Obedience Training

Obedience commands allow you to teach a dog desirable behavior in any given situation. Practicing obedience skills with your dog is also good exercise for your dog and provides it with mental stimulation. In addition, your dog enjoys constructive social interaction, for which it is rewarded with your praise. Skills should be practiced everywhere, in your home and beyond.

When to begin training

  • The best time is the moment you get your pet. Behavior learned early, desirable or not, is the basis for all future patterns as an adult. This does not mean that adult dogs are untrainable; however, appropriate habits should be instilled from the start regardless of your pet’s age.
  • Once your pet is protected by the basic inoculations against common puppy diseases, puppy classes provide essential training for you and your pup.

Basic obedience commands

  • Five basic commands can be applied to set the limits for acceptable behavior in a variety of situations: sit, down, come, heel and stay.
  • Issue the command the same way each time to avoid confusion. This is particularly important when your dog is first learning to connect your command with an expected action. Always say “come,” not “come over here” or “come here.” Use the command alone, rather than including it in the middle of a sentence.
  • Precede each command by saying the dog’s name in a firm but gentle tone. If the command word is not preceded by the dog’s name, the animal may not realize that you are addressing it.
  • Say any commands in a firm and low tone. You need not shout to make yourself understood to make your dog understand that you are in charge. In fact, raising your voice may only frighten the dog or raise its level of excitement.
  • Exhibit a calm but controlled attitude, conveying authority without anger. There is one exception. The command to “come” should be said in a light and happy tone of voice. Your dog must never anticipate any problems when you call it to come to you, or it could start avoiding you.
  • Inform all family members or other frequent visitors of your rules. Everyone should act consistently to avoid confusing the animal.

Hand signals

  • Consistent use of a gesture in conjunction with a verbal command can be a useful addition to basic training. In hearing-impaired and congenitally deaf dog, hand signals can replace verbal commands. By making the hand signal each time you pronounce the corresponding voice command, your dog will eventually make the association between the signal and its behavior response.

Additional commands

  • Once your dog has learned the basics, you can add commands. Such commands could include “jump” or “off” (to get off the furniture), “hurry” or “do it” (for bathroom time), or “drop it” or “leave it” (for play). Make sure new commands are distinct from each other and consistent in form so your dog will not become confused.
  • Release commands let your dog know when it is acceptable to be at ease. For example, every dog should be taught to sit calmly before it is fed. The dog should be taught to sit calmly before it is fed. The dog should not touch its food dish until you release it from “sit/stay” with the command “okay.”


  • At your dog’s first sign of obedience to your command, offer immediate and generous praise. Do not wait until after your pet has complied. Praise the dog as it begins to obey your command to help the dog associate your command with that action. If you delay or don’t praise, your dog might not understand what is expected of it.
  • Praise may be verbal, such as softly saying “good dog.” Your tone of voice should be soothing. If you excitedly praise your dog for a successful “sit/stay,” your dog will respond to your excitement and break out of its position to jump at you. You also can pat the dog on the head.
  • A food treat can help improve a dog’s motivation to cooperate, but they should not be continually used, particularly for pups. Food treats may help motivate a recently acquired adult dog.

Collar and Leash

  • Nylon or leather collars are adequate for many dogs. For dogs that pull, consider an Emily Weiss Walkie, which can be purchased at Tri-County Humane Society’s store in the front lobby. (All proceeds go back to the animals.)
  • For training sessions, a short training leash is best. A longer leash of 4 to 6 feet can be used if you can control the slack. Retractable leads are awkward and difficult to firmly grip, and provide little control for training.

Daily Training Sessions

  • During the initial phase of obedience training, you should practice obedience commands in one or two daily obedience training sessions of 15 to 30 minutes each. During these formal training sessions, practice the five basic commands in every room of your home.
  • Use a leash at first during indoor obedience reviews so your dog will be more compliant and understand that you are in control. Once your dog is more reliably obedient, you will not need to use the leash inside your home.
  • Practice obedience commands during walks outside. This will teach your dog obedience everywhere, regardless of distractions.
  • Do not feed, walk, brush or play with the dog without asking it to perform an obedience skill. For example, if your dog follows you into the kitchen, call it to “heel” as it walks by your side. Tell it to “sit/stay” as you prepare your snack. Return to your place and call your dog out of its “sit/stay” in the kitchen by calling it to “come” to rejoin you in the other room. Make the dog “sit/stay” before its food dish is delivered. Make it “sit/stay” while you remove its leash.
  • Obedience skills must be practiced throughout a dog’s lifetime so the skills are not lost. View every episode of misbehavior as an opportunity to teach obedience. Do not just scold your dog when it misbehaves. Rather, show it a desirable alternative activity by giving it a command, such as “down/stay.”

