Training Basics

Dogs are not mind readers, and I see many owners expecting too much out of them as a result. I have been guilty of this myself and have to remind myself of this important fact. Your dog cannot tell what you want unless you make it clear to the dog.

If you allow your dog to ‘just grow up’ without training, the dog will behave like a small child who has had no parenting. Dog ownership is a great responsibility and requires time and consistency. Your dog has to be taught what is expected of him. What you will find is that when you complete these steps, is that your trained dog will be a mentally healthy dog that stands out and works for you.

Your dog’s education begins the moment you bring him home. The best thing you can do for your dog is to train him, at least in the fundamentals.

Training for You the Human!

  • Ideally, training should be done daily for about 15 minutes; if you skip more than a day, you will be starting over.
  • Only one person should train the dog. It cannot be a “family affair.” After the dog is training, others can then issue commands.
  • Remember that you definitely can teach old dogs new tricks. Yogi, my first dog who learned 36 tricks with hand signals alone, was 3 years old when I began training him.
  • If you start with a puppy who is about 6 or so months old, you will have an easier time because the puppy will not have established  habits.
  • Remember your voice– you are an authority to your dog, and you will use emotion in your voice accordingly. Do not ask him–command him.
  • Always use the same tone of voice for the same things. Remember that dogs cannot understand language even though they appear as though they do, so use your tone of voice!
  • Throughout training, continually praising, petting and rewarding your dog is necessary. If you do not use treats, your dog will not learn. If you give treats only sometimes, your dog will not learn. If you never praise your dog or pet him or  her, your dog will not learn. You must give continual praise, petting and treats.
  • If  you rush, or try to do something else during training, you will confuse your dog and she will not learn.
  • Stay with the current lesson, over and over, until your dog has mastered it.
  • Every day, review what your dog knows before training a new thing.

Health & Love

Health and unconditional love are the conditions that underlie everything else. Unfortunately, what I hear most often from other dog owners is how their dog plots against them, is mad at them, etc. These are human behaviors, not dog behaviors. Your dog will attempt to understand you and give you what he believes you want. As your relationship grows  with your dog, he will become quite good at figuring out what you mean and want, using his other senses. However, make no mistake–dogs struggle to understand spoken language. They try hard to do it, but end up taking their cues from other sources, such as how you feel, what you do with your hands, etc. They are not pre-wired to learn and respond to spoken language as we are (this makes all the difference). When they disobey you it will come from misunderstanding only, not outright defiance.

When you get a dog, you take on a big responsibility. Your dog should come to learn what is expected of him, and what his place is in your home. Given that he will become a service dog, your dog will likely be with you “24/7.” However, there are two things more important than training: doggie health, and kindness from you. The big 3 are Health, Kindness and Training. If you have a child, especially a young child, your child will have to be taught how to interact with the dog. Children have to be atught to respect the dog or the dog will become either whimpering and cowering, or mean. It is of utmost importance that no one yells at the dog and no one spanks the dog.

Guarding your dog’s health should be paramount. All dogs have to be vaccinated by law, and for a good reason–disease spread. Dogs get most of the same diseases as humans, with the rabies virus being most virulent. Dogs can, and do, get other viruses–herpes viruses, parvovirus, etc. and the vaccination available largely inoculate your dog against most killer diseases. Your dog should be parasite-free, meaning that your vet will test your dog to determine the presence, or absence, of parasites.

Make sure your dog always has clean water, and that means washing the water dish every other day or so. These dishes rapidly grow pathogens and will infect your dog. Change the water often, and clean the dish every other day.

Fleas? If you have carpeting, you need do nothing to the dog. Fleas do not live on your dog most of the time. They live in the carpeting. So, use 20-mule-team borax–dust your carpeting lightly with borax and the fleas will be gone in a few days. Borax is a natural powder and will not hurt you, your family members or your pets.


