Doggy Boot Camp: Basic Training and Behavior Management

Love Dog
In This Chapter
  • Housetraining your dog with methods that really work
  • Getting acquainted with some basic training cues and socialization strategies
  • Finding a good obedience class and instructor
  • Foiling escapees, barkers, jumpers, chewers, nippers, beggars, and diggers
  • Dealing with separation anxiety and aggressive behavior
  • Finding and using an animal behaviorist to help behavior problems

Sometimes humans must seem pretty confusing to dogs. People love it when their dogs gnaw on chew toys but hate when dogs gnaw on their nice, chewy leather shoes. People take dogs outside into a big, exciting world but expect dogs to stay right next to them without yanking on a measly 6-foot leash. What is it with humans, anyway?

Dogs and humans have chosen to live together over thousands of years of mutual evolution, but each still has habits that the other has a hard time understanding. That’s where training comes in. Training an adopted dog is not much different than training any other dog — each reacts in its own way to different teaching methods. However, adopted dogs that  xperienced trauma may be particularly sensitive or have obstacles to normal routes of training, so you may need to progress at a slower pace, be flexible about what training methods are working or not working, and be extragenerous with your positive reinforcement. Patience and consistency are absolutely key to training adopted dogs. Everyone in the family must kindly but firmly enforce the same rules in the same way, and enforce them at all times, in all situations. That’s the best way to communicate with your dog.
In this chapter, you explore training methods, obedience cues, and other information about human-dog interaction, including some tips about dog behavior in general and the behavior of adopted dogs in particular. Use this information to housetrain your new pet, to find a great training instructor, to
manage some of those doggy behaviors you can’t quite live with, and in general, to show your adopted dog how to act in a new home so you can build a strong foundation for a well-behaved pet.

Housetraining Made Easy

One of the main reasons people give up their adopted dogs is a problem with housetraining. Many adopted dogs have lived outside, in kennels, or alone in backyards for a long time without being housetrained. Others may have lived inside most of the time, but their owners never had the time or patience to be consistent about housetraining. And although some adopted dogs may already be housetrained, the stress of losing their homes and going through the shelter or rescue process (or both) can cause housetraining habits to lapse. Even so, you can teach your new puppy or a resistant adult dog how to relieve himself where you want him to go, rather than in the inappropriate spots he make pick out for himself.

Beginning with the basics

Housetraining isn’t that hard, but you can’t expect a dog to just housetrain himself. Housetraining communicates to your dog exactly what you need him to do. If dogs know what you expect of them, they’re perfectly content to use the yard as a bathroom rather than that nice stinky spot behind the couch, but your dog won’t know unless you tell him. Here is the basic process:
1. Watch for signs that your dog needs to relieve himself.
The signs include circling, walking slowly with nose to the ground as if very intent on sniffing out a good spot, and of course, squatting or lifting a leg. Some dogs wander to a particular part of the house where they’ve had a previous accident, and some dogs stand by the door hoping you’ll notice them in time.
2. Put your dog on his leash and take him outside to relieve himself.
Always use a leash until your dog is reliably housetrained — doing so is more time-consuming than just letting him out the back door, but it’s important for two reasons:
  • You can praise him while he’s relieving himself, so he knows exactly what behavior you like.
  • You can reward him for a job well done by letting him off the leash to run around and play in the yard. That way, he quickly learns to take care of business first to be able to play.
Dress appropriately. You’ll have to stand outside while your dog does his business regardless of the weather.
3. Give your dog a chance to go potty.
Be patient. Sometimes, you may have to stand outside holding the leash for a while.
If more than 10 or 15 minutes pass, your dog probably isn’t going to do anything on that trip, so take him back inside, put him in his crate for 15 to 30 minutes, and then take him outside again. Don’t give him the opportunity to go in the house!
4. When your dog relieves himself, associate it with a word like “potty.”
For example, the moment your dog begins to urinate, say “Potty, good potty!” in a happy voice. Pick whatever word you want to use, but choose one that you can say comfortably in public. You’re teaching your dog to associate that word with the action of relieving himself so that, later on, you can use the word to encourage him to go when it is convenient, such as on a car trip or when you need to leave the house and you want to make sure he goes potty first.
5. While he’s in the middle of doing his business, give him gentle verbal praise to reinforce that his current behavior is good.
Don’t get too excited or you may distract him, and he may stop before he is finished to play with you.
6. After he has done his job, act like your dog has just done the greatest thing you ever saw any dog do and give him rewards.
Tell him how good, smart, and well mannered he is. Pet him and let him off the leash. Play with him. Throw a ball. Let him chase you. Do whatever he loves, with great enthusiasm. Dogs love to please you, and if you look pleased as all get-out, they want to keep it up, especially if it means getting that extra positive attention.
Don’t let up too soon. Many dogs never get fully trained because their owners stop taking them out on the leash or supervising in the house before they’re reliably housetrained.


When housetraining, the most important thing you can do is always set up your dog for success. Whenever your dog relieves himself in the right place and you reward him for it, you’re reinforcing something important. Dogs remember good things that happen to them, and if they get plenty of praise and affection when they relieve themselves outside, that is what they will want to do every time.


Take your dog to the place where you want him to use the bathroom at regular times each day — at least every couple of hours for puppies and always do so first thing in the morning, after active playtimes, after naps, and within 30 minutes after eating.