Professional Training

  • Obedience training by professional trainers can be a positive experience for both you and your dog. A competent dog trainer can correctly demonstrate the skills that you, the owner, must use to communicate your desires to your dog. The purpose of a dog trainer is to teach you how to train your pet.
  • Group classes also are beneficial because your dog can learn skills in a very distracting situation. If it can demonstrate obedience while surrounded by other dogs and other people in an unfamiliar location, the training should be easier to transfer (with ongoing practice at home) to relatively calmer places.
  • Do not send your pet away to be trained. The purpose of an obedience trainer is to train you so you can train the dog. You are the one who must function from day to day with your dog; it must be trained to obey you.
  • To locate an obedience trainer or training classes in your area, consult your veterinarian or call Tri-County Humane Society at 320-252-0896. And remember, no recommendation can replace a personal visit to the location of the class.

Source: "Canine and Feline Behavior Problems," Stefanie Schwartz

PRINTABLE Basic obedience.pdf


The Importance of Daily Walks

In addition to basic needs such as food and shelter, a dog needs social interaction, positive attention from its owner, exercise and mental stimulation. Many of these needs can be met by taking the dog for a walk. Ideally, every dog should be walked on a leash for a minimum of 20 minutes, preferably after each meal.


  • Most cities and counties have some form of leash law. When leashed, a dog is safe from traffic and unable to follow his instincts to chase children, investigate garbage cans or dig up landscaping.
  • Remember to get your pet licensed in accordance with your city’s laws.
  • It is best to keep your dog on a leash, regardless of the leash laws in your area. Keep leashes to six feet or less on public sidewalks.
  • Do not use retractable leashes in areas frequented by joggers, skaters or cyclists. The thin line blends into the background and all too often athlete and dog collide.
  • Pick up feces using a plastic bag and knot the top to control odor and flies before deposing of it in a waste receptacle. Train your dog to urinate in gutters or on nonliving vertical surfaces, such as fire hydrants. Avoid trees and flower beds.

Benefits of Walks

  • A walk is a chance for attention. Perhaps more than anything, pets simply want our company.
  • A walk allows you to practice obedience skills with your dog to increase the reliability of training. Reviewing the basic obedience commands increases the benefits of a walk because your dog is not simply ambling along, but is performing additional tasks.
  • A walk provides mental stimulation through territorial investigation. The dog can gather information about how its territory has changed since the last walk.
  • A walk has many physical benefits. Walking your dog is the best way to exercise a dog that may not move about much in your home or even in your yard. Aging pets must be kept as agile and fit as possible but may not be inclined to exercise without much encouragement. Even if your dog is active in your yard, it’s most active during a walk.
  • A walk is a chance for socialization with others. If you pass by another dog or person along the way, your dog has an opportunity to greet them. Dogs are social animals and it’s their nature to investigate unrecognized and recognized individuals. If a dog does not have an opportunity to socialize, it will not learn to interact appropriately with other dogs or people. Puppies should be encouraged from a young age to appropriately greet and interact with other dogs and people while on walks. However, it's always crucial to ask "May my dog say hello to you?" before letting your dog may any physical contact.
  • A walk can prevent destructive behavior.

Source: "Canine and Feline Behavior Problems," Stefanie Schwartz; ASPCA

Inappropriate Elimination/Submissive Urination

Housesoiling in adult dogs ranks among the most common complaints of dog owners. Even the most reliably trained dog can have trouble controlling bowel or bladder function during illness or stress. If your dog suddenly loses its house-training manners, take him to your vet immediately to make sure he is not ill. Review recent events that might have made your pet anxious if there is no sign of physical illness.

Dogs may lose desirable habits in response to events that are not immediately obvious to their owners (such as a neighborhood female dog being in heat, arousing tensions in dogs of both senses). There may be changes in the dynamics between your dog and another household pet. Or loss of house-training habits sometimes reflects an owner’s stress because dogs are sensitive to their owners’ moods. Your dog may react to your tensions and withdrawal by reasserting territorial claims with deposits of urine or stool. It may even void in a place that is strongly associated with you (your bed or clothing).

