Dog Behavior and Training – Teaching Calm – Settle and Relaxation Training

Why should I teach my dog to settle?

Many behavior problems have a component of fear, anxiety or excessive arousal so that retraining cannot begin until a calm, relaxed state can be achieved on cue. Training should focus on both the behavioral response (sit, down, walk, stay on your mat) as well as the emotional state (calm, relaxed). In fact, until you can get your pet to focus and relax on cue in the absence of the stimuli that evoke anxiety or arousal, it is not practical to attempt to get your pet to relax in the presence of these stimuli.

“A good place to start is with a new set of cues that help both the pet and you to understand what behavior is desired.”

Once the dog has learned to settle on cue, it should be possible to begin exposure to gradually more intense stimuli (see Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning). The settle command could be used to achieve a focused response when the dog is overly excited or anxious such as when greeting family members, strangers or other animals. It can also be used when dogs become anxious as the owners prepare to depart or become overly excited when company arrives or when preparing for a walk.

How does settle training work?

Training your dog to respond to a verbal cue or command, or when it sees a visual cue, might be described as cueresponse-reward or command-response-reward training. Generally the sequence is: to find a means of ensuring that the pet will immediately and consistently exhibit the desired behavior; to reinforce the behavior; and then to add a cue prior to the behavior. Some of the behaviors that can be useful to place on command, especially for pets with behavior problems, are sit, down, heel, and go to your mat.

A good place to start is with a new set of cues that help both the pet and you to understand what behavior is desired. Rather than “sit,” you might use a “watch,” “steady,” “focus,” or “chill” command. Similarly, instead of “down,” a “relax,” “settle,” or “SOFT” command might be considered (see Teaching Calm – SOFT and Handling Exercises). “Follow” or “heel” (see Teaching Loose Leash Walks, Backing Up, and Turning Away) should be used for a calm, loose leash walk, and “go to your mat” should mean go settle down in your bed.

How do I get started?

Before you start training your dog, you must make sure your dog is sufficiently exercised and has an enriched daily routine (see Enrichment, Predictability, and Scheduling). Your dog must have a daily routine that includes walk/play times, feeding, time playing alone, and sleeping times. Furthermore, your dog should know what behaviors earn him a reward (see Learn to Earn – Predictable Rewards). Training a dog to settle and focus should begin in an environment where your dog is calm and there are minimal or no distractions. Although the sequence for training is to (a) give the command, (b) get the desired response (using one of the techniques described below), and (c) give clear and immediate reinforcement, training cannot begin until you have a means by which the target behavior can be reliably and consistently achieved.

There are a variety of different methods by which the initial response can be achieved. In most cases food, a toy, or a visual target (which has been associated with favored food treats) can be used to lure the pet into the desired response. Alternately, a physical device such as a leash and head halter can be used to physically prompt the dog to display the target behavior, along with immediate relaxation of tension as soon as the desired response is exhibited (see Training Products – Head Halter Training). Another option is reinforce the desired behavior when it is exhibited spontaneously and then to add a cue word just prior to the response (this technique is often used when training a pet to eliminate on cue). A SOFT relaxation exercise (see Teaching Calm – SOFT and Handling Exercises and TTouch®) can also be used to achieve a relaxed response. Food, affection, a favored toy, or a clicker (see Clicker and Target Training) can all serve as rewards if they are consistently given immediately following the behavior. These rewards should be withheld except for training (see Learn to Earn – Predictable Rewards). Over time, the behavior can be gradually shaped for greater relaxation or longer duration.

How do I achieve a relaxed state?

Once the desired response is achieved, the goal of settle and relax training is to shape gradually more settled and relaxed responses. This can be accomplished by saving favored rewards exclusively for training and immediately reinforcing the pet for the desired response. With each subsequent training session, responses of gradually longer duration and of gradually increasing relaxation should be reinforced. You will need to focus on your dog’s facial expressions, body postures and breathing in order to determine the pet’s level of relaxation (e.g., sitting with one leg tucked under the body, relaxed facial muscles, breathing regularly and slowly), before giving rewards and proceeding to gradually more successful outcomes. Clicker training can be particularly effective for marking and reinforcing gradually more desirable increments of behavior. A leash and head halter can be used to ensure success before release and reward. In order to achieve and maintain a calm response, the person doing the training must remain calm, relaxed and soft-spoken, and environment must be free of distractions. Remember, while you might be teaching the pet to sit/stay or down/stay, what you really want to emphasize is a relaxed emotional state.

How do I teach my dog “look,” “watch me,” or “focus”?

  • Show your dog a favored toy or treat and then hide it behind your back. Have your back against the wall or be in a corner so the dog can’t get behind you. An alternative method is to hide the treat in your closed hand in front of your chest in a line between your dog’s eyes and your eyes. On the first attempt it would be acceptable to show the puppy the toy or treat.
  • Say “look” or “focus” and as soon as your dog stops its attempt to get the treat and makes eye contact, use your reward or clicker and give the treat. Repeat to improve consistency and immediacy. It may be necessary to guide the dog by using your hand and bringing it up to your eyes. As the dog follows your hand, give the key word and reward eye contact.
  • For some owners it might be more practical and desirable to reward the behavior only when the dog is in the sitting position.
  • Gradually increase the amount of time you require eye contact to last and then start adding distractions in the background, like people playing, a fridge door opening, etc. Your dog only gets rewarded after maintaining (e.g., not breaking) eye contact with you. Once the dog is consistent in giving the correct response even when there are distractions, go to other places (outside) and add mild distractions, such as another dog nearby or children playing. After each successful session gradually increase the distractions and work in busier environments.
  • The goal is for your dog to maintain eye contact on cue with the key phrase for several minutes, regardless of the amount of distraction and background activity.
  • Progress gradually to longer duration and increased relaxation before rewards are given (see below).

How do I teach my dog to “settle” in a down position?

  • Another exercise would be train the dog to lie down in a relaxed position, on its belly with both hind legs on the same side. In some cases it may be useful to have the pet put their head on the ground as well. This could be accomplished using food lure training (see Learn to Earn – Predictable Rewards), leash and head halter (see Training Products – Head Halter Training), or a physical exercise (see Teaching Calm – SOFT and Handling Exercises).
  • Gradually progress to longer down stays in a variety of environments, and then gradually increase the background noise and distractions. Progress gradually to longer duration and increased relaxation before rewards are given (see below).
  • It may also be useful to teach “settle” in a sit position for training while on walks.

How do I teach a settle location (e.g., “go to your bed”)?

“The head halter is an extremely effective tool for quickly and reliably achieving the initial behavior and for progressing rapidly.”

  • Training the dog to settle indoors can sometimes be more easily accomplished by using a settle down area. The dog can be taught to “go to your mat or bed” or “go to your kennel” where it learns to stay calmly for favored rewards.
  • Food lure training or target training can be used to achieve the initial response.
  • Progress gradually to longer duration and increased relaxation before rewards are given (see below).
  • At first, you may need to leave a leash attached so that your dog can be physically prompted (taken) to the bed or mat, to ensure success and to demonstrate to the pet what behavior will result in a reward. Again, giving rewards at other times will delay learning (learn to earn).
  • If the dog is also taught to sleep in this area and favored toys are kept in the area (and if a favored treat or social interaction is given when the pet voluntarily uses the area), it may soon learn to go to this area to relax on its own.

What other devices or techniques can be used to help me get my dog to relax on cue?

“The person doing the training must remain calm.”

1. The head halter is an extremely effective tool for quickly and reliably achieving the initial behavior and for progressing rapidly to responses of longer duration and greater levels of relaxation. A pull on the leash and head halter, with or without the use of a cupped hand underneath the pets chin can pull the dog into a sit with eye contact for release and positive reinforcement. While releasing the head halter (negative reinforcement) immediately reinforces the behavior, the treat (positive reinforcement) will follow later (with gradually increasing the delay) is used for shaping the behavior. With further training the eye contact can be maintained for progressively longer intervals before reinforcing. Similarly the leash and head halter can be used to achieve a settled down response, with hind legs over to one side. A settled down of increasingly longer duration and greater relaxation can then be shaped with rewards. With the leash and head halter, the down position can be maintained until the desired outcome is achieved either by keeping a foot on the leash or by pulling gently upward as the pet begins to rise. The use of the head halter does not preclude the concurrent use of lure reward and clicker training techniques to ensure a desirable outcome. Before using a head halter make sure your dog is well trained to accept and work with it (see Training Products – Head Halter Training, Training Products – Head Halter Training – Synopsis, and Behavior Management Products).

