Training Your Dog

Benevolent Leadership by Bob Bailey

"Think, plan, do, review."

Your relationship with your dog is of utmost importance, so please work on the following leadership and relationship building skills and exercises. This should be an on-going process so that your dog learns to trust your decisions and look to you for guidance rather than making his own (potentially poor) choices. Before you start to work with your reactive dog, always think through, and plan for escapes or setbacks before you venture out in the world with your dog.

Stop using any aversive methods of training.

This includes yelling at your dog -- if your dog is in conflict as to your feelings, yelling will not help your dog relax and focus on you. We want your dog to trust you, so it is very important that you build on your relationship. It is time to start making extra deposits in your dog's "relationship bank account" so that trust and your relationship can grow. This is particularly important since you will never know how many "withdrawals" it will take until your dog's account is overdrawn!

Start rewarding all good behavior, all the time.

Be sure that all members of the family join in on this. Your dog needs to choose the behaviors that will help him, and the only way he will understand which ones to choose is if you reward the things you like. Do not feel as though you always have to use food as a reward. Some dogs are just as excited about getting petted, playing with toys, or going for a walk! Find the things your dog loves, and use those for "real life" rewards.

No free food!

Your dog should get most of his meals from your hands, so use his kibble for treats and let him earn a "paycheck." This will help you establish that you really are in charge of all the things your dog wants. The same goes for toys and chew treats. Toys and chew treats should not be left around at random. Your dog should have to do something or have controlled calm time to "earn" toys and chew treats. Like the food, these should come straight from your hands when you engage your dog in play or ask him to settle down and work through some stress by chewing.

Set boundaries for your dog.

Teach your dog "Go to your mat" by rewarding him with a stuffed Kong. Tether the Kong in place so that your dog must stay on his mat in order to enjoy it. This is a great way to feed part of your dog's daily meals. It is also a useful device to use at dinner time - your dog learns that being underfoot will not pay off, but going to his mat will! Your dog should be able to see you and your family while relaxing on his mat. You can teach your dog to stay on his mat by sending him to his mat and then tossing him treats for staying there. Some great treats should happen if your dog makes the choice to "kick back" on the mat on his own. Move the mat around the house so your dog learns that being on the mat pays off all over the house.

Other boundaries you could (and should) teach your dog are waiting for permission at doorways, being calm before you put on the leash to go for a walk, or just sitting politely for anything he wants. It is time to set some new rules if you have not started already.


Help your dog by providing him with the proper amount of exercise for his body style and age. You will have a much calmer dog if he is physically tired. Look at your exercise plan as it is now, and find safe ways to increase the level of exercise and the amount of time spent exercising.

Know your dog.

Watch your dog for signs of stress, and manage the environment to control stressful triggers. Block your dog's view out of windows where he might bark at other dogs or people, put your dog away if you have company, or choose a different route if he barks/lunges at dogs in the neighborhood. These are all ways to manage your dog's environment. These efforts will help your dog succeed by not letting him practice reactive behaviors or be ambushed by things you might not expect. A successful leader will not let his/her dog get to the point of reacting by preventing known stimuli. A successful leader will be alert and will help take pressure off his/her dog so that the does not feel the need to react in the first place.

What are you "buying" with your treats?

If you reward your dog for the same behaviors all the time, you are going to find yourself stuck and feeling that your dog never listens to you unless you have treats. It is important that you learn to give your dog new challenges and only give treats when you get more or longer behaviors. Just be sure that your dog is really good at a behavior before fading the reward(s). You do need your dog to move ahead if you want to keep him thinking rather than reacting. If you never progress to higher levels, your dog might be faced with a choice such as, "I can do the sit like Mom asked, but that's boring and I always get the same old treat for that, so I think I'll bark at the dog down the street - way more fun!" If you want to prevent this situation, start fading the treats for behaviors your dog is really good at doing, or at least get more duration before giving a treat.

Of course, you will need to use treats whenever you practice in a new place or situation, since you are adding higher challenges. Chaining a few behaviors together - such as Sit, Down, Sit, Down, then reward - can get your dog really into the fun of training, because he must keep thinking to figure out what to do next. Be sure to vary the treats you use and once in a while make it a truly amazing one so that your dog will continue to "gamble" on you and the possibility of that amazing reward again. Ideas for incredible rewards: A hamburger from a fast food restaurant, an ice cream cone, the meat from a de-boned chicken, and just about anything else humans (and dogs!) love. The behavior does not have to fit the reward, but it should be something you have been working on that is important to you.

Massage your dog and reward calmness.

Get your dog in touch with his own body so that his focus is taken away from the environment. Make sure you relax as you do this so that your dog can take cues from your body language. Use "calming signals" to help your dog - yawn, lick your lips, avert your eyes, etc. Ask your trainer if you are unsure about what calming signals are and how to use them.