Adding crate training

Remember the crate or kennel you bought for your adopted dog to have her own private den? (See Chapter Helping Your Adopted Dog Make the Homecoming Transition for more about crates and kennels.) It’s also an important tool for housetraining, especially for puppies. In fact, crate training probably is the most effective method of housetraining with the fastest results. But the term “crate training” is a bit of a misnomer because the key to crate training is what you do when your dog is actually out of the crate.
Crate training is all about supervision. When your new puppy or dog is roaming around the house or yard in the first few weeks she’s at home, you need to spend plenty of time watching her and interacting with her. Your dog is just getting to know her new environment and needs your guidance, so help her understand which activities are good and which are not, and that includes relieving herself. Watch your dog, and if you see signs she’s getting ready to relieve herself, you take her outside, then praise her when she does her duty. If you miss the signs, well . . . that’s your fault.
But the crate comes in handy when you can’t supervise. Dogs have an instinct not to soil their dens and don’t want to sleep in their own bathrooms. Who would? Treat your dog’s crate is if it were her den. Because nobody can watch a puppy or dog every waking hour, the crate, or den, serves as a sort of babysitter. When you cannot directly supervise your puppy, you rest her in the crate, where she isn’t likely to have an accident. Dogs need interaction and exercise in addition to bathroom breaks, but if you use the crate correctly, your dog will quickly learn where you want her to relieve herself.
The problem with crate training is that people tend to leave puppies in their crates for too long, which is one reason some people think crate training is cruel. It is cruel to leave a puppy locked in a small space, no matter how comfy and full of treats, for long hours at a time. No young puppy should ever be left inside a crate for more than two or maybe three hours at a time, and no adult dog should have to sit in a crate for longer than four hours, except during the night, when up to eight hours is fine. Doing so sets up your dog for failure because her bladder can hold only so much. Besides it’s unpleasant and unnatural for dogs, because they’re social creatures by nature.
One barrier that some adopted dogs have to crate training is past bad experiences with the crate. Most dogs love their dens, but if yours continues to object to the crate after at least several weeks of crate training (for example, if your dog continually refuses to go into the crate or stays in it only for brief periods of time before demonstrating signs of frustration or anger, like whining, yelping, or frantic scratching to get out), then schedule training (without the crate) may be a better approach. I discuss schedule training in the next section.

If your dog is not fully housetrained and can’t be trusted out of the crate, and if you’re typically away from home for eight to ten hours most work days, you must either come home from work or hire someone to come over in the middle of the day to let the dog out for a bathroom break and some exercise and to give the dog some attention. Fortunately, many pet sitters now will come to your home during the day and give your dog plenty of TLC. Many doggy day-care centers also have opened around the country to take your dog during the day and give him attention, exercise, and socialization with other dogs. What a great idea! If you can’t afford this option or don’t want to bother, you probably are not at the right stage in life to have a dog. Please don’t give crate training a bad name by abusing the crate’s convenience.


To find a good pet sitter or doggy day-care center, look up “pet sitter” or “pet services” in the phone book or ask your veterinarian for recommendations. Ask for and check pet-sitter and doggy day-care references.

Adding schedule training

Schedule training essentially is applying a routine to housetraining. Dogs love routines, and if they always have a chance to relieve themselves at approximately the same times as part of a regular daily schedule, they typically respond quickly. Just like crate training, schedule training requires indoor supervision and taking the dog outside on a leash until she relieves herself, praising her, and letting her run around. Schedule training doesn’t necessarily employ the crate, but it can.
Schedule training works because dogs typically relieve themselves according to a schedule. Puppies need to go much more frequently than adult dogs — every two to three hours. But these sessions aren’t random, instead they typically occur first thing in the morning, within 15 minutes after eating any meal, after all naps and active play, during training sessions and walks, right before going to sleep for the night, and once or maybe twice during the night when they wake up. Adult dogs relieve themselves predictably, first thing in the morning, within 30 minutes after eating, in the evening, and after naps, active play, and training sessions. Adult dogs, however, shouldn’t need to relieve themselves at night.

Dealing with mistakes

Whose mistake is it when a dog has a housetraining accident? Did you forget to let the dog outside in time? Did you keep the dog in his crate for too long? Did you leave the dog alone outside to relieve himself, and he was so anxious to get back to you that he forgot to go outside and had an accident when he came back inside with you? These scenarios are human error, not dog mistakes.
Some people think punishing a dog is helpful whenever he has an accident in the house. Others cruelly rub the dog’s nose in his own waste. Doing so might be a good idea, if it worked. However the problem with that method is that it simply scares or alarms the dog and teaches him little more than perhaps that you have an aversion to the presence of dog waste and that he’d better hide it better next time — like under the bed or behind the couch. Punishment builds a barrier between you and your dog and reinforces an idea that your adopted dog may already have — that humans are unpredictable and untrustworthy. Stress to everyone in your household that the dog is learning something new, and that yelling or blowing up at the dog only makes the lesson take longer.
If you catch your dog in the act of making a housetraining mistake, quickly whisk him outside and then praise him as he finishes. Otherwise, just quietly clean up the mess and ignore your dog completely while you’re doing it. Any attention, positive or negative, can be a form of reinforcement for some dogs. If you don’t let your dog see you cleaning up the mess, he can’t associate you or your actions with the inappropriate behavior. Clean up when he is out of sight or in his crate, and be sure to use an odor remover (available in pet stores), because dogs often relieve themselves where they smell signs that they or another dog have gone there before.


A few great products are specifically designed to clean and remove stains and odors from puddles, piles, and even vomit. Some products use enzymes to actually ingest the odor and stain molecules. Look for them in your local pet store, or ask other pet owners which products work best for them. You can even make an effective cleaner/odor-remover at home by mixing water and white vinegar in a 1:1 ratio and pouring or spraying it on the stain.

Teaching Good Doggy Manners

Teaching a dog good manners is the best way to assure that he can live successfully in a human household, and it requires a two-pronged approach: training and socialization. If you start early, train often, and never stop socializing your dog, you can help him become the best he can be, make a great impression on neighbors and the community, and create a better reputation for all pet dogs. How’s that for a worthy cause? Read on to find out exactly how to do this.