2. Physical exercises: Techniques that use physical contact can help to increase the enjoyment and decrease any fear associated with handling and restraint. In addition, they provide a means for achieving a relaxed state, which might then be used if the dog begins to get excited or aroused. While the physical contact and attention may provide sufficient reinforcement for some dogs, food treats can also be paired with handling to mark and reward the desirable response. TTouch® (see TTouch®) and SOFT exercises (see Teaching Calm – SOFT and Handling Exercises) are two physical/interactive exercises that are designed to help pets relax. While these are specific techniques, any physical handling that is associated with a positive outcome can be a valuable training exercise. In addition, by withholding affection when the pet solicits it, it increases its motivational value and usefulness as a reward. See our individual handouts that detail these exercises. Physical exercises are intended to be used only with friendly, non-aggressive dogs. If you think your dog might become aggressive, do not begin without first discussing this with your behavior consultant. If your dog growls or attempts to bite, becomes fearful, or struggles excessively during these exercises, immediately discontinue them and seek the advice of a behaviorist or trainer.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM © Copyright 2012 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Destructive Behavior in Dogs – Digging

Why do dogs dig?

Digging behavior in dogs can have many motivations. Some breeds, such as the Northern breeds (Huskies, Malamutes) dig cooling holes and lie in them. On a very hot summer day any dog may dig a hole to cool off. Breeds such as the terriers have been bred to flush out prey or dig for rodents. With their ability to hear high frequency sounds, and their highly acute sense of smell, some dogs dig as a direct result of odors or sounds such as those from voles and moles that attract the pet from beneath the ground. Pregnant bitches dig when nesting. Dogs dig to bury or retrieve bones. Dogs also dig to escape from confinement or due to separation anxiety. Digging may also be an activity similar to destructive chewing that occurs when pets are left alone with insufficient stimulation or attention. This is particularly so in puppies and in highly energetic dogs. For details on treating these problems, see our handouts on ‘Destructive Behavior in Dogs – Chewing’ and ‘Separation Anxiety in Dogs’.

How can I determine why my dog is digging?

The first step in treating inappropriate digging behavior is to determine the reason for digging. Prevention, remote punishment, and booby-traps may also be needed, but reducing your dog’s motivation to dig, and providing for all of its needs are essential so that digging is not merely redirected to a new location. Inhibiting or preventing all digging, without understanding and dealing with the dog’s motivation could result in new behavior problems such as chewing, excessive vocalization, or escape behaviors.

“Inhibiting or preventing all digging, without understanding and dealing with the dog’s motivation could result in new behavior problems…”

For example, dogs that dig because they are pursuing prey will continue unless you can get rid of the prey. Dogs that dig in an attempt to get cool should be provided with a cool resting area with plenty of shade and water. On very hot days, it may be best to bring your dog inside. Dogs that are digging to bury or to uncover previously buried objects could be provided with an area where this type of digging is acceptable.

One of the most common reasons for digging is as a form of play and exploration. Additional play, training and exercise sessions may be needed to keep digging behaviors under control, especially if your dog is young and very active. Dogs that continue to dig may require additional stimulation to keep them occupied when the owners are not around. Insuring that your dog has a regular and sufficiently enriching daily routine can go a long way to preventing problems such as digging (see our handouts on ‘Training Dogs – Enrichment, Predictability and Scheduling’). Whenever your pet is left outdoors unsupervised, it should be at a time when it has had sufficient social interaction and exercise, and some reward based training. Providing a variety of toys for object play can help give the pet some constructive activities in which to participate while outdoors. In fact, leaving the dog alone unattended can be an excellent time to leave food manipulation toys, so that the dog can occupy its time working for food rather than digging (see ‘Behavior Modification – Working for Food – Dogs and Cats’). In addition, daily walks around the neighborhood provide exercise and stimulation that can be very satisfying for many dogs.

Treatment for this type of digging is similar to those recommended in our puppy handout on ‘Destructive Behavior in Dogs – Chewing’. If your dog is outside all day and digging is taking place, you do need to ask yourself if keeping the dog inside may be a better answer. This is particularly true for the dog that digs to escape from the yard or confinement area. If you are unable to keep the dog inside because of house-soiling, destruction, or separation anxiety then you may need to address those problems first. See our handouts on these topics as needed.

How can I stop inappropriate digging?

a) Provide an allowable digging area

For some dogs it may be useful for you to create an area where the dog is allowed to dig. This could be a spot in the backyard where you have placed soft, loose dirt; perhaps you can use railroad ties to delineate the location. Next, make this place somewhere that your dog would like to dig. Bury things there that your pet would like to dig up. You might need to start with food that is only lightly covered. Then put things deeper into the ground. If you do this (when your dog is not watching!) at irregular intervals, your dog should be more likely to dig there than other locations in your yard. Another option is to allow the dog to dig in a spot where it has already chosen, and to prevent digging in other locations by supervision, confinement (prevention), or booby-traps.

b) Supervision and punishment

Supervision and direct intervention (shaker can, verbal reprimand, water sprayer) can be used to prevent inappropriate digging in the owner’s presence, but will not stop the behavior in the owner’s absence. Remote punishment (turning on a hose or sprinkler, pulling on a long leash, using remote citronella collar), booby-traps (placing chicken wire, rocks or water where the pet digs), or covering the surface with one that is impervious (asphalt/patio stones) might teach the pet to avoid the digging site even in the owner’s absence. These techniques do not however prevent the pet from digging in other locations. For more information on these techniques and possible complications see our handouts on ‘Behavior Modification – Using Punishment Effectively’ and ‘Behavior Modification – Why Punishment Should be Avoided’.

What else can be done if inappropriate digging continues when I am not around to supervise?

“When you are unavailable to supervise your dog, housing the dog indoors is the most practical solution until he or she has learned to stay outdoors without digging.”

When you are unavailable to supervise your dog, housing the dog indoors is the most practical solution until he or she has learned to stay outdoors without digging. If you would like to continue to leave it outdoors, it is best to confine the dog to an area such as a pen or run, so that it has no access to the digging areas. The run should be inescapable, and could be covered with gravel, patio tiles or have an asphalt or concrete floor so that it cannot escape or do damage. Of course it will be necessary to provide sufficient exercise and stimulation before confining the dog and an adequate number of treats and play toys in the run to keep the dog occupied. Another alternative is to provide an area within the pen or run where digging is allowed.

Additional Help

There are many options available for more help with your dog. One of the very best in our area is Smart Dog University. Check out their website at for helpful newsletters, classes, and other cool dog info.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, Diplomate ACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, Diplomate ACVB

© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Behavior Modification – TTouch®

What is TTouch®?

Tellington TTouch® was developed by Linda Tellington-Jones as a method of behavioral modification and animal treatment without the use of force. Today, it is used on animals and people to reduce tension and also treat some stress related problems.

What is involved?

The technique consists largely of controlled massage procedures, many of which, through their relaxing effects, help the animal to learn new and more appropriate behaviors more easily.

What sort of problems can be benefited by TTouch®?

TTouch® is used as a training aid in dogs, cats and other animals. Conditions in which benefit has been noted include excessive barking and chewing, lead pulling, jumping up, aggressive behavior, fear, shyness, excitability, car sickness and also some problems associated with aging.

“TTouch® has been found useful in therapy programs foranxious dogs that fear events over which they have no control.”

It is often advocated as part of general relaxation in many training programs for both dogs and cats, especially in very tense individuals. Thus it has been found useful in therapy programs for anxious dogs that fear events over which they have no control (e.g., fireworks, thunderstorms, or even the imminent departure of their owner from the premises).

What is involved?

As with any basic behavior modification technique, improvement is gradual. First the animal has to learn to relax as a result of the TTouch® technique selected. The technique is then employed when the animal is confronted with the problem triggering the unwanted behavior. Thus a dog that vocalizes, soils inappropriately or becomes destructive on being left alone may be conditioned to relax in a normal environment as a result of one of the TTouch® massage techniques. Once relaxation has become established, previous triggers signaling the immediate departure of the owner are put in place (e.g., putting on shoes, picking up car keys). The TTouch® technique is then employed before any departure is made. The pet is thus gradually desensitized to the problem, often using other established desensitization techniques in conjunction with the TTouch®.

If, after reasonable rehearsal the animal does not relax, then a less challenging procedure should be used (e.g., picking up the keys and then putting them down before massaging the dog).

Is special training necessary before I can administer TTouch®?

It is important that you are personally relaxed, and the easiest way to achieve this is by controlled deep breathing. In this way, you do not communicate tension to the animal. When you are tense, it is impossible to apply the “touches” properly because in effect, TTouch® involves a partnership between you and your pet. Every animal varies and the right pressure for one may not be the same for another. This is part of the skill of the therapist. Practice with a friend in order to get feedback as to whether you are generating the right feel. Remember the “touches” have to be repeated several times over different parts of the body.

Are there many different TTouches®?

There are a whole range of TTouch® that have been found to be helpful. They have been given specific and in many cases evocative names in order to identify them. For example the Clouded Leopard is a basic circular movement that is used in many animals especially highly muscled dogs. Press one hand on the animal and gently cup the other like a paw. The pads of the thumb and the fingers should be in gentle contact with the body but not moving. The three middle finger pads should be held together. The skin is then moved in a clockwise direction starting with an upward motion, moving in a small circle about half an inch in diameter. After making one and a bit revolutions you then move to another part of the animal’s body and repeat the process. Rapid circles appear to increase alertness and slower ones release muscular tension and enhance breathing.

“There are a whole range of TTouches® that have been found to be helpful.”

