How to Train a Dog and Establish the Rules of the House

If you have no idea how to train a dog, fear not! Whether you seek effective puppy house training methods or basic dog obedience training, training your dog will probably be easier than you think. Puppies Puppy training should always focus on...

Last Updated on May 15, 2015 by Dogster Team

If you have no idea how to train a dog, fear not! Whether you seek effective puppy house training methods or basic dog obedience training, training your dog will probably be easier than you think.


Puppy training should always focus on socialization and the prevention of unwanted behaviors. The jumping that may be cute in your puppy will not be cute when he grows into a 175 lb. adult Saint Bernard. Rather than focusing on puppy training obedience, you should concentrate on puppy socialization and the prevention of problem behavior through rewarding desirable behaviors, and removing reinforcement for unwanted behaviors through extinction, management, or negative punishment (more on this later!)

How To Train A Dog Step 1: Reward Desirable Behavior

It is a human tendency to focus on what we don’t like, often to a fault. The crux of effective dog training, whether you are house training your dog or teaching obedience behaviors, is to never miss an opportunity to reward your dog for doing the right thing. Dog owners generally like dogs to sit politely, lie down, go settle on a mat or in a crate, or be quiet – remember to click and treat your dog for these behaviors to increase the likelihood that your dog will offer the in the future.

Depending on the situation, the right thing may vary. For dogs that are excited and jump to greet visitors, the right thing may be “four on the floor.” Click and treat your dog for all four paws on the floor when a new person approaches or enters the house. If your dog is usually barky when she sees another dog, click her for eye contact or for looking at another dog without barking.

Concentrate on what you want your dog to do instead of what you want your dog to stop doing. For problem behaviors like barking, nipping, jumping, or growling, think of what you would prefer the dog do instead and develop a training plan to get there. If you need help with training, find a qualified trainer in your area to assist you.

How To Train A Dog Step 2: Dealing With Unwanted Behavior

Extinction: Extinction involves the principal of “non-punishment, non-reinforcement,” essentially, ignoring the behavior. A lot of dogs offer unwanted behaviors because they’ve “paid off” before – dogs pull on leash because it gets their owners to move forward/faster on walks, dogs bark for attention, jump to greet, etc. Often, ignoring the behavior is the best bet – wait the dog out and then reinforce when he offers an alternative behavior (sits instead of jumping, for example). Extinction requires some patience, especially if the behavior has “paid off” for quite some time.

Watch out for extinction bursts. If the dog is used to getting your attention through barking, and suddenly you ignore the barking, the barking may intensify before it goes away. A human example is a soda machine – if for 20 years your dollar got you a soda and suddenly, no soda comes out, you may put in a few dollars before you start kicking the soda machine in frustration. Then, you give up and try the soda machine on the next floor, which is operating correctly. You must be prepared to ride out the extinction burst or the unwanted behavior may return, stronger than before.

Management: Does your dog counter surf? Get the food off the counter! Dogs counter surf to get food. Managing the situation means crating or gating your dog when food is on the counter, and removing the temptation of engaging in the unwanted behavior by cleaning up when you are not there to supervise. Management is preventing your dog from rehearsing unwanted behaviors.

Training Alternative, Incompatible Behavior – A dog cannot jump or mount if he is settling on a mat. A dog cannot bark if he is fetching a buster cube that fills his mouth. A dog cannot be aggressive with another dog when he is focused on targeting his nose to your hand. If your dog is doing something you don’t like, think of what you would like him to do instead and train that alternative, incompatible behavior to fluency!

Negative Punishment: In laymen’s terms, negative punishment means a time out for the dog. Negative punishment is very effective for self-reinforcing behaviors – behaviors dogs do because they’re “fun.” Barking, jumping, resource guarding and nipping can be self reinforcing. For guidance on when to use negative punishment as opposed to extinction – check out Laura VanArendonk Baugh’s article on eliminating unwanted behavior in a toddler.

This is but a simple introduction to training your dog. For more help, find a trainer near you. Remember, if the training isn’t fun for you and your dog, you’re not doing it right! A good trainer will produce dogs that love to work and people that love training their dogs. If either of these elements is missing, seek a new trainer today.

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