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How to keep your dog Under Control

Having control of your dog means keeping them safe and making sure they are safe for others.

Having "control" of your dog is about safety, not power. It is our responsibility to make sure our dogs are "canine good citizens". They don't run loose and terrorize children or other pets in the neighborhood or poop on the neighbor's lawn. 


Your dog will not do what you say just to please you. 

Your dog will not do what you say out of gratitude for showering them with affection, food, toys, and beds.

Your dog will not do what you say because he sees you as "alpha".

Behavior is shaped by CONSEQUENCES

Behavior (something the dog does) is triggered (or cued) by something in the environment (Antecedent). There's a knock at the door, you tell your dog to "Sit", they feel sick, etc. What happens immediately after the behavior is the Consequence. This is known as the A-B-C model of Behavior.


Control your dog's behavior by controlling the Antecedents and/or the Consequences. Antecedent control is Management. Consequence control is Training. Thorndike's Law of Effect says that any behavior which is followed by pleasant consequences is likely to be repeated, and any behavior followed by unpleasant consequences is likely to be avoided.

Positive, not Permissive; Discipline, not Retribution

Your dog will do what you say for only one reason. There is something in it for him. Either it feels good to do it, or it feels bad not to do it. In the old way of "training", dogs learned to comply to avoid or escape a negative Consequence. They were not doing it "because I said so". They were doing it "because I said so or else".

Modern training motivates dogs to follow cues in order to earn a positive Consequence. Dogs work for their handlers because they want to, not because they have to. They learn long-term cooperation instead of short-term compliance.


Positive training isn't only kinder. It is also more effective and without the fallout risks of aversive training. Dogs respond faster and work harder. Police and Military are now adopting positive training methods after seeing better results. One police and military dog trainer said it best. The dog is your partner, and they need to know their partner has their back. They shouldn't have to worry about the bad guy AND their partner.

Positive doesn't mean permissive. Dogs need rules not only so they don't become spoiled brats, but also to feel secure. Structure lets them know someone is Captaining the ship and keeping them safe. 

Positive means that rules are enforced fairly, but they are enforced. Firm, matter-of-fact, and with the purpose of molding the behavior and not for getting even for disobeying.

Teach your dog exactly what your words mean.

Mean what you say.

Be Patient!

Set your dog up for success.

Use the least negative consequence needed to stop the behavior.

It isn't fair to punish a dog for not following a rule they didn't know was a rule in the first place. Dogs are experts at reading body language which can fool us into thinking they understand what we are saying more than they do. Test it by turning your back to your dog and asking them to Sit. Without the context of your body language, only the most well-trained dogs will understand the word. Before assuming your dog is intentionally ignoring you, consider if they truly and fully know what you are asking them to do.


What if you know for certain that they understand what you want them to do, and they don't do it? This is where the saying "dog training teaches you patience" comes from. You simply insist they do it. It isn't necessary (or effective) to hit your dog for "disobedience". You simply have to be more stubborn than your dog is; you are the last one to blink. I once had a 45 minute standoff with my dog because I asked him to "Wait" before jumping out of the car, and he wanted to push his way out. It's a safety issue. Dogs get lost or hit by cars all the time because they bolted out the car when the door was opened. For 45 minutes, he tried to push past me while I did nothing but stand there. When he finally layed down, I invited him out of the car. The next time I asked him to "Wait" before getting out of the car, he did so right away. The Consequence of not waiting was being forced to stay in the car when he wanted out. The Consequence of waiting was getting out of the car immediately.

Consequences should not be angry. When we are angry or frustrated, our emotions are controlling us. Anger makes us less powerful. It is not "letting them get away with it" if we don't punish our dogs for unwanted behavior. That's not Consequences, it's retribution!

Studies overwhelmingly show that when owners use physical force (aggression) to "control" their dogs, dogs become aggressive in response. It’s not because the dogs have aggressive or dominant personalities but because they are acting in self-preservation. If someone hit you or wrestled you to the ground, how would you respond? It is never necessary to hit your dog or pin them to the ground to enforce the rules. 

A Note on Dominance

Social Dominance is not what most people think it is. Dominance has not been studied as much in pet dogs as in other species. What plays out in wild dogs is that only the middle ranking dogs fight with each other. Bottom dogs know they're bottom and don't rock the boat. Top dogs don't fight because they are already at the top. Picking fights with your dog to show your dominance only shows them that you don't have it.

When dogs are punished for normal dog behavior, it confuses them at best and makes them defensively aggressive at worse. Growling is a normal dog communication that should not be punished. Punishing a dog for growling is like taking the batteries out of a smoke alarm. Punishing away the dog's warning system is how to create a dog who "bites without warning". 

Recently, there is a trend of linking almost everything a dog does to "dominance". Someone told me a story about her dog sleeping on her feet, as he often did. It occurred to her that he was "trying to dominate" her, so she stomped on his paw, and he never layed on her feet again. She interepreted it as him getting the message that she was the alpha and not that he no longer trusted her to lay on her feet. Heartbreaking that an act of affection was met with an act of force because of a fictional idea. For one, Dominance is about access to resources. For two, not everything is about us!

An even worse, and sadly common scenario is the dog who has been physically punished enough that they start to defend themselves. It starts with a growl. The owner takes this as a "challenge" and becomes more forceful, so the dog escalates their warning. The owner becomes even more forceful, and so does the dog, until the dog bites them. The ending to this story is most often euthanasia for the dog.

If your dog is displaying a behavior that concerns you, email us! We have worked with too many dogs with severe behavior problems caused by incorrectly applied punishment or inappropriate punishment such as "alpha rolls". We will help you make sure yours is not one of them!

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