There is also the Lying Leopard that is very similar to the Clouded Leopard. This involves the same circular movements but the hand is held a little flatter so there is more hand surface in contact with the animal’s body. The increased contact with the dog appears to improve the relaxation generated particularly in fearful or easily startled dogs. If the dog is very excited, start by making a few circles quickly and then slow down as the dog calms down. This particular touch is reputed to help relieve the pain associated with some injuries.

A further modification of this circular motion is the Abalone, also used to calm anxious and excitable animals. The full hand is placed in contact with the animal and moved in a one and a quarter circle but the stroke ends with a reverse action.

Another touch that is frequently used is the so-called Tarantulas Pulling the Plough. Here a fold of skin is taken between the thumb and forefingers of each hand with the thumbs behind the fold touching one another. The fingers are then walked against the natural lie of the hair with the thumbs gently pushing the fold along from behind. This is often used in animals that are very sensitive to touch.

Other techniques include ear and mouth work, again endeavoring to calm and relax the animal.

Will it help if I try to employ some of these techniques?

TTouch® appears to help calm a large proportion of pets. However, whether it is the specific touch techniques or merely the effects of training your pet to relax with a gentle and calm massage, has yet to be validated. Obviously, particularly with ear and mouth work caution has to be employed. Pets that are nervous or potentially aggressive may soon learn to enjoy this type of handling if progress is slow and positive, but if safety is a factor or if the pet shows any anxiety you would be best to avoid working toward the ears or mouth.

“TTouch® appears to help calma large proportion of pets.”

TTouch®, when employed with confident and relaxed actions by the therapist often helps to avoid problems that can arise with nervous animals. For example it may be useful at easing the anxiety of a pet in the veterinary hospital.

How can I find out more information about TTouch®?

Linda Tellington-Jones’ website,, gives further information about TTouch®

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM © Copyright 2012 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license

Training Products for Dogs – Muzzle Training

Why should I muzzle my dog?

If you know your dog has any potential to be aggressive, then it is irresponsible to risk the health and safety of others by not taking suitable precautions. This may not mean that you need to muzzle your dog in all situations; only those in which there is a potential for injury, based on how your dog has reacted in similar situations in the past.

“Muzzles can be used to test the dog’s response to potentially problematic situations, to help introduce dogs that might be aggressive to people or other animals, and to temporarily prevent damage to the household…”

Muzzles might be advisable, even if the dog has not yet displayed aggressive tendencies, in those situations where the dog might become fearful or defensive. Muzzles can be used to test the dog’s response to potentially problematic situations, to help introduce dogs that might be aggressive to people or other animals, and to temporarily prevent damage to the household in dogs that ingest or destroy objects in the environment. In certain jurisdictions where breed bans have been introduced, or if a dog has been determined to be potentially dangerous, there may be laws mandating muzzle use in public.

Aren’t muzzles cruel?

Muzzles themselves are not cruel, but they may cause welfare problems if they are not used appropriately. If you follow the guidelines below, your pet should actually enjoy being muzzled. The most common errors are to only use a muzzle when something nasty is going to happen to your pet, e.g. when he is about to be injected; to expect your dog to instantly accept the muzzle; or to leave the muzzle on excessively. However, it is important to realize that a dog cannot pant effectively when wearing a muzzle and may overheat in hot weather. Therefore, you must be cautious about the total time a dog is wearing a muzzle based on weather conditions.

What types of muzzle are there?

“There are two common types of muzzle, the basket muzzle and the nylon muzzle.”

There are two common types of muzzle, the basket muzzle and the nylon muzzle. Both have their uses. The basket muzzle allows your dog more freedom to pant and drink if properly fitted. The nylon muzzle prevents the dog from opening its mouth, and may lead to overheating if left on the dog too long since it restricts panting and drinking. Some nylon muzzles

have a mesh covering over the end to provide for a looser fit and more opportunity to pant, while others have a medium size opening at the end for the nose and mouth, through which small tidbits can also be given. However, the dog may still provide a small nip with this latter type of muzzle.

How do I train my dog to enjoy being muzzled?

It is important to find an effective and comfortable muzzle for your dog. This may take a bit of time but it is worth shopping around. Some muzzles can be easily slipped off by pawing at them. A properly fitted muzzle should be difficult if not impossible for your dog to remove. Some muzzles come with (or can be affixed with) a strap that attaches from the muzzle over the top of the dog’s head (passing between the eyes) to the dog’s collar so that it cannot be pulled off by the dog.

The first time you muzzle your dog should not be in a conflict or fearful situation. Instead, it should be introduced to your dog in a slow, progressive manner while the dog is calm. Show your dog the muzzle, let him sniff to investigate it and give him a treat before putting the muzzle away. Repeat this procedure several times. This starts to build a positive association with the muzzle.

Next, hold the muzzle in front of your dog’s face, position the muzzle as if you would be placing it on your dog, place some treats inside and encourage him to take them out. Gradually place the treats further inside so that he sticks his head all the way into the muzzle.

Next, slip the muzzle on for a few seconds without fastening it and reward your dog when you take it off. Slowly increase the time you leave it on from a few seconds to a minute or more and only reward your pet if he remains calm. Be sure to set things up so your dog succeeds, by only placing the muzzle on for a short time. You must only remove the muzzle when the dog is calm and quiet, not when it is fussing or pawing. Each time you offer the muzzle to your dog try placing treats inside for a pleasant association with the procedure. When the muzzle is on, you can offer treats through the side as well.

“The longer the time that the muzzle is left on, the greater the reward should be when it comes off, particularly if your dog has made no effort to remove it.”

Once your dog accepts the muzzle, you can try fastening it. Again the length of time that it is left on needs to be increased gradually. While the muzzle is on the dog, you can reward him with affection or play (if he can be sufficiently distracted that he does not show any fear). If your dog enjoys walks or games of chase, this might be enough of a diversion to help him or her adapt to the muzzle more quickly. The longer the time that the muzzle is left on, the greater the reward should be when it comes off, particularly if your dog has made no effort to remove it. You should aim to work towards keeping your dog muzzled for about thirty minutes. The goal is to only remove the muzzle when the dog is calm and quiet, not struggling. If you remove the muzzle immediately after the dog struggles or paws at it, the dog may learn that these actions get the muzzle removed. Using treats intermittently through out the process will help many dogs adjust.

Start muzzling your dog before you go for walks, but continue to avoid situations that might lead to fear, anxiety or conflict for your dog. If you feel you must take the muzzle off for some of the time, do it when you start to head home and get your dog to keep to a close heel on the lead after removing the muzzle. Always give him lots of praise when you take the muzzle off.

Once this routine has been established, your dog should be muzzled before you encounter known conflict or problem situations. Your pet should still be muzzled at other times for play and walks so that it does not start to resent or predict these few necessary occasions. Some dogs can also wear a head halter underneath the muzzle for additional control. You should never remove the muzzle when your pet is trying to remove it. He can be encouraged to leave it alone by a slight tug on a lead. When he relaxes, the muzzle can be removed. If this happens, you may have been expecting too much too soon. The important rule is to work at a rate that your pet can accept and cope with. This may mean that the whole training program may take a few weeks rather than a few days.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, Diplomate ACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, Diplomate ACVB

© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Puppy Behavior Training – Training – Sit, Down, Stand and Stay

How do I teach my puppy to sit on command?

Using a food treat, hold the food over the dog’s nose and slowly move it up and back over the dog’s head. As the puppy follows the food with its head it will sit down. Now couple the word “sit” with the action. The upward motion of the hand as you hold the food treat also serves as a visual command for the puppy. If the pup lifts its front legs you are holding the food treat too high. As soon as the puppy sits, say “good sit” and give the treat. Many repetitions may be necessary for the pup to learn the association. Next, practice getting the puppy to rise from a down position into a sit by bringing the food treat up and back. As soon as the puppy will follow the treat into the sit, begin to use the hand motion and the word sit but keep the treat hidden so that your puppy learns to respond to the hand signal or verbal command and not the sight of the treat. Gradually, as the puppy understands what you want it to do, only give the treats intermittently. The goal is to have the puppy learn to sit from any position (standing or lying down) and to then progress to a variety of locations around the home as well as outdoors.

“For some puppies, teaching the “down” command can be very difficult.”

It is especially important to teach your puppy to sit by the front door. A dog that readily sits by the front door will do better when greeting guests. If the puppy sits reliably and consistently, practice sit training before feeding, giving toys or treats or during play. In fact, any time the puppy is to be given a reward of any type, whether food, a toy, a walk or even affection, it would be a good time to practice a training command such as sit. For puppies that are easily distracted and hard to be focused, consider using a leash and head halter to prompt the puppy into position and then release and give the treat as soon as the sit is achieved.

How do I teach my puppy to lie down on command?

