Behavioral Understanding & Training


At SSS, we firmly believe in educating the humans. After all, that’s what makes great dogs! Dogs gravitate towards confidence. Confidence for us humans communicating with our dogs is not a natural response. We are here to empower you! Confidence is a three pronged approach. 1. Knowledge 2. Knowledge gives you the power 3. The power gives you confidence in handling and will be just the energy your dog wants to follow! Refer back to this info at will or to your trainer as needed to stay focused on repetition and consistency. Be the owner your dog needs you to be.


Every case is unique and has variables that determine the approach and results. This is a GENERAL overview and understanding of how dogs operate in the spirit of giving you a solid “why” so that your “how” is effective.

Read Introduction to Behavior

Understanding Your Dog’s Behavior


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We believe the relationship you have with your dog impacts their behavior. We’ll discuss the theory to better explain that relationship and how your dog perceives the world. The commands we teach will become tools that help us achieve our ultimate goal—a calm, responsive dog that can be trusted in a variety of environments and around many different distractions. Your dog may already know some of these basic commands, but only does them on a selective basis when nothing better or more interesting is going on.

The Leadership Theory of Dog Training

The Leadership Theory of Dog Training

Most dog trainers subscribe to something called the “Pack Theory of Dog Training.” It’s widely believed that domestic canines are descended a common ancestor of wild canines. Canines are social animals that travel in packs. Their social structure generally has a hierarchy. In order to have a reliable relationship with your dog, it’s important they understand their place in the hierarchy of your home. Just like your dog’s behavior, the hierarchy can change.  


If you have more than one dog at home or if you go to the dog park and watch the way the dogs interact with one another, you’ll see this almost immediately. Dogs are always trying to figure out their rank compared to one another. Most play, in fact, is their way of learning another dog’s position within the pack. “Can I dominate you or will you dominate me?” When dogs spend enough time together, you’ll eventually see a hierarchy develop, with one dog establishing himself as the leader.

The Role of the Leader

The Role of the Leader

In a pack of dogs, the leader is the one that sets the rules and the followers follow. Sometimes the behaviors the leader dog engages in to assert himself are obvious, and other times they are quite subtle. 


A leader dog will often be the first to eat. This is why a trainer will typically recommend you don’t “free feed” your dog, or leave food out for him all the time. By controlling the food, you’re assuming a leadership role with your dog.


A leader dog will often take a preferred sleeping position. Many times, this is a spot that is elevated over the other dogs, so you’ll often hear trainers tell you not to allow your dog on the bed or furniture because you’re allowing him to think he is your equal.


How does the leader enforce these rules? Well, you could say that he does so using both positives and negatives, but after you watch him for a while you’ll realize his version of positive reinforcement is actually just the absence or withdrawal of the negative.


When the leader dog establishes himself, he will tell the rest of the pack, “You guys go ahead and do whatever you like.  It’s all okay with me until you do something wrong, in which case I’m going to come over there and let you have it, and I’ll continue to do so until you stop whatever it is you’re doing that I find offensive, and we’ll be fine again.”  


Dogs seem to think that everything is okay until someone tells them differently, and when interacting with one another they’ll test different behaviors one at a time to learn what is and isn’t okay. If the leader allows them to do it, then the behavior must be acceptable. Between dogs, positive is really just the absence of negative. 


Imagine you’re sitting on the couch with your dog lying next to you, also on the couch. The simple fact that the dog is up there and no one has communicated that they shouldn’t be up there means your dog can do it. Positive is the absence of a negative. 


Next, imagine a family member or friend wants to sit on the couch next to you. However, your dog is taking up that spot. So, you ask your dog, “off” or guide them off the couch using a leash or their collar. It was perfectly okay for your dog to be on the couch until you communicated otherwise. Positive is the absence of a negative. 


This also applies with other animals. Think about the interaction between dogs and cats. If you have a cat and a dog and the dog chases the cat, the dog is getting exactly what he wants. But what if the cat stands its ground and takes a swipe at the dog with its claws? If your dog demonstrates respect for this, he will usually give the cat his (or her) space, and your dog’s reward for doing so is not getting scratched by the cat. Positive is the absence of negative.

A Dog’s Will

A Dog’s Will

Many people think dogs live to please their owners. You’ll read “eager to please” in many breed descriptions online or in books. We as trainers frequently hear “this dog really seems to want to please.”


In reality, dogs care most about pleasing themselves. Now, if you can convince your dog that it’s in his best interest to please you, he would be all for it. When there’s something dogs would rather be doing, you’ll notice that they usually choose to do that and ignore their owners. 


A goal of training is to teach our dog to go through us to get the things that they want. Since dogs want to please themselves, it’s important to find what motivates them. We use what motivates them as a reward. Praise, toys, food, or something environmental can all be great motivators. 


Dogs always look for opportunities to do what they want to do. Let’s call it their “will to dominate.” It presents itself in dogs as soon as they are old enough to wrestle around with their littermates.


Have you ever watched the way puppies play with each other? Right away they try to figure out who can get the better of whom. Like in the previous section, they are testing to see “Can I dominate you or will you dominate me?” It’s not serious aggression; they are just trying to figure out their place.


As they mature around six months of age and that will to dominate becomes stronger, you might start to notice more aggressive or assertive behavior you wouldn’t normally see in a younger puppy. At this age, when he misbehaves, scolding might not work anymore.  If you have an older dog in the same household, you might notice the puppy becomes more aggressive and assertive when they play together. 


Dogs start to reach full maturity at a year old and their will to dominate takes another upturn. Fearful dogs that might have been content to run off when they were intimidated might be more likely to bark or display aggressive behavior rather than taking a defensive stand. Your dog’s willfulness is related to its age.


For a female dog, this will to dominate escalates until they are about eighteen to twenty-four months of age. Males generally mature a bit later and may not level off until thirty-six months.  

Stimuli – Response

Stimuli – Response

It’s easy to see that all dogs are stimuli = response animals. Remember high school science class? Pavlov rang the bell each time he fed the dog and before long, the dog would begin to salivate when he heard it. The core idea to remember is when A happens, your dog will do B.  


At some point in time you’ve heard a dog bark after ringing a doorbell. This may even be one of the behaviors you’re struggling with! In this example, A (stimulus) is the doorbell and the dog barking is B (response). If occurs over and over with some reward attached (you walk in and greet the dog OR you walk away and leave the dog’s territory), then that behavior can become conditioned. A conditioned behavior is reflexive, meaning your dog doesn’t think about doing it. It simply does it when is present. 


When a dog has a behavioral problem, is an unacceptable behavior or simply a bad response. In the case of dog to dog aggression, the stimulus or A is the sight of another dog, and the response or B is getting all worked up. Usually there is barking and straining on the leash. (While it’s useful to understand why the dog is acting out, whether the cause is fear, frustration, or aggression, the response is still inappropriate.)


If you understand these three basic theories—first, that everything is okay to a dog unless they are taught that it’s not; second, that they will first look out for themselves; and third, that they are stimuli = response animals—then let me make the following statement: if your dog has a behavioral issue and you are not able to effectively communicate to your dog that it’s unacceptable, the behavior becomes self-reinforcing. If it’s self-reinforcing, the likelihood of that behavior occurring again when the dog is presented with similar stimuli and opportunity goes up exponentially. It’s as if you are training them to act in exactly the way you don’t want them to act. Always remember, unaddressed and inappropriate behavior is self-reinforcing.