Do not bottle up your own stress - breathe!

Keep reminding yourself to breathe -- this will help your dog feel that you are relaxed. You will not be helping your dog if you are not thinking, are holding your breath or are shallow breathing. These are all sure ways for your body to hold onto tension, and your dog will pick up on this. Remember to smile and make your voice sound like this is just about the best game and the most fun you have ever had. Talk to your dog in your "kid voice," the same as you would talk to a small child to get him/her excited or interested in something.

Teach your dog not to give up on you!

Consistency in training cannot be stressed enough. If you have asked your dog for a behavior, some attention while training, or even a play session and your dog makes a decision that he does not want to do what you have asked, it is very important that you find a creative way to not let him off the hook. Every time you allow your dog to "blow you off" you are training your dog that he does not have to invest anything into the relationship unless he is ready. Your dog does not get to make such decisions! You will need to find fun and interesting ways to teach your dog that he does not have the option to give up on you.

Exercises - The Road to Understanding

Reminder: Always consider the placement of the treat. Get in the habit of only giving treats by your left side, with your left hand, if you are walking your dog on the left. The opposite is true if you walk your dog on the right.

Orienting Sounds

You need to get your dog to acknowledge you, especially when there might be a distraction that will send him into a reactive response. Most dogs that have learned to react have also learned to ignore their owners -- this means it is time to get them listening again!

Start with your dog on leash so he is not able to wander off if the "light bulb" does not go off right away. As with all training, start in a low-distraction setting. Choose a sound that you feel comfortable using in public and that comes naturally to you, such as a kissing sound, a whistle, or a tongue click. Make the sound then say, "Yep!" if your dog looks at you. This will tell the dog that looking at your was the correct behavior, and that because he made a good choice you will give him a treat. If you are comfortable with a clicker, use that to mark the behavior (rather than the "Yep!") and give your dog a treat. Practice the exercise 10 times in a row so that your dog starts to quickly look at you in anticipation of a treat. Then take a break and have a short play session. Once your dog catches on, remember to move around to different places so that he begins to generalize the behavior, and does not think the game only applies in your living room!

Now step it up a little and make it worth your dog's efforts to locate you. Take a few steps away from your dog and then make the sound. Once he catches up to you, say "Yep," or click, and move away again so that he must follow you to get his treat as you move. This teaches your dog to keep checking in with you and to follow your lead.

Open Bar, Closed Bar

Classical conditioning does not require your dog to "do" anything. This is the "Pavlov's Dog" effect and simply means that we want your dog to "pair" two things together. In this case, other dogs = great treats! This will be the beginning of desensitizing your dog to other dogs. Doing this repeatedly, at a distance where your dog can still think and eat, will be the beginning of the process. If your dog will not eat treats he is too close or too stressed to be able to work through the conflict. This means that you need to move your dog further away, block his view with your body, or take a break and rethink how to help your dog relax better the next time.

One way to work up to real life encounters with other dogs is to work with your dog at your front door as a cooperative dog owner walks his own dog across the street. This can be a good situation because you can always close the door if your dog appears as though he is going to react, and thereby cut off the stimulus before any reaction can begin.

Once you find the distance at which your dog will still eat treats when he sees another dog, you will "open the bar" only when there is a dog in sight, and "close the bar" as soon as the dog is gone. This will go much smoother if you have a friend (or better yet a private trainer) that can bring a control dog, one that you know for sure will not react and set your dog off. If you can get a number of passes in so that your dog starts to make the association that other dogs mean treats, you can have the control dog move a couple of feet closer. It is your job as a successful leader to be aware of your dog's body language, so make sure to watch for signs of stress. Also be sure that your dog is still eating treats; this is a very reliable indicator that you have not let the other dog get too close.

Always end with a success. If you can get a couple of good passes in with your dog taking great treats, it is time to stop and plan for the next round. Please keep the class trainers informed about your progress and any potential concerns.

(Thanks to Jean Donaldson for her "Open Bar, Closed Bar" concept.)

Leadership Leash Walking

One of the reoccurring themes with many Feisty Fidos is a lack of leash walking skills. When your dog has learned to pull ahead on leash, he has learned to ignore you and then has the opportunity to make some poor decisions. Essentially, you end up allowing the environment to train your dog.

Too often the Feisty Fidos walk on leash straining on his collar. Quite frankly, this is pretty uncomfortable for the dog. That uncomfortable feeling can become associated with other dogs fairly quickly, and it does not take long for your dog to become "leash aggressive," especially if you have added to the dog's conflict by jerking on the leash, doing corrections, becoming angry, or simply by holding your breath. Some or all of this can signal your dog that something is wrong, and to his mind, surely it must be the other dogs' fault because these negative things happen only when another dog is around.