A service dog needs grooming often, usually twice per month or in some cases every week. We groom our own dogs (Lennie has poodle hair that grows and does not fall out). He does need those weekly baths. If you can afford it, there are people who will come to your house to groom your dog, or if possible, travel to a grooming salon. When Lennie hears the bathtub being filled, he hides. We have to find him and carry him to the tub, but once in the tub, he is fine.

Toenails need to be kept clipped as well. Dogs generally do not like this, and Lennie pulls his leg back from us when we attempt to clip the nails. If you look carefully, you can see the quick of the nail and avoid it. We stick with it until he gives in, though he still dislikes it.

To Come When Called

The first command to teach your dog is to come to you when called, but this is after the ‘big 3:’ HEALTH, KINDNESS &  TRAINING.  Before this, however, focus on potty training, which is easy using the right puppy pads.

Rewards are vital in training, as well as small treats that your dog can eat quickly (I break up dog biscuits). When I worked with my dog, Yogi, I bought T-bone dog biscuits, and broke each one into 3 parts (the T). That worked great. There are now many treats on the market, and luckily Lennie likes the less expensive ones best.

To come when called. You will need a collar and a long rope (maybe 15 feet or more). Attach the rope to the dog collar and sit and wait for your dog to wander away. When that happens, say his name, and “come here” (“Lennie, come  here”), while gently pulling the leash or rope. Continue saying the same things, the same way, while pulling and when he completes his trip to you, reward him with the treat and praise him lavishly. REMEMBER: REPETITION IS PARAMOUNT. The hand signal is your palm turned up, making the gesture to come while saying “(dog name), come here.” You will repeat this many times daily until your dog begins to respond without pulling him. Remember to never punish your dog and never abuse him. Always reward. Punishment and/or no reward will make him not want to come to you.

How To Be Friendly

Your dog will need to be trained to be indifferent to other dogs. I recently spoke with someone who really admired Lennie’s ability to sit quietly until told what to do next. He said I am very fortunate to own Lennie, and wanted to know where he could get such a dog. He said that he had a mixed breed who was really stupid–that the dog jumped on everyone, was not completely housebroken, chased other dogs and chewed everything in sight. He asked me if I thought the dog would outgrow these stupid things, or she he get another dog, and if so, what type should he get?

I used tactful restraint when I told him that his dog just needed training and he could get such training at just about any PetSmart or PETCO, or in another place. There are many very talented dog trainers available. However, I really felt sorry for this poor dog. He is not the only dog that falls victim to such treatment from humans. This neglect is way too common in homes around the world.

Dogs usually jump on humans at first before they are trained to not do that. Lennie waits until I say it is OK, but here is what I did–I grabbed his front paws and gently shoved him back a little, saying ‘no’ in a stern voice. When he sat down, I returned to the loving voice and he got the picture. Some people step lightly on the dogs rear paws, but that may not be necessary. If you do it, be sure you only tap their back paws.

To train your dog to be indifferent to other dogs is necessary for many reasons, but a service dog especially needs that indifference. You will use something called behavior shaping, which is creating a list of small approximations to the goal. Please see Training Tip #3.

Doggie Basics

Dogs get ideas, and their humans need much patience. Get a collar for your dog and a long leash, and get dog treats, preferably very small ones. We use treats that we break up so that Lennie gets his treat but does not dwell on eating it. If you spank or yell at your dog, you may break her spirit and possibly make the dog into a mean dog. Lennie is now 6 years old and I have never seen him angry or upset. I intervene first, usually by petting him, holding him, etc.

Chewing is basic to all dogs up through age 2 or so. I learned this lesson again when I replaced several reference books with new editions, for about $200 per book, and put the books on the floor. Lennie proceeded to chew the covers! I learned quickly to give him lots of toys and balls, and that did it. He never again chewed things of mine and he still loves his toys. If he had returned to my books or switched to shoes or something else, I would hold him close to the book, shoe, or whatever it is and say ‘no, no, no’ sternly, then give him his toy and say ‘goooood dog!’ sweetly in the presence of the toy. That gets the point across quickly. I have used this on several dogs through the years and it works beautifully. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SPANK YOUR DOG, AND IF YOU DO, YOUR DOG WILL ONLY LEARN THAT YOU ARE DANGEROUS AND FAIL TO SEE THE CONNECTION BETWEEN SPANKING AND CHEWING. Do it the way I described, and definitely deprive the dog of things you cherish.