Start with your puppy in a sit position. To get the puppy to lie down, take a treat and lower it between the puppy’s front paws and say “down.” Usually the puppy will follow the treat and go down. If the puppy does not lie all the way down, slowly push the treat between the paws and if the puppy lies down give it the treat and, of course, add “good dog”. If the puppy stands up, start over. For some puppies, teaching the “down” command can be very difficult. An alternative method is instead of pushing the food treat backwards is to slowly pull the treat forward. If that does not work, sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and slightly bent at the knees. Take a hand with a treat in it and push it out under your knee from between your legs. As the puppy tries to

get the food treat, slowly bring it back under your knee. As the puppy tries to follow, it will usually lie down. Once the puppy understands the “down” command, make sure that you vary the starting position. You should try to get your puppy to “down” from both a stand and a sit.

How can I teach my puppy to \”stay\” on command?

Puppies can be taught to stay for short periods of time at a young age. Once they sit on command each and every time they are asked, without the need for food inducements, training can proceed to more difficult concepts such as “stay”. First the pup is taught to stay without moving as you stand in front for 1 to 2 seconds. Remember you are actually teaching two things; first, “don’t move” and second, “don’t move when I move.” Initially, give the puppy the “sit” command, say “stay” (using a hand as a stop sign can be a good visual cue), take one step away, and then return to the puppy and reward it for not moving. Be very careful that the puppy does not stand up or move as you present the reward because then you will have rewarded “getting up.” Gradually increase the distance by a step at a time and the length of the stay by a few seconds at a time, until the puppy can stay for a minute or more with you standing at least 10 feet away.

“Using the concepts discussed, a dog can be trained to perform anything that it is physically capable of.”

It is important to set up the puppy to succeed. Proceeding very slowly, and keeping a long lead attached to the puppy so that it cannot run away can help ensure success. Be patient. It can take a week or more of daily training to progress to a “sit” and “stay” for 1 to 2 minutes. Over a few months it should be possible to increase the “stay” to 15 minutes or more, and to be able to leave the room and return without the puppy rising from its “stay.” For these longer stays it may be better to use a “down-stay” (lying down and staying in place) combination, and to train the dog in a favored resting or sleeping area. A leash and head halter can help to more quickly shape gradually longer sit-stays since a gentle pull is usually all it takes to keep the puppy in the sit position. Once extended ‘sit-stays’ are accomplished, the command can be used to prevent many potential behavior problems. For example, if you practice “sit and stay” by the front door, this command can then be used to prevent running out the door and jumping on company. Have your puppy sit and stay while you place the food on the floor and then give him an OK or release command. This will help establish your control.

How can I teach my dog to stand on command?

Place your puppy in a “sit” position. Take the food treat palm facing up and move it forward and away from the pup as you say “stand.” Your puppy should again follow his nose and stand up. Don’t pull your hand so far away that the puppy follows you, but just until it stands up.

What else can I teach my dog?

Using the concepts discussed above, a dog can be trained to perform anything that it is physically capable of. A “down” or “sit” can be extended from several seconds to many minutes as long as we progress gradually or “shape” the dog’s behavior. In shaping, we determine our ultimate goal, such as a 20-minute stay, and reward successive increments of the behavior until we reach that goal. For example, once the dog will sit for 3 seconds before the reward is given, we can repeat the command and when the puppy sits we wait for 4 seconds before the reward is given. Proceed very slowly, ensuring that the puppy is performing the behavior properly a few times in a row before proceeding to the next step.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM © Copyright 2013 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Puppy Behavior and Training – Handling and Food Bowl Exercises

What are handling exercises, and why might they be useful?

Exercises that use gentle and positive handling can help to increase the enjoyment and decrease any fear associated with handling and restraint. In addition, they provide a means for achieving a relaxed state, which might then be used if the dog begins to get excited or aroused. Verbal and physical exercises can and should also be used to help achieve a relaxed state. While the physical contact and attention you provide may be sufficiently reinforcing for most puppies, food treats can also be paired with handling to mark and reward the desirable response.

One important principle to always keep in mind is that the hand should always be an indication that something good is about to happen (e.g., the hand is a friend). This means that physical punishment and forceful handling must be avoided.

At what age should handling exercises begin?

Young puppies should be handled regularly, at least a couple of times a day. In fact, puppies that are handled each day from birth onward are generally faster to develop, more able to handle stress, and perhaps more social than those that have not been handled regularly. Therefore, obtaining puppies that have been reared in a home environment with regular handling would be very beneficial.

From the time you first obtain your new puppy, you will want to engage in frequent handling simply to provide regular and positive physical contact from family members. Over time, handling should progress to all parts of the body, including mild forms of restraint (such as a soft hand on the chest to stop forward movement), so that you gradually and positively accustom your puppy to procedures that might be needed later in life. For example, gentle handling around the muzzle, face and ears might help your puppy adapt to, and enjoy handling these parts of the body. Similarly, stroking and rubbing all areas of the body when the puppy is in the mood for affection, can help to accustom the dog to grooming, while handling the feet can help to prepare the puppy for nail trimming. Training the dog to be lifted and carried, or to roll over on its side or back for a tummy rub can also be valuable exercises to ensure safety in later handling. Remember to keep each handling exercise positive; a few food treats given with each exercise can be helpful. Ending the session when the puppy is relaxed and calm can help in establishing these handling exercises as one method of settling your dog when it gets excited. If there is any resistance, proceed more slowly and increase the value of the toys and treats used to distract and reinforce the puppy. Some goals for handling would be lifting, teeth brushing, brushing, bathing, cleaning ears, giving pills, and applying a leash and collar or head halter. If the rewards are sufficiently motivating the puppy should learn that each of these forms of handling is positive.

These exercises are not intended to force your puppy to accept handling; in fact, forceful handling such as pinning and rollovers are likely to lead to escape and defensive behavior, and fear and anxiety about further handling. Therefore each session should end on a calm note and must not proceed beyond a level that the puppy will not tolerate.

What type of exercises might help to get my puppy used to handling?

Body handling

You will do yourself and your new pet a favor by teaching your new puppy to allow you to handle his body. Throughout the life of your dog, there will be times that you need to restrain your dog, lift your dog or handle various parts of the dog’s body. This may become necessary when its time to brush your dog’s teeth, trim its nails, give medication, or clean its ears. Yet if you have never handled an adult dog these simple tasks could become impossible. Handling also serves to simulate the physical contact of the bitch, other puppies or another dog in the group. The young puppy must be taught to feel comfortable with this type of handling.

Gently handle your puppy daily. Pick a time when your puppy is calm, such as just after a nap. Do not try to start a body handling exercise when your puppy is excited, rambunctious or in the mood for play. Place the puppy in your lap (either while in a chair or for larger puppies while seated on the floor) and touch the feet, open the mouth, look in the ears and under the tail. All the while, praise your puppy for being good, even offer a few tasty food treats. Be sure to keep initial sessions very short, since you want your puppy to succeed and not struggle. If the session is too long you run the risk of the puppy struggling and getting free. This is not the message you want your puppy to learn. Gradually increase the amount of time you handle your puppy so that no struggle ensues. Soon the puppy will allow and perhaps anticipate these handling sessions. All family members should participate in this exercise. An adult should supervise young children. If you see any hesitance or reluctance on the part of the puppy, you will want to repeat the exercise until you can accomplish the handling without resistance. Do not punish, scold or reprimand your puppy for wiggling or even aggression during this exercise. Punishment will not decrease fear, arousal or anxiety about the exercise. It may make the puppy sit still or be quiet this time but it has not ensured future successes! Do the same exercises a little more gently or in a slightly different location, give some tasty treats for compliance, and progress gradually to more difficult situations. Never force the puppy to the point that it exhibits fear or attempts escape. On the other hand if you do not gradually overcome the resistance, the puppy may never allow the handling as an adult. Over time, your puppy should allow you to place pressure on the back of its neck while it is in a down position, to roll it onto its side, to grasp its muzzle like you might administer medication and to be lifted. These forms of handling should not be used for punishment.

Food bowl handling

Another important exercise is to acclimate your puppy to having his food and possessions touched by humans. Dogs in the wild may guard their food to prevent its loss, while that is not necessary in the home your puppy may have a natural, instinctive tendency to protect what it has. You need to teach the puppy that you are not going to take away the food and not give it back. Handle the food bowl while your puppy eats, pet and praise your puppy, give a special treat and every now and then lift the bowl, place in a special treat, and return it. Similarly, when walking past the puppy while it is eating, you can place a treat in its food bowl, or reach down, pat the puppy and give a treat. This should be an “A” reward. This way the puppy learns not only to tolerate intrusions and disturbance while it eats but is being conditioned that when people approach really wonderful treats are associated and the puppy will have a pleasant association with this situation. Once these lessons are learned a puppy is less likely to be startled and react aggressively should something unexpected happen when eating. If the treat you add is tasty enough, the puppy will pause when you approach and anticipate that you may have something better! Families often worry about children being bitten by a dog that is eating; as much as good parenting should involve teaching the children to never approach a dog while eating, children may still approach a dog at meal time either intentionally or accidentally. If the dog has been taught to expect a treat, praise or toy when people approach then the dog is more likely to greet a child with curious enthusiasm than aggression. If any growling should occur you should seek professional guidance immediately. Punishment of growling will only ensure that this puppy becomes more aggressive. Realize a growl is dog communication for “if this continues, I will bite”; it is a warning and tells you how the dog feels. Punishment is not going to make him feel better about your approach. If there is competition with other dogs over food, the puppy should be fed separately or perhaps even in another room. Not all puppies will respond to these interventions, their desire to protect their food could be quite strong and is a natural, innate trait.

