The Savvy Trainer

Most New Year’s resolutions are focused on improving our lives. I propose we make a few resolutions that will improve our dogs’ lives in 2011.

Be consistent. The human world is a confusing place for dogs. They don’t understand our language, and we constantly give mixed messages about our expectations. Dogs don’t understand that it’s okay to jump up on you when you want a hug, but it’s not okay to jump on visitors. Well-behaved dogs generally live in structured environments with clear rules. The rules in my house might not work for you, but that’s alright. Set rules that make sense for your family and have everyone enforce them equally. 


Provide daily physical and mental exercise. Most Tahoe dogs get a fair amount of physical exercise, but not nearly enough mental stimulation. Dogs need to think! If they are mental couch potatoes, problem behaviors often arise. Training is an excellent way for your dog to exercise his brain. Playing games like hide and seek, fetch, or tug can be fun and instructional. There are numerous dog sports available if you have the time and energy.

Reward good behavior. A basic tenant of positive reinforcement training is ‘behaviors that are rewarded will increase.’ We tend to ignore our dogs when they are being good and only pay attention to them when they are acting badly. Make an effort to acknowledge good behaviors several times each day.

Understand and celebrate human/dog differences. Humans typically greet each other head-on, make direct eye contact, and often hug each other. This type of greeting is exactly the opposite of a polite greeting in the dog world. Dogs often circle, turn their heads away to avoid eye contact, and sniff each other’s rear ends. A dog that places his head on another dog’s shoulder is threatening him, not hugging him. We have to learn about dog language so we can appreciate what they are trying to tell us.

Appreciate your dog’s talents. Some dogs are athletes, while others have amazing noses. Border Collies herd everything. Terriers love agility, flyball, and other competitive sports. To quote noted trainer Leslie Nelson, ‘Appreciate and love the dog you have, not the one you wish you had.’ Your relationship with your dog will be more rewarding if you understand your dog’s talents and limitations and work with them.

Educate yourself and don’t believe everything you hear on TV.  There are plenty of good books written by highly qualified trainers and researchers. A few of my personal favorites are ‘Don’t Shoot the Dog’ by Karen Pryor, ‘The Other End of the Leash’ by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D, ‘The Culture Clash’ by Jean Donaldson, and ‘The Power of Positive Dog Training’ by Pat Miller. All of these books and many more are available at the Savvy Dog Training and Education Center or online at