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No! I Can’t Tell You How to Train Your Dog- Critical Thinking About Dog Training

Dog Training QuestionsThe Dog Training Problem

Every month we get tens of thousands of visitors to our sites and we get numerous questions from dog owners across the world.  Let me first start out by saying,

I Love Answering Dog Training Questions

The problem is, though, that too few people actually critically think they’re dog training problem before coming to us.  Quite often the questions we get are as simple as:

“Can you tell me how to train my dog?”


“Can you teach me how to get my dog’s aggression to stop?”

And that’s it!  That’s the entire question.  No background, no mention of what they’ve tried, no follow through, etc.  This frustrates me but it also has helped me understand that many dog owners have a critical thinking problem.  They aren’t looking deeply at their problem, they see the problem on the surface, and they are looking for superficial treatment.

This won’t do.

In order to solve your dog training issues you need to understand the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ and more.  You’ve got to think about your dog’s problem critically.

In the following Podcast I share with you my dog training formulas for getting to the bottom of ANY dog training problem and solving it whether it be destruction, aggression, housebreaking, or anything else.

Click Play Below for Your Dog Training Podcast

Make sure to listen in as I’ll be taking this podcast down soon and putting it on our members only website.

Other Dog Training Resources

In the podcast I mention various resources.  Here are links for some of them:

Healthy Dog Food Delivered to Your Door

Dog Training DVD Products

Get Help From Our Utah Dog Trainers or Send Your Dog to Utah for Training

Dog Training Case Study

Dog Training Case Study- Aggressive Behavior

The other day I sat down with Glenn Sherrill of TrainPlayLive to talk with some of his dog training clients about some fairly extreme cases of aggressive behavior.  You can see the first dog training discussion we had at my previous post.In this second conversation from the same day we sit down with the owner of a rescue dog.  The dog is either a Pit Bull mix or an American Staffordshire terrier mix. Unfortunately, the dog is displaying some very odd cases of dog aggression including biting people seemingly without warning. Listen to the entire call here:

Dog Training Case Study- The Call

Press Play to listen below:

Dog Training Case Study- Conclusion

To be honest, this was a difficult dog training call for me.  All behavior follows patterns and rules and precedents.  Even when dogs are displaying horribly anti-social behavior and aggressiveness those behaviors STILL follow rules.  There are rules that govern fear and aggression, etc.  Granted, these are dogs who are acting inappropriately but they are doing so in a way that follows patterns. In this case I found it hard to identify causation for the bites.  My gut and my experience tells me the problem could be originating from two different areas:

  1. Medical issues- I have run across very odd aggression that seems to not follow rules a few times in my dog training career.  On a few of these occasions it has been determined that there was a medical/hormonal/disease that was the underlying cause.  Not being a veterinarian I wouldn’t know exactly what to check for but I’d definitely look for tumors, hormonal imbalances, amongst other problems.  It’s definitely possible that this is an issue that will need much more than training in order to overcome.
  2. There is an underlying need for more structure, rules, leadership, etc.

Throughout my career I believe I’ve become very good at pinpointing the issues behind inappropriate behavior in dogs.  Every now and then a case comes my way, though, that reminds me to be humble.  For as much as anyone can understand a subject there are plenty of times when you realize how little you know.  This case was one of those and will be an interesting listen as you discover the precise thought process that we dog trainers go through when diagnosing cases of extreme aggression or other such problems.

Enjoy and happy training!

Dog Training Brainstorm Session- Aggressive Rottweiler

Dog Training Brainstorm- How To Solve Aggression Issues

As dog trainers we often like to get together to talk and remind each other how smart we are.  I had the privilege recently to get together with Glenn Sherrill of Train Play Live  and some of his clients to talk about dog training issues.

Glen has been running a successful dog training company in North Carolina but we often find it helpful to talk about dog training issues just to see if there are other perspectives that may be helpful.

In this first call we are talking with the owners of a Rottweiler.  The dog is quite dominant and displays that personality through growling and other dominance related behaviors.  The dog has also upset the balance with the other dogs in the family and it has led to fights and other problems.

