My dog did not come with an owner’s manual and I suspect that yours didn’t either. It’s lamentable, since most of us would probably find it helpful to have instructions on how to operate a canine in four-paw drive. How do you make it go? Does it have more than one speed? Most important, how on earth do you make it stop?!

Too often, we’re left to our own devices when it comes to living with or shaping the behavior of another creature (and that includes spouses and children), yet some people do it incredibly well. What’s their secret? Couples who have been together a long time will tell you it has a lot to do with trust, respect, and reasonable expectations of each other. But they’ll also tell you that keeping a good sense of humor and having fun together was critical in sustaining the relationship over the long haul. If they could, I think our dogs would give these observations a definite “thumbs up,” to let us know that living with and training a dog should also be about trust, respect, realistic expectations – and having some fun.

Like humans, dogs tend to be healthier and happier when they get regular exercise, and most dogs are only too happy to accompany you on a walk around the neighborhood. A half hour walk provides plenty of practice time for recalls, heeling, socialization and sits. If you walk your dog on a long line, you may log in three miles while your dog puts in six. When the dog is at the end of the leash you can call him back, provide a treat for coming and send him on his way again. When bikers, runners, or kids-on-wheels approach, call the dog to you and practice precision heeling, or put your dog on a sit/stay and focus on attention work. When traffic has cleared, reward your dog with his kibble or a special treat for a job well done.

At home, you can play hide and seek games with your dog while practicing recalls. One person holds the dog while the other person hides. The person-in-hiding calls the dog. When the dog locates the hidden owner, the prize can be a cookie, the dog’s favorite toy – or an animated game of “chase.” This activity not only reinforces recalls, but encourages the dog to think and use his senses. Friends and family can take turns calling the dog back and forth in the yard or up and down carpeted stairs. The dog’s recalls will improve and he’ll be well exercised.

Teaching a dog to stay can be a useful skill around the house and is easy to incorporate in a daily routine. Ask the dog to stay while you place his food bowl on the floor. If he gets up, the food bowl is removed. Once the dog returns to sitting, the food bowl returns to the floor and becomes the reward. When your dog wants to go outside, ask him to sit and stay first. Access to the great outdoors becomes the reward in this instance. Using tricks to train the dog is also fun and never fails to impress your friends and neighbors. The old “bone on the nose” trick is a great way to teach a dog to hold still and to develop a little self-control in the process.

Does your dog become a tornado on paws when the doorbell rings? That’s because it usually predicts an intruder on the premises. Teach the dog that the doorbell means something else, by having a friend or family member press the bell several times during a twenty-minute training session. During this time, no one enters the house. Once the dog realizes that the bell is no longer predicting intruders, it should become less meaningful and his reactions to it will decrease. When you get to this point, have someone ring the doorbell again. This is your cue to produce the most desirable food you can think of in his room, crate or bed. Does the name Pavlov sound familiar? Soon, the doorbell will predict a feast instead of an intruder, and the dog will go running to his crate to find it, eliminating the frenzy at the front door when someone comes to visit.

Dogs who greet people by launching themselves to breath-taking altitudes, need to learn “sit” as their default mode. When someone approaches they should ask the dog to sit. Only when he is sitting will he receive praise, petting or treats. Family and friends can practice this exercise by randomly calling the dog back and forth. Each time he comes to a new person, he must sit before receiving a reward, and before moving on to a new person. If your dog likes to greet friends at the door, insist that they ask for a sit before interacting with the dog. As is often the case in dog training, sometimes you have to train people before you can train the dog.

Training your dog is an art and a science, and if you find a way to make it fun and entertaining, you’re more likely to do it on a regular basis. It’s a good first step on the journey of building a life long relationship with a well-behaved dog who adores you.

by Sue Pearson

Sue Pearson has been training dogs for over 15 years and is the owner and training director of SPOT & CO. in Iowa City, IA.  SPOT & CO. was created in 1994 to promote dog-friendly training through the use of positive reinforcement, food rewards and games. Sue is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT) and a charter member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT).

For more information, please call (319) 354-0885 or email