A Brief History of Dog Training

A Brief History of Dog Training

There are two basic ideas that are prevalent in dog training today. Let’s call them “the old way” and “the new way.”  


“The old way” is compulsion-based dog training that was widely used half a decade ago. Compulsion simply means by force. The dog has no other choice than to listen to you. One example of this style is to train a dog to lay down by pulling down on a leash and collar until it does so. You’d repeat this as many times as necessary and pretty soon when you’d give the down command the dog would drop to the ground because he wanted to avoid being pinned down by the neck. Sure, the dog would be praised for doing it, but the real reason it would do it was to avoid being forced down (we’ll talk about the better way to train this command). We can agree that this is a pretty harsh way to train and we do things differently, but there is one valuable concept we can take from it. Science says, “if the outcome outweighs the intent the behavior will stop.” Let’s see that in practice.


Let’s imagine you come home and your dog jumps on you. Had you only been advised to use compulsion training, you might knee it in the chest. More often than not, your dog is looking for attention when it jumps up. If jumping up results in a knee in the chest (uncomfortable sensation) instead of the attention it was seeking then it will stop jumping up. If the outcome outweighs the intent, the behavior will stop. You might be thinking what’s the problem? We stopped the behavior and now my dog isn’t jumping on me. Right, but the training is not complete. Fast forward 3-6 months in the future and now your dog is bunny hopping in front of you. Might not be as bad as jumping on you, but it’s still pretty obnoxious. Our problem with compulsion training is not the correction value, but how incomplete it is. 


Imagine a wall of light bulbs. Weird analogy, I know, but go with me. That is your dog’s psychological profile. Every lightbulb represents one behavior, good or bad. Using our previous example, one light bulb represents jumping on you or guests when you come home. When you kneed the dog in the chest, you essentially took that bulb, smashed it on the floor, swept it up, and threw it away. Now that bulb is gone and your dog is no longer jumping up on you. But, there is a huge hole left. There cannot be a hole there. Your dog will, in 3-6 months’ time, fill that hole with another behavior. Usually your dog isn’t offering to take your coat, but rather another annoying dog behavior—like bunny hopping in front of you! We want to control the replacement bulb. Teaching your dog a positive, alternative behavior is the best way to fill that hole. Usually, we can pick a command from our tool box (sit, down, stay, come, heel, go to place, or focus) to be the positive, alternative behavior. 


The “new way” of dog training is called “all-positive” dog training. The concept of this training is you only reward what you want the dog to do and overtime the bad behaviors will simply go away since they are not being rewarded (or reinforced). This style of training is understandably popular and a very easy sell to dog owners because no one likes to discipline their dog. We agree that waiting for a dog to offer a desired behavior and then rewarding it is the best way to train a dog what to do. However, we don’t believe you can simply ignore a bad behavior to eliminate it. 


Dogs understand what is okay to do and what is not by the statement, “positive is simply the absence of a negative.” You now know that the lack of a negative is essentially a reward. So, if we are ignoring our dog when they’re barking at the doorbell, we are telling our dogs, “it is okay to bark at the doorbell because I am allowing it.”

The Myth of Punishment (or Aversive) Free Training

The Myth of Punishment (or Aversive) Free Training

Though we would love if dogs could be trained using nothing but rewards (aka positive reinforcement), it’s just not possible. There are many techniques out in the dog training world that are being sold as “all-positive,” but are not. Here are a few examples:


  • A “gentle” leader or head collar that fits over a dog’s muzzle and is marketed as an alternative to a correction collar. The theory is that where the head goes, the body follows. I have seen these collars work beautifully, but don’t think this is a positive training tool. If this collar works to stop a dog from pulling, the ONLY reason it works is because the dog does not like the sensation of having his head pulled to one side or the other. So, his reward for not pulling is not getting his head pulled. Positive is the absence of negative. 


  • Some trainers will tell you not to use the word “no” and instead try something like “uh-uh.” Your dog is put into a situation where he does something wrong and the response is “uh-uh.” If he doesn’t do anything wrong, you don’t say “uh-uh.” Positive is the absence of negative.  


  • Squirt Bottles. When your dog does something wrong, squirt them with water. Sometimes water isn’t enough. I’ve heard trainers recommend adding vinegar. I read a book written by a trainer advocating an “all positive” approach to training that suggested owners put mint breath spray in the water. I’ve never gotten breath spray in my eyes before, but something tells me it HURTS. When your dog stops the bad behavior, stop squirting.  Positive is the absence of negative.


  • Shake Cans. Fill a can with pennies or pebbles and when your dog is engaging in inappropriate behavior, shake the can. Hopefully it scares or distracts him from the bad behavior. When he stops, stop shaking the can. Positive is the absence of negative.


The point is that everyone uses punishment in dog training, whether they admit it or not. The degree of punishment varies, but everyone uses it. “All-positive trainers” use it, “compulsion trainers” use it, cats use it to keep dogs at a distance, and dogs use it between each other. So, let me make this statement, and you decide if it’s true: if you’re going to use punishment in dog training and the punishment is too harsh, then at minimum it’s unfair. Depending on how severe the punishment is, you could consider it downright abusive. I have to assume the goal of punishment would be to not only stop an undesired behavior, but also keep it from happening again. Well, if the punishment technique you use does not achieve this goal, I would argue that this is also unfair.


If you punish your dog for doing something wrong, and it’s not appropriate enough to keep him from doing the same thing next time then you will continue to punish, and punish, and punish, and punish….   Since the punishment is a negative training technique, it would be tough to minimize the use of it if we did it dozens of times a day. To me, that’s incredibly unfair and is not the type of relationship I want to have with my dog or for anyone to have with their dog.

Our Approach to Dog Training

Our Approach to Dog Training

We feel that we have an advantage over the person, cat, or dominant dog that uses intimidation to keep the other animal at bay. Our advantage is that we can control the situation. If we can control the situation, then we just don’t think it’s fair to put a dog in a position to fail and then apply a correction severe enough to make it stop the bad behavior. We recommend training positive, alternative behaviors first. 


Remember when a dog has a behavioral problem, it’s because A happens, so they do B.  B is the problem behavior. Now think, “What would we like to happen instead?” We’d like a new behavior. A positive, alternative behavior. Let’s call it Behavior C. Most families will say “When company comes over, I’d just like my dog to be calm and not jump.” What I recommend is teaching the new behavior, C, first. Do this away from the stimulus that caused the issue. Go to place is a great alternative behavior to teach in this scenario. Going to place isn’t punishment, it’s a place is in the family room with the rest of the family.


One of the ways a dog can learn is by association. When I teach go to place, I want the dog to understand that “place” is where nice, calm behavior happens. This is very easy to teach, so now we have behavior C.  


It’s time to reintroduce the stimulus, A, that originally caused the problem. 


When we ask your dog to go to place before ringing the doorbell we are essentially saying, “Okay, here comes someone through the front door. Are you going to do your new behavior which we’ve been working on for several days (Behavior C: calm behavior at place)? If you do, I’m going to reward you. If you don’t and do the bad behavior (Behavior B: going nuts, charging, and jumping on company), there will be appropriate, negative consequences. I’m NOT saying “no” for jumping on company; I’m just saying “no” for not maintaining the calm behavior (Behavior C) that you’ve learned in your place.” 