Off to school: Finding a training class

Young puppies and adult dogs alike can benefit from obedience classes. Training classes are more than a good idea for adopted dogs; they’re practically a requirement. In fact, some rescue groups require you to take your adopted dog to a training class. Training classes are important because they:
  • Can fix many of the issues for which so many dogs are relinquished.
  • Provide you with access to a professional trainer who helps you tackle individual issues you may have with your dog and teaches you strategies for handling behavioral problems.
  • Expose your new dog to many other dogs and people, creating a friendly environment for socialization. You may even make some new friends.
Ask representatives of the shelter or rescue group whether they can recommend any trainers. Some shelters already have established relationships and work directly with trainers who may already know your dog. You can also ask your veterinarian, get recommendations from friends who already have taken their dogs through classes, or look up “dog training” in the phone book. You can also search the Association of Pet Dog Trainers’ Web site for a good trainer in your area who uses positive training methods: under “Trainer Search.” This network of certified trainers is proactive about positive, reward-based training.
Not all training classes are the same, so before choosing one, you need to evaluate the ones that are available in your area. Here’s a rundown on some of the classes that can be helpful:
  • Puppy kindergarten or puppy socialization: These classes are excellent for puppies that are just learning about the world. Most will enroll puppies starting at the age of 8 weeks, so you can get started with your puppy right away. Fun, friendly, gentle, and not very rigorous, these classes focus more on socializing the puppy and teaching simple cues. They also offer help for common puppy behavioral issues like nipping and housetraining. Many encourage the children in the pet’s family to attend.
  • Basic obedience: For older dogs or puppies that have completed a puppy class, basic obedience classes focus on the basics of what pet dogs and their owners need to know to communicate effectively. Instructors teach the basic cues and answer questions about common pet issues. Some classes include fun activities like introducing dogs to an agility obstacle course.
  • Specialty classes: Dogs with basic obedience knowledge get training in these classes for advanced activities, like rally, competitive obedience, agility, flyball, or to take the Canine Good Citizen test (for more about the test see the “Canine Good Citizens” sidebar later in the chapter).
Many classes require your dog to have all the core vaccinations, including the rabies vaccine and the combination shot that protects against the most common diseases (for more on what vaccinations are required and recommended, see Chapter Caring for Your Adopted Dog). Sometimes an additional vaccine for Bordatella (the common cause of kennel cough) is required. It is important that puppies continue their series of shots while taking classes, because they have a window of vulnerability to diseases between 8 and 16 weeks of age, when they can still pick up diseases fairly easily from other dogs, despite their vaccinations. Because most vets don’t give rabies shots until 6 months, some new puppy classes won’t require them.
When evaluating classes, get to know the instructor before signing up. Instructors have a wide variety of training methods, and the best ones are the ones who not only emphasize reward-based training over fear-based punitive training but also are flexible in adapting training methods to the needs of individual dogs. Adopted dogs typically respond best to reward-based training, which helps rebuild their trust in humans and strengthens their bond with you. Look for trainers who recommend buckle collars (any collar with a clasp) rather than choke chains and never advocate physical force.


In a few cases, adopted dogs may not be good candidates for training classes. Dogs with aggression (see the “Who’s the Boss? Managing Aggression” section later in this chapter) can put other dogs at risk in a class situation, and dogs with extreme fearfulness or shyness may be too stressed by a class situation to learn anything. Many trainers come to your home to help train your dog or teach you how to train your dog. In that case, look for a trainer who specializes in the issues your adopted dog is experiencing.

Socialization strategies

Socialization is one of the most important steps you can take to help your adopted dog be a good dog. Socialization is just as important as training, and the two go hand-in-hand to help make good dogs into great pets. Many adopted dogs never received enough attention in their previous homes. In fact, “not enough time for the dog” is another one of the more common reasons that people relinquish their pets to shelters and rescue groups.
Recognizing Canine Good Citizens
Your dog may not win any shows, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make a big impact on the world. Many adopted dogs thrive on learning how to be therapy dogs, visiting people in hospitals or nursing homes. Dogs can become certified as therapy dogs through several wonderful programs. As a prerequisite, some of these programs include a requirement that dogs earn their American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen certification, achieved by passing a test thatshows your dog knows how to behave in
society. For more  information on these programs, check out the following links:
Therapy Dog International: Delta Society Pet Partners Program:
American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen information:
Socialization simply is the process of exposing the dog to many different kinds of people and situations. Adopted dogs that haven’t met many people or been anywhere other than their homes or backyards often are startled, alarmed, or threatened by strange people, other animals, and unusual situations. You can’t raise a well-adjusted child if she’s kept in one room for her entire childhood any more than you can raise a well-adjusted dog that way. To socialize your adopted dog, first be sure you know whether you have to be extra careful around other dogs, children, cats, or certain kinds of people — some dogs tend to dislike men or women. Always keep your dog on a leash and protect him so that you keep his experiences of the world positive and reassuring. Then, venture out.
The first great socialization experience most dogs get is the daily walk. Walking through the neighborhood (with a leash, of course) enables your dog to experience many different sights, smells, people, and other animals. Dogs may bark, pull at the leash, or be obsessed with sniffing absolutely everything. That’s okay. You can work on resolving these undesirable manners in your training. But make sure you expose your dog to the world every day.
Driving somewhere in the car gives you and your dog another socialization opportunity. Dogs who ride only to the vet tend to fear and loathe the car, but dogs that never know what fun destination lies ahead travel much better. Take your dog to parks, on hikes, on picnics, to soccer games, or just let him ride with you as you run your errands. Let him meet people everywhere he goes — always keeping him supervised and on the leash for control — and he quickly finds out what a fun and interesting place the world can be. Every experience beyond the normal routine helps show your dog more about the world and refines your dog’s natural instincts about people, animals, and places.


If you travel with your dog in the car, always put him in either a dog seat belt or crate that straps into a seat belt for everyone’s safety. Never, ever, leave a dog alone in a parked car on a warm or sunny day. Many dogs die of heatstroke each year when they’re left unattended in parked cars, even with the windows opened a few inches. Some dogs don’t travel well, possibly because of negative experiences with cars or other insecurities. If your dog suffers from greater anxiety going with you in the car than staying home alone, safely tucked in his den, then practice different socialization methods first, working up to car travel when your dog is ready and acts eager to join you.


In cases of dog aggression toward humans or extreme fear or anxiety, check with a canine behavioral consultant who can help maximize your socialization efforts, giving you targeted strategies to solve your problem. Never deal with aggression on your own, without the help of a professional. If you have children in the home, you should never adopt an aggressive dog, no matter how willing you are to work with it. For more about behavioral issues and how to find a canine behavioral consultant, see the section on behavioral issues later in this chapter.

