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Helping Your Dog ‘Win’: Training Tools and Tips


Training is an essential part of raising a happy, well-adjusted puppy. Training takes patience and commitment. It can be challenging, but done properly it’s also rewarding and fun. Training is an invaluable bonding experience; good training will create and sustain a positive, powerful relationship with your fur baby.

Max was trained right from puppy-hood.

The key is to make everything in your relationship with your dog a “win-win.” For instance, if you ask your dog to “come” to you after playing at the dog park, to your dog the “come” command means “fun is over.”  This makes your relationship a “win-lose”; you win, and your dog loses. Your dog will grasp this—and he or she will not obey next time.

What should you do instead to help your dog win? Have a high-value treat or toy when you call your dog in from playing. This creates a win-win! Better still, call your dog regularly during play and then let him go back to playing. This solidifies the win-win relationship, as play becomes a reward in and of itself.

Are You Making These Common Training Mistakes?

  • Giving too much freedom too soon
  • Setting no limits in house or yard
  • Not using confinement or boundaries inside the house
  • Letting the dog off leash outside in open areas
  • Free feeding, feeding too much, or feeding people food

The best diets are prescription diets, which have decades worth of science and research behind their formulations and are guaranteed to contain the exact ingredients on the label. Commercial food brands do not hold themselves to such high standards. We like Royal Canin and Science Diet; both offer numerous options for your dog’s age, size, breed, and unique lifestyle.

Did you know? Dogs are omnivores; they only need protein as about a quarter (26% or less) of their diet. Treats should make up no more than 10% of their daily calorie intake. If your dog is not finishing his meals, you are feeding too much! Leave your dog’s food down for 15 minutes; then pick it up. If your dog will not eat his food without people food mixed in, your dog has trained you.

And the #1 Training Mistake Is…

Using punishment as a training technique. This includes raising your voice or letting your emotions get the best of you. Even if you “do not mean it,” if you get frustrated and yell, your dog will learn to be afraid of you, which will hurt your bond and negatively impact his ability to train.

Punishment teaches what not to do…but not what you want your dog to do. Your dog wants to make you happy! He can’t do that if he gets punished for “bad” behavior, which is often just a puppy mistake. Help him be the best dog he can be by encouraging good behavior. Positive reinforcement, with high-value treats and toys and lots of praise, is the only training technique that works.

Essential Training Tools

Win-win puppy training creates a strong bond for life.

First things first: A proper-size crate for sleeping, eating, and when pet parents aren’t home. Your dog’s crate is his safe space and quiet haven—never use the crate for punishment! Read our in-depth article on crate-training.

Before you begin training, make sure your dog has these essentials…

  • A variety of toys and chewable items
  • Puzzle toys and Kong toys filled with frozen peanut butter
  • Ideally a private, fenced-in backyard
  • A proper collar with an ID, worn at all times
  • A proper leash: traditional, gentle leader, or harness

Invisible fences are not recommended for front yards; since they are not a physical barrier, they cannot prevent other dogs from venturing onto your property and cannot actually keep your dog from leaving.

Simple Tips for Win-Win Training

Have your dog sit to get anything valuable: meals, treats, attention, to come inside, to go outside, etc. “Sit” is the way your dog says “please.”

Teach alternative behaviors to replace undesirable ones. Again, this all goes back to positive reinforcement.

Give lots of treats and praise. When your puppy makes a mistake, stay calm. Training should be a non-emotional interaction. If your puppy makes the wrong choice, guide him into making the right choice…and then reward it!

Are you having any of these specific training issues? Read our articles on…

Adapted from Take Control But Don’t Lose Control: Help for People With Dogs That Are Excellent Human Trainers by Michele Godlevski, Certified Canine Behavior Consultant.