Less is Truly More When it Comes to Dog Training


©Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC

We all have things that people do that make us crazy. For example, some of us can’t tolerate it when people put on makeup in a public place (that one doesn’t bother me), others find it disgusting when restaurant employees don’t wash their hands after going to the bathroom (that one bothers me), and there are those who come unglued when people crack their knuckles (I’m neutral on that one).


“Imagine having a collar around your neck that was attached to a leash held by the Jolly Green Giant.”


You know what drives me nuts? When I see dog owners having this kind of over-the-top “conversation” with their dogs:

Owner says: Bella “leave it”, “sit”, “stay”, “look at me”, “leave it”, “watch me”, “wait”, “stay”, “stay”, “stay”
Bella (the dog) thinks: What in the heck was all that?
Owner says: Get over here! [Owner proceeds to jerk the dog’s leash in a million different directions at once trying to move her closer to him.]
Bella thinks: There had to be a less traumatic way to move me over here next to my owner.
Owner says: Bella (much louder and rapidly), I said “stay!”, “stay!”, “stay!”, “stay!”, “stay!”, “stay!”, “stay”!
Bella thinks: I’m confused and my owner has turned into a nervous wreck. What does he want and what is going on?
Owner says: That’s it Bella! You are not going to “dominate” me. [Owner then gives Bella a handful of painful harsh leash “corrections”.]
Bella thinks: That really hurt! I’m getting really stressed now because I have no idea why I’m being harmed and why my owner has become a berserk drama queen!

Sadly, this is a fairly realistic and not uncommon type of dialogue between dog and owner. I see versions of it all the time. I don’t believe most dog owners are intentionally trying to make life difficult for their dog when this kind of thing transpires. They just haven’t thought through how this is being processed by their dog. I’ve provided a few simple rules in order for you to avoid this type of transaction (and poor relationship) with your dog.

Basically these tips ask you to do less with your dog, but do things smarter.

Say commands or cues in a soft pleasant voice, say them once, and give the dog a second to comply. Many dog owners are guilty of quickly giving too many commands to their dog. Remember, dogs don’t understand human language; multiple rapid-fire repeated commands confuse them. Think of the stereotypical international tourist loudly yelling and repeating words in a language that the listener doesn’t understand. For more on this see: Should you give your dog a command only one time?

Quit giving your dog so much leash input. I’ve found that most dog owners are unconsciously and constantly giving their dogs way too much and unnecessary leash input when their dog is on leash. This is known as micro-managing the leash. Imagine having a collar around your neck that was attached to a leash held by the Jolly Green Giant. How would you feel if he continually gave you little tugs and pulls every few seconds in all different directions? At the least you would soon start to ignore this significant annoyance; at worst, you would get very stressed and confused. Soften your arm when you walk your dog, become aware of what you are doing with the leash and provide leash input only when needed and do it gently.

Stop the “leash corrections” and other types of physical punishment; it’s not 1950 anymore. We all know that physical punishment to a dog (and humans for that matter) has all kinds of destructive long-term consequences. Human and canine behavioral science has taught us a lot about this over the last 25 years. We’re a lot smarter these days. There are easier and less distressful (for both dogs and humans) ways to teach your dog what you want him to do. For more information see: Don’t do to Your Dog What Some People do to Their Children.

Fine tune how you interact with your dog by doing less while getting better results.