“Don’t punish dogs for growling to protect food or toy items.”

All physical reprimands must be avoided however, since they will tend to increase the anxiety about eating. Physical corrections for growling may be effective at stopping a dog from growling without changing his underlying emotion; in which case you have a dog that feels threatened but won’t communicate by growling so when a bite occurs there was not a warning. Consultation with a veterinary behaviorist is recommended.

Most dogs will benefit from having their food provided inside toys that require chewing, rolling, pawing, shaking or flipping to release the food. Your dog may be just as possessive about these toys; however, since you will be giving a number of toys with smaller amounts at each meal time rather than a Don’t punish dogs for growling to protect food or toy items. bowl filled with food, many dogs will allow you to give new toys in exchange for the empty toy. In time if you have the puppy sit or even come away from its toy and sit before you give the new food toy, the puppy may learn that you are the source of new food and toys, rather than a threat to removing toys. Therefore, feeding small amounts of food in toys, provides multiple possibilities to provide food as long as your puppy leaves its food toy and sits patiently for the next toy. Again if there are any threats or your puppy is not willing to leave its toy for a new one, you should proceed only with the use of a head halter for training and seek the guidance of a behaviorist if there is any possibility of injury.

Toy handling

You should also practice gently taking toys from the puppy. Quietly and calmly place your hand on the toy and tell your puppy “give” as you remove it from its mouth. Then say “thank you” or “good boy” with lots of praise and animation. Then return the object as you tell your puppy to “take it.” Repeat this training task multiple times daily in multiple locations. At times take the object and offer a really great treat. The value of the treat must far outweigh the value of the toy. Be careful not to overdo the exercise. The goal is for your puppy to anticipate that good things happen when you approach while he has a toy. Excessive repetitions of this may actually teach the dog to be protective. The puppy should always see you approaching with something better and the motivation should always be that there is more in it for him if he releases his toys to you.

“Quietly and calmly place your hand on the toy and tell your puppy ‘give’as you remove the toy from its mouth.”

If the puppy enjoys chasing the toy, you could also play a chase and retrieve game. It is generally best to schedule play times regularly throughout the day rather than allowing the puppy to initiate games of tug and chase. In this way, attention-seeking behavior is not reinforced, and toys can be used as a reward for desirable behavior. In fact, toy-handling exercises can be used to teach the ‘give’ command. If the puppy learns that something good comes when relinquishing objects, you should soon be able to handle any toy that your puppy has. Your puppy will learn that it is okay and even

desirable for you to handle its possessions, and that you will give them back. The puppy should then be unconcerned should you need to remove something from the mouth. Occasionally there are likely to be items the puppy really wants, such as very delectable food items or chew bones. If the puppy protects these items, lure the puppy away with another treat and go back and get the items. Avoid a confrontation; it will only make it worse in the future. Avoid giving those items to your puppy in the future.

What if my puppy resists these handling exercises?

All dogs need veterinary care, grooming and handling of their personal space. If this is taught to puppies by a calm, pleasant, positive approach then the benefits of the lessons described here will last a lifetime. Some puppies resist certain forms of handling and may try to escape or even become defensive. Although invasive or intensive forms of handling should initially be avoided, it should be your long-term goal to overcome this resistance through positive reinforcement and shaping. To achieve success, especially with puppies that resist, follow a few basic guidelines:

  1. Begin these exercises when the puppy is in the mood, but not necessarily when the puppy is demanding affection or attention, as this might reinforce demanding and attention seeking behavior. Wait for a time when the puppy is calm and quiet, perhaps just as it is awakening from a rest time. In addition, if you give the puppy all the affection it wants, whenever it wants, then there may be times when it is resistant and doesn’t want any more. Therefore the first rule of thumb is to use a “learn to earn program” where affection and social contact is given as a reward for desirable behavior. Try giving a “sit” or “lie down” command when the puppy seems to want attention and then give the affection as a reward. Another option is to call the puppy (e.g., come) or go to the puppy to give attention when it is resting quietly on the floor or when it is chewing on a favored toy. Be aware of any threats or anxiety however, as this might indicate emerging possessive behavior.
  2. Ensure that the puppy is enjoying itself during petting and affection. Try to end your session with the puppy relaxed and still in the mood for more, rather than when the puppy resists and indicates that it has had enough.
  3. Shape gradually more desirable responses by beginning with the type of handling that the puppy enjoys and craves (e.g., stroking the head, rubbing the belly) and then progress to other areas of the body such as around the muzzle, the back of the neck, the body, the legs and feet, the belly and around the tail.
  4. At any point, if the puppy resists or objects, you should attempt to settle the puppy down and stop the exercises. While we do not want to force the puppy to accept something that it does not like, we also do not want the puppy to learn that escape or biting will be a successful way to end the session. A head halter might be considered for further training to ensure a successful conclusion to each session. You may give a sticky treat like peanut butter or squeeze cheese to help settle and focus your puppy so the lesson could continue. The treat should come at the same time as the handling. For example, you can wiggle his tail with one hand while simultaneously releasing cheese from the can from the other.
  5. If you have encountered resistance during a previous session, determine the puppy’s limits and use food treats or favored toys to distract the puppy as you begin to handle these areas. Once the pet associates the handling with something positive, you can proceed slowly, always ending on a positive note. Your goal is not that your puppy tolerates these exercises, but that he enjoys and looks forward to them.
  6. Ultimately you will want to progress to procedures such as turning the dog onto its side, back or belly, lifting, brushing or combing the coat, brushing the gums and teeth, trimming the nails or even taking the dog’s temperature. Therefore handling exercises should be designed to achieve these goals while the puppy is still young and manageable by progressing very slowly and using favored rewards for distraction and counter-conditioning whenever necessary, to ensure a positive outcome. Luring techniques may be used to help a puppy successfully get into side lying positions without force. Remember sessions should be short, puppies have short attention spans and tolerance.
  7. Continue to progress by proofing your puppy against the types of handling that it may someday need to confront At this point, verbal commands may also be useful. For example, lifting may be proceeded by the “up” command and your dog can receive favored rewards while being carried. During a “down” exercise you might consider adding some light pressure downward on the neck or back (as might happen if a child were to rest against the dog). During standing the tail might be lifted or handled; during the sit the muzzle might be gently grasped; and during the sit, stand or down, gentle hugging might be practiced. While it is generally advisable to avoid these types of handling, as a rewarded exercise during training these forms of physical restraint can be valuable learning experiences. For adapting puppies to nail trimming and tooth brushing.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM © Copyright 2013 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Puppy Behavior and Training – Biting

Why is my puppy nipping and biting family members?

Although often thought to be a teething behavior, nipping, mouthing and biting in young dogs is generally a form of social play. Teething is more likely to involve gnawing or chewing on household objects. The first thing you must do is to provide a regular daily routine that includes ample opportunity for play (see Enrichment, Predictability, and Scheduling and Play and Exercise). Social play with people could involve controlled chase and retrieve games, as well as long walks or jogging. Many dogs also enjoy engaging in tug games, which may be an excellent outlet for play biting, providing the games are directed toward appropriate play toys and objects (see below) and under human control. However, if the puppy’s play becomes too rambunctious or aggressive, these games may not initially be acceptable.

“Puppies need to learn to limit the force of their bite, commonly known as bite inhibition.”

Puppies need to learn to limit the force and strength of their bite so if mouth contact is utilized, the message is communicated with minimal damage, commonly known as bite inhibition. This is something they start to learn while with their littermates. It is one reason that puppies should not go to new homes until 7 to 8 weeks of age and they have had time to practice social skills with other dogs. Often littermates play very rough and may even seem loud and aggressive. Sometimes one puppy bites another one too hard and screams out; this startles the offending puppy and teaches him how hard to bite during play. These lessons are essential for a puppy and people should not intervene in most littermate puppy – puppy interactions. In addition, after puppies have been adopted into the new home, it can be extremely beneficial to have regular interactive social play periods with other dogs or puppies in the home or in the neighborhood (see Play and Exercise). One of the things that puppies need to learn is how much pressure from their jaws causes pain. Without this feedback, a puppy does not learn to inhibit the force of its bite. Because all dogs can and will bite at some time, this lesson is vital for human safety.

How can I stop play biting?

Be sure you are providing the puppy adequate and appropriate play, exploration, attention and exercise opportunities. Strategies to stop play biting include:

  1. Prevention: Adopt a puppy at 7 weeks so he has had the opportunity to practice normal, social play with littermates and mom.
  2. Set up to succeed: Provide a “mouthy” puppy with toys for oral stimulation; soft toys, food toys and tug of war can help satisfy these puppies’ oral and exploratory needs. Kingsbrook Animal Hospital 5322 New Design Road, Frederick, MD, 21703 Phone: (301) 631-6900 Website:
  3. Be consistent: Family members should agree that the puppy not be allowed or encouraged to bite or nibble on people’s hands, feet or clothing. What seems cute and innocent in a puppy will not be at maturity.