Teaching the building-block training cues

“Sit” is such a simple word with such a powerful action. Yet most dogs in animal shelters and rescue groups don’t know what it means. Basic training — including housetraining — enables dogs and humans to successfully coexist. This foundation is especially important for adopted dogs that may never have had the basis of a strong people/dog relationship.
A reliably housetrained dog that knows the cues “Sit,” “Stay,” “Down,” “Heel,” and “Come” can almost always live fully integrated into a human household. These same cues enable you to tackle almost any behavioral problem. You may learn how to teach these cues in obedience class, but remember that you can also teach them at home. Train daily so you and your dog can spend time together reinforcing good behavior. Well-trained dogs enjoy practicing the moves they know well; even dogs that haven’t had any training also benefit from frequent practice of these five essential training cues.
After your dog knows these basics, the sky is the limit. You can advance to all kinds of fun activities. Remember that each training method employs a reward, which can be anything from a small treat, an opportunity to play with a favorite toy, verbal praise, petting, or whatever else motivates your dog.
Clicker training magic
Some training classes and trainers use clicker training as their primary method. Clicker training uses a small hand-held plastic clicker to make sounds that mark behaviors you want to reinforce faster than you can offer a treat or say “good dog.” Clicker training is a precise form of training that is popular with reward-based trainers, because it works very quickly for many dogs and is based on positive rather than negative reinforcement.
Here’s how it works: “Charge” or “load” the clicker by clicking it and then giving the dog a treat. Dogs quickly find out – sometimes in three quick clicks – that the click is something good. Thereafter, when the dog does exactly what you want – going potty outside, sitting, coming when called –
you click during the exact second that the dog is doing the behavior you want and then reward with a treat. Dogs catch on with amazing speed. It’s almost like magic.
For some adopted dogs, however, the sound of a clicker is startling and scares them. When using clicker training with these dogs, you may need to desensitize them to the sound of the clicker. Charge the clicker for several weeks or longer to securely establish the connection between the clicker and rewards. Click and treat only a few times a day, but when the dog acts scared, respond by acting relaxed and happy about the clicker. If the dog never gets used to the clicker, choose another sound or training method. Remember, flexibility is a key to success in training.


Treats are great motivators, but be sure to keep them small — tiny pieces of cheese or turkey hotdogs, for example — or use pieces of your dog’s regular kibble, if that is enough of a motivation for your dog. You don’t want training to cause your dog to become overweight! Some people like to put aside an entire day’s worth of dog food and use it solely for training, never actually putting the dog bowl down on the floor. The choice of rewards is up to you and whatever works for your dog.


People sometimes wonder whether they always need to say their dog’s name along with verbal cues. When you’re first linking a cue with an action — the sections that follow show you how — just say the cue, such as “Sit” or “Come,” without confusing your dog by adding her name. The shorter the cue, the easier it is for your dog to learn. However, once your dog knows the cue, adding her name can get her attention so she listens to you, like “George,” (he looks at you), “Sit” (and he sits), or “Gracie,” (she looks at you), “Come,” and she trots right over. “Good dog!”

Come, and what it’s good for

Come is the most important of all the cues, and it can save your dog’s life by heading her off when she’s headed for danger and bring her back when you can’t find her. It can also help show your dog how to retrieve. Note: Never scold your dog when he comes to you, no matter what he may have just done, because remaining oblivious (at least in this circumstance) can help reinforce the Come cue. Always praise your dog for coming, no matter what. You want to send your dog the message that coming to you always is a good thing. Here’s how to teach the Come cue:
  • Two-person method: Each of you needs to have a few treats hidden in a pocket. Have the other person sit beside the dog, loosely holding her collar. Have the dog sit. Stand in front of your dog, and then back up about three feet. Say “Come,” and then have the other person release the collar. If your dog comes, praise her and give her a treat. If she doesn’t, keep encouraging her to come to you. If she won’t, move closer. Get close enough that she can see and smell the treat. When she comes to you, even if it’s only a few inches, praise her and give her the treat. Repeat this often, and then as your dog gets reliable at it, move farther away, a little at a time, until she comes to you on cue from another room.
  • One-person method: Keep a pocket of treats, and throughout the day, whenever your dog is somewhere else in the house or yard, say “Come.” If the dog comes to you, give her a treat. Practice this cue at random times and from random distances, but do it many times each day, even after your dog reliably comes when called.
  • Family affair: Have everyone in the family carry treats. Gather everyone in a single room. Put the dog in the middle of the room. Have random family members call the dog’s name to get her attention, then say “Come.” If the dog comes to someone who did not issue the cue, the person needs to look away and ignore the dog. When the dog comes to the person calling her, that person then gives her a treat and lots of praise.

Sit, and what it’s good for

Sit is one of the most useful and one of the easiest obedience cues you can teach your dog. Many dogs adopted from shelters know how to “Sit,” even if they know no other obedience cues. But if your dog or puppy doesn’t know how to sit, you probably can teach this cue in one or two training sessions. If it takes longer, that’s fine, too. Just keep working on it.
The Sit cue is useful because you can teach your dog to sit whenever she tends to do something that you don’t like, such as jumping on visitors who come to the door (the poor pizza guy). The Sit cue can show dominant dogs how not to be possessive of toys and food and otherwise can help children and dogs have good and safe relationships. Here are some ways to teach the Sit cue:
  • Lure and reward method: Call the dog to you. Have a small treat in your hand. Hold the treat just over the top of the dog’s nose. When she notices  the treat, slowly move the treat up and over her head, so that she followsit with her nose (see Figure 7-1). You are luring the puppy into a sit. Puppies usually will sit to better keep an eye on the treat. When they do, say “Sit,” and then immediately reward with a treat, praise, or favorite toy. You can also help guide your dog into a sit with your other hand.
  • Catch-’em-in-the-act method: Most dogs sit on their own sometimes. Every time your dog sits, say “Sit,” and give her a treat. Or, click a clicker the moment your dog sits and then offer a treat or other reward. (See the nearby “Clicker training magic” sidebar.) When your dog realizes she’s getting a reward, she tries to figure out just what she did to deserve such a treat. Dogs often start volunteering behaviors just for a treat, so get ready to see plenty of hopeful sitting!
Figure 7-1: Lure a puppy into a sit by drawing a treat back over her head so she follows the treat and sits on her own.

