My Dog Training Steps To Success

My Dog Training Steps To Success

Every dog trainer and owner has their own methods on how they train their dogs. In my household, there are few concepts I consider essential for success because they help create a solid foundation to build upon. When I see undesired or problematic behavior arise in a dog’s daily life – more often than not – one of these pieces are missing from the puzzle:

Consistent Routine & Rules

Clear and defined rules help set daily routine expectations.

Fulfill Biological Requirements

A bored dog with pent up energy will find something to occupy its time with if productive outlets are not provided.

Positive Reinforcement

Rewarding good behavior will increase the likelihood of the behavior occurring again!

Strong Working Relationship

A strong relationship between the pet parent and their dog is a vital component to improving and maintaining better behavior.

Incompatible Behaviors

Training desirable behaviors that are incompatible to undesired behaviors teaches the dog appropriate ways to gain access to what they want.

If these five steps are used in everyday life when living with their dog, there will be a reduction in unwanted behaviors! In fact, I practice these concepts in my personal dogs’ lives and they are incredibly valuable to maintain control over a multi-dog household.


Household Rules

Every household has their own set of rules to keep life going as smooth as possible. Additionally, rules help define expectations and, if consistently maintained, house rules help prevent unwanted behaviors.

The rules in my house for my dogs are likely very different from your rules in your house. Every person has their own limitations on what they allow and don’t allow within their home. Below are the rules I consistently maintain every day unless stated otherwise:

Dogs are confined at night and when no one is home.

All of my dogs are confined during the night and when I am not home. My adult dogs are gated in the hallway and my puppy is put in a crate. This is done to prevent my dogs from participating in behaviors that are problematic to me or that are unsafe.

It is not uncommon for puppies to get into things they shouldn’t, or to destroy furniture in boredom. I do not want to test these limits and prefer to crate my German Shorthaired Pointer puppy, Quest, when supervision cannot be provided.

My Border Collie, Pica, will jump all over furniture and onto the windows if it is raining. Many times he becomes frantic and begins to destroy furniture in the house. Confining him to the hallway helps prevent this from happening because I’ll admit… I often forget to check the weather.

My American Bully, Loki, will rush up to the front door, wedge his big head between the blinds, and assertively bark if solicitors or deliveries arrive at the front door. When I am home, I can easily prevent this behavior, but that is not possible when I am not around. Confining him in the hallway helps prevent this as well.

Dogs are not allowed in my bedroom.

The main reason for this rule is because I cannot guarantee my dogs will stay off my bed. I have a low height bed which makes it very easy for the dogs to jump in and I do not want to have dogs in my bed!

One reason is because I do not sleep with my dogs in my bed. (Nor do I have any interest in sleeping with them at night.) I am a light sleeper, but I get hot very easily and having 3 large dogs in bed with me sounds uncomfortable. Sleep is very valuable to me and I do not want that disturbed.

There is only one exception to this rule - I allow Pica to sleep on his bed in my bedroom when there is a storm at night. Otherwise, he would cry all night and keep me up all night.

Dogs do not go out of the front door unless on a leash.

I have trained my adult dogs to understand they are not to walk out the front door when it is open without a leash. I trained them to follow this rule because there are times I need to carry items in/out of my house without worrying about my dogs running out of the house.

The leash signifies they are able to walk out of the front door with me. This is something that takes a long time to train and form into a habit. Quest is not successful at this at the moment and needs more work but he will get there!

Dogs are to wait at their stations for meal time.

Obnoxious beggars, barkers, and jumpers around food drives me mental because it is rude, many times unsafe, and can cause conflict or arousal issues if there are other dogs present in the house.

All of my dogs have their designated eating locations. Pica eats in the hallway, Loki eats in the kitchen, and Quest eats in his crate. Each dog has been trained to sit their eating location and wait for their food to be delivered to them. This eliminates begging, barking, and jumping for food from even happening.

Dogs must be calm and quiet to say "hello" to visiting guests.

We do not get visitors at my house often. However, when we do, all of my dogs get very excited when a visitor arrives, and that's ok! During this time, they all remain in their confinement space until they calm down. Once they are calm, which usually takes 5 to 10 minutes, they are allowed to say hello.

Doing this helps ensure my dogs do not participate in problematic behaviors when greeting my guests. When my dogs are very excited to see the new visitor, they are more likely to jump onto my guests and this is a behavior I do not want my dogs practicing.

Waiting a few minutes for my dogs to calm down greatly reduces the chances of their over excitement exploding into jumps and knocking over my guests!

Dogs are not allowed in the kitchen while I am cooking.

