Top 10 Things to Teach Your Dog

After falling in love with a dog that melted your heart at the local  shelter or carefully selecting  a puppy from the breed-specific rescue, you’re now faced with some very real challenges at home. What’s the quickest path to making your new bundle of joy a member of the family with whom it’s a joy to live? Your pup will be developing habits each and every day, so begin on day one to train the behaviors listed below.

1. Housetraining – From day one, the key words are containment, both short-term and long-term, and reward opportunities. Confinement in a crate for night-time and in a small area during the day with an indoor sod tray or puppy pad is essential for errorless housetraining until your pup earns more space in your house. Ample opportunities for elimination with food rewards will have your dog looking forward to getting onto the leash to go to the chosen spot in your yard to eliminate and get a yummy treat.


2. Handling and Good Manners at the Veterinarian and Groomer – Your pup should be handled often, starting at 4 weeks of age if that is possible. Visit your puppy frequently and get a head start on the human-animal bonding process with all the members of your family. If your puppy comes home at 8 weeks or later, handle, massage every inch of your puppy, and hold your puppy often. In addition to regular snuggling, pretend you and your pup are at the groomer or vet and practice puppy calmness while you examine toes, ears and mouth with your puppy standing safely on a raised surface.

3. No Bite! - Start on day one to let your pup know in a dog-friendly way that puppy biting is not OK with you. Discontinue playing or handling your pup each and every time you feel teeth on your skin - draw away from your pup or put him on the floor immediately as you make a disappointed sound with your voice. Wait for five seconds, and then resume calm play and handling as if nothing had happened. Your dog will learn that everything, especially fun, stops if he bites!

4. Socialization – Expose your dog to anything and everything you think he may experience later in life - 100 New Things in the First 100 days! Learning to be a social butterfly is the most important thing your dog will ever learn.  Socialize early and frequently to all types of people, other dogs and moving objects. Ultra-socialize your puppy to children of all ages, men and strangers and with lots of other dogs of all shapes and sizes. Socialize to skateboards, bicycles and joggers and to all types of situations too.

5. Appropriate Chew Toy Training – Chew items are your friends. Provide a nice variety of safe chew and food toys to help stop puppy biting, to save your furniture, and to teach your puppy self-calming and how to be happy on his own. Up to five months of age and perhaps for a lifetime, your dog will be hunting about for things to chew. Chewing dulls the pain of teething, keeps a pup busy and very importantly, it relieves stress. If you don’t give your puppy something to do, you can be certain, he will find something to do!


6. Preventing Separation Anxiety – Dogs who develop too strong an attachment to their family, may quickly become insecure and possibly destructive when left alone. Leaving your puppy alone on a regular basis with a safe, yummy chew toy for short periods of time is necessary so that you will be able to leave your pup alone when you want to go out. The number one thing you can do to help your pup build confidence is to greet your dog in a very calm manner. It may be hard for you to save your effusive greetings until your pup calms herself down after an arrival home, but it will be well worth it in the long run.

7. Insurance Against Resource and Food Guarding for Puppies – Hand feeding and training with treats helps develop positive associations with people and their hands.  Showing your puppy that hands deliver good treats to eat, and that they don’t take away good things will help keep the hands/food association happy and strong. When you do need to take something from your puppy, it’s best to trade it for something better. If your adolescent or adult dog is already guarding objects, you may need the help of a professional.

8. A Healthy Diet for Your Dog – Independent dog nutritionists agree that feeding a super-premium quality dog food on a rotating schedule will best provide your dog with what he needs to grow up happy and strong. Unfortunately, a high grade dog food may not be available at the typical grocery store no matter how healthy the name of the food sounds. Look for a meat that is named as the first ingredient and avoid by-products, fillers, sugar, artificial preservatives and coloring. You may want to add Vitamin, Mineral, Omega and probiotic supplements to strengthen the immune system. Rotate within and between super-premium brands, transitioning from one type to another and feed at least a little wet food each day if you choose a kibble diet. Feed your puppy 3x day until 4 months of age, then twice a day. Bison, duck, fish, venison and lamb are some new favorites!

9. Wearing a Leash and Harness – The most puppy and dog-friendly leash-walking gear generally includes a flat collar and a harness. If your dog pulls, or barks and lunges at anything at all, a harness will distribute the force of the pull or lunge across the torso and protect delicate cervical vertebrae as well as tracheal, esophageal and other throat structures. Leash-walking training may then begin.