How is this lesson taught?

When puppies play with each other, if one puppy bites another too hard, the bitten puppy will yelp, and may also stop playing and leave.

This sends the message to the puppy that its bites were too hard and if it wishes to continue to play, it needs to be gentle. However, people often do not send this message to their puppy. In the beginning, some owners might allow their puppies to chew and bite on them without reprimands and the puppy assumes that the behavior is acceptable.

Children appear to be most vulnerable because their attempts at stopping the biting may not be properly timed or sufficiently abrupt to stop the puppy from biting. In fact a child’s response is often seen by the puppy as an invitation to increase its level of chase and play. Adult supervision or a head halter for training (discussed below) should help to ensure more immediate success.

The message people should send is that mouthing and chewing on hands is painful and it leads to immediate cessation of play. All family members must consistently follow the rules for the puppy to understand and learn what is considered desirable behavior and what is not. However, regardless of the technique, you cannot expect the play biting to cease until you first ensure that you are giving regular and sufficient opportunities for play. If your puppy begins to bite or chew and tug on clothing, immediately stopping play (negative punishment) is the preferred response or walk away if the puppy persists. The message is that all social interactions with you will stop as soon as biting begins. Sometimes a sharp “off” command can be helpful to indicate that social interactions will cease if the biting continues. Playing with the puppy when it is not attention seeking, nipping or biting is the goal. In fact, all forms of play and attention soliciting behavior should be ignored, as these might escalate into more intense biting. If all family members are consistent in their responses, the puppy should quickly learn that play biting actually leads to inattention rather than play. If you teach your puppy to sit or lie quietly before each play session, you should soon have your puppy trained that these behaviors, and not play biting, will be rewarded with a play session (see Learn to Earn – Predictable Rewards).

“If the puppy persists, chases or immediately repeats the behavior, closing a door and walking out of the room can help to teach the puppy that biting leads to immediate inattention.”

If ignoring the puppy and walking away does not stop the biting, then you will need to work on training desirable behaviors and discouraging the undesirable behavior. Having a leash attached at all times during interactions and play can be an excellent means of preventing undesirable behavior, as well as prompting and teaching desirable behavior. Another technique is to emit a sharp “yip” or “ouch” as soon as biting begins so that the puppy backs off. Remember any contact with the skin should lead to an immediate cessation of play and attention. This sends the message to the puppy that the bites are painful and that biting will cause the end of play. Alternately, a sharp “off” command and quickly backing away can be effective. Using a verbal cue such as yip, ouch or off or enough is intended to interrupt the behavior and indicate that play and attention will now cease. This training usually works for those family members that most immediate, consistent and clear in their responses. If the puppy persists, chases or immediately repeats the behavior, closing a door and walking out of the room can help to teach the puppy that biting leads to immediate inattention.

What if my puppy keeps biting?

Other techniques are often suggested for play biting. Some involve harsh discipline, like slapping the puppy under the chin or forcefully holding the mouth closed. Remember, pain can cause aggression and cause the puppy to become anxious, fearful, defensive or perhaps more excited (see Using Punishment Effectively and Why Punishment Should Be Avoided). These techniques also require that you grab an excited puppy, which is not an easy thing to do! Some puppies may even misinterpret the owner’s attempts at punishment as rough play, which in turn might lead to an increase in the behavior. Physical methods are not recommended. Owners who cannot inhibit the puppy with a yelp could consider a shaker can, water or air spray, noise alarm, or ultrasonic device as soon as the biting becomes excessive. The loud noise or spray is used to startle the puppy, and it will likely back up and stop biting. When that happens the puppy should immediately be praised and gentle play and interactions resumed. The use of a head halter with a remote leash attached allows the puppy to play and chew, but immediate pressure on the leash can redirect and successfully close the mouth and stop biting or chewing as soon as it becomes undesirable. By simultaneously saying “no biting,” most puppies will quickly learn the meaning of the command. As soon as the puppy stops the tension on the leash can be released. If the biting resumes then a gentle and immediate pull and release may be needed until the puppy remains calm at which point the play can be resumed as long as biting does not begin again. This is one of the quickest and most effective approaches to stop the biting and get immediate control of the muzzle and mouth, and is useful for owners that are not gaining sufficient verbal control (see Training Products – Head Halter Training and Training Products – Head Halter Training – Synopsis).

Remember that this kind of biting is a component of play behavior in puppies. Play is a form of social interaction and your puppy is practicing his social and communication skills. Realize that your puppy is trying to play with you, even though the behavior is rough. Play motivated bites still hurt! Also remember that each puppy and each breed has a different level of intensity or a slightly different form in which play is exhibited so try and match the length and type of play to the needs of the puppy. Be assured your puppy is not trying to dominate or control you. Your puppy needs adequate play and each puppy has different needs (see Play and Exercise and Dominance, Alpha, and Pack Leadership – What Does It Really Mean?). Be certain that you are initiating attention and play often enough to meet your dog’s needs. Hounds may enjoy games in which they use their nose to find interesting treats or just a long walk with opportunities to spend time with nose to the ground. Retrieving, agility, flyball and even tug games with toys, encourage play that should not lead to mouthing of the owners. If you allow your puppy to initiate all play and attention sessions with pawing, barking, jumping up or mouthing, then these may escalate into more intense attention soliciting or even play biting if you subsequently try to ignore the behavior. On the other hand, if you teach your puppy to sit or lie down calmly in front of you prior to play then these behaviors can be rewarded. In addition, you should end each session abruptly if biting occurs. One strategy is to use a command such as sit or down, and reward the behavior with a chew or feeding toy. Another is that if the play gets too rough and involves biting, immediately end the play session and leave. Social withdrawal can be a very powerful tool. Leave the puppy alone long enough to be confused by your absence. If upon your return the biting resumes, leave again. Your puppy may be as active, wild or animated as you will allow but you are teaching him that biting doesn’t have a place in your interaction with him. Although it is tempting to pick the puppy up and take it out of the room, your puppy may interpret this interaction as additional play and the biting may continue as you carry the puppy to a confinement location. Keep track of which types of play seem to get the puppy too excited and these should be avoided to help prevent biting behavior. Be sure to provide enough appropriate outlets for energetic puppies; if you aren’t meeting your puppies social, exploratory and energy needs then these strategies will not work!

Can I play tug-of-war games with my puppy?

Games of tug and pull can be a good way for the puppy to expend energy while playing with family members. In this way the puppy can be given an acceptable outlet for pulling, biting and tugging rather than on the clothing or body parts of people. The rule is the person should stop the game abruptly and socially withdraw anytime the puppy’s teeth touch human skin or clothing or the puppy becomes overly excited and agitated. In addition, the tug of war game provides an opportunity to teach the puppy to give up toys on command.

However, tug games are only acceptable if they remain under your control, and if play biting and over exuberant play does not result in aggression if the puppies teeth remain on the toy rather than human body parts, and if possessive behavior does not develop over the toy. Select a few tug toys for playing this game and be certain that you are the one to start each session. It might be best to keep the toy(s) out of the puppy’s reach until its time to play the game and to use the game and toy as a reward for training (e.g., sit before play or retrieve). Throughout the play session, if the puppy gets too excited or begins to grab hands or clothing, immediately cease play and begin again only when the puppy is settled down. Animation and exuberant play is acceptable; biting on people or their clothing is not! Food rewards can also be used at the outset to encourage the puppy to stop and give up the toy. At the end of each tug session, teach the puppy to give up the toy and reward with a favored chew or feeding toy. If successful, this type of play provides you with a means of controlled interactive play, as well as teaching the puppy to give up the toy on command.

Following each play session, give the puppy a chance to eliminate and some down time (see Enrichment, Predictability and Scheduling). Try and use a crate or confinement pen with object play toys e.g., food stuffed toys and chews, (see Crate Training – Positive Confinement – Why to Crate Train, Crate Training – Guide – How to Crate Train, and Crate Training – Synopsis) that have been saved for confinement time so that the puppy can play with the toys or take a nap until the next scheduled play, exercise, training, or elimination session is due.

Additional Help

There are many options available for more help with your dog. One of the very best in our area is Smart Dog University. Check out their website at for helpful newsletters, classes, and just cool dog info.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, Diplomate ACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, Diplomate ACVB

© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Puppy – Training Come, Wait and Follow

How can I get my puppy to come when called?

Teaching a puppy to “come” on command is a very difficult but important task. Start early because a puppy that will come when called is safer! In addition, most young puppies do not like to stray too far from their owners. All it takes is a kneeling owner and a happy “come” command, and your young puppy may willingly approach (without the need for any food or toy prompt). Similarly, most young puppies will automatically come and follow as you walk away.

However, by 3 to 4 months of age, as puppies become a little more independent and exploratory, more appealing rewards may be needed. The two most important rules about teaching your puppy to come to you are to set up the puppy for success (so that you never fail) and to ensure that each training session is simple, fun and pleasurable.