I have trained my adult dogs to stay out of the kitchen when I am cooking meals. I am clumsy, I trip over things easily, and I also drop things often. This is to help prevent me from tripping over them and spilling hot food on top of them.

Another added bonus of this rule is that it helps prevent counter surfing and the begging behavior that I find annoying.

In addition to the consistent rules I have for my dogs – there are specific rules for the humans living within the home as well. All doors to spare rooms within my house are to remain closed, all shoes are to be put in the closet, no food is to be left out on counter or table tops, and all trash belongs in the trash can. This is to prevent all dogs from getting into something they shouldn’t be messing with.


Fulfill Biological Requirements

Problem behaviors often stem from under stimulated dogs. Every dog has their own unique requirements for mental and physical stimulation. It is important to meet these individual needs every day if you do not want your dog to display unwanted behavior.

Physical Exercise

One of the best ways of preventing unwanted behaviors is to make sure your dog is physically exercised every day. All of my dogs receive a daily walk throughout the neighborhood. However, this may not be sufficient for all dogs.

Quest receives more physical exercise in comparison to Pica and Loki because he has a lot more energy. We regularly play toy games, such as fetch and tug. Additionally, we are currently doing tracking training, and go on multiple field trips a week in addition to daily leash walks.

During the summertime, we have more flexibility. Therefore, we take weekly trips to the local off leash dog pond for the dogs to swim.

Mental Enrichment

Puzzle toys and enrichment opportunities are a way to help a dog develop problem-solving skills by stimulating the mind. Additionally, mental enrichment helps decrease excessive energy and unwanted behaviors because these activities reduce boredom!

I provide one mental enrichment opportunity to my dogs a day. There are many options to choose for mental enrichment and I try to change it up as much as possible. I rotate between dehydrated chew treats, stuffed KONGs, puzzle toys, and nosework games.

Free Play & Outdoor Time

I think it is very important for a dog to have the opportunity to simply be a dog. All of my dogs have a time in their daily routine that allows for free play and outdoor time. Pica and Loki have their time together every day, while Quest has a seperate free play time.

My puppy and adult dogs do not have total free time together because my adult dogs deserve time away from puppy behavior. Puppies are annoying to adult dogs and it is not fair to expect adult dogs to spend all hours with a very young puppy. Especially when there is a very large age gap between the adult dogs and puppy.

Pica is 12 years old and Loki is 7 years old which is much older than Quest, who is soon to be 7 months old. Allowing separate free play and outdoor time for my adult dogs and puppy helps reduce the possibility of conflict.

However, Pica and Quest have developed a very strong relationship. I do allow Pica and Quest to have free play and outdoor time together 2 to 3 times a week, but nothing more.


Positive Reinforcement

In order for dogs to continue to offer behaviors we find desirable, we need to reinforce the behaviors we like to see and the good behaviors we are teaching the dog. Every dog will have their own unique preference to what they find highly rewarding.

All of my dogs are unique in their individual preferences for reinforcement. I use their individual preferences to my advantage to teach them that they will receive access to these rewards when I see the behaviors I like. Even if I am not actively training my dogs, I am still mindful to provide some sort of reinforcement when I see good behavior because this will increase the likelihood of those good behaviors happening again.

Food Rewards

Food is a primary reinforcer to all species because life cannot be sustained without food. Many dogs are food motivated and it is the easiest form of reinforcement anyone can provide to their dog.

All of my dogs are food motivated! However, there is a noticeable difference between their food motivation. Loki is my most food motivated dog as he is a walking garbage disposal and will virtually do backflips for any crumb of food. Quest is my second most food motivated dog who is very eager to work for food, but does have hesitations when presented with something he has never eaten before. Pica is my least food motivated dog. In order to receive a lot of effort in training, he requires very tasty treats such as boiled chicken.

I do not keep food on or near me at all times. I mostly use food rewards when I am working on an active training session with my dogs. Othweise, I use some other form of reinforcement for good behavior outside of training.

Toy Play

Toys engage a dog’s predatory drive and this can be used to reward good behavior. Fetch and tugging are great toy activities for dogs who naturally enjoy chasing and pulling on items.

Only two of my dogs are toy motivated and the other couldn't care less. Quest is my most toy motivated dog. He loves to play fetch, tug toys, and chase the flirt pole! Loki has some toy motivation and only likes to play fetch and does not actively engage in other toy games. Pica does not have any toy motivation.

I use toys in active training sessions, physical exercise, and daily life. I am able to use fetch and tug as reinforcement in training which also brings in a level of physical exercise. Additionally, it is easy for me to grab a dog toy in my house to reward with a quick toss for fetch when I see a desirable behavior.