Listen below to this short call and see if there are training key points that you can take from the call that can help you with your own dog.

Dog Training- Listen To The Call

Press play below to listen in:

Dog Training- Keys To Solving The Problem

When dealing with any aggression issue there are key points that must be considered that apply here:

  • We must correct the aggression but we want to do it in a way that doesn’t escalate the aggression.  Correcting the dog while getting him to move, instead of challenging the owner, can be helpful.  The movement will change his frame of mind and allow him to accept and learn from the correction.
  • Obedience is key.  I preach this to all of my clients regardless of the dog training problem they are experiencing.  If you have great obedience training that means that you have a dog who is calmer, more respectful, and sees you in a leadership role.
  • Remember with dog aggression that you can’t just treat the symptoms.  I often compare aggression to a disease where you have a root cause that allows symptoms to manifest themselves.  The symptoms are the growling, the fighting, and the other dominant behavior.  The root cause, though, is a lack of a proper relationship, a lack of structure, a lack of understanding of what should be the rules.  From those ‘lacks’ we see aggression develop.
  • Give this dog ‘checks and balances’.  That means that he should be ‘working’ throughout the day.  He should be waiting at doors, staying off furniture, sitting before eating, heeling properly on leash, coming when called every time, etc.  These are frequent and constant reminders of the expectations he has.

Dog Training and Culture

Dog Training

Teaching a dog training class to locals here in Jaco, Costa Rica.

Dog Training and Culture

As I’ve previously written on this blog I’m currently living with my family in Costa Rica.  We’re working on a variety of projects from work projects to charitable projects along with attempting to learn how to surf and playing in the pool a lot.

One of these projects I’m working on is a new spanish language dog training site where I’m teaching a lot of my dog training concepts in the Spanish language and am creating a Spanish language equivalent to my current dog training DVD product line.

I’m working with a lot of the locals here in both private training at their homes and group training classes in front of a local veterinarian’s office.  Aside from the fact that it’s VERY hot here and my video work catches me sweating quite a bit I’m running into some new types of dog training challenges that I haven’t run across before.

No, when it comes to bad dog behavior I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a pretty wide range over the years from everything to puppy problems, aggression, house training, destruction, and more.  What I’m seeing here, though, is a difference in dog training culture and that is posing new challenges to my work.  I’m learning how to adapt my training style based on how people perceive dogs and I’m doing my best to help push the dog culture in a direction that I think is more beneficial.

Dog Training- What Are The Cultural Challenges?

Let me first state that I love the people here in Costa Rica.  They are warm, open, and inviting.  I have the luxury of speaking Spanish so I can fit in pretty quick with new groups.  My wife and kids don’t speak Spanish yet but, even so, they are finding the people to be so accepting and open.

I say that because as I outline the cultural differences here I don’t want to come off as sounding like I’m ‘spitefully critical’ or that I feel that I am a better person because my dog culture is different.  Bear in mind, I do feel like the culture I bring to dogs IS better than what I’ve found here but that doesn’t mean that I am a better person because of that.

Here are the main differences that I chalk up to cultural variances between what I typically see here in Costa Rica and what I’m typically accustomed to in the United States:

  • Dog crates- I’ve yet to meet someone who has used a dog crate to house train a dog or work on destruction.  In the United States the culture has shifted towards large scale acceptance of dog crates or dog kennels.  In fact, in my Salt Lake City dog training company it is more rare to NOT see someone with a crate during a first session than it is to see a dog owner who does have a crate.  It’s been pretty well established that crates are a humane way to supervise a dog in order to prevent destruction, chewing, digging, and housebreaking accidents.  In contrast, the dog owners in this area seem to have zero aversion when I bring up the crate as a potential tool.  It’s not that they are against using a crate, it’s just that it’s not something that has been done in this culture so it’s not really even considered.  I think the other part of the equation that has prevented the crate from entering into cultural use is the expense.  An average salary in this area is in the range of $350-$800 per month.  Import taxes are high meaning a crate is going to cost $200 or so.  Imagine spending a large portion of your monthly salary on a crate?  Doesn’t seem feasible does it?  We know some folks who are spending less than $200 on their rent for their house so imagine trying to find room in the budget to buy a crate.  For many it just isn’t doable.  In not being doable, though, it becomes very difficult to fix issues related to destruction and housebreaking.
  • The dog culture may be different, but there are definite perks in living here.

