How I train dogs

Simply said but hard to do: dog training. I’ve successfully trained over a dozen dogs and consider myself somewhat accomplished on the subject. I wrote this for something else, but I liked it so much I’ve decided to share it here.

Purpose: Quite apparent, but a dog needs training. You don’t want them going to the bathroom in your home, tearing up your stuff, biting other dogs/people/kids, etc. If you neglect a dog, all of these unwanted behaviors may happen and worse.

Dog training breaks down into three foundational tenets: Patience, Routine, and Reinforcement.

Patience: Easier said than done. It takes time, mistakes will happen – and it’s frustrating. Anyone that’s ever had a puppy understands this. If you aren’t willing to accept that this is a long-term game of patience and time investment, adopting a puppy may not be for you. There is no way around this.

Routine: You have a program. Your goal is to get your new furry family member on your program. The best way to do that is by showing them, every day, what the routine is. Let them know what they can expect. A trained dog will know that they’re okay to go to sleep and not have the anxiousness or urge to get up in the middle of the night to use the restroom in the house, because they know as soon as you wake up they’re going to get to go out. Trained dogs don’t get (as) anxious when you leave because they know when you’re coming home. Trained dogs know when they’re going to get fed, when it’s time to play. You can eliminate virtually all unexpected behaviors with a good routine. You can identify if something is wrong with your dog when they behave strangely, or outside of the routine.

Reinforcement: It’s all about training behavior. Dogs want to please, and it’s your job to show them how. When a dog performs a behavior you like, smile and verbally let them know! Treats are okay here too, but I prefer to use positive verbal and physical reinforcement, pet them! Let them know how good they are. When a dog provides the incorrect behavior during training, ignore them, look away, reset, and try again. If a dog performs bad behavior, a stern “no” is all that’s required. Never strike your dog or yell at it.


Here’s what a one year training schedule might look like:

>8 Weeks (2 to 3 months) – You’ve brought your new puppy home. Puppies shouldn’t leave their mothers before 8 weeks, so 8-12 weeks, or 2-3 months is the typical adoption range. Your puppy will need: a bowl of water, puppy food, toys, and a method for potty training. Some folks use cloth or grass pads, I personally prefer to use the inside/outside method – meaning you’re training to the outside of your home.

(3 to 5 months) This is the most critical time, and it’s also the hardest. Your job is to be Ghandi, Mother Theresa, you are a bastion of patience. You are enlightenment. Your job is to Guide your puppy through expected behaviors while patiently showing them which behaviors you don’t want to see.

Examples include:

  • Potty training. This is the big one. Establish common times, puppies around this age need to go every 2-3 hours, adding an hour for each month as they get older. The best practice here is to take them out routinely. They will figure out that they’re going to go out. When you take them out, watch them & observe them. When they go, immediately tell them “good job!” get them excited, let them know an outside pee pee is a good pee pee! It’s a good idea to stay out there with them a bit longer because puppy bladders and bowels are unpredictable. Eventually though, I like to work them into knowing that after they go, they get to go back inside. When you wake up, if they’ve gone inside, ignore it, let them out first then clean it up. Don’t let them see you clean it, and don’t acknowledge it, out of sight out of mind. The same holds true if you leave and come back. Never scold them for something you don’t see them doing. They won’t associate it and it will make them anxious. The only time you’ll want to do this is if you catch them in the act. When that happens, I like to say “No, outside” and pick them up and put them outside. Once outside, you can clean the mess 🙂
  • Chewing. Good toys and monitoring help this. Buy them toys and play with the toys with them. Give them a good sense of ownership over what to get when it’s time to play. If you ever see them chew something they shouldn’t, tell them “no!” If they chew something while you’re gone or sleeping, that’s tough luck. Again, you cannot punish a dog for something you do not catch them in the act doing. I’ve never seen it work. If they love shoes, put the shoes out of reach. If it’s the couch, get vinegar spray or stick around and catch them doing it and tell them NO – they’ll figure it out.
  • Feeding. Some folks do feeding time with their dogs forever, I only do it in these first few months while the puppy is young, I’ll feed them until they stop eating then pull the bowl up. I repeat this 3-4 times a day. I always leave the water down. I have never had a problem with dogs overeating.
  • Play. This is the fun part! Play with your puppy! Toys are great, give them small treats, and love them! This is why you have a puppy!
  • Walk. This is really hard to do at first, and it really varies dog to dog – but it’s one of the most critical functions of dog training. Dogs are pack animals. Walks establish who leads and who follows. I like to introduce the leash and collar as soon as possible, but if the walk isn’t going to happen right away, that’s okay. However, you need to head into the 6 to 8 month period with the dog knowing what a walk is. This part can be really tough. I’ve had to drag dogs that just don’t want to walk. It breaks my heart every time. My strategy is to stand up straight, eyes forward, leash in hand held tightly on hip and walk – whatever the dog does is up to them. Some walk naturally, with others it takes time.

(6 to 8 months) The dog should be mostly potty trained at this point if not completely so. Accidents should be few and far between. There may or may not be residual chewing issues. The portion that must increase here is walks. Walks should happen daily if possible, even if they can only be 15-30 minutes long, they have to happen. Walks reinforce your position as a person of authority and someone they should listen to as well as love. They also help get the dog’s energy out, which they have and which they need. Even if the dog has a yard, walk them. If the dog doesn’t have a yard, walk them longer. I leave the food down at all day at this point. I like to cycle toys to keep them interested. You’ll be moving them to adult dog food soon. As a good owner, you’ll of course be keeping them up to date with immunizations and other required medications. If so, gently socialize your dog with friends’ dogs that you know can be trusted.

(8 to 12 months) This is the refining phase. Everything should be worked out for the most part. Potty training shouldn’t be an issue unless there’s something wrong. Chewing shouldn’t be an issue, walks should be routine. Your goal in this phase is to cement the behaviors that are going to last the dog’s lifetime. If you see something you’d like to change, here’s where you want to work on it. You can train dogs later, but the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” exists for a reason. Speaking of, I haven’t mentioned tricks up to this point because they aren’t important. You’ll want to of course have worked on basic commands, but I like to refer to them as behaviors because behaviors are more important than tricks, and tricks are just an expected behavior. Lastly, another big goal in this phase is to ensure your dog is consistently socialized and feels comfortable around other dogs.

(12+ months) Your dog is pretty much fully trained at this point. It’ll be fully grown to height at this time and will spend the next 6 months to a year “filling out”. You know its personality and what to expect, and they know your personality and what to expect from you. It’s all downhill from here, your dog is your family.

Following this guide, even someone with zero dog experience ever can train a good dog – so long as they remain patient, follow the routine, and consistently reinforce.

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