Come, Sit, Play: A Primer in Dog Behavior


From the day my mother said yes to my incessant begging for a dog to this day, rarely have I been without at least one hound by my side. They come everywhere with me. When I accept a dog-client to stay in my house versus housesitting in theirs, they become part of my pack and also come with me everywhere. How is that determined? By how well they behave within my urban life.

Frequent visitor and friend 'Jack'

You can train most puppies or adult rescues in six months. It may seem like a long time in your busy schedule, but remember the effort you put in will reward you for a decade maybe longer. Or you may struggle for years, rehearsing the same commands over and over, with poor results until you give up, and the dog is kept home, in the backyard, isolated when friends come, fitted with hurtful gadgets because you do not have control.

I use positive methods. Rewarding what I want and mostly ignoring what I don’t want. I may give a verbal cue letting the dog know that what the dog did is not what I need, but I do not yell, intimidate, or threaten. My goal is to have trust, love, and mutual respect. For example I asked Baruch to move from the drivers seat to the back seat of our truck. She went to the passenger’s seat and looked at me. I said “uh-uh,” get in the back (the tone did not change) as soon as she went back,  I said YES. She circled her bed and plopped down. If she didn’t know what I wanted, I would have either helped her or made it  into a 5 minute training lesson, throwing treats in her bed in back, holding her collar, “ready, steady, go, YES!” Making it a game.

Make it a game. Dogs love games. And they can pickup on, and match your energy. Happy fun human = Happy fun dog ready to learn and try.

You do not need to be the pack leader. Let me make one thing absolutely clear: dogs do not want to take over the planet.

  • Know what you want from your dog.
  • Be clear, consistent and calm.
  • Make a plan before each training session and keep them between 5 to 15 minutes.
  • Be playful.
  • Enroll in a beginning class.
  • Positive does not mean permissive.

Some dogs have serious behavior problems. Those need to be addressed by a professional behaviorist. Not by a beginning obedience teacher. Not by your dog walker who is “so good with dogs.” Not by using hurtful methods because you are desperate. Call a licensed professional.

Books and people I recommend:

Control Unleashed.  Leslie Mc Dewitt MLA, CDBC, CPDT is a certified dog behavior consultant.  She teaches in the Philadelphia. She published a book describing her training, ‘Control Unleashed’. Greta Kaplan, CPDT, CDBC,  teaches Control Unleashed in the Portland area.

Patricia  McConnell. Any of her books and pamphlets, but for those of you with a rescue dog, definitely read her new book ‘Love Has No Age Limit’. Her blog and website.

Susan Garrett. She is a world renowned dog-sports trainer. You can find free tips/video clips and the very very best webinar on recalls. (the ‘come’ command). She’s positive, funny, has trained all breeds. Really a great trainer. Check out her books and videos too.

Here are my “can’t do without” commands: watch me, come, wait, down, sit, go to your bed. Just with those six commands you lives together can be so much easier. You can find classes to help you train all the basic commands. One word of caution: if your dog/puppy is small do not let  larger dogs overwhelm/scare/bully your companion. You are the one who has to step in to prevent injuries–always.

See you out back…

Tip of the day: try to remember to talk to your dog instead of pulling him in different directions. A simple “this way”, “stop”, “wait” is more respectful and a good way to build trust.