    Dog fencing- Along those same lines we meet many folks who simply let their dogs go and wander throughout the day.  In many parts of rural America you can still find this as an accepted custom but in most parts of the U.S. letting your dog wander the neighborhood is sure to quickly make you a pariah.  Most folks would rather be the ones who leave their Halloween decoration up until February rather than be the family that releases it’s dog onto the neighbors.  I’ve found it quite acceptable here to simply let your dogs run wild in the neighborhood.  Add the fact that very few people spay and neuter and it’s no wonder why there are plenty of stray dogs and aggression problems amongst dogs run rampant.  Many of the people with whom I’m working have aggressive dogs and those dogs are let loose all day, get in dog fights, form unhealthy relationships with other dogs, and generally get into trouble.

  • Dog leashes- I was talking with a friend the other day and they mentioned how their neighbor walks his dog every day off leash.  The dog is aggressive and if it sees another dog it will immediately attack.  If it sees a bicycle it will give chase.  Does this deter the neighbor from continuing to walk the dog off leash with zero control?  Nope.  I’ve come to realize that having control over a dog is something that is culturally foreign here.  For generations dogs have lived on the street and run wild.  The idea that we should teach them control seems very off to many dog owners.

Dog Training Culture- The Solution

So is there a solution to change the dog training culture in a positive way?  I think so.  And I’m already seeing certain evidences of how the culture is shifting towards something positive:

  • TV shows like Cesar Millan’s El Encantador de Perros have become very popular here and around Latin America.  I think these shows have changed the conversation in the United States towards getting your dogs trained and I think the same thing is happening here.
  • Rescue organizations are becoming bigger and more influential.  In our area here we have the McKee Foundation who helps rescue lots of pets and has been pushing the agenda of spaying and neutering for some time.
  • Trainers like myself.  I’m hoping that my Spanish dog training site can gain traction and help push people towards responsible care and training of their dogs.


Dog Fear- Where Does It Come From?

Dog Fear- Reader Question

The following question comes from a reader of our site:

Why are some dogs just flat out scared of men?  I have a 2 year old husky and he’s scared of men.  I don’t believe there’s any history of abuse.   He’ll run away or refuses to come to men and paces back and forth frustrated.
Rachel, Utah.

Thanks for this question, Rachel.  Dog fear is one of the biggest things I deal with in my company simply because it’s at the root of so many behavior problems.  Issues like dog aggression, some destruction, anxiety behaviors, and others all find their root in fear.  In order to solve these issues it’s important to understand where these issues come from.

Dog Fear- What Causes It?

The reality is that there are only two places that dog fear comes from:

  1. Genetics
  2. Upbringing

It’s the old Nature Vs. Nurture argument that has been waging in the halls of academia forever.  In fact, I find it unfortunate that many people these days are ignoring the science when it comes to dog behavior.

These days you don’t have to go far to find certain ‘breed apologists’.  Just log on to your Facebook account and you’ll see your dog loving friends posting graphics about how awesome Pit Bulls are and how any aggressive Pit Bull is simply that way because the owner trained it to be that way.

This type of thinking completely ignores basic tenets of dog behavior.

Nearly everyone will agree that both nature and nurture compose the makeup behind temperament, personality, and character.  Yet in the case of Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Dobermans, etc. people suspend this understanding in their attempts to protect their favorite breed.