Physical Affection, Praise, & Play

One of the easiest forms of reinforcement are physical affection, praise, and play. These forms of reinforcement do not require you to carry any food or toys - just a good attitude! Additionally, physical affection, praise, and play helps create and maintain a strong relationship between you and your dog.

All of my dogs are motivated by physical affection, praise, and play – it doesn’t take much to excite them, but each dog reaction is different. Pica gets very excited for a lot of verbal praise and loves belly scratches! Both Loki and Quest like physical play, but their responses to play are different. Loki has a tendency to slam his body into your body, whereas Quest will engage in play biting and wedging himself between your legs.

Physical affection, praise, and play are forms of reinforcement you can take anywhere with you and can be very valuable in helping build a stronger relationship. I provide as much verbal praise as possible when I see my dogs have done good behavior.

Life Rewards

Using behaviors a dog finds enjoyable can be used as a form of reinforcement for good behavior. An example of a life reward would be allowing a dog to sniff the neighbor’s mailbox for walking on a nice loose leash, without pulling, as they passed by the object. Providing these forms of reinforcement does require some creative thinking and careful application, but is a very valuable reward system!

I try to provide life rewards to my dogs whenever possible to maintain their manners. These life rewards include sniffing mailboxes for walking on a loose leash, meeting guests for being calm, and being released to free run in the backyard for being polite while I opened the back door.

Using life rewards allows me to maintain and reinforce behaviors I expect my dogs to perform every day. Doing this allows me to reduce the amounts of food and toy rewards in daily life training.


Strong Working Relationship

I believe every dog should have a very strong desire to engage and work with the pet parent. Learning can happen without this strong bond. However, learning is accelerated when the dog and human mutually enjoy working with one another. Developing this type of relationship starts with having a positive mindset and built with games!

Positive Mindset

Any negative emotion can soil your dog’s perception of you. Essentially, your dog may sense that you are upset and may begin to think that they did something to upset you. Entering into training sessions with a positive mindset helps set the tone of what is to follow. Your dog will want to engage with you more if you have a cheerful face versus looking annoyed or upset.

A great example of this is my border collie, Pica. Life happens and I get upset when things do not go exactly as planned – like the day I locked my keys in my car when I was at my house! I was upset, not at him, but at my mistake. He was very sensitive to my mood and kept a small distance away from me. I did reassure him that I was not upset with him. However, that did not change the fact that he knew I was upset even though I didn’t direct any of my negative emotions towards him.


When in doubt, play with your dog! This is the foundation of any strong relationship. The more you play with your dog, the more your dog will enjoy your company and will want to engage with you.

There are multiple games you can play with your dog – it can be training games, toy games, or even personal play. As long as you and your dog are mutually enjoying each other’s company and enjoying the activity, the game is serving its purpose to build a relationship!

All of my dogs enjoy personal play which does not involve any toys. It is just me and the dog. We will play games such as hide and seek, chase, and even wrestling!


Incompatible Behaviors

Training for better behavior is a vital component of reducing unwanted behavior. Dogs naturally jump, bite, bark, and dig, and we need to teach dogs how we want them behave if our expectation is to live peacefully together. Teaching dogs specific incompatible behaviors reduces unwanted behaviors because the behaviors cannot happen at the same time.

Instead of looking at behaviors dogs do as a problem – begin to think “What can I teach my dog to do instead of the behavior I do not like?” Adjusting your mentality on how you perceive your dog’s unwanted behavior will help support a positive mindset for training.

All dogs, including my own, do behaviors we do not like. If we begin to think about solutions to prevent the problem, we can develop a clear training program to teach the dog an acceptable behavior which ultimately reduces stress for everyone involved!

My puppy, Quest, is very food motivated and can become over excited when it is dinner time – he would bark and jump for food. I knew he was excited for dinner which I am thrilled he loves his food. I was not thrilled with all the other behaviors that came with the excitement so I taught Quest to go into his kennel and wait for his dinner. Doing this eliminated the barking and jumping while replacing it with a behavior that still got him what he ultimately wanted – food.

In addition to training incompatible behaviors, daily training in other avenues proves beneficial as well. All of my dogs have a minimum of one training session a day and this is to maintain old behaviors as well as learn new behaviors. My two adult dogs, Pica and Loki, only receive one training session a day, whereas my puppy, Quest, receives training more frequently throughout the day.

My Plan For Success

There are many different ways to raise and live with dogs, but I have found the steps outlined in this article are incredibly valuable to owning a well-mannered dog. Undesirable behaviors are reduced when you create and maintain consistent rules, fulfill your dog’s biological requirements, provide positive reinforcement for desirable behavior, develop a strong working relationship, and teach incompatible behaviors.