Behavior Modification:
Basic Training
By Dr Laurie Green

The Basics of Dog Training
Written by Dr. Laurie Green

Did you know...

-that 30% of all pups adopted from animal shelters are relinquished by their owners within the first 12 months?

-that after two years, 70% of those dogs will no longer be with their original adopting families?

-that 90% of owners with dogs they have had for 5 years or more have one or more behaviors they would like to change in their dogs?

There are running debates within the veterinary behaviorist community about whether undesirable behavior in dogs is a result of nature or nurture. Many behaviorists are strongly in the nurture camp, insisting that most all dogs can be turned into good pets with the right training and environment. Others lean to the nature side, insisting that dogs are born with most of their personality traits; training and environment will merely shape what's already there.

Dogs are indeed born with certain characteristics that will be expressed to some degree regardless of how they are raised. Some dogs are more extreme in the expression of their inborn characteristics. However, almost all behaviors can be accentuated or reduced, depending on how one interacts with the dog. While we don't know the exact mix of how much genetics versus environment contribute to a dog's disposition, we know environment will have a major impact on certain areas such as how confident your dog is (rather than timid or fearful), how well-socialized she is, how well she follows your directions, how trustworthy she is around other people and children, and whether she is well-mannered.

Dogs speak with their bodies. Unfortunately, humans are very good at misinterpreting what dogs are saying. We often ascribe our own thoughts, feelings and values to our pets. That is often not accurate, and can cause some real confusion for us and the dog.


Dogs live in a pack. Dogs living with humans interact with the family members in the same fashion they do with other dogs. To a dog, where they are in the pack (that is, are they the top, or alpha, dog [dominant] or the bottom dog [submissive]) is a primary concern at all times. The dog interprets your behavior as your indication of where you are in the pack, too. Bearing this in mind, let's look at some examples.

1) A dog that keeps trying to put his paw over your arm is saying:

A) I like you.
B) Please pet me.
C) I want to dominate you.
D) I have to go outside.

Most people guess A or B. The real answer is C. This dog is trying to control interaction with you. If you allow the dog to determine the starting or stopping of games, you may enable certain dogs to dominate you. Dogs express dominance to each other by putting their heads, paws, or entire bodies over each other.

So by gently placing your hand over your puppy's head and shoulders frequently, you let him know that you are the leader.

That gives him a comfortable place in his family "pack", which he craves. If you allow him to put those paws over you, and reward him by petting him, you've reinforced the idea that he's in charge and does not have to listen to you.

This does not mean you should try to dominate dogs by forcing them to the ground. To do so is to endanger yourself and the dog. If you are working with a dominant, aggressive animal, you should call a veterinary behaviorist.

2) A strange dog is greeting you with ears erect and forward. He's standing very tall with all his weight shifted to the front of his body. His tail is erect, and moving slightly from side to side. He's staring at you directly. Would you walk up and pet him?

A) No of course not. He's showing me assertiveness or aggression.
B) Of course, there's no problem. He's regarding me with friendly curiosity.

The answer is A. These are direct physical indicators of a dog telling you to leave him alone.

3) When your dog greets you, she slinks toward you with her head lowered and her tail tucked under her legs. As soon as you lean over her, she rolls on her back and keeps looking away from you. What's going on here?

A) She's done something naughty and is looking guilty.
B) She's a wimp.
C) She's acknowledging your leadership and is soliciting attention respectfully.

The answer is C. Instead of being grateful that they own a dog that has automatically accepted their leadership, some people are convinced this properly respectful dog has done something wrong and is acting guilty.

The poor dog has no idea why you, in their mind the alpha dog, are yelling. As far as the dog knows, you're yelling at her for greeting you. So next greeting will be even more submissive and the dog may even start urinating submissively on greeting to show you that she's really no threat so you, the alpha dog, won't yell.

If your dog chews on objects during your absence, punishment after the fact will not stop her from doing this the next day. You have to determine the causes (separation anxiety, puppy chewing, etc) in order to treat this successfully. If you punish this submissive dog, this becomes a self-perpetuating problem, unless you break the cycle by recognizing your dog's behavior as submissive.

4) You have a 1-year-old Irish Setter. You take her for a walk on a leash for at least 30 minutes each morning, and for 45 minutes every night. You walk fairly briskly. During the day, she's alone in the house. You now have to keep her in the bathroom because she's destroyed every other room in the house. Now she's started to lick the skin raw on one of her paws. What's happening?

A) She's just a bad dog. Send her back to the breeder
B) She may suffer from a behavior problem, like separation anxiety.
C) She's being spiteful, to make you feel guilty for working all day.
D) She needs more exercise.

Both B and D are correct. This is a very high-energy dog, bred to go at a brisk pace for hours. She needs a job compatible with her high energy level. Walking by itself is inadequate exercise for her and most dogs, especially working breeds. Your brisk walking pace may be slow plod for her. Dogs may develop a variety of behavioral or even health problems if they are not given a lot of vigorous exercise daily. In addition to the daily walks, allow off-leash exercise in safe and designated areas, encourage play and social interaction with other dogs, and/or train the dog to provide additional physical and mental stimulation (obedience, tracking, agility, etc.).