“Never call your puppy to you for discipline!”

Start by backing away from your puppy 1 to 3 feet and wiggle a food treat or a favored toy (prompt) in front of its nose. At the same time say the puppy’s name and “come.” Use a happy inviting tone of voice. When your puppy comes to you, praise it lavishly and give the treat or toy. Then repeat. Start by only moving short distances, and then gradually have the puppy come further to reach you. Reinforce this task by calling your puppy multiple times daily, giving a pat or a food treat and sending it on its way. Try to avoid only calling the puppy to you to bring it inside, to put it in its crate or to otherwise end something fun. Be sure to spend time calling the puppy over and then releasing it; this will help the puppy learn that by coming to you, good things happen. Remember it is critical to succeed with every training session. Stay close to the puppy, make certain that there are no distractions and proceed slowly.

Over time, the puppy should be very slowly taught to come from progressively farther distances and in environments with a greater number of distractions. If there is any chance that the puppy might escape or disobey, have the puppy wear a long remote leash (which can be left dangling as the puppy wanders and investigates). Then if the puppy does not immediately obey the “come” command, a gentle tug of the leash can be used to get the puppy’s attention, and a repeated command in an upbeat, happy voice (along with a food or toy prompt) should ensure that the “come” command is successful and rewarding.

How can I teach my new puppy to “wait” or “follow”?

Teaching a puppy to “wait” or “follow” are extensions of the other tasks you should have already taught. To teach your puppy to follow at your side (heel), use a food treat, place it by your thigh and entice the puppy both vocally and with the food to “heel.” As the puppy follows its nose to stay near the treat, it will also be learning to heel

For dogs that constantly walk ahead or pull, teaching your dog to follow should begin in a location where there are few distractions, such as in your backyard. To ensure success you should keep a leash or leash and head collar on your dog. Begin with a “sit-stay” command, and give a reward. Start to walk forward and encourage your dog to follow or heel as above, using a food reward held by your thigh. Be certain to allow only a few inches of slack on the leash so that if your dog tries to run past you, you can pull up and forward on the leash so that the puppy returns to your side. Once the puppy is back in the proper position (by your side for “heel” or behind you for “follow”), provide a little slack in the leash and begin to walk forward again. Continue walking with verbal reinforcement and occasional food rewards given as the dog follows. Each time the dog begins to pass you or pull ahead, pull up and forward on the leash and release as the dog backs up.

“Training sessions should begin when there are no external stimuli outdoors.”

Although the dog could be made to sit each time it pulls forward, the goal is to have the dog return to your side. In fact, what your puppy is learning is that if he wants to walk forward he will only succeed if he keeps the leash slack. Another method to keep the dog walking by your side or behind is to turn and walk in the other direction. Remember to reward or praise as long as the leash remains loose. If the dog “puts on the brakes” and will not follow, all you need to do is release the tension and verbally encourage the dog to follow. Once you have the dog successfully heeling in the yard with no distractions, you can proceed to the front yard and the street, at first with no distractions, until good control is achieved ( see Teaching Loose Leash Walks, Backing Up, and Turning Away, Training Products – Collars and Harnesses, Training Products – Head Halter Training, Training Products – Head Halter Training – Synopsis, and Training Products – To Choke or Not to Choke).

How can I teach my dog to wait?

Although much the same as “stay,” this command is important for the dog that might otherwise bound out the front door, lunge forward to greet people and other dogs, or run across a busy street. Begin with “sit-stay” training, until the dog responds well in situations where there are few distractions such as indoors or in your backyard. Next, find a situation where the dog might try to pull ahead, such as at the front door, so that you can begin to teach the “wait” command. Training sessions should begin when there are no external stimuli outdoors (other dogs, people) that might increase your dog’s motivation to run out the door. Use a leash or leash and head collar to ensure control. Begin with a “sit-stay” by the front door. While standing between your dog and the door, and with only a few inches of slack on the leash, give the wait command and open the door. If the dog remains in place for a few seconds, begin to walk out the door and allow your dog to follow. Then repeat, with longer waits at each training session. If however, when you open the door or begin to walk out, your dog runs ahead of you, you should pull up on the leash, have your dog sit, release, give the “wait” command and repeat until successful. Once your dog will successfully wait for a few seconds and follow you out the door, gradually increase the waiting time, and then try withdistractions (dogs or people on the front walk). This training should also be tried as you walk across the street, or before your dog is allowed to greet new people or dogs it meets.

To achieve a progressively more relaxed response see Teaching Calm – Settle and Relaxation Training and Teaching Loose Leash Walks, Backing Up, and Turning Away.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM © Copyright 2013 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Puppy Getting Started off Right

When you bring a new puppy into your home there will inevitably be a period of adjustment. Your goals are to help your puppy to quickly bond to its new family, and to minimize the stress associated with leaving its mother, littermates, and former home. If there are already dogs in the new home the transition may be a little easier, as the puppy is able to identify with its own kind. Another option for easing the transition would be to get two puppies together. However, most puppies, especially those obtained before 12 weeks of age, will form attachments almost immediately to the people and other pets in the new home, provided that there are no unpleasant consequences associated with each new person and experience.

“When a puppy enters our home, the family becomes the new social group.”

Dogs are a highly social “grouping-living” species that in the wild is often referred to as a pack. Packs have a leader that the other members follow and look to for “direction.” In fact, each individual in the pack generally develops a relationship with each other pack member. When a puppy enters our home, the family becomes the new social group. Therefore it is essential for the puppy to learn its limits, including which behaviors earn rewards and which behaviors have undesirable consequences. Allowing behaviors that are pushy, disobedient or inappropriate may lead to problems that will become increasingly difficult to correct. Control must be achieved at the outset by the proper use and timing of rewards and by directing the puppy to display appropriate responses, rather than using punishment or physical techniques that can lead to fear and anxiety.

When is the best time to begin training my puppy?

Formal dog training has traditionally been delayed until 6 months of age. In reality, this is a poor time to begin training. The dog is beginning to solidify adult behavioral patterns, challenge behavior is emerging, and behaviors that they have learned in puppyhood may need to be changed.

“It is best to begin training a puppy as soon as you bring him into your home.”

It is best to begin training a puppy as soon as you bring him into your home. One important task to begin early is to establish your role as the leader. This can be done by rewarding desirable responses, training the dog to obey commands, avoiding the reinforcement of behaviors that are initiated by your dog and training the dog to accept some simple body handling techniques. Puppy training classes that begin as early as 8 to 9 weeks of age will ensure both early socialization and early learning.

Are physical techniques necessary for gaining control?

Although there are many physical techniques that have been advocated for gaining control, not all of them are correct. It is the owners’ attitudes, actions, and responses to the new puppy (along with the puppy’s genetics) that are the most important determinants in the puppy becoming well-mannered and responsive, or becoming assertive, stubborn, disobedient and “domineering”.

“Training should focus on teaching the dog what you want, rather than disciplining what you don’t want.”

Dog training literature has often discussed using scruff shakes and rollover techniques to discipline puppies. However, these physical techniques do not mimic how dogs would communicate with each other and such handling by a human could lead to fear, anxiety and even retaliation. Training should focus on teaching the dog what you want, rather than disciplining what you don’t want. This makes a positive learning environment for the puppy to grow up in. There may be a number of advantages to teaching your puppy to assume subordinate postures (on their side, on their back, hands on neck, hand stroking the top of the head, hand grasping muzzle) but this does not mean that they teach your dog to be subordinate in its relationship to you. Having an obedient, well behaved, dog that enjoys handling and accepts restraint should be a focus of puppy training, but needs to be accomplished through reward based training, avoiding punishment or confrontational based training techniques and gradually accustoming your dog to enjoy handling. (See our handouts on ‘Puppy – Handling and Food Bowl Exercises’).

How can I gain control without physical techniques?

The best way to gain control is to teach your puppy that each reward must be earned. This is also the best way to ensure that undesirable puppy behaviors are not inadvertently reinforced. The puppy should learn to display subordinate, deferential postures through reward training, rather than through any type of force. Begin with some basic obedience training, teaching the puppy to ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘lie down’ for rewards. Practice short sessions, multiple times each day. Whenever the puppy is to receive anything of value (affection, attention, food, play and walks) the puppy should first earn its reward by performing a simple obedience task such as ‘sit’ or ‘stay’.

“Teach the puppy that rewards of any sort will never be given on demand.”

Teach the puppy that rewards of any sort will never be given on demand (see our handout on ‘Training Dogs – Learn to Earn and Predictable Rewards’). Also known as ‘nothing in life is free’, a term coined by veterinary behaviorist, Victoria Voith, or “learn to earn” as described by William Campbell, the puppy must be taught that vocalization, nipping, mouthing, and overly rambunctious or demanding behaviors of any sort will never earn rewards. In fact, these behaviors should be met by inattention, by confining the puppy for a few minutes until it settles down, or with training devices and commands that get the puppy to exhibit the desired response. One such option is to immediately control and calm the puppy with a head collar (See our handout on Puppy play biting and head halter training for details). Rewards should be given as soon as the puppy is performing an appropriate response (See handout on ‘Puppy – Training Sit, Down, Stand and Stay’). Each member of the family must follow the same guidelines.