Over time, C becomes the new, learned behavior, and is forgotten about! It doesn’t mean your dog has to be in his place every time someone comes over, but it’s how we desensitize him to the previously-learned behavior of going nuts when company comes over.


The beauty of teaching your dog this way is that you will never say “no” to your dog for doing the wrong thing (jumping on guests), but only for not doing the right thing (calmly staying on place). We are being fair by teaching your dog what we want them to do first without any distractions. Distractions are only introduced once the dog knows what is expected of them. If your dog doesn’t know to stay in place without distractions, then it would be unfair to have to say “no” to your dog for not staying in place with distractions! 


We think it’s most fair to put a dog in a position of success and allow them to make their own decisions, rather than let them to do whatever they want and punish them when they blow it.


The goal is to focus things in such a way that we minimize failures and turn the situation back to a positive one as quickly as possible. Minimize the use of any aversive training techniques and encourage the use of positive reinforcement. Set your dog up to succeed, instead of fail, and then respond appropriately when they make their decision.


An example would be when a leashed dog is aggressive towards another dog. When they see another dog (Stimulus A), they get aggressive, go to the end of the leash, bark, and carry on (Behavior B). The desired behavior, at least initially before we can ever entertain thoughts of a dog like this happily greeting another dog, is calm and controlled behavior while on-leash around other dogs (Behavior C).  


If you start training a dog like that around other dogs before training behavior C, it not only makes no sense but it’s also frustrating for the dog and their people. For whatever reason, the bad behavior is a response that he has learned works for him when he’s around other dogs. One method I have seen to deter that bad behavior is distracting the dog from the other dog using treats, but most of the time he is so worked up around other dogs he isn’t interested.


In situations like this, I recommend establishing excellent focus AWAY from other dogs first. I show people how to teach their dog the heel command with a loose leash, getting their dog to automatically focus on them. This is easy when there aren’t dogs around and with some repetition, lots of reward, and patience the dog learns how to do this like a pro. Now we have behavior C.


Once the dog has learned what he needs to know AND the dog’s person has learned exactly how to handle him—when to reinforce properly, what to say, how to say it, etc.—we go out and look for other dogs. When we see one coming, the dog is in charge. We loosen up the leash and with our body language we tell him “Okay, it’s decision time.” If the dog makes the correct decision and continues to perform the newly learned and massively reinforced behavior (Behavior C), we reward. If the dog makes the wrong decision (Behavior B), we say “no.” Remember we are NOT saying “no” for the inappropriate reaction towards the other dog, we are saying “no” for the loss of focus and breaking of the heel command.


What the person says, how they say it, and when they say it has everything to do with their dog’s long-term success. Your dog will say to him or herself “WOW, I LOVE what happens when I see another dog and I’m cool about it (Behavior C). I HATE what happens when I’m not (Behavior B). I’m a dog, I do what’s in my best interest so, I’m doing what makes me



Consistency is the most important factor in training. What does that really mean?


Here is an example of inconsistent training: imagine a husband and wife in a household. The husband sets a rule that the dog isn’t allowed on the couch. When the wife is home alone with the dog, she tells the dog “Okay, he’s not here; come on up and snuggle with me on the couch.” I’m sure you can see how that would cause the dog some confusion.


Consistency is achieved when your dog’s role stays consistent. They can lead or follow. Dogs are most happy when they can follow a leader. It is the least stressful role.


Most people want to know how many times a day they should “train” their dog. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, we asked you to spend twenty minutes a day with your dog. You get the leash, find your dog, and say, “Okay, we’re going to do some stuff.” If you ask your dog to sit and he sits, then you ask your dog to go down and he goes down—whether you are using martingale collar, gentle leader, treats, clickers or whatever—you’re telling him, “Okay, my place in the pack is up here, and yours is down there.” In other words, you’re demonstrating a degree of leadership and your dog is following you.


Now you look at your watch and notice your twenty minutes are up, so you take the leash off and essentially tell your dog, “Good job, now go and do whatever you like again.” Well, now you’re telling your dog, “Okay, you’re back in charge.” After a while the doorbell rings, your dog goes nuts, and you do what you can to calm them down. Maybe that’s the squirt bottle, saying “no,” or just grabbing their collar and holding them still.  Now you’re saying, “Okay, I’m in charge again.” Then your dog calms down, you let go, and your dog thinks, “Okay, now I’m in charge.” Back and forth you go.


To us, this is a HUGE inconsistency. Your dog has no clue where they fit into the family. Are they leading or following? This inconsistency in roles can cause your dog quite a bit of confusion and anxiety. Anxiety is the leading cause of behavioral issues in dogs. 


Individual temperament influences how a dog handles anxiety. Some dogs are more easygoing and when you’re inconsistent with them it’s not as big of a deal. With others, that inconsistency can lead to some big problems. If left unchecked those problems become self-reinforcing. Then, off they go down a slippery slope. 


In order to promote complete consistency, especially at the onset of training, we usually make two recommendations: initially remove distractions and limit roaming.




The first recommendation is that the family keeps their dog close to their own property for the first two weeks or so of training. This is to avoid distractions and set your dog, and you, up for success right away.  


Handling a dog properly and communicating with them is a learned skill, no different than hitting a golf ball or driving a car. Initially, you may find that handling your dog inside is going well, but out in the yard it’s harder. It’s not that your dog is being intentionally difficult, but that handling outside with bigger distractions is new and different for you. In order to set a dog and owner up for success (and avoid having to give too many corrections), we want to establish a good foundation in your living room first. We need to make sure the family is confident with their leash skills before moving to a more public setting.


The second recommendation is kind of tough. In the beginning of training we suggest that you completely eliminate your dog’s roaming. This simply means that when you start training everywhere your dog goes or everything they do is controlled in some way by you or a family member.  


If you’re hanging around in the family room watching a movie, you can ask your dog to go to their place. They aren’t roaming. They’re in their place. You can have them come up on the couch with you if you want. (If you want to allow your dog on the furniture, it’s fine with us. If building a good relationship with your dog were as simple as not letting them on the furniture, we will have wasted a lot of time writing all this stuff!) As long as you can invite them up and calmly tell them to go back to their place, and they listen, they aren’t really roaming. You can essentially give your dog the option to tear around your house like a maniac because as long as you can CALMLY tell them to lie down or back to their place, they aren’t really roaming. 


There are two times you can’t have control of your dog. One is at night when you’re sleeping and the other is when you’re not home.  In these instances, we’ll more often than not recommend crate training, even for an older dog. This isn’t an absolute. One of the reasons we never commit to training a dog, or even make suggestions about a dog, before meeting them is because what might be appropriate for one dog in one environment may not work for another in a different environment. 


We understand that crating or limiting your dog’s freedom in the beginning of training can be difficult on you or your family. We don’t want to take these freedoms away forever, but rather give your dog the ability to earn them back. In order to get a handle on the situation in the fairest way possible, without letting your dog continue to get themselves into trouble, we go back to basics. As time goes on and training progresses, we can start to give them more freedom. We can do this because we’ve established the rules in the household and the dog understands exactly where they fit in.