Stay, and what it’s good for

Stay is a convenient cue for whenever you want your dog to stay put, but it’s also an important safety measure. For escape artists, the Stay cue not only is a great tool for foiling attempts to bolt out the front door whenever anybody opens it but also for keeping a dog from heading toward a busy street or chasing a cat. Stay also keeps your dog in one place when you need him to stay out of the way. Here are some ways to teach the Stay cue:
  • Two-person method: This method is an easy way to teach Stay, but you need a partner. Each of you needs to have a few treats hidden in a pocket. Have the other person sit beside the dog, loosely holding his collar, and have the dog sit. Standing in front of your dog, say “Stay” as you raise your hand up, palm facing the dog; keeping your palm up, back up about two feet. The person holding the dog needs to keep him from coming to you, if he tries. After just a few seconds, say “good dog!” and have the person holding the dog give him a treat.
Repeat these steps a few times until the dog doesn’t try to come to you at all. Then, you can try it with the other person still sitting next to the dog but not holding his collar. If the dog comes to you, the person with the dog need not try to stop him. Don’t praise or say “No,” just take the dog back and do it again. When the dog stays reliably, gradually practice moving a little farther away and holding the Stay a little longer each time. Always go to the dog to give him the treat, don’t give him the treat if he comes to you. You don’t want your dog confusing Stay with Come (see the earlier “Come, and what it’s good for” section).
  • One-person method: This method works the same as the two-person method, but it may take longer because nobody is holding the dog in place. Say “Stay” while holding your hand up, palm facing the dog, as in Figure 7-2. If the dog stays, go back to him and give him a treat, praising him. If he comes to you, just lead him back to where he was sitting and try again. Eventually he gets which behavior wins him the treat and which doesn’t.

Down, and what it’s good for

Down is a handy position in which to hold your dog during a long stay. This cue is called a long down in training circles. Put your dog into a long down during dinner to keep her from begging under the table while you don’t want your dog bothering guests or just to help your dog relax. This behavior is challenging for energetic dogs, but other dogs take to it quickly.
Some active dogs will get almost all the way into a Down but want to hover just above the floor so they’re ready to spring back into action as soon as you stop paying attention. Don’t reward this pseudo-down with a treat, at least not after the first few times, because your dog is working out just what behavior you want from her.
Figure 7-2: Practice the Stay cue by using a hand signal, palm facing your dog.
Here’s how to teach the Down cue:
  • Lure and reward method: This method is similar to teaching Sit. Call the dog to you. Have a small treat in your hand. Hold the treat just in front of the dog’s nose. When she notices the treat, slowly move the treat out and down toward the floor, so that she follows it with her nose. Go slowly, luring her into a Down position. Some dogs prefer to just walk toward the treat. If they do, take it back and start over. Don’t offer the treat until the dog actually lies down. If she doesn’t get it, guide her with your hand into a Down position. When she does it, say “Down,” and then immediately reward her.
  • Catch-’em-in-the-act method: Every dog lies down at some point. Every time your dog lies down on her own, say “Down,” and give her a reward. Or, click a clicker the moment she lies down and then reward. (See the earlier “Clicker training magic” sidebar.) Again, when your dog realizes she’s getting a reward, she tries to figure out just what she did to deserve such a treat. Dogs often volunteer behaviors just to get a treat, so pay attention. If your dog walks up to you, lies down, and looks up with a hopeful glance, reward her; she’s being a good dog.

Heel, and what it’s good for

Walking a dog is great exercise, but it isn’t much fun if you’re getting yanked down the street like a kite that can’t seem to get airborne. Heeling can help. Heeling means the dog walks right next to you without pulling on the leash (see Figure 7-3). The Heel cue is difficult for exuberant dogs, especially when sights and smells are more interesting than the treat you’re trying to use to reward your dog for a nice Heel. However, with some patience and practice, you can teach your dog to heel. Here’s how:
  • Tree method: Dogs like to move; they don’t like to stand still. So, if you want your dog to walk nicely on a leash, simply stop moving every time he pulls. When he stops pulling, you walk. When he pulls again, you stop. Doing this takes a lot of patience on your part, but if your dog always gets to move when he isn’t pulling, and never gets to move when he is pulling, he eventually figures out which scenario is more favorable to him.
  • Stop-and-go method: Bring along a pocketful or bag of treats as you walk your dog. Walk with your dog just a short distance, maybe five feet, stop, say “Sit,” and then give him a treat. Now, walk again, but just one step, stop, say “Sit, and then give the dog a treat. Keep this up, but keep changing the distance you walk, so that your dog never knows when the stop, sit, and treat are coming. He has to pay attention to you to see what you’re going to do next.

Figure 7-3: This dog is walking in a Heel position by staying beside his person without pulling on the leash.


Some dogs just pull no matter what you try. For these eager beavers, try a head harness or walking harness. These alternatives to collars work because they turn the dog’s head when he pulls. It also helps to give your dog plenty of play excitement out in the backyard before going out on the walk, rather than after. Your dog may be a little calmer and less likely to pull.

Breaking Adopted Dogs of Bad Habits

Many of the things that people think of as doggy problems actually are perfectly normal dog behaviors. Dogs enjoy barking, digging, chewing up things, wrestling and nipping their littermates, and relieving themselves in the spot they think looks (or smells) best. However as much potential as they may have, many adopted dogs wind up in shelters because their owners didn’t know how to manage their doggy behaviors. Although some dogs truly have behavioral problems, such as separation anxiety and aggression, they are much less common than are simple lack of management and training. The good news is that you can address these behaviors, turning your rambunctious new dog into a well-mannered companion.


One simple (and perhaps the best) way you can help correct most behavioral problems is to give your dog more opportunities for exercise! Many undesirable behaviors stem from boredom and restlessness, and many dogs — especially medium to large dogs — don’t get nearly as much exercise as they need. Several long walks, plenty of active running games in the yard, hiking, swimming, whatever it takes . . . an exhausted dog is a happy, healthy, and well-behaved dog.


Exercise doesn’t, however, solve every problem. Some basic tips to remember about managing your dog’s behavior are

  • Praising good behavior. People are so focused on behaviors they don’t like that they forget to tell the dog when he’s doing something they do like. Your dog is chewing his chew toy? Good dog! Your dog is using the yard to go potty? Good dog! Your dog sits to greet someone instead of jumping up? What a good dog! Reward good behavior often. It is an effective way to communicate positively with your dog.
  • Redirecting bad behavior. Dogs love attention and hate to be ignored. If you get mad and yell at something your dog does, some dogs see it as better than no attention at all, especially if humans have neglected them in the past. Praise good behavior, and ignore bad behavior. However, if the behavior is something that has to stop — excessive barking, chewing on your shoe, or nipping, for example — redirect the behavior by distracting your dog into doing something completely different like come to you, chew a chew toy, or sit. When he changes direction and does something good, then praise him again.
  • Supervising your dog’s behavior. Supervision is an absolute key to managing dog behavior. Pay attention to and spend time interacting with your dog every day. If you aren’t paying attention to your dog, you can’t teach him where to go the bathroom, what to chew, when to stop barking, or when to sit rather than jump on someone. Pay attention! Be there! Participate, respond, and give your dog feedback, so he gets the attention he so desperately needs.
Don’t give up on your chewing, digging, nipping, four-legged little wild child. Remind yourself that he is just being a dog and that together you can manage, redirect, and overcome almost all of your dog’s so-called behavioral problems.