Set limits on the puppy so that it does not learn that it can control you. Having the puppy sleep in its own bed or own cage rather than on your bed or couch helps to prevent the dog from gaining control or becoming possessive of your resources. When the puppy is taken for walks it should be taught to follow. This should begin at the front door where the puppy should be taught to sit, wait, and follow, and never allowed to lead or pull you through the doorway.

How do I prevent my puppy from doing damage or getting into mischief?

“The first step is to establish a daily routine that answers all your puppy’s needs such as walks and exercise, play and training, feeding, and sleeping. “

The first step is to establish a daily routine that answers all your puppy’s needs such as walks and exercise, play and training, feeding, and sleeping. For more information see our handout on ‘Training Dogs – Enrichment, Predictability and Scheduling’. The rule of thumb for dog training is “set the dog up for success”. Supervise the puppy at all times until it has learned what it is allowed to chew, and where it is supposed to eliminate. Keeping the puppy on a 10-foot remote leash is an excellent way to keep it in sight, and to train it not to wander off. This is particularly helpful with a highly investigative puppy or for a very busy household.

“Housing the puppy in isolated areas where there is minimal human contact, such as in a laundry room or basement, should be avoided.”

At any time that the puppy cannot be supervised, such as during the night or when you need to go out, house it in a secure area. An escape-proof crate, a dog run, or a collapsible pen is simple, highly effective, and, most important, safe. The puppy could also be confined to a room that has been carefully dog-proofed. When selecting your dog’s confinement area it is useful to consider a number of factors. The dog will adapt fastest to the new area if it is associated with rewards. Have the puppy enter the area for all its treats, toys, and perhaps food and water. The area should have some warm, dry, comfortable bedding, and should never be used for punishment (although it can, and should, be used to prevent problems). Housing the puppy in isolated areas where there is minimal human contact, such as in a laundry room or basement, should be avoided. In fact, often the best area is a kitchen (so that this can also be the dog’s feeding area) or a bedroom (so that it becomes the dog’s sleeping area). Each time the puppy needs to be confined, it should first be well exercised and given an opportunity to eliminate. Another consideration in selecting the type of confinement area is how long you may need to leave the dog alone. You must provide an area for elimination anytime the puppy will be left alone for longer than it can control its elimination. A room or collapsible pen with a paper-covered area would be needed if the puppy is being left alone for prolonged periods. A cage or crate could be used for owners that do not have to leave their puppies confined for longer than 2 or 3 hours (See our handout for instructions on ‘Crate Training in Dogs – Tips for Crate Training’).

What is the best way to punish my puppy for misbehavior?

“Avoid punishment for new puppies.”

Every effort should be made to avoid punishment for new puppies as it is generally unnecessary and can lead to avoidance of family members at a time when bonding and attachment is critical. By preventing problems through confinement or supervision, providing for all of the puppy’s needs, and setting up the environment for success, little or no punishment should ever be required. If a reprimand is needed, a verbal “no” or a loud noise is usually sufficient to distract a puppy so that you can then redirect the puppy to the correct behavior. Puppies that are supervised with a remote leash can be immediately interrupted with a pull on the leash. (See our handout on ‘Behavior Modification – Using Punishment Effectively’ for further details).

What should I do if my puppy misbehaves?

Undesirable misbehavior must be prevented, or corrected in the act. Allowing the puppy, even once, to perform an undesirable behavior such as entering a restricted room, jumping up, mounting or jumping onto the couch will serve to reward and encourage the repetition of the behavior.

“We want young puppies to look toward a human hand as something pleasant that brings comfort, food and affection.”

There will be times when your new puppy misbehaves. How you respond to the puppy will often influence later interactions. Young puppies are very impressionable. Harsh physical reprimands are contraindicated. They only serve to frighten the puppy and perhaps make them hand shy. Unfortunately, animals can learn in one trial if something is averse enough. We want young puppies to look toward a human hand as something pleasant that brings comfort, food and affection. Most puppies can be easily interrupted with vocal intonation and loud noises. What is equally important is to redirect the puppy to the correct behavior after you interrupt what you do not like. Remember that punishment must take place while the behavior is occurring, not after.

“Reprimands need to occur while the behavior is happening, preferably just as it begins, and never after.”

If you catch your puppy misbehaving, try a loud noise such as clapping your hands or a loud “uh-uh”. Remember, reprimands need to occur while the behavior is happening, preferably just as it begins, and never after. Often puppies will be startled when they hear these noises and temporarily stop the behavior. At that time you should redirect the puppy to a more appropriate task and reinforce with an immediate and positive ‘good dog’.

Another way to interrupt your puppy is with various types of noise devices. One such device is a “shake can”. You can make an inexpensive shake can by putting a few pennies into an empty soda can and taping it shut. When given a vigorous shake it makes a loud noise, which will interrupt the puppy’s behavior. Ultrasonic and sonic dog-training devices are also available (See our handout on ‘Behavior Management Products’).

The most important thing that you can do to avoid undesirable behavior is to supervise your puppy. Unsupervised puppies will chew and destroy objects as part of their natural curiosity and play. Rather than finding yourself with the need to reprimand your puppy, keep your puppy on a leash to avoid bad behaviors. Always provide suitable play objects designed to entertain your puppy so that it will not want to destroy your possessions (See our handout on ‘Destructive Behavior in Dogs – Chewing’ for ideas).

“If you find something that your puppy has destroyed but you did not catch him in the act, just clean it up and vow to supervise your puppy better in the future.”

Most importantly, if you find something that your puppy has destroyed but you did not catch him in the act, just clean it up and vow to supervise your puppy better in the future. Do not go get your puppy and bring him over to the mess and yell and physically discipline him. Remember that you need to punish the behavior you wish to change at the time it occurs. If you did not see your puppy chew up the object, all you are doing is disciplining your puppy for being present when there is a mess on the floor. Since that makes no sense to your puppy, your reprimands could create fear and anxiety, which could lead to aggression and owner avoidance.

How can I prevent problems?

Supervise the puppy at all times that it is not confined to ensure that the puppy does not get itself into mischief, or cause damage to itself or the home. Leaving a remote leash attached is all that is usually needed to prevent or interrupt inappropriate behavior such as garbage raiding, chewing on household items, house-soiling, or wandering off into rooms or areas that are out of bounds. If the leash is attached to a head halter you can quickly correct other problems that might arise, such as nipping, play biting, and jumping up. When the puppy cannot be supervised, confinement (discussed above) will be necessary. See our handout on ‘Puppy – House Training’ for guidance in training your puppy to eliminate in the proper location.

What can be done for the particularly stubborn, disobedient, or headstrong puppy?

“Puppies that are particularly headstrong and stubborn might need some fairly stringent rules. “

Puppies that are particularly headstrong and stubborn might need some fairly stringent rules. Tug-of-war games should only be allowed if the owner initiates the game, and can successfully call an end to the game, with an ‘out’, or ‘give’ command when it is time to call it quits (See our handout on ‘Training Dogs – Teaching Give and Drop’). Rough play must not escalate to uncontrollable play biting that cannot be controlled by the owner.

One of the best management tools for gaining safe and effective control at all times is a head collar. The puppy can be supervised and controlled from a distance by leaving a long line or leash attached to the head halter. The principle of halter training is to gain control over the dog with as much natural communication as possible and without the use of punishment. Positive reinforcement is used to encourage proper behavior. A pull on the leash is used to disrupt misbehavior. Since the halter is attached to the dog’s muzzle, common behavior problems (nipping, barking, jumping up, pulling, stealing food, etc.) can immediately be interrupted without fear or pain by pulling on the leash. The halter places pressure around the muzzle and behind the neck. This simulates the muzzle and neck restraint that a leader or mother dog might apply to a subordinate, and therefore is a highly effective and natural form of control (See our handout on ‘Behavior Management Products’)

What must I do to provide for my puppy’s needs?

“Chewing, play, exercise, exploration, feeding, social contact and elimination are basic requirements for all puppies… New tasks, new routines, new people and new forms of handling can be associated with rewards to ensure success.”

Chewing, play, exercise, exploration, feeding, social contact and elimination are basic requirements for all puppies. By providing appropriate outlets for each of these needs, few problems are likely to emerge. Puppies should be given chew toys that interest them and occupy their time. When supervised, the owner can allow the puppy to investigate and explore its new environment and can direct the puppy to the appropriate chew toys (and away from inappropriate areas). Play, exercise, affection, training, and handling must all be part of the daily routine. New tasks, new routines, new people and new forms of handling can be associated with rewards to ensure success. And, of course, the puppy will need to be provided with an acceptable area for elimination, and will need guidance until it learns to use this area. (Also see our handouts on ‘Training Dogs – Enrichment, Predictability and Scheduling’, ‘Behavior Resources’ and ‘Behavior Modification – Working for Food – Dogs and Cats’).

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, Diplomate ACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, Diplomate ACVB © Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.