Now, we can’t take away your dog’s will to dominate. It’s part of what makes them a dog. It’s entirely possible you’ll go through the process, fix or prevent any behavior problems, and be completely relaxed with them. Your dog might have earned a lot of freedoms, but then the situation changes—you have a baby, you get a new dog, your schedule changes, you move, etc.—and your dog starts to exhibit some issues. Maybe they just aren’t as reliable as before or maybe it’s something else. Rather than resorting to threats and punishment, you might have to tell them, “Well, I guess I’m going to have to take a privilege or two away for a while,” and simply re-assert yourself. You might not go as far back as you did when you started—in fact, that’s pretty unlikely—but you might limit their roaming for a while. Then, when they “get it” again, you’ll be able to loosen back up.   


It’s hard for us to predict what the future will hold, but we can teach you how to build a better, rewarding, and consistent relationship with your dog and how to maintain it in the most conflict-free way possible.

Puppy 101

Puppy 101

Critical periods in puppy development Neonatal Period (0-12 Days):The puppy responds only to warmth, touch, and smell. He cannot regulate body functions such as temperature and elimination.


Transition Period (13 – 20 Days):Eyes and ears are open, but sight and hearing are limited. Tail wagging begins and the puppy begins to control body functions.


Awareness Period (21 – 28 Days):Sight and hearing functions well. The puppy is learning that he is a dog and has a great deal of need for a stable environment.


Canine Socialization Period (21 – 49 Days):Interacting with his mother and littermates, the pup learns various canine behaviors. He is now aware of the differences between canine and human societies.   


Human Socialization Period (7 to 12 Weeks):The pup has the brain wave of and adult dog. The best time for going to a new home. He now has the ability to learn respect, simple behavioral responses: sit, stay, come. Housebreaking begins. He now learns by association. The permanent man/dog bonding begins, and he is able to accept gentle discipline and establish confidence.


Fear Impact Period (8 – 11 Weeks):Try to avoid frightening the puppy during this time, since traumatic experiences can have an effect during this period. As you can see, this period overlaps that of the previous definition and children or animal should not be allowed to hurt or scare the puppy — either maliciously or inadvertently. It is very important now to introduce other humans, but he must be closely supervised to minimize adverse conditioning. Learning at this age is permanent. This is the stage where you wonder if your dog is going to be a woosy butt all his life. Also introducing your puppy to other dogs at this time will help him become more socialized. If available in your area, a doggy day care is great for this. 



Classification Period (13 – 16 Weeks):This critical period is also known as the “Age of Cutting” – cutting teeth and cutting apron strings. At this age, the puppy begins testing dominance and leadership. Biting behavior is absolutely discouraged from thirteen weeks on. Praise for the correct behavior response is the most effective tool. Meaningful praise is highly important to shape positive attitude. 


Flight Instinct Period (4 to 8 Months):During this period puppies test their wings- they will turn a deaf ear when called. This period lasts from a few days to several weeks. It is critical to praise the positive and minimize the negative behavior during this time. However, you must learn how to achieve the correct response. This period corresponds to teething periods, and behavioral problems become compounded by physiological development chewing. Critical periods in puppy development. 

Dog Training

The purpose of this section is to be able to refer back to the teaching of the basic obedience commands we go through in our program. Following through with your trainers instructions, along with your already hectic household, we understand can be difficult. This is a resource for you to have at your convenience to refer back to should you need it. 


Repetition and consistency are key in any training or behavior modification case. Each case is unique and may use some of, all of or none of this information. Your trainer should always be your point and source of info that is specific to your individual case. This is simply a convenient source to access the general info that accompanies your individual and specialized protocol set by your trainer.

The Fundamentals

The Fundamentals

Dog training logo

Our main goal from the outset of training (whether with a new puppy or an older dog set in his ways) is to substantially limit or completely eliminate his ability to roam.  This means that in the beginning of the training process, everywhere your dog goes and everything he does is controlled in some way by you or a member of your household.  


Placing a limit on roaming will serve two purposes: one, it will immediately keep your dog from getting into trouble or doing things that would require you to have to tell your dog “no;” and two, it will quickly put you and your family in a position of leadership on a consistent basis. This will begin to lower your dog’s anxiety level which will make them easier to handle and set them up for long-term success. 


We understand any concerns you may have about limiting roaming. Not from a practical standpoint, because we’ll explain exactly how to achieve the elimination of your dog’s roaming as this section progresses, but from an emotional one. We understand that it seems a bit controlling to take away your dog’s ability to roam. If you are able to separate your feelings from what is best for your dog’s long-term happiness and keep in mind that this is a temporary situation, it will definitely be easier for you.


At the start of training, we ask you to commit three weeks to the “1/3 rule” which is outlined in this manual. You will be limiting roaming during this period of time. Once commands are established, you will increase your dog’s freedom again. Training protocols for you and your dog may evolve over time. This manual is designed to support the training you are receiving in-home and should be treated as guidelines. If you’re struggling or have questions, please reach out to your trainer. We are there to help you determine the best action plan for your dog.  

Setting up Your Dog’s Environment

Setting up Your Dog’s Environment

If you are reading this, it’s likely we have met for an initial consultation and I have given you a list of training equipment to procure before getting started.


This will have included:


  • six-foot flat leash. Leather is always best and you’ll find it’s a lot more forgiving on your hands when you are handling the leash properly, but a nylon one will work as well.
  • Some kind of training collar. Typically, we will have recommended a martingale collar or halter/head collar to start training with. Halti is a good brand of halter. You may be recommended another type of training collar, but you will know at the consultation what to get. 
  • A regular “belt” or flat collar. This can be either nylon or leather.
  • crate that is just large enough for your dog to comfortably turn around and lie down in. If the crate is too large, the possibility exists that he or she may eliminate in it. If you have a young dog and don’t want to keep buying larger crates as they grow, you can purchase one that will work when they are fully grown and use other materials to make it smaller inside initially. For dogs that are not housebroken, it is advised that you do not put bedding or towels in the crate to improve the likelihood that your dog will not eliminate in their crate –  he or she would have to directly deal with it then! 
  • An indoor tether that is 75% the depth of your dog’s “place.” Place can be a bed, rug, or anything with defined boundaries. The tether shouldn’t exceed the length of the bed. The goal is to keep your dog on place without needing to constantly walk him or her back on. If you have puppy or dog prone to chewing the leash, you can order a “chew-proof” tether online or have one made at a hardware store.  

The crate is a very important training tool. Your dog’s crate should go in a quiet part of your home, away from most activity. This could be your bedroom, an extra room, or just an out-of-the-way area. You don’t want your dog’s crate to be right in the middle of your living room where everyone is hanging out because he can become over stimulated and upset that he is in there and everyone else is outside having fun. You can always cover the crate to help reduce anxiety due to visual stimuli, but be sure your dog will not pull it through and destroy the cover. 

The crate’s location should remain consistent.   


If you are using an indoor tether, it should be situated where you want your dog’s “place” to be. Their place is different from their crate. It’s where you teach your dog to hang out when they are with the family and it should be in a part of the house where you spend the majority of your time. If that’s the family/living room, then set up their place in an area that is not in a direct line of traffic.  

The “1/3 Rule”

The “1/3 Rule”

For the first three weeks of training, we ask you to keep your dog on the “1/3 rule.” Of the time you are home and awake, your dog will be with you on leash, on place, or in their crate. For example, if you’re home for 12 hours, you would have your dog with you on leash for 4 hours, on place for 4 hours, and crated for 4 hours. You won’t do those in 4 hour blocks though. The 4 hours is cumulative and broken up throughout the day. So, at the end of the day your dog would have spent roughly 1/3 of the day in place, 1/3 of the day with you on leash, and 1/3 of the day in their crate. If you’re asleep or out of the home, your dog will be crated since they cannot be supervised. The goal of the 1/3 rule is to eliminate roaming temporarily and keep you and your family consistently in the leader role. 


