Training Concepts

Manage - Reward - Ignore - Correct

Understanding these basic training concepts will help you turn your unruly foster dog into someone's great companion.


Management prevents unwanted behavior from becoming a habit by removing or reducing opportunities for the dog to rehearse the unwanted behavior, thereby setting up an environment where the dog is always "right" by default. Management includes things such as puppy proofing, crate training, using a leash, using a no-pull device, etc. Management can be combined with rewards (see below) to set the dog up to succeed, then reward him for being correct. For example, you can use a no-pull device which causes your dog to walk nicely on the leash, then reward him for walking at your side. Gradually fade the tool; gradually fade the rewards.


Most of us are familiar with this aspect of training, but it's important not to limit our concept of what constitutes a reward. A reward can be anything that the dog wants and will work to earn. Food is the most obvious choice, but toys, play, praise, and petting are more desirable rewards for some dogs. A reward can also be the opportunity to do something the dog enjoys, such as going through an open door, playing with another dog, chasing a rabbit, or being allowed to join you on the couch.

well-trained pyrs and dalThese kinds of real life rewards can be very powerful and are often underutilized. By integrating real life rewards into your everyday interactions with your dog, you reduce the need to rely on food or other external rewards, and gain the ability to train your dog frequently, for real life situations, without a lot of extra effort or lots of gear to carry around.

If you give rewards randomly without expecting your dog to earn them, the rewards will become meaningless and the dog will no longer work for them. Why would he work if he can get rewards and privileges for free? Most of us quickly grasp this concept as it applies to food, but the same logic applies to other types of rewards. If you allow your dog to dash through doors at will, not only is it unsafe, but you have also just lost a potentially great opportunity to reward your dog for appropriate behavior. Instead, have your dog sit, down, or "watch me" while you open the door. Then release your dog (we use "okay!") to go through the door after he has complied with your command. How many times does your dog go outside in a day? You've just given yourself that many opportunities to train and reward your dog, using just seconds of your time.


The idea is simple: Ignore irritating behavior and it will tend to diminish over time. However it's important to be selective about which behaviors you choose to ignore. Some behaviors are self-reinforcing and will only get worse if you ignore them, such as chewing on inappropriate items, marking in the house, or chasing the cat. This technique is most effective when the dog is doing something to try to get your attention, such as jumping up on people, begging for food, nudging your hand for petting, barking to demand a treat, or barking for attention. When a dog is demanding your attention, even negative attention such as scolding may be perceived as a reward. These inappropriate attention-seeking behaviors respond well to being ignored, although you can expect them to get worse temporarily before the dog finally gives up. It's important to be consistent and make sure every person ignores the unwanted behavior every time, or this technique simply won't work.


Giving rewards or ignoring unwanted behavior doesn't work if the dog is getting something more rewarding from the environment. Harrassing cats, livestock, or wild animals; jumping on children or grabbing their clothing; or chasing cars are all examples of behaviors that are enjoyable and self-reinforcing to the dog, and also potentially very dangerous. In instances like these, it may be appropriate to correct or punish the dog's behavior.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of correcting a dog for unwanted behavior. However, it's important to remember that "to correct" doesn't always have to mean "to punish." To correct something means to fix it or make it right. I can correct my nephew's hand position on his guitar by gently repositioning his fingers on the strings. He has not been "punished;" he has simply been shown how to be "correct." Likewise, I can correct a dog's position by gently placing him into a sit or stand, or tugging his drag line to remove him from the couch if he isn't allowed to be up there. He hasn't been "punished" in the traditional sense, but he has been shown how to be "correct."

You should only consider punishment after you have done preliminary work using other methods, starting with a low level of distraction and gradually working your way up to more demanding situations. You shouldn't punish a dog for something you haven't adequately taught him. It isn't fair to expect to be able to call your dog off a deer in the forest when he hasn't yet mastered the recall in your own back yard. Manage the more distracting situations while you train the dog up through gradually increasing distractions.

When a correction is needed, you should use the most minimal correction or punishment that gets the job done. This will depend on the dog's temperament, level of training, and the level of distraction. When correcting a dog, try to think in terms of making the dog more likely to make the "right" choice next time, instead of taking out your frustrations or showing him who's boss.