Now, let me set the record straight first of all.  I’m a big fan of Pit Bulls, Rottweilers (I own one), German Shepherds (I’ve owned a few) and Dobermans.  And I’m not trying to tell you that ANY of these BREEDS are more prone to fear, aggression, or any other sort of behavior.  But I will tell you that certain representatives of those breeds (and ALL breeds for that matter) can have larger propensities than others for fear, aggression, and other related behaviors.

I know I’m on my soapbox right now.  You may be wondering why I’m off on a tangent about Pit Bulls and other powerful breeds when the question was about a Husky and fear.  The reason is that people seem to be willing to accept that fear can cause bad behavior, and many of those same people are willing to accept that a Husky or a Beagle or a Labrador MAY have been born with a greater propensity for fear and that MAY be why they are acting inappropriately.  But many of those same people are unwilling to accept that a Pit Bull was born with a fear issue and that is why she is acting aggressively…they seem bound and determined to blame aggression in these powerful breeds on bad owners.

This is a damaging style of thinking, though.  Many of our clients own these breeds and we deal with a lot of aggression.  Based on what these folks have heard many are convinced that they are awful owners and somehow ‘trained’ their Pit Bull or Rottweiler to be aggressive.  The reality is, though, that they’ve been good dog owners (everyone can be better) and they did NOTHING to cause their dog’s fear or aggression.  The dog was born with a greater tendency towards aggressive behavior.

The majority of the dog fear that I see for genetic reasons comes from poor breeding.  Most breeders these days have no clue how to make pairings that will result in mentally sound puppies.  It may be that they are breeding for looks and not temperament, it may be that they are pushing out puppies just to make a buck, or it may be that they are incompetent but these bad breeders have flooded the country with dogs who have weak nervous systems and low thresholds for dealing with stress.  And, unfortunately, it is the public who is supporting their efforts by always looking for the best deal.

As I mentioned, though, genetics are just one piece of the puzzle.

Upbringing is also very important.  When I’m referring to upbringing I’m typically talking about socialization.

Dogs have what I like to call a ‘socialization window’ between about 8 weeks and 6 months of age where it’s important that the dog receives the correct doses of the correct type of socialization.  Errors that lead to the type of fear being described with this Husky typically fall into two categories:

  • Under-socializing.  Dogs need to meet a LOT of people, places, and things.  They need to meet lots of men, women, dogs, cats, children, bicycles, floor surfaces, sounds, textures, etc.  Many dogs simply don’t get a lot of exposure.  As they grow older they fall into the old adage of ‘we fear the unknown’.  It’s possible that your Husky didn’t receive enough exposure to men and now finds the fact that they are bigger, deeper voices, etc. as off-putting and cause for fear.
  • Improper socialization.  I can’t tell you how much dog fear I can trace directly to dog parks.  Dog parks are the worst place to socialize a dog yet they are so often used and they often inject fear into a dog.  Aside from dog parks bad socialization occurs when the owner doesn’t control encounters the young dog has with kids, strangers, etc.  I have had numerous cases where a dog has ONE bad experience with a kid, person, dog, etc. during this socialization window and it taints their whole life experience from that day forward.  In your dog’s case, it’s possible the dog simply was handled roughly by a man at a young age and that’s the experience that stuck.

Dog Fear- How To Solve It

Dog fear comes from what I call a ‘chaos mindset’.  That means that the dog isn’t thinking when she’s reacting fearfully, she’s simply giving in to her surroundings.

The opposite of chaos in the natural world is structure, control, etc.  With our clients we immediately start on a healthy diet of obedience training to overcome these fear issues.  As the dog’s mind learns to focus on structure it can’t also be focusing on the subject of her fear.

Here’s the catch, though.  Treat based obedience training or other such ineffective methods don’t get the job done.  The only way to overcome big-time fear issues is through advanced obedience training and that simply doesn’t occur with treat training.  You need a style of training that properly balances correction with motivation to show the dog that obedience is the rule but it’s also enjoyable.