When we temporarily remove roaming it’s important to give your dog one or two sessions of exercise a day. We want your dog to be engaged with you during play. Your dog can be off-leash; just say “release” when you take the leash off. Play like you normally do, just don’t give any commands. You cannot reinforce commands off-leash at this point. When your dog loses interest and wanders off, go to your dog and put the leash back on. The “1/3 rule” starts up at that point. 

It’s important to bond with your dog during this period of training. If you allow your dog on the couch or bed, you can continue to do so as long as it doesn’t interfere with your trainer’s recommendations. Your dog doesn’t have to be in a command every second of the “1/3 rule.” The goal is that you’re in charge and leading your dog consistently. If it was your idea and not the dog’s, then you’re in good shape. 


There is another huge benefit to the “1/3 rule” and that is repetition of commands. There are 6 commands vital to the “1/3 rule.” They are place, release, loose-leash heel, sit, down, and implied stay. This book will also cover recall/“come,” eye contact on command/“focus,” crate training your dog, and how to condition your dog to wear a muzzle.


If you’ve been instructed to use food rewards, give a small, pea-sized treat when this book says praise.

The Implied Stay

The Implied Stay

The implied stay simply means you don’t have to say “stay” after asking your dog to “place,” “sit,” or “down.” The stay is already built into those commands so your dog will stay until released. We will reiterate how to reinforce the implied stay with place, sit, and down in their respective sections, but this is generally how to teach an implied stay. 


You will give your initial command—place, sit, or down—and IF your dog breaks the command before you give your release command (discussed below), say “no,” then ask your dog to “stay.” It’s important to make sure you guide your dog back to where you initially gave the place, sit, or down command before saying “stay.” Otherwise you’re telling your dog to stay in the wrong spot. 


This is what it would sound like: 


  • “Sit” – followed by your dog sitting
  • “Good boy/girl” plus petting or a treat (you praised here because the dog sat)
  • Your dog gets up to walk away for whatever reason, but you haven’t released it
  • “No”
  • Make sure your dog is back where you originally asked it to sit
  • “Stay”
  • “Release” – now your dog can break the command when you’re ready


Bullet #1 could be replaced with “down” or “place.” Those commands all have an implied stay. 


Also note that we do not repeat our commands over and over. It’s very important. You will train your dog to ignore you the first time and only to respond on the 3rd or 5th time if you are always repeating without consequence. 


It’s important if you had to say “no” to your dog for breaking a command that you try to repeat whatever caused the dog to break the command in the first place. This will allow you to praise your dog and “end on a positive.” Dogs always remember the last thing that happened. If we repeated the above scenario to try to “end on a positive,” it would sound like:


  • “Sit” – followed by your dog sitting
  • “Good boy/girl” plus petting or a treat
  • “Release” – followed by your dog breaking their sit
  • “Good boy/girl” plus petting or a treat


See how you ended the sequence with praise. That is “ending on a positive.” You want to do that as much as possible, but remember you can’t say “no” and then praise.

The “Place” Command

The “Place” Command

The place command is a very important command. It allows us to desensitize your dog to anything in the environment that is causing reactivity or overexcitement. Plus, it’s a great positive, alternative behavior that you can ask your dog to do in place of many negative, problematic behaviors. “Place” means, “go to this spot, lie down, and stay here until you hear your release word.” We are going to teach place in a few steps. 


You will set the place up in an area you spend the most amount of time in. Typically, this is the living or family room. You can have more than one place in other rooms if you’d like. The indoor tether will be put directly behind your dog’s place.


The word you’ll say for place can be whatever you’d like. Usually clients say “place,” “go lie down,” “go to place,” or some other variation. We are going to use “place” in this book to keep it simple. Please use your command word when teaching your dog. You will also need to choose a release word. 


Release words give your dog permission to break a command and essentially be on break until you give another command. Clients typically use “break,” “free,” “done,” “okay,” or “release.” We will use “release” in this book. Just like with the place command, pick a word and use it consistently with your dog. 


While teaching your dog a new command it’s important to keep conversation to a minimum. Your dog learns a new command word through association of the sound paired with a behavior they do. We want to keep things crystal clear when starting out.  


  • Start close to their bed and point at it. Once your dog steps onto it say “place.” Make sure your dog stops on the bed (you don’t want them to immediately walk off) and then praise. Once on the bed, your dog may sit or lie down without being asked. If they do, praise your dog again. 
  • Say “release” and guide your dog off its place. Repeat 10-30 times.

More repetition generally means you’ll make a better association, but you don’t want to overdo it. If your dog goes right to its place and lies down when you point then you’re ready to start asking “place” when you point. 


Next, you are going to start to use the indoor tether. Ask your dog “place” and point to the bed. Once they go, praise them and hook the tether to their regular, flat collar.  You will keep the leash and training collar on your dog, even with them tethered. Your training collar will be highest collar on the neck with your regular collar below it.

Now your dog is tethered on their place. 


  • Drop your leash directly in front of your dog. This means an “implied stay.” You’re asking your dog to stay without verbally saying “stay.” In addition to stay, sit and down also have implied stays.
  • As long as your dog stays quietly and calmly on place you will praise them. 
  • If your dog breaks the implied stay of the place command by not remaining calm (this may include barking or trying to walk off their place) you will say “no,” then ask your dog to “stay.” Your dog should lie back down. If they do not, you can repeat “no,” then ask “stay” again. Do not immediately praise your dog when they lie back down. That sends mixed signals and can cause your dog to break the command again. If you had to say “no,” wait at least 10-30 seconds before praising your dog for staying on place. 
  • When you’re ready, release your dog by saying “release,” and praise. 


You can keep your dog on place as long as you need, but don’t ask for too much at first. You want the place to be a positive, calm spot for your dog to be in. Duration on place can always be built up over time. We recommend you do not leave your dog alone in their place for more than a few moments. If you do and they get up, there would be nobody there to say “no” them to let them know they shouldn’t do that when they’re at place. Eventually you will be able to leave the room, but the command needs to be practiced with fewer distractions to start. Do not play with your dog on place. We need “place” to have a calm association. 


The tether will be removed at some point in training. It is only a tool to help you and your family while you’re learning how to give commands and handle your dog. At the end of the day your dog should be staying because you asked it to, not because its tethered. 


You should aim to ask your dog to go to “place” 30 times a day. That doesn’t mean your dog needs to stay for long periods of time 30x a day, but rather that they’re going there and being released 30x a day. If you do this, by the end of your “1/3 rule” you will have repeated place 630 times! Dogs need about 500 repetitions of any given command for it become learned. Sometimes more for advanced commands.

Loose-Leash Heel

Loose-Leash Heel

During leash time of the “1/3 rule” it’s important that your dog isn’t pulling and is attentive to you. We want there to be slack in the leash while your dog is walking. When walking your dog, relax your shoulders and be aware of how much tension you’re adding to the leash. It’s hard at first, but will become easier as you practice. 