Cold Climate

Doggie sweaters are available wherever pet items are sold. Do not leave your dog outside overnight and do not allow your dog to be unattended. Dogs get themselves into all sorts of trouble when left outside, and often are either stolen or hit by a car. Another common problem is they learn to get into garbage cans and eat rotten food. Do not let that become a habit. Lennie wears a sweater all through the winter, and always stays indoors until we take him on walks. Lennie shivers when he is cold, so we limit his outdoor exposure when the temperature is below 40 or so.

How to Walk (heel)

How to walk with you, not in front or behind you, is basic. You will need a dog collar and a leash, and the goal is to walk beside you, not in front or behind you. At first, walk in your house. Your dog will likely go ahead of you, and when that happens, say sternly “heel!” while you pull him back to you. I urge you to walk so that the dog is between you and a wall or furniture so that there is just enough room for the dog. Another thing I do is put my legs in front of Lennie (he likes to go ahead). When he does what you want, reward him with the treat, and for this, there is no hand signal. Being on leash will be the signal. Remember: reward, reward, reward!

Training Tips to master before training.

OK, if your dog is potty trained, has visited the vet and has a clean bill of health, and has acclimated to you and your family, you are ready to start. If you have a puppy, you would start at about 6-8 months of age, but remember that all dogs can be trained at any age (the “old dogs & new tricks” thing is a fallacy). Hollywood, when they need a dog for a motion picture, visit the local places to find the dog that best fits what they envision for the movie. They then get that dog, and take it to a dog trainer to train the dog. These are most often adult dogs. Do you remember Benji? Rin -Tin-Tin? These dogs were trained as adults, as are many dogs in commercials.

Perhaps the most important thing for you to understand is that your dog needs simple reward training. You will always have dog treats in your pocket or in a container that is easily accessible. Regardless of how long you have your dog or how many years he is old, you will always reward him with a small treat and a pleasurable tone of voice (Good Dog!!). He will not understand the words so much, but he will definitely get the tone of your voice, your body language and your smells. Successful training cannot be accomplished without this continuous reward system. Never fail to give him some reward, and never fail to praise him with your soothing voice, after everything he does for you. During training, you must talk to your dog continually, repeating the same things over and over, especially when learning new things. Use your voice in an encouraging way, petting him and praising him with the delivery of the small treat. After your dog masters any module, such as coming when called, you still give him the treat and praise.

Do these things:

  • no smoking or drinking during training
  • your dog should be trained by only one person, even if you end up hiring a trainer.
  • make sure the environment is free of distractions–noise, food cooking, etc.
  • make sure your dog is fed before training
  • learned ‘tricks’ should be reviewed often–several times per week
  • always use the same words in the same tone of voice–DO NOT DEVIATE–Dog training tip: you must be direct with your dog. Ignoring him, saying long sentences to explain “why” or “why not” will never work. You must stick with very basic commands and say them the same way every time, using emotion in your voice to convey approval or disapproval.
  • you will also use hand signals, which I will give you, because your dog will respond to hand signals even better than voice (remember–they have great difficulty understanding human voice)
  • when your dog tires during training, stop and do not resume until the next day
  • you dog may well be able to do something today and not be able to do it tomorrow. This is part of learning. I will help you with that.
  • you will teach your dog some ‘tricks’ that are not essential, but the act of learning them will make him much more likely to learn the next one. Lennie was slow at first, but when he got the hang of training, he now actually comes up with new things himself. Not all dogs do that, but I can tell you that, as time goes on, your dog will learn easier and easier with each subsequent trick.