't have access to good quality instructors then at least practice with a few other people so that you can watch one another and observe each other's timing of responses to the actions of each dog. Well timed praise is just as critical as well timed correction.

One of the other problems people face is conflicting information. There are a lot of different training techniques, and some that sound very different but are really not. It is confusing and there is no getting around it. The only advice I can give you is that virtually any training technique you actually use consistently and patiently will probably result in a well trained and well behaved dog. It is worth taking some time to explore the different styles and philosophies to find one that you are comfortable with and will use. There are some very good informational sites on the web. I have listed a variety of them and tried to identify their focus.

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Note: Many behavior problems are based on physical problems. Anytime there is a sudden unexpected change in behavior the first step is to discuss the problem with your vet. It is simply counter productive to get angry or annoyed at dog reacting to a physical problem. For example, when my dog Oso got destructive by digging (into my bed, the rugs etc.) it turned out to be a symptom of dangerously low levels of blood calcium. The low levels gave him a tingly sensation which he was trying to relieve by the digging. It wasn't a symptom the vet knew to put together with that particular problem. But pain, blood chemistry, and infections can all influence sensation and behavior. A blood chemistry panel revealed a problem and subsequent experience showed the correlation. Aggression problems, for example, often have their root in eyesight or thyroid problems. Inappropriate urination or defecation often has its root in pain (they don't want to go down the stairs to outside, or get up in time go outside, etc), loss of sensation (they don't recognize they need to go until they get too much pressure to wait) and infection or other irritation (most often the cause when the dog can wait through the night but does the behavior when excited or anxious, e.g. being left home alone). Physical problems aren't always to blame, but they should always be ruled out first. Recipe For A Good Dog

Links to Resources

Behavior, Socialization, and Training Links

Dog Owner's Guide

When you get to this site you won't find just a list of links taking you somewhere else. Instead you will find well over 200 articles on all aspects of dogs, from ownership, manners, and problem solving to breeds, work, fun and play.

Clicker Training Links

Clicker training is not new, but it is undergoing an explosive increase in popularity. The essence of clicker training is that the dog is guided, not forced into the desired behavior. This page provides links to other sites so you can explore the training style.

Choosing a group dog training class

My own idea of how to evaluate a whether you have found the right group training class for you.

Pet Training - Fast, Cheap or Good

Discussion of advantages and disadvantages of different kinds of obedience instruction.

Books and Videos - great resources to supplement the information you get from a trainer
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Finding Help

American Dog Trainers Network

A nicely organized site that promises to offer lots of information on training as well as other dog related information. I've started you out on the page of articles, for more information move up to the home page. The ADTN promotes humane education, responsible pet care, and positive motivational dog training, and sponsors the Canine Resource and Referral. Offers a Canine Resource and Referral Helpline (212) 727-7257 (12-3 PM, EST)

N.A.D.O.I. - the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors.

They may be able to put you in touch with a good class in your area as well as private trainers.

The Association of Pet Dog Trainers - USA

APDT is a professional organization of individual trainers founded in 1993 by Dr. Ian Dunbar. They provide trainer referrals, but do not endorse trainers.

The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (UK) This site is a UK resource

APDT (UK) is a professional organization of individual trainers founded in 1995. They provide trainer referrals, and require adherence to certain standards of conduct.

Canadian Association Of Professional Pet Dog Trainers
International Association of Canine Professionals

Information on selecting a trainer. Some of the best known and most respected trainers are members of this organization. There is a trainer referral list to help you find a qualified trainer near you.

Directory of Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists from the Animal Behavior Society

One place to start if you are looking for a behaviorist to deal with significant behavior issues.

American College of Veterinary Behaviorists

This list of veterinary behaviorists is primarily intended as a resource for other veterinarians, perhaps yours, if you are having dog behavior problems. Remember the FIRST step if you are having behavior issues is to consult a veterinarian. Behavior problems are OFTEN caused by physical problems. For example, if my dog began destructive digging it meant that his blood calcium levels were off (due to a particular medical condition). The reason is that (according to humans with the same problem) it makes your fingers and skin feel tingly - digging was one way to relieve the sensation.

Selecting a Pet Behavior Specialist

Detailed and specific advice on how to interview and evaluate your pet professional in addressing behavior problems.

K9 Aggression

Resources for understanding and finding help with aggression problems

Books and Videos - great resources to supplement the information you get from a trainer
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Behavior Problems?