Once the situation has reached this point, you have ceased being a good leader for your dog. The good news is, you can regain control simply by teaching your dog that it is his job to follow you or stay by you at all times. If he does so, not only will he earn great rewards, but your attention is an added bonus.

Here's how you do it:

Your dog must be convinced that being near you is a positive experience, and that everything else is neutral. You are not trying to go for a real walk at this point, as your dog needs as few distractions as possible until he learns what you are looking for him to do. You will also work on a very short leash, about 4 feet in length. You may want to put a knot in your leash to remind you where to hold the leash.

From the moment the leash is attached to your dog's collar (for extra control, this work should be done with the Sense-Ation harness or Gentle Leader head halter), your dog needs to understand that you are not going to follow him any longer. He needs to learn that it is now his job to follow you. Your dog's job is to keep up with you and to check in repeatedly.

Start each training session with a few seconds of petting and touching and talking nicely to your dog. This is a good time for you to take some deep breaths in order to relax. When you use petting for bonding or for rewards you should get down on your dog's level so that it will be extra gratifying for your dog. Be sure not to over-stimulate your dog with touch. All petting should be slow, massage-like touches -- no pounding or roughing up your dog's fur.

Once you have had your bonding session, it is time for your dog to "follow the leader." In order to prompt your dog to follow, you will most often be moving away from him. Each time your dog takes a step one direction, you will counter that step by going a different direction. At the same time, watch your dog for any attention he offers you, including eye contact or releasing pressure off the leash. You might have to give your dog encouragement to follow you by making kissing sounds, patting your leg, or using a few short whistles. You may also need to step in front of your dog to block his view if he is having a hard time catching on or is overly focused on the surrounding environment.

When your dog catches up with you or makes eye contact, reward him with a little session of petting or a food treat. Be sure you are relaxed and smiling, and talk to your dog. Remember, we are trying to convince your dog that being with you is really a good thing! You should not work with your dog if you feel stressed or anxious.

During this training exercise, you will not move around much. Simply shifting your body away from your dog each time he pulls on the leash, while taking a step or two away will suffice.

The purpose of Leadership Leash Walking is to ask your dog to check in with you rather than letting him drag you along for the ride. Leash walking should be a team activity and look more like a dance rather than a sled-dog race!

As you practice Leadership Leash Walking, you will need to adjust the intensity of the movement for your dog's personality and activity level. You want to keep your movement fluid and set a good rhythm with your dog, but do not move quickly enough that he becomes over-excited to the point of arousal. This is very important - you must very aware of your dog's thresholds. Some dogs need very quick, exciting movements, and some need slow and methodical ones; whichever you use, be sure to watch your dog at all times and adjust your pace if needed.

Please do not worry that your dog is not getting to go anywhere. This is hard work and your dog will not only get physical exercise, but a good deal of mental exercise as well! During the Leadership Leash Walking exercise there should be no pressure on the dog to walk with you. Do not pull, jerk, or get upset if he has trouble with this the first few times. Just keep encouraging him to follow. At first, you may need to simply stand still and wait for your dog to make a connection if he is too distracted.

You are building a new relationship with your dog through this exercise, through refusing to go where your dog wants to drag you. All you must remember is to be a good leader, and to pay off when your dog lets you make the decisions.

Be sure to watch your dog for "calming signals" such as sniffing the ground, yawning, or lip licking. This is your cue to move your dog away more, or to do a quick petting session to help get him become connected again. Remember, the idea is for your dog to eventually be able to look to you to relieve any pressure he may feel, so start building trust by recognizing when your dog is trying to resolve conflicts.

Through teaching your dog Leadership Leash Walking, you tell him through your actions that you are aware of the surroundings and the environment, and that you will be able to provide relief if he feels too much pressure. All of this will help keep your dog's adrenaline level down, which lets him think when you ask him for attention or behaviors.

Leadership Leash Walking should be done a couple of times each day, in sessions no longer than 3-10 minutes in length. The length should be determined by your dog's level of stress. Working with a hungry dog will help this along faster! You know your dog is ready to move to the next level when you can't get away from your dog, when he starts to follow you everywhere even when the training session is over.

Level II

Once you have your dog's attention and he is willing to follow you and consistently checks in, you can start doing this exercise with some distractions. You can place a toy in the area where you will be working and then bring your dog toward that toy at a distance where your dog will not be able to reach the toy or become so distracted that he cannot think.

Like the first level of Leadership Leash Walking, your dog will need to continue following you even when there are things that might trigger him to explore. After you have had a number of successful tries at approaching the toy, move to a different area.