It will be helpful to keep your dog consistently on your left or right side. We like to teach heel with your dog on the left as it keeps them off the road if you’re walking in traffic. Hold the leash in your dominant hand. 


The best way to teach your dog to walk in a loose-leash heel is to train your dog to follow your lead. We are going to fix pulling and leaving your side by changing direction. If your dog walks on your left side, you turn to the right. If your dog walks on your right side, you turn to the left. 


  • Ask your dog to “heel” when you start walking. You will repeat “heel” every time you start walking after you’ve stopped. 
  • You will change direction as soon as your dog’s shoulder passes your hip. When you change direction, watch your dog.
    • If they go to the end of the leash, say “no,” then ask your dog to “heel.” It’s important to stay in motion during this step. Gather up your leash and try to change direction again. 
    • If they turn and come back to you before going to the end of the leash, praise your dog and say “heel.” We want your dog to always come back to your side when you change direction, ideally without saying “no.” 


When you stop, your dog should stop next to you. If they sit when you stop, that is called the “finished heel.” It looks great and we can teach it, but the important part is that they stop next to you. 



  • Your dog needs to already be walking at your side and attentive before you stop. 
  • Stop moving abruptly. This will get your dog’s attention and they will stop. If they don’t, say “heel,” change direction, and try to stop again.
  • Praise your dog if they stop squarely with you. If your dog is slightly ahead or off to the side of you, step up to your dog’s shoulder so its aligned with your hip. Then, praise your dog.
    • If you want to “finish the heel,” ask your dog to “sit.” Reinforce the command (see The Sit Command section). 
  • There is an implied stay when you stop so if your dog breaks this by walking away, say “no,” then ask your dog to “stay” in the same spot where you stopped initially. It’s very important to bring your dog back to where you originally stopped. When you’re ready to move again, say “heel” and reinforce the command as discussed above. 


You will want to master the heel command in your home first. Then, graduate to heeling outside your home. It’s okay if you’re making a lot of circles on your walk. It’s hard work for your dog to remain focused on you, stay in heel position, and ignore distractions. Build up the duration of your dog’s heel over time, but always remain consistent about how you reinforce your command (discussed above). You can say “release” at any point during your walk to allow your dog to sniff, go potty, walk ahead if you, or walk behind you. If your dog is released and begins to pull, ask them to “heel” and reinforce the command. You can release them again after they walk nicely for some period of time. 


This command is essential if you’re struggling with reactivity towards other dogs or people on walks. Your dog must learn how to stay focused on you and walk politely. This command is the first step.

The Sit Command

The Sit Command

“Sit” is a fundamental command that we can use on a daily basis to establish good manners and leadership. When in doubt, sit it out! We recommend asking your dog to sit before leaving the crate, walking through a doorway, taking a toy from you, and eating their meals. Remember that we want your dog to have what they want, but to go through us to get it? We can build leadership by asking dogs to earn things through commands.


We are going to start with instructions on how to teach your dog to sit from the very beginning of the command and then move into teaching the implied stay with sit. 


There are many ways to teach your dog to sit. This book outlines the technique using “luring” and food rewards. “Luring” means your dog follows the treat in your hand. You can break this into multiple sessions or do it all in one sitting. Some dogs may need multiple sessions before you complete all the steps. Work at your own pace.



  • Put a pea-sized treat in your hand and close your hand so you’re making a fist.
  • Hold your fist over your dog’s head (don’t hold it too high or your dog will jump up). If your dog does jump up, pull your hand away and reset.
  • Move your hand in an arch towards your dog’s hind end. You’re drawing an arched line from their nose to their tail.
  • Your dog’s nose should point up towards the ceiling (because it’s following the treat in your hand), which will make your dog unbalanced, and they will sit. 
  • When your dog sits, say “sit” then praise. Since you’re using a food reward, you’ll just open up your fist and give your dog that treat. 
  • Repeat 10-30 times until your dog begins to sit in anticipation. When they do, start saying “sit” when you move your fist over your dog’s head. 


We are now going to “shape” the hand “cue.” This will result in only having to raise your hand and your dog will sit. 


  • At this point your dog should be able to “sit” when you ask verbally and with a closed fist going over their head. Start by removing the treat from your fist and keep it in the other hand. Ask your dog to “sit” with fist moving over their head and praise when it does. Repeat 10 times.
  • Now, when you ask your dog to “sit” hold your hand flat with your palm facing the ceiling and make a lifting motion up. Do this and say “sit” at the same time. Your dog may be slow to sit and that’s okay. Just be patient and wait. Do not repeat the command unless 15-30 seconds have passed. Then, you can try asking again. When your dog sits, praise. Repeat 10 times. 



At this point you should be able to ask your dog to “sit” with a flat hand lifting up. You won’t need a treat in your hand either. You can still praise your dog and give a treat at this point, just start randomly rewarding with food so you don’t need treats forever. 



Now we can start to build the implied stay. The first 30 or so repetitions of sit with the implied stay will be very short stays. We want our dogs to stay long enough to wait to be released, but not so long that we are constantly having to walk your dog back.


  • Ask your dog to “sit” using the new hand cue, flat hand up lifting to the ceiling. Your dog should be directly in front of you.
  • Praise your dog for sitting.
  • Take a small step away from your dog. If your dog stays, praise them. If your dog breaks the sit, say “no,” then say “stay.” Your dog will sit back down, but be patient. As long as they aren’t actively trying to walk away, just wait. If your dog is trying to walk away, repeat “no” and say “stay.” 
  • Once the dog follows through by sitting, release your dog by saying “release.”
  • If you didn’t say “no” during this sequence, praise your dog. If you did, do not praise. Repeat the entire sequence to try to end on a positive. 


Once your dog is consistently sitting when you ask “sit,” you can then incorporate a “no” for not sitting when asked. Keep in mind we have already added “no” for not staying, we’re talking about if your dog didn’t sit in the first place. It wouldn’t have been fair to start this way since your dog didn’t know how to sit initially. If you asked your dog to sit and they didn’t, here is the sequence:


  • “Sit” – followed by your dog ignoring the command (you know they are ignoring you if they are staring at something else or are walking away)
  • “No” 
  • “Sit” – followed by your dog sitting 
  • “Release” –followed by your dog breaking the sit 


Because you said “no” to your dog there is no praise. So, we are going to try to repeat this to “end on a positive.”


  • “Sit” – followed by your dog sitting
  • “Good boy/girl” plus petting or a treat
  • “Release” – followed by your dog breaking command 
  • “Good boy/girl” plus petting or a treat


We ended on a positive so we are done with this sequence. Your dog should be sitting the first time you ask. That is the only way to earn praise. You will introduce inconsistency if you repeat the command multiple times (i.e. “sit,” “sit,” “sit.”), add additional words into the command (i.e. “hey you, sit”), or say “no” and praise (i.e. “sit,” “no,” “sit,” “good girl.”)

The Down Command

The Down Command

“Down” means to lie down. We hear a lot of clients use “down” to say, “get off the furniture or get off of me.” If this sounds familiar, start to use “off” instead. It will clear things up for your dog and prevent confusion. “Down” is excellent at promoting calm behavior and will be used as an “off-switch” when place isn’t handy. Imagine having dinner out on a dog-friendly patio and asking your dog to lie down and stay at your side. 


Just like with “sit,” we are going to start as if this is a brand-new command and guide you through the implied stay. We have other techniques to train “down,” but this method will use “luring” and food rewards. If at any point your dog’s behind comes off the ground when doing this, ask your dog to “sit” and start from the top.