If you are seeing behavioral problems in your dog it is often because dog is not getting the sense of predictability and structure it both wants and needs. Unpredictability is frightening. Not knowing where you stand in a family is uncomfortable. Dogs react to these situations either by trying to create the structure and control they crave (taking control of the family) or act out their distress through displacement (digging, barking, chewing, destruction and self mutilation are common examples).
Growling, Snarling, Snapping and Biting

If you are concerned about the behavior, then you are right to take it seriously.

A Behavior Consultation ticon2.gif (273 bytes)

Should you hire a behavior consultant? Here is one person's experience.

Met with the Trainer Yesterday

Another person's experience with a professional consultation.

Does Training Make a Difference?

A heart warming post about the improved relationship achieved through training.

American Dog Trainers Network

A nicely organized site that promises to offer lots of information on training as well as other dog related information. I've started you out on the page of articles, for more information move up to the home page. The ADTN promotes humane education, responsible pet care, and positive motivational dog training, and sponsors the Canine Resource and Referral. Offers a Canine Resource and Referral Helpline (212) 727-7257 (12-3 PM, EST)

N.A.D.O.I. - the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors.

They may be able to put you in touch with a good class in your area as well as private trainers.

The Association of Pet Dog Trainers

APDT is a professional organization of individual trainers founded in 1993 by Dr. Ian Dunbar. They provide trainer referrals, but do not endorse trainers.


Control Unleashed


E-mail Discussion Groups

Provide more individualized advice.

Not an advice group, its discussion group on dog related books and seminars with author participation.
Search for on-line web based or email based help forums

List of lists


General Behavior Assistance Resources

Walton Family Dog Training

Another training resource.

A Radical Regime For Recalcitrant Rovers

There are a lot of variations on this program. They all share a common goal of putting the human in charge of the dog, without physical confrontation.

NILIF - Nothing In Life Is Free - a better way of dealing the Dominant Dog

This dog management system and others very similar to it have proven effective in many cases. It's strength is non-confrontational control of the dog. This is a good explanation but if you need to use NILIF you should be consulting with a well educated professional.

Poop Eating Pets

Dogs like to eat poop. That's really all there is to it. People find it disgusting, dogs find it delightful. Still most people want it to stop. With that in mind I put together a short page full of links to other people's ideas about the causes of poop eating (more elegantly called "Coprophagia") and ideas on how to stop it. I didn't really use much editorial discretion on the subject because I haven't really studied it enough to have a strong opinion. Thus different sites disagree. Oh well.

Submissive Urination

Probably of the most frustrating problems. Easy to make much worse if you treat it as bad behavior, mostly curable. For this web page I haven't written mine own advice - there is a lot of great information out there already so I'm just offering up a links to other sites. I haven't examined them, I have no recommendations of one over another, my personal experience in this area is very limited.

A Behavioral View on Dog Aggression

This article provides more in the way of "food for thought" than any real answers. I think it is a good quick way to introduce people to the varieties of aggression and the factors that may influence its expression. For solid understanding I recommend the references the author refers to at the end of the article.

American Temperament Test Society

The tests offered here are designed to assess your dog's temperament, not its training. Training for the test defeats its utility, but providing your dog the skills it needs by confidence building and similar exercises is appropriate. The dog is rated according to the reactions appropriate for the breed and experience of the dog. A Doberman is expected to react differently than a Springer spaniel. Very interesting stuff.

Books and Videos - great resources to supplement the information you get from a trainer

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Practical Obedience

I completely agree with the author that "An obedient dog is a happy dog." I hope you will take this link and also be persuaded. Written and maintained by Audrey A. Schneider.

Dog Owner's Guide: Manners and Training

Some more links and explanation about manners training. An important point to make is how much fuller is the life of a dog when it is well mannered. It can go more places, do more things and suffers less stress. Should a change of life require a new home for the dog its chances are far far better than one unskilled manners.

Kids and Dogs Oso Icon

This is a collection of links and resources specifically directed towards families with children, or dog-child interaction problems. Some of the links are new, some are repeated on this page.

Dog Training: Fast and Simple

A strongly worded article confronting the clash between expectation and reality in dog ownership. If you want diplomacy and tact then pick a different link. If you want passion, this is it.



Books and Videos - Book and video resources on starting a puppy out right. Basic socialization and manners training.

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Behavior theory

Please notice that the use of terminology is not entirely consistent from one site to the next. Especially in animal training some have tried to "simplify" concepts by giving a more popularly understood slant to the terms.
An Animal Trainer's Introduction To Operant and Classical Conditioning
Myths and Legends in Animal Behavior: From the Past and Present

This article is intended for professionals. I believe, however, it is very useful in explaining why an ethical and competent professional insists on an in person evaluation.