Then move the toy to different areas as you feel your dog understands what his "job" is when around the distraction. In other words, the rules are the same. If your dog pulls, you are going to change directions and encourage him to follow along. As a bonus reward, you might let your dog have the toy when you are ready to finish the session, but you need to pick up the toy and hand it to your dog. Your dog should never be allowed to dive for a toy -- it should always come from you.

Keep working to add more distractions. Once you feel that your dog is really focused on you during distractions, you can start adding the Leadership Leash Walking to real life; at the front door where your dog barks is a good place to start. Begin with no distractions, practice the exercise, and then add ringing the doorbell, or someone walking by outside. Keep at a comfortable distance from where your dog normally reacts, and then slowly move closer as he does not react.

You can also start to practice with walking in straight lines, but remember to change directions if your dog starts to pull.

You can eventually practice off-leash in the house or yard. Just keep turning and moving away from your dog and any time he moves to catch up with you, nice rewards happen.

When you feel that you can do a fairly long session, you can try taking it on the road, so to speak. For safety's sake, be sure to use your Gentle Leader or Sense-Ation harness. It is very important to remember that it is now your job to move your dog away from conflicts, and it is his job to check in with you.

Remember to take each step of this process as slow as your dog needs; please do not rush. You are making a promise to your dog that you will protect him, so make sure you can keep that promise by not putting your dog in a situation where he might react because your work was not completed yet. Building a strong foundation is the key to your dog understanding what to do; do not try to go faster than your dog is able to handle.

Moving too quickly could send you all the way back to square one, so always work at a distance that keeps your dog in the thinking mode while leaving the decision making up to you!

Feisty Fido "Wait!"

You never truly know if or when you will be surprised by something that startles your dog into a reaction. For this reason, it is important to have your dog on cue to "Wait" until you give permission to continue with a behavior.

This is a good exercise to use when getting out of cars, before you go out the door, at curbs, putting your dog's food bowl down, etc. It is a very simple exercise to teach your dog, and you can practice it just about anywhere. "Wait" also teaches your dog to check in with you more regularly; this is one of the on-going goals of the Feisty Fido class.

Remember to start simple by beginning this training in locations without triggers that might excite your dog. Some potential problem areas are going through doors to the outside or preparing to jump out of the car.

It will be necessary to build up to harder, more distracting locations by making sure your dog really understands what you want. Remember, you do not want to move to quickly to places that will be too difficult for your dog. It is always better to start in an easy place, so that when you consciously add distractions both you and your dog will be successful.

Here's how to do it:

Put your dog on a short leash and pick a point on the floor where you would like your dog to stop. It helps to imagine that the point you picked is actually a cliff - if your dog does not stop you will both go over the edge!

Walk forward (on a loose leash, of course) and announce, "Wait" at the point you have chosen. Now it is your dog's turn to figure out what you want. It is important that you remain quiet and wait for your dog to release any tension off of the leash. Also remember not to repeat the "Wait" cue. It may take some time, and you yourself will need to be prepared to wait. After a bit, your dog will finally turn toward you, wondering why you stopped and why you are not saying anything more.

Once your dog turns to look at you AND the leash is loose, you will click or say "Yep!" and give a treat to indicate that your dog has made the correct choice. It is then that you will give permission to move forward by saying "Okay!" in a cheerful voice.

Once your dog has successfully done this 5-10 times, move to a different location and do it again. After your dog is really good at this (he is good at it when he can do it in many places with distractions), you may begin to make "real life" the reward rather than giving treats all the time. In other words, when your dog "waits" he will be rewarded by the front door opening, or he will be allowed to get out of the car, or he will continue with his walk after "Waiting." Be sure to give treats now and again, just to keep your dog guessing what his reward will it be this time!

Upping the Ante:

Once you have successfully added "real life" rewards, it is time to start adding duration and more distractions. This will keep your dog "playing" the game with you. You are therefore upping the ante, so to speak.

One way to up the ante is to start waiting a little longer between when your dog "Waits" and when you click or say "Yep!" You may also wait for your dog to sit and make eye contact beforehand, or you can have a favorite toy or food on the floor as a distraction. Whatever you add, be sure to do it differently each time. This helps your dog keep paying attention, and prevents him from making the choice to stop playing the game -- if it becomes boring and routine, he will stop wanting to play.


When you add new criteria or raise the bar for your dog's training, such as when you add distractions or increase the duration, you must resume using higher value rewards such as yummy bits of food. You will only have to do this until your dog figures out that you are playing the same game though the picture may have become somewhat different.

If you add duration or distractions and your dog seems to be really struggling with trying to figure it out, or is offering all kinds of other behaviors instead, you have probably moved to the next step too quickly. In this case, go back and build the foundation more firmly, and then more forward again.

Be sure to keep training sessions short (30 seconds to 3 minutes in length). Give your dog breaks in between by engaging in brief play or petting sessions before going back to do another training session.