Managing Behavior Problems Common to Adopted Dogs

Although more serious behavior problems may require professional help, there is hope for many of the dogs with issues of distrust and mistaken interpretations of human behavior. Fixing these problems can take a lot of time and patience, but it often is possible. In each of the following sections on different behavioral issues, you get some information about how to handle dogs that inadvertently were trained to do something the wrong way or to mistrust humans who gave them a wrong impression. Don’t forget to check out the “Managing the Mistreated Dog” section at the end of this chapter for more information about dealing with more serious behavioral issues.

Lassie come home: Keeping your dog from running away

Ah, the open road. The distant horizon. All those bunnies to chase, children to play with, scents to follow . . . some dogs simply can’t resist exploration, so they tend to be skilled escape artists. Some breeds are more prone to wander than others. Beagles that catch a scent, Siberian Huskies with an itch to run for miles, or Greyhounds that spot a faraway squirrel may take off in a flash if given the opportunity. Any dog can run away, especially when it has nothing else to do.
Wandering is dangerous for dogs. Leash laws prohibit wandering in many areas, and dogs without leashes can be confiscated, and their owners can be fined. Wandering dogs often are hit by cars, get into scraps with other dogs or wildlife, and can even take up with dog packs, injuring livestock or even people. Many adopted dogs were found wandering, but nobody knows whether they ran away from their original homes or were dumped on the side of the road.
Adopted dogs may not be used to living inside or within a small fenced yard, so they may try to get out, because it’s all they know. The risk of them wandering is too great, so pet owners must take precautions to avoid escapes. In most cases, dogs that have enough to do won’t try to escape because their minds and bodies are occupied. Here are some tips for keeping your adopted dog safe and sound and under your control:
  • Never let your dog outside unless he’s within a fenced enclosure or on a leash.
  • Bury fences a foot into the ground or line them with cinder blocks or cement to prevent digging.
  • Don’t rely on electronic fences for habitual runners. Many dogs run right through them, enduring the electric shock. Electronic fences also don’t protect dogs from other animals.
  • Don’t leave dogs outside when you’re not at home.
  • Give dogs plenty to do in the yard: toys to play with, a digging box, another dog to play with, or you!

Oh the noise, noise, noise, noise, noise: Curtailing excessive barking

Adopted dogs that bark a lot may simply be barking breeds like Terriers, or they may have learned to bark to get attention from people who were neglecting them. They may’ve spent much of their lives chained in a yard alone with  nothing else to do or felt compelled to guard their turf from people and cars constantly passing by. Dogs bark out of boredom or anxiety, but dogs that feel secure in their homes and that get enough exercise and attention are much less likely to bark inappropriately. You can help dogs that bark too much by using these strategies to calm them:
  • When your dog barks outdoors in the yard, don’t leave her unsupervised. Stay out there so you can distract her when she barks or take her inside.
  • When your dog barks inside at things that are outside the window, close the curtain or otherwise block her access to the window.
  • When your dog barks when people come to the door, have visitors bring treats that they can give to the dog as soon as she stops barking and sits. When she barks, ignore her. Don’t yell — that just sounds like you are barking back at her — because doing so only encourages the loud behavior.
  • When dogs simply can’t seem to kick the habit, try using a bark collar, a collar that either vibrates or sprays a mist of citronella oil whenever the dog barks. This startling distraction can stop the bark — at which point you reward the dog for ceasing. Avoid shock collars that can be misused and are traumatic for some dogs.
  • In extreme cases, where the dog’s life is at risk or your landlord is threatening eviction, consider debarking the dog, a surgery that can be effective as a last resort but should not to be taken lightly. The surgery doesn’t actually stop the barking; instead, it lowers the volume. If this extreme measure truly becomes necessary, ask your vet to do the surgery with a laser to minimize scarring across the opening of the larynx.

My dog is knocking me over: Teaching dogs to quit jumping up

Dogs sometimes are neglected for so long they grow frustrated when people walk past them in a shelter kennel and they can’t make contact. When they get out of the kennel, they tend to jump wildly onto any human who gives them a sidelong glance. This bad habit can be difficult to break. Large dogs, in particular, can knock people over or cause injuries in their eagerness to get attention. Even well-adjusted dogs may jump just because they have learned that it works to get your attention.
The best way to prevent jumping is to play invisible dog. When the dog is wildly jumping around, completely ignore him. Doing so isn’t easy. For some dogs, it can take weeks or even longer for them to settle down, but any attention you give them rewards the wild behavior. However, the moment your dog calms down, you can praise him and give him attention.
Another good way to cure a jumper is to teach the Sit cue in every situation in which the dog tends to jump. A dog can’t jump up when he’s sitting. (See the “Sit, and what it’s good for” section earlier in this chapter.) When your dog knows the Sit cue, you can simulate situations in which your dog tends to jump, and say “Sit.” Reward the sitting dog; ignore the jumping dog. Keep practicing!
Obsessive jumpers also can be managed with a collar and leash. If your dog always jumps on people whenever they visit, put the leash on him and don’t let him do it! People too often expect dogs to control themselves without first teaching them how. Keep control of your dog, hold the leash, give him the Sit cue, and don’t take the leash off in the house until your dog understands. Keep him with you. Pay attention. React to what he does, so he understands what you want. But don’t forget to ignore, as much as possible, his jumping behavior and reward him when he calms down.