  • Start with your dog sitting and with a treat in your closed fist. 
  • Put your fist right at your dog’s nose and draw a line straight to the ground. Do not move at an angle. Make sure your dog’s nose stays on your hand. 
  • Once your fist is next to the ground, draw a line parallel to the ground and away from your dog. Steps 2 and 3 should look like a backwards L.
  • When your dog’s chest hits the ground and lies down, say “down” and open your hand to give them the treat. 
  • Repeat 10-30 times until your dog begins to lie down in anticipation. Once they do, start asking “sit” when you move your fist towards the ground. 


We are ready to “shape” our hand “cue” so you can just lower a flat hand, palm facing the ground, to get your dog to lie down. 


  • Remove the treat from your fist and keep it in the other hand. Ask your dog to “down” with a closed fist lowering to the ground and wait until it lies down. Be patient and do not repeat the command unless 15-30 seconds have passed. 
  • Praise your dog for lying down. Repeat 10 times.
  • Ask your dog to “down,” but keep your hand flat with the palm facing the ground and lower it. You can lower your hand all the way to the ground to start, but we want to eventually be able to ask without bending over. Be patient and praise your dog when it lies down.
  • Repeat #3 until you no longer need to bend over to ask your dog to “down.” 


Just like with “sit,” we are ready to start to build the implied stay. The first 30 or so repetitions of down with the implied stay will be very short stays. We want our dogs to stay long enough to wait to be released, but not so long that we are constantly having to bring them back where you initially asked “down.”


  • Ask your dog to “down” using the new hand cue, flat hand down lowering to the floor. Your dog should be directly in front of you.
  • Praise your dog for lying down.
  • Take a small step away from your dog. If your dog stays, praise them. If your dog breaks the down, say “no,” then say “stay.” Your dog will lie back down, but be patient. As long as they aren’t actively trying to walk away, just wait. If your dog is trying to walk away, repeat “no” and say “stay.” 
  • Once the dog follows through by lying down, release your dog by saying “release.”
  • If you didn’t say “no” during this sequence, praise your dog. If you did, do not praise. Repeat the entire sequence to try to end on a positive. 


Once your dog is consistently lying down when you ask “down,” you can then incorporate a “no” for not lying down when asked. Keep in mind we have already added the “no” for not staying, we’re talking about if your dog doesn’t lie down the first time you ask. It wouldn’t have been fair to start this way since your dog didn’t know how to lie down in the first place. If you asked your dog “down” and they didn’t, here is the sequence:


  • “Down” – followed by your dog ignoring the command (you know they are ignoring you if they are staring at something else or are walking away)
  • “No” 
  • “Down” – followed by your dog lying down (you may need to say “no” and “down” again if they still haven’t follow through) 
  • “Release” –followed by your dog breaking the down


Because you said “no” your dog there is no praise. So, we are going to try to repeat this to “end on a positive.”


  • “Down” – followed by your dog lying down
  • “Good boy/girl” plus petting or a treat
  • “Release” – followed by your dog breaking the down
  • “Good boy/girl” plus petting or a treat


We ended on a positive so we are done with this sequence. Your dog should lie down the first time you ask. That is the only way to earn praise. You will introduce inconsistency if you repeat the command multiple times (i.e. “down,” “down,” “down.”), add additional words into the command (i.e. “hey you, lie down”), or say “no” and praise (i.e. “down,” “no,” “down,” “good girl.”)


During leash time of the “1/3 rule,” your dog will be exposed to varying levels of distractions. Distractions make commands harder for dogs to follow. Since your dog is with you on leash, you should practice “sit” and “down” throughout the day with normal, household activities. Those distractions might be grabbing a snack from the pantry or emptying the dishwasher. 


Over time we will increase the distraction level, ask our dogs to hold commands for longer periods, and stay at farther distances from us. By the end of your “1/3 rule” you should be able to have your dog stay with normal, household activities. If you’re struggling during these 3 weeks, give your trainer a call. Do not wait until the next lesson. You do not want to be practicing the wrong stuff. It will only further embed bad commands or handling. 


Always reinforce the command as discussed above. You do not want your dog breaking commands before you released them. That will introduce inconsistency, increase your dog’s anxiety, and result in an unreliable dog. Don’t ask for a command you do not intend on reinforcing!

Crating Your Dog*

Crating Your Dog*

The crate will be used when you cannot supervise your dog. The crate should be a sanctuary, NOT a form of punishment. If you follow our advice, your dog will see their crate as a positive, calm, and quiet place. Set it up in a quiet area away from the busiest parts of the house. If that isn’t possible, you can cover the crate with a light sheet or blanket. If you cut off visual stimuli, it reduces anxiety about not being able to be with everyone. We will use “crate” as the command to go into the crate, but you can use any other command word that comes natural to you. Have a few treats handy for this process.


  • Walk up to the crate with your dog on leash. Toss a treat into the back of the crate. Allow your dog to walk in at their own pace. Praise them when they walk in and allow them to come right back out. Repeat 10 times. 
  • Toss a treat into the back and when your dog steps into the crate say “crate.” Repeat 10 times.
  • Your dog should anticipate a treat being thrown at this point. Act like you’re throwing a treat into the crate, but don’t actually throw the treat. Say “crate” at the same time. Your dog will go in and when it turns to face you praise it and give it the treat. Repeat until you can say “crate” with a pointing motion to the crate and your dog goes into the crate consistently.
  • Ask “crate” and when your dog goes in close the door briefly. Reward through the bars. Say “release” and open the crate door. Repeat 10 times. 
  • Ask “crate,” close the door, praise your dog, and ask “sit.” Your dog will now learn to stay in the crate until released. When your dog sits, open the door. If your dog gets up before you say “release,” close the door. Basically, butt on the ground makes the door open, butt off the ground makes the door close. Repeat opening when your dog sits and closing when it breaks the stay until you can have the door open fully without your dog trying to escape. Say “release” and praise your dog.
    • Teaching “sit” at doors works the same way. Sit = door opens / Getting up before being released = door closes ; you can do this at your front door, back door, etc. 
  • Wean off food by randomly rewarding your dog with food and mostly using verbal praise or petting. 


You will send your dog to its crate by asking “crate” and you will take he or she out of the crate calmly by opening/closing the door depending on if it is sitting or trying to get out before being released.


Now you can crate your dog and release it from the crate calmly! Being able to crate your dog without anxiety when you’re home is a practical skill. Dogs with separation anxiety improve significantly with constructive crating. We find that separation anxiety develops while you’re with your dog and manifests when you’re separated. The best way to solve this is to make separation normal in a positive way. 


*Not every dog will respond to crating positively. If this is the case, your trainer will recommend appropriate alternatives or methods for your dog.

The Recall or “Come” Command

The Recall or “Come” Command

Recall is very important! You want your dog to reliably come when called. It takes time and practice to build a solid recall against many distractions, but how you give the command remains consistent. When teaching the “come” command you want to start with your dog on leash. That way you can reinforce the command consistently from the start. We recommend getting a long leash—20-30’ long—to practice with outdoors. 


Initially we like to teach this command from a sit-stay and then transition to calling your dog off distractions. If your dog doesn’t stay well, work on that before practicing recall.