Even if you’re busy, it’s important to keep up your twice-daily walks instead of just letting the dog out in the yard. Spending more quality time together reduces your own stress level and benefits everyone’s sense of well-being. Dogs benefit from structure in their daily routines.

If your dog loses its house-training manners, follow these steps:

  • Prevent accidents by resuming basic house training. Provide frequent opportunities for your dog to eliminate in an appropriate place. Walk it on a leash within a half-hour after each meal (or sooner) and, if possible, every few hours during the day. Reward your dog’s appropriate elimination immediately with abundant praise. Remember that it is not useful to punish a pet for inappropriate elimination. This is especially important when the problem’s underlying cause is psychological or physical stress.
  • Decrease your pet’s desire to return to soiled areas. Odors must be removed because they will attract your pet and maintain objectionable habits long after the initial cause of the misbehavior is gone. Thoroughly disinfect and deodorize the soiled area. Many effective household cleaning productions, such as alternating diluted white vinegar and baking soda, can neutralize or at least dilute the odors that attract your pet to the location. Products containing biological enzymes can be helpful in deodorizing, too. After cleaning, block your pet’s access to the target area with an obstacle such as a piece of furniture. Alternatively, feed your pet at or near this spot or simply place a bowl of water there.

Submissive Urination

Submissive behavior signals a dog’s recognition of its inferior social status toward another dog or a person. Physical clues associated with submission are similar to those displayed by defensive, even fearful animals. These may include ears flattened against the head, head and neck lowered, body arched in a sitting position or crouched low to the ground, and tail held low or between the hind legs. Submissive behavior during greeting may be accompanied by a dribbling of urine. This submissive urination is seen particularly in young dogs and most often in young females. It may persist into adulthood, but it usually resolves as urinary sphincters mature and the pup gains confidence in a stable human family.


  • The key to treating submissive urination is to keep greetings brief and calm. Excited entrances and exits may worsen the problem. Everyone entering or leaving your home, including you, should be calm and controlled.
  • Avoid prolonged direct eye contact when greeting the dog so that it does not feel threatened.
  • Do not pet the dog on its head or back during greeting. This may trigger submissive patterns, including urination, because petting is a subtle form of asserting dominance over the dog. Petting should be avoided during submissive urination so as to avoid unintentionally encourage that behavior.
  • Walk your dog at regular and frequent intervals so that its bladder does not become too full.
  • Crouch or kneel on the floor so that you present a less intimidating figure. Standing over a dog, particularly when it lacks social confidence, can be threatening.
  • Let your dog approach you rather than moving toward your dog. This will be less menacing and will allow your dog to greet you at its own pace.
  • Punishment is not recommended because it only aggravates the problem. Punishment makes your dog more anxious and increases its tendency to urinate submissively. Further, because the urinary (and anal) sphincters may relax during times of stress, the pet may naturally void more out of fear. Your dog may learn to fear and avoid you or to anticipate punishment at social encounters.

Source: "Canine and Feline Behavior Problems"

Guarding Valued Objects

A dog can become very possessive about certain objects. Guarding (also called possessive aggression) occurs with food and variety of objects valued by the dog, including favorite toys. It also may guard inappropriate objects such as shoes or a piece of trash. Attempts to remove the object from the pet may be met with an aggressive response. It may stand over its food dish, for example, and growl when approached. The warning must not be ignored because the dog could bite.

Early signs

Guarding behavior may begin as an attention-seeking game when the dog is a puppy. You may no longer enjoy the game, however, when it persists in your adult dog. Your dog may guard objects during play to attraction your attention. This is typical of dogs that “steal” objects, often in plain view, and run off. If your dog fails to engage your attention with a particular object, it may continue to test your reaction until it discovers one that works. Though playful guarding may not progress to aggressive guarding, it should not be encouraged. Many pet owners believe that guarding food indicates a dog was deprived of food as a puppy. However, this behavior is seen in dogs that have never experienced starvation. Guarding behavior must be distinguished from social dominance because it can intensely displayed even by submissive dogs. Dominant dogs that also guard may be more intensely possessive, but many dominant dogs can be unconcerned with guarding any object of value to them.