An article By Dr. Joël Dehasse, Behaviorist Veterinarian on the developmental stages in dogs. An academic style article that can help the thinking person understand how the different stages of development influence learning and behavior. Same article

Advanced Behavior Texts from Dogwise

Advanced books in behavior can be oh so expensive, and worth every penny if you are curious about the technical and scientific aspects of behavior. For me these books really put the finish on my understanding. It made my knowledge more complete and improved my flexibility in application. See The Language of Dogs (DVD) by Sarah Kalnajs, and the three volume series by Steven Lindsay Handbook Of Applied Dog Behavior And Training, Handbook Of Applied Dog Behavior & Training, Vol. 2: Etiology And Assessment, Handbook Of Applied Dog Behavior And Training, Vol. 3: Procedures And Protocols

Dog Play - Understanding Play Between Dogs And Between Dogs And People
Dog Play - Understanding Play Between Dogs And Between Dogs And People DVD


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Book and Video Resources

For the most part I hesitate to offer books and videos because people want to use them instead of in person learning Books and videos just can't give you that all important feedback. They are wonderful as a supplement to in person learnin. A good chunk of dog training failure is caused by the person's (a) bad timing, (b) inconsistency (c) mixed signals. They aren't aware they are doing these things, they need someone to make them aware by telling them when they do it. Most people really need the in person feedback because they can't see/feel what they are doing incorrectly. In person help also helps in adjusting to the needs of a particular person or dog. But books and videos are excellent in learning the concepts involved and are a great help in giving meaning to that in person learning. And if competent in person resources are not available then books and videos (especially videos) are better than nothing.

Clicker Training books and videos from Dogwise

General Training books and videos from Dogwise

Problem Solving and Prevention book and video resources from Dogwise

Understanding dogs better with Behavior/Body Language resources from Dogwise

Click to Calm

Some Final Comments on Behavior, Socialization and Training

Every dog should have at least some basic obedience instruction. Wait! Don't go away in disgust, this is a wide ranging subject. If you aren't happy with what you believe is the prevailing thought on training, explore, you just might be surprised.

Good training can improve your relationship with your dog. While obedience is a competitive sport there is also practical obedience which is not much different than teaching basic manners and communication. If you are uncomfortable with the formality and, yes, rigidity, of formal obedience you can still become a happy team in practical obedience.

Obedience, whether the sport or practical, helps you gain trust in your dog. Dog owners have a responsibility to make sure that their dogs are well behaved members of our society. A dog that is taught to pay attention and to follow certain commands is usually more secure, and certainly much safer than a dog that is not well schooled. The goal is to give the dog confidence that you know what is going on so that the dog can rely on you to give it direction. That helps reduce anxiety in both dog and owner.

There are a great variety of techniques involved. A good trainer and a good owner will adjust the training method to suit the dog and the task. If the dog is miserable you are doing it wrong. The dog should enjoy the work. Training social skills is a continuous process. Take the time to make the dog sit before you open a door or introduce it to a new person, or set its food down in front of it. Be consistent. For example, if you are trying to read and the dog is pestering you don't say "sit" unless you are ready to put your reading aside and make the dog sit. Instead use the command "away" and praise the dog the moment it takes a step away from you. Use patience and continue until the dog gets the idea. Use commands only when you are ready and willing to enforce them.

Not everyone needs formal classes but classes help a lot, especially if you are new to dog ownership. Classes help because they provide incentive to work with your dog regularly. There is someone skilled to help with problems, and another person can more easily see things. It helps a lot to be able to share with other class members, and to be able to recognize when you need help. Growling, snarling and biting at the owner, family members and biting guests is something that requires immediate and serious attention. Failure to take it seriously in the early stages can be deadly to your dog, and cost you financially and emotionally. It is not a training issue, but a behavior issue.

If you are self disciplined, and are not afraid to ask questions you may make good use of books and videos. If you are going to be entirely self taught at least look around for the occasional seminar. My learning always improved by giant leaps when I had the observations of another person. Don't however, be shy about asking for expert help in dealing with dominance or aggression. Lots of reading can help you evaluate what approaches you are comfortable with, but correcting the situation will be far more efficient with skilled help and guidance.

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Tee shirts, mugs and more that advocate for the great relationships with our pets. Positives For Pets

Additional articles on dog training and dog behavior related topics.

Dog Training and Behavior Books and Videos from Dogwise

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The Truth About Dogs Series

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Created: July 17, 1999     Updated: April 6, 2018

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