Didn’t I have a couch here? Ending destructive chewing

Puppies need to chew, and many adult dogs like to chew throughout their lives, even if they don’t do so with the same destructive energy as puppies. Adopted dogs often chew as a way to relieve stress and excess energy, so reducing the source of stress with more exercise, attention, interaction, and regular routine can make a big difference.
Dogs need to know what they’re allowed to chew and what they’re not allowed to chew (see Figure 7-4). Supervision is the key. Whenever your dog begins to chew something you don’t want her to chew, say “No,” immediately redirect her to a chew toy, and then praise and reward her when she chews the chew toy. If you don’t see her chewing destructively, then you weren’t paying attention. Remember, the key to managing behaviors like chewing, jumping up, digging, and barking, is to pay attention so you can react to what your dog is doing and give her a message: That’s good, or that’s not good.
Figure 7-4: Train dogs to chew their toys and only their toys, not your possessions or your fingers. Dog teeth never should touch human skin.
Other ways to minimize destructive chewing include:
  • Keeping your dog in a kennel or crate — with a good chew toy — when you can’t supervise.
  • Providing your dog with easily accessible chew toys and rotating them frequently to keep her interested.
  • Trying chew toys that you stuff with treats, so your dog has to work to get the treats out, keeping her mentally and physically stimulated.
  • Discouraging your dog from chewing on items you don’t want her to chew by spraying them with a foul-tasting but safe substance, such as Bitter Apple or a similar product available from your local pet store.
  • Praising your dog whenever you see her chewing her chew toy, so she knows what you want.

Ouch! Nipping that annoying nipping and biting

Nipping gets attention, no doubt about that, and you need to remember that what dogs want more than anything else is attention, even if it’s negative! Dogs that nip have not yet learned bite inhibition, or the lesson that doggy teeth never should touch human skin. This lesson is extremely important because dogs that are used to nipping are just one step away from biting. Even a playful puppy nip can draw blood or injure someone, and a nip to the face of a child can cause serious injury, so take nipping seriously and deal with it right away. It must not be tolerated!
You can always nip your dog’s tendency to nip by reacting exactly the same way every time it happens: Pull back your hand or leg quickly, sharply yell “Ouch!” and then separate yourself from the dog. Go into another room and shut the door or just turn your back and don’t look your dog in the eye. When he stops trying to nip, give him the Sit cue, and then reward the sit, as opposed to the nip. Do this every time. When your dog tries not nipping in a situation in which he’d normally nip, praise him and give him the attention he’s craving.
Be careful not to inadvertently encourage nipping, and urge others not to do so either. People think letting a little puppy gnaw on their fingers or knuckles is cute, but doing so teaches the puppy that human hands are fair game and delectably chewable! Never allow a puppy’s teeth to touch human skin without an immediate reaction. The sooner you teach your dog this lesson, the easier it will be. If your dog tends to nip visitors, guests, or children, do not allow him to get close to these people until the nipping is under control. The risk of injury is too great.

But this is my dinner! Stopping your dog from begging

Any dog can be obsessed with food, but many adopted dogs have food issues, particularly the ones that never knew where their food was coming from, whether they’d have enough, or whether some other dog or person might suddenly take their food away. When an adopted dog suddenly has enough food, she can be like a kid in a candy store who wants to try absolutely everything. And there you are, that nice, generous, food-providing human, sitting at the dinner table with a nice juicy piece of meat.
If you — or anyone else in your family, kids and adults alike — feed the dog from the table or even drop food on the floor that the dog eats, your dog learns that the table is a source of yummy things. That’s an especially powerful message that can result in some serious begging from a formerly alwayshungry adopted dog. If you don’t mind your dog hanging out under the table gobbling up the kids’ leftovers, no problem. But if begging really bugs you, the solution is simple. Feed the dog, and then give her a rest in her crate or kennel until family dinnertime is over.
Regardless of whether it’s a bowl of popcorn in front of the television or a sandwich in the kitchen, you can use the Sit cue as a helpful motivator whenever your dog begs or gets pushy and obnoxious about food. Ignore all begging attempts, but ask your dog to sit, and when she does, give her a treat — maybe even some of your yummy food! Do this often, but only reward the Sit cue, never the pushy begging. Your dog soon learns to voluntarily sit, hoping for a treat. Reward her! A dog that sits to get what she wants is doing a good job of getting along with people. For more about teaching your dog to sit, see the “Sit, and what it’s good for” section earlier in this chapter.

Where’s the garden? Reclaiming your yard from a digger

A dog that loves to dig holes in the yard points to a lack of exercise. This bad habit is just simple good-time dog fun for Terriers and many other breeds and breed mixes. Some dogs dig to get somewhere, others love the resulting wonderfully cool dirt holes for resting on a hot summer day. Some adopted dogs got into the habit of digging during long hours alone in a yard at their previous homes and think that digging is what dogs do.
However, if you like having a lawn, flowers, pretty shrubs . . . landscaping, many trainers recommend creating a digging box for your dog. A sandbox surrounded by railroad ties or lumber makes a great spot for dogs to dig harmlessly. Tuck treats, bones, and other goodies under the sand and remember to supervise your dog. Whenever you see your dog starting to dig up your flowers or sod, take him over to his designated digging spot, point out the treats, and praise when he digs there. If your dog digs all over your yard and ignores the digging hole, then you’re neither teaching him nor supervising him enough.

Comeback Kid: Coping with Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is a behavioral disorder in which dogs become severely anxious, destructive, or injure themselves when you leave them alone. Some adopted dogs are at risk for separation anxiety because they’ve been through trauma, multiple owners, and possibly even abuse. However, even dogs with happy pasts may be drastically affected by the loss of their former owners. They may fear that they’ll lose you, too, which can result in anxiety. Puppies taken away from their mothers and littermates before 5 weeks of age also can be prone to separation anxiety.
Treat separation anxiety in partnership with your veterinarian, because only the vet can diagnose separation anxiety for certain. Behavior modification and medication can help, but you can also work with your dog at home by helping him practice enduring your absence for short periods to build his confidence. Leave for two, three, and four minutes at a time, and then come back in and greet your dog. When your dog manages even these super-short sessions without trouble, give him a reward. Dogs with separation anxiety need to learn independence, because they’re desperately attached to you. Although this connection may seem flattering to you, it certainly isn’t healthy for the dog.
Sensitive dogs can become more aggravated and upset by your absence whenever you make a big deal about leaving and coming back. Dogs pick up on the emotional cues of their humans, so minimizing the drama of your comings and goings can help. For instance, try putting your dog in his kennel or crate about 15 minutes before you leave, and then just leave without acknowledging your dog. Come back quickly, but don’t acknowledge your dog at first. Go about your normal business a spell before letting him out of his crate a few minutes after you return, casually greeting him, and perhaps offering a treat. The less anxiety you experience during your transitions to and from home, the more your dog begins to feel confident that you will come back, and that your coming and going is no cause for alarm.