There Is A Difference Between An Obedient Dog And A ‘Not Disobedient’ Dog

Obedient Dog vs. Not Disobedient

Okay, I know when you first read the title of this post it may seem a bit confusing.  ‘Obedient’ and ‘Not Disobedient’ basically sound like the same thing, right?  I maintain that, no, they are entirely different.

The difference that I’ve seen in these two descriptors can mean the difference between aggression problems and no aggression issues at all.  A destructive dog and a dog who is safe to leave home alone.  A dog that runs into traffic and a dog that stays by your side.

What Is An Obedient Dog?

Let me get a bit deeper into my meaning.

Throughout my career I’ve met hundreds of dogs who are, overall, good dogs.  They don’t typically chew things, they don’t typically get in fights or act aggressively.  People meet these kinds of dogs and generally comment on how nice, friendly, and well mannered they are.

Out of these dogs, though, I’ve met many that, with little change in their life, have developed aggression issues, destruction issues, and overall manners issues.

You see, there are many dogs that just aren’t prone to doing that much wrong.  They are calm dogs, perhaps house trained easily, and are generally more laid back.  As a result, their owners didn’t take much time or put in too much effort into formally and properly training these dogs.

What that means is that a lot of these dogs don’t really have much of a foundation in learning, discipline, cause and effect, etc.  Many dogs can go their whole lives and, because they don’t create too many problems, can essentially hover beneath the radar when it comes to their need for training.

The Hidden Danger In A ‘Not Disobedient’ Dog

I refer to these dogs that don’t have much training, but don’t do too many things wrong, as ‘not disobedient’ dogs.  If you asked this dog to sit and stay for 5 minutes he probably wouldn’t.  If you asked this dog to come when there were heavy distractions she most likely wouldn’t return.  If you wanted this dog to heel off leash it likely isn’t going to happen.

Based on those standards you can’t really call them ‘obedient dogs’ but because they are overall good dogs you can call them generally ‘not disobedient’ dogs.

Like I say, many of these dogs can go a lifetime and not cause heartburn for their owners.

Where I’ve met MANY of these dogs, though, is when there is a change in the dog’s life.  I’ve met many of these dogs when a new dog is introduced to the home.  The primary dog has generally got on well with dogs during his life but suddenly doesn’t like the change of a new dog and turns to aggression.

I’ve met many of these dogs when a life event occurs like a divorce, child being born, or the family moving to a new home.  In the face of change the dog turns to destruction, house training problems, or other anxiety related behaviors.

You see, these dogs didn’t have much of a foundation in structure to begin with.  When there is a change, big or small, the dog has nothing to fall back on.  The dog and owner likely have a good relationship but it also likely isn’t rooted in solid leader/follower protocols.

In the absence of this even small changes can send a dog into a tail spin.  That’s why we always recommend solid obedience training to all dog owners, whether their dog is a holy terror or simply a ‘not disobedient’ dog.

What The Amish Can Teach Us About Dog Training

Dog Training & The Amish

I was recently watching a show on television.  The show was about a group of Amish and Mennonite youth who left their homes in rural, small town America and went to live in the Big Apple.  The show was chronicling what their lives were like once they got so much freedom.  Freedom from rules, freedom from supervision, etc.  The whole point of the show was to marvel at cultural differences and to study the characters of those who are raised in one setting and then dropped in another.

The show reminded me of another show that I once saw about Amish Rumspringa.  Rumspringa is a time when many Amish youth leave their homes and some of them become very rebellious and wild and depart from the values they learned growing up.

You may be wondering what, on earth, this has to do with dog training.

First off, let me start out by saying that I have no opinion on the Amish faith.  My comments here are not directed towards their doctrine, their beliefs, or their ideals.  What I want to comment on, however, is what I call ‘Canine Rumspringa’.

You see, many people understand the value of supervision when it comes to their young puppies.  They get this 8 week old bundle of trouble and they set out on a program of supervision, care, and training.