The best way to deal with guarding behavior is to prevent it. If your dog tends to stay in the same corner or under a bed with its favorite object, block access to these hiding places. Teach your dog that giving up a possession is actually fun in the form of a game. Train it to “fetch” neutral objects (of no value to the dog) , and teach it to retrieve and return them to you. Command the dog to “sit” and “stay.” As you gently remove the object from its mouth, introduce a new command, such as “drop it” or “let go.” If you practice this frequently and offer lots of praise, the dog will associate the new phrase with relinquishing an object. After several weeks of practice, when the dog has learned the basic rules of the game, practice with a variety of objects of increasing value to the dog. Eventually, include objects that were previously guarded.

Another obedience exercise is to train the dog not to touch an object until you instruct it to do so. Place your dog in a “sit/stay” position, for example, with a food treat or toy just out of reach. Say “leave it!” as the dog maintains its position. Release the dog from this position with a command such as “okay.” You may incorporate this training as a daily ritual at meal time.

Challenge Situations

A dog will bite to guard its valued object and should not be challenged. Not matter how secure you feel with your dog under normal circumstances, do not risk injury to yourself by putting your hand or face in biting range. It may be necessary to leave the dog alone until it loses interest in the object, even if the dog may be in some danger. If your dog steals something before retraining is completed, two responses are advised:

  1. If the object is of no danger to the dog, ignore it. In this way, you are not reinforcing the behavior by paying attention to it.
  2. If the object is an obvious hazard to your dog’s health, do not panic. Calmly and without directly looking at the dog, find something of equal or greater value to the dog, such as a special food treat or even its leash. Call the dog to “come” to you and away from the object. Give no hint of anger or concern in your voice. When the dog begins to approach you, give it immediate encouragement even before it arrives at your feet. Put your dog in a “sit” position and give it a reward.

In some cases it may be effective to simply stop what you are doing and leave the room. The dog’s curiosity in your activity might exceed its interest in guarding. Be sure to remove the object, hazardous or not, as soon as possible. Place it in an inaccessible location or discard it.

Young children must never be left unattended during a dog’s feeding time or allowed to approach a dog when it is enjoying a favorite toy or treat. In such instances, you may be able to exert some control (at least long enough to remove the child or halt its progress) by applying the training you have practiced with a “leave it” command or perhaps simply calling the dog to “come” to you.

Source: "Canine and Feline Behavior Problems," Stefanie Schwartz; ASPCA

Nail Trimming

For a dog that enjoys regular outdoor activity, nail trimming may not be needed. In many cases, walking on pavement maintains a dog’s nails at an acceptable length. However, there are steps to take to ensure nail trimming isn’t an unpleasant experience for your dog:

  • Before you ever attempt to trim its nails, begin by touching its legs, feet and toes, and associate this with an activity it enjoys. When it is resting, begin petting it, gently passing your hands over its back and legs. If this is well tolerated, you may wish to give it a small food treat. Do not try to do too much the first time.
  • Gradually manipulate your pet’s foot more each time. Eventually you should be able to slip your fingers in between each toe, gently squeezing each one to flex the nail, putting gentle pressure as you hold each foot and manipulate the leg. Do not attempt this when your pet is feeling agitated or playful.
  • Once your pet tolerates having its feet touched during quiet times, you may begin to incorporate this into elements of play time. Train your dog to assume a “down/stay” position when it retrieves a ball, for example, and “shake” its paw before continuing the game.
  • Make sure not to cut into the quick, or the living portion of the nail bed that contains sensitive nerves and blood vessels. That is a painful experience for the dog, and he’ll begin to associate the trimming with bad things. If you are unsure how to trim your dog’s toenails, ask your veterinarian or technician to show you how. The nail bed is seen as a pinkish triangle at the base of a nail; however it may not be obvious in dark-colored nails.
  • There is more variety between the shape of toe nails in dogs than in cats. Some pets’ nails grow in a more curved shape as compared with those growing more parallel to the ground. This may determine how short they may be trimmed. Even a skilled professional can misjudge the depth to which a nail may be trimmed.
  • It is better to cut less than to cut more than necessary. Trim off small sections at a time and stop well short of the sensitive portion of the nail. Cut your pet’s nails frequently, a little at a time, rather than occasionally when toe nails are uncomfortable to both your pet and to you.

Source: "Canine and Feline Behavior Problems," Stefanie Schwartz

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