Who’s the Boss? Managing Aggression

Aggression is serious business, and many pet owners downplay aggression until it’s too late and their dogs bite someone. Shelter dogs that had to fight for their meals, take on other aggressive dogs, or suffered through teasing or other human abuse can be particularly vulnerable, on guard, and ready to defend themselves. Dogs that were never socialized to many different kinds of people and situations can also be aggressive out of fear of the unknown and a resistance to change.
Fearful, anxious dogs also become aggressive in situations when they think they need to protect themselves. Many dogs are so unsure of their resources — food, toys, bones — that they viciously guard these possessions. Unsocialized dogs are not good judges of people or situations that are safe versus those that are actually threatening.
Aggression is a problem that absolutely must be handled by a professional. A trainer or canine behaviorist specializing in aggression can give you individualized strategies for dealing with your dog. Every case of aggression is different, and general suggestions may not be helpful to your dog because what works depends on the cause of the aggression. Ask your veterinarian to recommend someone specializing in treatment of aggression.
As you work with a professional, however, you help minimize your dog’s aggressive behavior by:
  • Increasing exercise!
  • Not allowing your dog to guard resources. Feed him by hand, not from a bowl. Let him chew toys only when you’re holding them. Don’t let him have anything to himself if he can’t help from aggressively guarding the possession.
  • Keeping your dog off the couch or bed whenever he growls as someone approaches. Sitting on the couch or bed is a privilege, not a right.
  • Having your dog sit before giving him anything — treats, food, even petting or praise.
  • Not letting your dog push ahead of you through doors. Keep him on a leash if necessary, even in the house.
  • Never allowing your dog off leash around other people or animals until his aggression is under control.


Never try to fight with or manhandle an aggressive dog; he may bite you. Instead, completely ignore the aggressive behavior but don’t give in to what he wants. For example, if your dog growls when you approach his food bowl, take away the food bowl.

If you are afraid of your dog, you absolutely must seek professional help, because you cannot effectively manage a dog you fear. Most important, don’t ignore aggression. It does not go away. You must deal with it.
In many cases, aggressive behavior is a factor of fear and insecurity associated with being in a new home or with past experiences that can effectively be fixed. Only a few dogs are pathologically or incurably aggressive, but they should never be adopted out in the first place, and the shelter should have evaluated these dogs as unsuitable for adoption. Yet it can happen that an incurably aggressive dog gets adopted.
Even with curable aggression, however, the help of a professional makes all the difference, so at the risk of being repetitive, I will repeat: Don’t ignore any signs of aggressive behavior. Deal with them immediately, rather than waiting until it is too late, and your dog has injured someone, or you’re forced to have him put down.

Managing the Mistreated Dog

A dog that has been mistreated can be a wonderful pet, and may only need a little extra TLC. However, later on, problems can surface that are more serious and require medical and/or behavior treatment. Maybe you’ll decide, with full knowledge, to adopt one of these special needs dogs, or, maybe you’ll end up with one despite your best efforts to screen your new pet’s behavior before adoption. Either way, consider what it means to adopt a mistreated dog, and be sure you’re prepared to handle the task.
Dealing with a mistreated dog takes huge amounts of patience, tolerance, effort, and time, an experience for which not every pet owner is cut out. That’s one reason it’s so important to screen a shelter or rescue group carefully and to ask as many questions as possible about the potential adoptee and how much the shelter or rescue group knows about the animal. Aggression and anxiety sometimes indicate past mistreatment, but dogs can experience mistreatment without exhibiting these behaviors. Many dogs come to shelters and rescue groups with mysterious, hidden pasts. Shelter and rescue workers thus have no way of knowing what these dogs have experienced.
Remember that, just like an abused child, a mistreated animal has learned that humans can’t be trusted, so show your pet that she has finally found a human who can be trusted. That, of course, means you must be trustworthy, kind, consistent, and a good provider of food, shelter, and — when your dog is ready — affection.
Lack of trust can be frustrating for a pet owner who desperately wants to hug, cuddle, pet, and comfort the dog. Some pet owners even report feeling hurt and rejected by their pets, but pets don’t hide from, fear, or growl at their owners, or destroy the drywall, simply because they don’t like them. They respond only to what they have learned in the past.

Deciding whether you can handle a problem

It takes a special kind of pet owner to deal with a special-needs dog with behavior problems. Sensitivity, patience, and a strong commitment to routine are paramount, but you must also be prepared to take on the responsibility of a pet’s behavior. Consider the following questions:
  • Are you prepared to watch over and manage your dog so thoroughly that he won’t be able to injure other people or pets, or himself?
  • Do you have the time to devote to a special-needs dog? You probably shouldn’t adopt a special-needs dog if you:
  1. Work for extended periods
  2. Are away from home most of the day
  3. Have small children who need a lot of attention
  4. Are generally busy and distracted

  • Will you get frustrated and angry at his fear and anxiety?
  • Can you deal with the possibility that your dog may destroy your possessions when he’s overcome with anxiety?
  • Can you handle the occasional sleepless night, the worry, the extra veterinary bills if health issues are a factor?
  • Are you willing to hire an animal behaviorist or trainer to help you?
If you’re not prepared to deal with these issues, you shouldn’t adopt a special-needs dog. If you are, then you may find that nurturing an abused dog back to physical and mental health is a highly gratifying, if not heartrendingly rewarding, experience. These dogs desperately need someone who can take the time to help them, but you must decide whether that job is for you or someone else.

Getting professional help

It is so important to seek professional help from a trainer who has experience with mistreated dogs, an applied animal behaviorist who specializes in pet behavior problems, or a veterinary behaviorist who has a graduate degree  in animal behavior. You may likewise want to seek help from a behavioral consultant, or someone — like a trainer, for example — who may not have an advanced degree but does have plenty of experience with animal behavior problems. Just remember to check out their references first, because they’re not subject to the same professional regulations as vets and other behavioral specialists. That said, behavioral consultants can be helpful. For more help finding a canine behaviorist near you, check out the Animal Behavior Society’s Web site at, ask your vet for a referral, or call your local university to see whether it has a department devoted to animal behavior.

by Eve Adamson

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