Well-Behaved Dog: Training, Play, Socialization

If you want a well-trained, well-socialized, well-behaved dog, you must interact consistently and practice skills to build a foundation of trust and a healthy relationship. All dogs benefit from learning and practicing basic cues daily. Keep all interaction fun; if you are stressed on a particular day and thus won't play nicely with your dog, skip your training session. Dogs are sensitive to your emotional state and can pick up on your stress.

Teaching basic dog cues and skills  

There are certain basic dog cues and skills that will help them be well-mannered canines wherever they go. Here are some key skills to set your dog up for success:

  • Name recognition: Use the dog’s name often when you’re praising and playing with them — and always with a happy tone. Dogs should have only positive associations with their names and nicknames.
  • Recall: Call the dog to you often; again, always using a happy tone. Add treats sometimes to pleasantly surprise your dog and keep them coming to you fast. Remember to practice recall frequently, not just when something fun is about to end. People often hinder recall training because they only call the dog for negative reasons or use a negative tone.  
  • House-training: Set your dog up for success by taking them outside to use the bathroom, and then let them spend some time loose in the house. Utilizing a crate can help with this as well. Dogs typically will not eliminate where they sleep, so you can work on crate training by giving your dog some time in there with a high-value item to chew on; when they exit the crate, they’ll go right outside to use the bathroom. Adult dogs can typically hold it for several hours, so you don’t need to take them out every hour as that will only encourage them to use the bathroom that frequently. Puppies will need an opportunity to go out every couple hours.  
  • Wait: Teaching the cue “wait” is helpful for when you want your dog to wait at doors, before going in or out of a car, when you’re giving them their food bowl, and more. Make sure your tone is firm but not harsh. The dog can be sitting, standing, or lying down as long as they pause when you give the cue.
  • Stay: Teaching the cue “stay” also can be monumental for a dog’s safety, keeping them away from something that is hazardous. To start learning to stay, the dog should be in a sit or down position, as standing for long periods can be physically difficult, causing the dog to break position to get more comfortable. Gradually build the length of the stay and the distance you move away from the dog.  

Games to play with dogs

Playing games can also encourage good behavior in dogs. In fact, training should always feel like a game for dogs. Here are some fun things to do with your dog to try:

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  • Fetch: This game is not for every dog, but many enjoy it. Always start with two toys, so the dog can learn to trade the toy in their mouth for the toy you have in your hand. This keeps the game moving and also reduces the risk of your dog grabbing or guarding the ball. Add words for trading toys — “out” and “drop” are common words used — that you also can apply to other situations where you need your dog to drop something.
  • Tug: The game of tug, with rules, can be a healthy, educational game. While learning the game, your dog might accidentally grab your hand instead of the toy. If this happens, give a gentle “uh uh” and go neutral. This helps dogs learn to play within limits. Like with fetch, you can use two toys to help the dog learn to drop the one they're holding, signaling the end of one tug game and the start of another. If your dog has a history of guarding toys, do not play tug with them and stick to a cooperative game like fetch.
  • Search: Keep them thinking! Hide food, treats, and favorite toys to encourage your dog to search daily. When a dog finds these hidden treasures, reward them with lots of praise.
  • Agility: Many dogs enjoy agility training and benefit from the experiences that come with doing something physical. In agility training, dogs learn how to really use their bodies. Fearful dogs learn to be more confident, and overweight dogs get some great exercise. But just about any dog can benefit from learning to negotiate over, under, through, and around objects. Agility training can be fun for your dog — and for you, too. Remember to check with your veterinarian before beginning any exercise program with your dog.

Social time with dogs

Having some quality time with your dog also can be a great way to encourage good manners. Here are some things to practice with your dog:

  • Touch: Teach your dog to enjoy being touched on all body parts. Start with getting your dog to enjoy your touch, and work toward the goal of getting them comfortable with being touched by people they don’t know. It is important that dogs allow us to touch them because they might need to be handled by various people: strangers, rescuers after an emergency, the vet, the groomer. One spot you shouldn’t forget is their paws, which you will need to be able to handle for nail trims. Make sure that anyone who grooms your dog is kind and gentle, so your dog only associates the touch with positive experiences.
  • Lifting: In addition to touch, your dog might need to be picked up off the ground for grooming, medical, or other reasons. If you can lift your dog’s body up off the floor, practice this to help them relax and realize that nothing bad happens.
  • Relaxation: Some dogs don’t know how to control their own energy, and the result can be destructive, nuisance, or rough behaviors. People must teach their dogs to have an “off” switch. Every day, you can help your dog by teaching them how to relax in your home and during outings. Keep dogs tethered while you drive instead of letting them jump and bark, teach them to enjoy walking without pulling, and use cues to help them focus on you so they don’t become overexcited. A crate can also come in handy here as well. Making it a quiet, positive place can make for a great place for your dog to learn how to settle and decompress if they are struggling with that in the home.
  • Social skills with other animals: Our dogs will meet a variety of people and other animals in public, so it's important to practice their social skills. Set your dog up for success by keeping experiences positive. For example, enlist people you know with dog-friendly dogs to take a walk with you and your dog. But if your dog has known aggression or does not enjoy being around other dogs, do not force them to have playdates.

Getting the behavior you want from your dog

Be proactive by teaching your dog to perform the behavior you want. We can reward any behavior we like and want to see more of, including being calm and gentle.  

The most effective way to squelch unwanted behavior is to ignore it. Why? Because giving any attention — even negative forms of attention, such as saying “no!” — for unwanted behavior is still seen by the dog as a good thing because it's attention. You can immediately ask for another wanted behavior while ignoring what the dog has offered.

It’s also key to keep your dog up to date on veterinary care. Often, changes in behavior are related to changes in a dog’s physical health. 

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