  • Start with your dog in a sit at your side. Since we taught the implied stay you just need to step in front of your dog and walk 5-6’ away.
    • If your dog breaks the stay, say “no” and bring it back to where you initially gave the “sit” command and ask it to “stay.” If your dog continually breaks the stay, practice staying before working on recall. It would also be wise to separate the lessons so your dog doesn’t get confused. 
    • When you walk away be careful not to tug the leash forward as this may prompt your dog to recall before you ask. 
  • Hold the leash in one hand and with the other hand held out flat make a sweeping gesture to your chest. When you make the gesture, you will say your dog’s name then “come.” You can say this excitedly, but try not to bend over or make exaggerated body movements. Otherwise we will have to shape the command cue later to be subtler! 
  • If they don’t come, pull the leash towards your body like you’re pulling in fishing line. As soon as they start to move towards you, relax the leash so there is no tension and begin praising your dog. They should continue to move towards you.
    • If they stop moving or move away from you, use the leash again to guide them back. Remember to release all tension in the leash and begin praising as soon as they start to move towards you. 
    • You will not praise the dog AND pull on the leash. They need to be separate. 
  • Once they’re about 1-2’ away, ask your dog to “sit.”
    • If you have to say “no” to your dog so they sit, do not reward. Simply release them and try this process again. If you need a refresher on how to reinforce the sit command, see “The Sit Command” section.
  • After your dog sits without having to say “no,” praise them and release. Repeat this about 5-10 times. 


You don’t want to drill recall practice from the sit-stay. It will result in your dog anticipating the recall command and preemptively breaking their stay. This will weaken your stay command. About 5-10 repetitions is enough. The next style of recall teaches your dog to recall off distractions. You can repeat this more than 5-10 times since there is no risk of weakening your stay. 


  • Have your dog on leash.
    •  You can use your short leash or long leash depending on how much distance you want between you and your dog. Farther is harder so you may want to start on a short leash. 
  • Allow your dog to get distracted—this can be a smell, toy, treat, or other person.
  • Position yourself behind the dog so they have to turn to come to you.
  • Say your dog’s name + “come” and give the sweeping hand gesture towards your chest.
    • If they do, praise them.
    • If they don’t, use the leash like a fishing line and pull them to you. Remember to immediately relax the leash and begin praising as soon as your dog starts moving towards you.
    • I find that walking backwards away from your dog can help draw them to you.
  • Once your dog is in front of you and about 1-2’ away, ask them to “sit.” Reinforce the sit command appropriately (see “The Sit Command” if you need a refresher)
  • Praise your dog if they sit without you needing to say “no.”
  • Release them and allow them to get distracted again. Repeat! 


After practicing, you should be able to recall your dog from a sit-stay and off minor distractions. The next step is incorporating the “no.” Follow this sequence whether your dog is staying or you want to recall them off a distraction. We are still on leash at this point. 


  • Say your dog’s name + “come” and make the sweeping hand gesture. Say this only once!
    • If they come and sit in front of you, praise them and release. The praise is given because they responded the first time. 
    • If they don’t come, say “no” and repeat your dog’s name + “come.” Unlike before, you will NOT begin praising them when they start to come to you. Just allow them to come and sit in front of you. When they do, DO NOT PRAISE and simply release them. Repeat until you can end on a positive. 


Now that you can ask for the recall command and reinforce it properly, it’s time to add distance from you and distractions. Your long leash allows you to add distance while still being able to reinforce the command. Adding distraction is easy. Moving from inside to outside introduces a lot smells, noises, and sights that are distracting. If your dog is great in your backyard, you can bring them to a busier park and practice. Just don’t add more distractions until your dog is proficient in a less stimulating environment.

The Focus Command

The Focus Command


Eye contact is used regularly by your dog to communicate. Generally speaking, soft eye contact can be used to ask for guidance and strong eye contact can be used to threaten or challenge. You’ll frequently see your dog staring at you when you have their favorite toy or food bowl and that’s their way of saying “Can I have it, please?” We want to teach your dog how to look at you on command. You can use this to redirect their focus to you in distracting environments or if you’re working through reactivity towards other dogs and people. You can end a sit and down command with focus to build automatic eye contact. We’ll talk about that later. You want to start the focus command at home when there aren’t a lot of distractions. 


  • Silently hold out your pointer finger and lower it to your dog’s nose. Raise your hand up to your face and rest your pointer finger on your nose. Your dog should look at your finger and follow it. Don’t frantically wave your hand, just make a slow motion from your dog’s nose up to your nose.
    • If your dog is struggling to follow your finger, hold a small treat between your thumb and middle finger. 
  • As soon as your dog makes eye contact with you, praise them. If you’re too slow, you’ll have missed when your dog did the right thing. Don’t worry if they don’t hold your eye contact, we will add that duration later. 
  • Repeat the motion from your dog’s nose to your nose until they’re consistently making eye contact. The hand motion will become the cue. Next, we add the command word.
  • Make the same motion from dog’s nose to your nose and you will start to say “focus” as soon as they make eye contact. Continue to praise them when they do.
    • Alternative commands are: “watch me,” “look at me,” “up here,” or anything that comes natural to you
  • Repeat 20-30 times or until you get consistent eye contact when you make the hand motion.


Now we are going to start to ask for eye contact on command:


  • Make the hand motion from your dog’s nose to your nose and ask “focus.” 
  • When your dog makes eye contact, praise them.
  • Repeat until you can consistently ask your dog to “focus” and they do. 


Now we will increase the duration your dog looks at you. Holding eye contact until released is important if you’d like to use this around other dogs and people. You will continue to use the hand motion when you ask “focus” at this stage. 


  • Ask “focus” and once your dog looks at you, count to 2. In order to get praised your dog will need to hold eye contact for 2 full seconds. If they break eye contact before then, don’t praise and start over. Once they hold it for 2 seconds, say “release” and praise them. Repeat until your dog is consistently successful. 
  • Increase the duration of eye contact by adding 1 second at a time. You know to add more time if your dog is consistently doing well. If they’re struggling, ask for a shorter duration. Remember to always release before praising your dog! 


Next, we add distractions:


  • Ask “focus” and hold out your other arm. Your dog should maintain eye contact. If they don’t, try again. Only praise them if they can hold uninterrupted eye contact and wait to be released. Repeat until your dog is consistently successful. 
  • Ask “focus” and add movement when you hold out your other arm. Only praise them if they can hold uninterrupted eye contact and wait to be released. Repeat until your dog is consistently successful.


Have fun with this exercise when you’re adding distractions. Any movement, noise, or smells will distract your dog. So long as they hold eye contact when you ask and wait to be released, you will praise them. 


After these steps, you should be able to ask your dog to “focus” and they hold it until you say “release” and then praise them. A gentle wiggle of the leash can be used if they aren’t responding to the hand motion or verbal “focus.” 


If you’d like automatic focus after asking “sit” or “down,” follow these steps:


  • Ask “sit” OR “down” and reinforce the command as taught previously.
  • Ask “focus” and praise your dog when they make eye contact.
  • While your dog is still looking at you, say “release” to give your dog permission to break the commands. 
  • Repeat! 


If you’re releasing your dog from sit or down and they aren’t looking at you when you do, you won’t get the automatic eye contact. It only works if you release your dog while they’re sitting/lying down AND looking at you. The benefit to teaching this is your dog will naturally remain focused on you after sitting or lying down.