Dog Training- ‘Canine Rumspringa’

Unfortunately, though, many of these same dog owners find that it is difficult.  In my company we get many new clients when the dogs are six months old to a year.  At this time these dogs are on their ‘Canine Rumspringa’.  The dog owners, once diligent with training and supervision, have essentially stopped and now they find their dogs rebellious, insolent, disobedient, and worse….just like many of the Amish teenagers who leave a sheltered life for the first time.

Now, I don’t pretend to know how to raise an Amish teenager.  Is it a good idea to raise a child with structure and rules only to abandon those rules in one fell swoop?  I doubt it, but it’s not my culture so I’m not going to judge.

I will tell you this, though, with 100% certainty.  Dog owners who give their dogs too much freedom too quickly will almost always regret it.

Dog Training- Too Much Freedom

When I talk about too much freedom too quickly what I refer to are actions like:

– Allowing a puppy free reign of the house when the puppy isn’t fully house trained or doesn’t have complete understanding of what is okay to chew and what isn’t.

– Taking a dog off leash in the front yard, park, dog park, or trail without having first off-leash trained the dog.

– Leaving a young dog in the back yard all day while the owners are gone at work.

– Allowing a young dog the freedom to play with children or other dogs without supervision.

These types of activities, amongst others, tend to lead to dogs with aggression issues, house training problems, destruction, obedience deficiencies, and more.

Raising and training a dog is all about going one step at a time.  A dog masters one thing and you move on to the next.  Too much freedom too quickly and you end up with a rebellious, disobedient dog.  Proper dog training requires a plan that you stick with long term.

How To Train A Dog To Focus

How To Train A Dog To Focus

The following is a question from one of the members of our website:

My dog is very good at obeying a command when he is looking at me and I tell him what to do along with giving him a gesture with my hand.  He gets distracted easily.

What would you suggest that I do when I have my dog is on leash and I want him to “look” at me so that I can give him a command using my hand and voice at the same time?

Thanks for your time.  Awesome videos, your techniques actually work!!!


How To Train A Dog To Focus

View On YouTube- How To Train A Dog To Focus

How To Train A Dog To Focus

Generally speaking, when I’m asked how to train a dog to focus and how to train a dog with hand signals I give an answer that most people weren’t expecting.  That reason is, I almost never train a dog to focus on command.  The reason why is two-fold:

  1. It’s limiting.  People who want to learn how to train a dog to focus often don’t realize that it’s essentially training the dog to not pay attention until someone is begging for their attention.
  2. It’s cumbersome.  I like to have my command be a call to attention AND a call to action.

In that sense I am training a dog to focus but I’m not doing it in the sense that most people are asking about.  Here is how to train a dog to focus:

  • Give one ‘free’ command.  Just say the command in a calm even tone.  It doesn’t matter if the dog is paying attention or not, simply give the command.
  • If the dog obeys the command, great!  Praise the dog.
  • If the dog disobeys the command, don’t get upset.  Simply repeat the command with a correction.  This step of the formula is how to train a dog to focus.  Simply put, it doesn’t matter if the dog was paying you any heed to begin with.  When you start correcting for non-compliance the dog quickly learns to pay attention AND obey the given command.
  • Praise the dog once the correction achieved compliance.
  • Insist on permanence; i.e. if you’ve said sit, keep sitting.  If you’ve said heel, keep heeling, etc.

The occasions where I DO teach a dog to focus are generally based around fixing an aggression issue where the dog needs pay attention to the owner vs. the aggressive trigger.

My advice to my clients is to NOT train their dogs to focus on command but to rather have a higher level of obedience requiring the dog to be at the ready for commands throughout the day.

How To Socialize A Dog

When it comes to socializing your dog there are three main components. Two of them are often done correctly. One of them is nearly always messed up. That one part that gets messed up is often the reason behind dog aggression, anxiety issues, fear, and more.



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Sit, Lie Down, And Stay For Aggressive Dogs

Another one of my ‘Core Behaviors’ is a dog who stays when told.  This is critical for so many situations with dogs that have aggression problems.  You can’t have your dog tearing off after whatever aggressive trigger he or she sees.  It’s important to have a dog that respects your command to stay put.


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