10. Obedience Training - Formal training for you and your dog is recommended if you want to make the most productive use of your time and you want to be sure to get your puppy or new dog off on the right paw. Group or private training is available. The most highly respected dog  professionals and veterinarians strongly advocate the use of the positive reinforcement method of training alone.

Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email: [email protected] for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at

Originally published RanchCoastNews, Lorine Wright, Executive Editor.  All rights reserved.

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Positively Expert: Linda Michaels, MA

Linda Michaels is a VSPDT trainer, dog training columnist, and owner of Dog Psychologist On Call in Del Mar, CA. Linda holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology with research experience in Behavioral Neurobiology. She is a Behavioral Advisor for the Wolf Education Project (WEP) in Julian, CA and Art for Barks in Rancho Santa Fe, CA.


11 thoughts on “Top 10 Things to Teach Your Dog

  1. Denise Zelikson

    We adopted our dog Princess from a pet rescue society. Being a rescue dog , she has some problems to deal with. She is 4 years old and has been kept 24/7 outside as a breeder. We started by gaining her trust. and we already can see a difference in her. I would like to know if you have any tips regarding training older rescue dogs, especially ones that you may not know their full history.

  2. All things dog

    Love it except for the "no biting". Never allowing a dog to touch human skin with their teeth will prevent the installation of aquired bite inhibition. You should start with a nip that did hurt as criteria for your first timeout and then decrease your criteria slowly for until eventually any contact on the skin yields an "ouch!" (even though it didn't hurt). You will then have a dog who will know the difference from dog skin and human skin sensitivity as well as a no teeth on skin policy. This has to be done before the puppy teeth fallout. After that a dog will have a pretty consistent bite pressure the rest of their life.

  3. Linda Michaels, MA Psych

    Hi Denise,
    Thank you for providing a forever home for a deserving Princess! My previous blog about Lilly has lots of tips for training fearful dogs as well as "Where is your dog on the social butterfly" blog/article.

    There's so much you can do for Princess...bringing a fearful dog back to joyful living is one of the most gratifying experiences of my life and career. Every little improvement in the right direction can be celebrated. Just be sure take it all in baby-steps. Lucky Princess to have found you!


    Hi All Things Dog,

    Thank you for your nicely detailed description of a bite inhibition training technique. I'm not sure your training and mine differ much. My editor gives me limited space/words, so I try to pack in as many well-thought out training ideas in a small space as I can.

    Your technique may be a bit different than mine, but our outcomes are the same....bite inhibition regarding people skin. There's a very popular theory on bite inhibition protocol and how it works that I have considered for many years. My style is a bit different but I have found it to be comparatively effective and kind.

    "No Bite" is just a short-cut phrase to convey to pet parents what the goal is-- not that puppy biting won't occur in the training stage!

    Thank you again, All Things Dogs, for participating on my blog and for helping the dogs with non-aversive training protocols.

    Warm regards,

  4. Heather

    Thankyou for mentioning "Handling and Good Manners at the Veterinarian and Groomer"..There are so many dogs that although cute and cuddly in appearance..would rather take a chunk out of their groomer than get their toenails clipped. Believe it or not..alot of dogs don't like getting their toenails fact..that is the main issue we as groomers run into with's that aren't used to getting their nails trimmed or grinded..If you spend a little time consistantly messing with your dog's paws it should definately help them get used to the idea of nail trims.

  5. Linda Michaels, MA Psych

    Hi Heather,

    I seem to get involved in every area of dog training and care -- there are so many "issues". Grooming and nail clipping is a huge problem for so many dogs and groomers. If you haven't already done so, please check out my Dec. 20 2010 post of Dr. Yin's "Counterconditioning to Toenail Clipping " video. It's one of my absolute favorite teaching tools!

    I will be presenting to veterinary clinics and I want to get this video out to every vet and groomer everywhere! Dr. Yin is one of our Expert Bloggers and I couldn't be in better company.

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Alexis

    Aloha! This blog is very helpful! But my family and I are about to become first time dog owners in about a month or so..I am so excited but,.. I am in charge of training it and that stuff, which I cannot wait to do, but I honestly have no clue what to do! We are gone from 7AM - 3Pm every week day. I was was wondering what to do and if you can suggest a certain type of breed for me and my family..? (we want a dog

  7. desta

    Okay I have a 7 year old dog that used to be potty trained but kept going in our basment so now we vhave a new house and welll...... he hasn't com e i n for a year got any tips on how to train him???

  8. Andrea

    We have 2 Jack Russells, they are fabulous with people but if they see another dog they go crazy. I have tried so many different ways of stopping them but nothing seems to work... can you help?

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