Talk to your veterinarian, go to obedience training clubs, find out from veterinary and behavioral experts what normal behavior is for your dog and how to interpret what your dog is doing. That's the first step to getting your dog's behavior and your relationship with her back on track. Work with the experts or join an obedience training club to learn how to effectively communicate with your dog, how to prevent problems, and how to work through problems that already exist.

This page brought to you by The Animal Rescue Fund of South Carolina.

The number one reason our shelters are so full of unwanted pets is straight forward: many pets are abandoned, euthanized at shelters, or are relegated to a chain in the yard because they are a nuisance to live with instead of the fun companion their owners envisioned when they got the pet.

Hopefully the tips, information, and insights brought to you on this site will help you realize what's involved in having a terriffic pet.

This, in turn, will hopefully greatly increase your joy in life, the pet's joy in life, and prevent yet another pet's life ending up in lonely misery.

Links to Other Pages On This Site:


Cats and kittens needing Homes

Dogs and Puppies needing homes

Other Shelter and Animal Welfare Groups in SC

Links & Resources

The Human Animal Bond

Letters, Comments, Articles, and Misc


On this Page


The Basics of Dog Training

House Breaking a Puppy

Training with Positive Discipline

Dogs Need Leaders

Preventing Puppies from Biting and Chewing

Training the Aggressive Pet

How to teach your dog to eliminate on command

Links and Information about Training and Behavior

Organizations...coming soon

A tip about crate Training a puppy:

Heads Last ...When introducing a puppy to a crate or exercise pen, pick the dog up and put him in backwards. Offer a treat and lots of praise. Place the puppy only halfway in at first, and repeat three times.
You'll find that crate introduction is easier if the puppy is looking out instead of in!

If Your Pet Bites Someone

Urge the victim to see a physician immediately and to follow the physician's recommendations.

Report the bite to the local health department and animal control authorities. If your pet is a cat, dog or ferret, the officials will confine the animal and watch it closely for 10 days. Home confinement may be allowed.

Immediately report any illness or unusual behavior with your pet to your local health department and veterinarian. Don't let your pet stray, and don't give your pet away. The animal must be available for observation by public health authorities or a veterinarian.

Check with your veterinarian to be sure your pet's vaccinations are up-to-date.

After the recommended observation period, have your pet vaccinated for rabies if it does not have a current rabies vaccination.
Keeping current on Rabies vaccinations is especially important if you have an aggressive or fear biting pet.

A Reminder: General Rules about Rabies:

Have your veterinarian vaccinate your cats, dogs, ferrets, and selected livestock. Keep the vaccinations up-to-date.

Your veterinarian will advise you on the recommended or required frequency of vaccination in your locality.
Reduce the possibility of exposure to rabies by keeping your animals on your property. Don't let pets roam free. Don't leave garbage or pet food outside because it may attract wild or stray animals.

Wild animals should not be kept as pets. They are a potential rabies threat to their owners and to others. Observe all wild animals from a distance, even if they seem friendly.

A rabid wild animal may act tame. Don't go near it. If you see a wild animal acting strangely, report it to the city or county animal control department.

More about Rabies and a note about Cats

In recent years, cats have become the most common domestic animal infected with rabies because many cats are not vaccinated and are exposed to rabid wildlife while outside.

Rabies also occurs in dogs and cattle in significant numbers. The disease has been diagnosed in horses, goats, sheep, swine, and ferrets.

Improved vaccination programs and control of stray animals have been effective in preventing rabies in pets. Approved rabies vaccines are available for cats, dogs, ferrets, horses, and some livestock.

With the approval of the state agency responsible for animal rabies control, the use of licensed oral vaccines for the mass immunization of wildlife is possible in selected situations.

"The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man."
- Charles Darwin

How To Teach Your Dog To Eliminate On Command!

A sampling of what to expect by clicking on the above link is copied here:

Teaching your dog to defecate or urinate on command is actually just a process of creating an association.

The command I use is, "Get Busy." But you can use any word or phrase that you please.

You're probably wondering why anyone would want to teach their dog an elimination command. And probably the best answer to this question is that it enables you to establish both a time and a place for your dog to eliminate.

For example, if you decide to go to bed early, and you don't want your dog to be uncomfortable for the next 7 or 8 hours, you can very easily take him outside and tell him to "do it now," because, "You won't have a chance to do it later since I'm going to bed."

Having an elimination command also allows you to tell your dog WHERE he should urinate or defecate. For example, if you're taking your pup for a stoll and he indicates that he needs to eliminate... you don't want him to merely stop and do his business in the middle of the sidewalk.

What an elimination command allows you to do is to walk the dog over to some bushes, or behind a building and tell him, "Here! Here is where you can 'get busy.'"

How to teach the "Get Busy" command .

Just like with any other command, your goal is to associate the phrase, "Get busy," with the action of either defecating or urinating.

Here's what you need to do in 5 easy steps:

1.) Take note of the usual times your dog needs to defecate or urinate.

2.) Take him to the usual spot where he likes to eliminate and walk him back and forth, repeating the phrase, "Get busy, get busy, get busy."

3.) When he begins to eliminate, continue saying, "Get busy." After five or six different occasions, your command will start to link with the behavior.

4.) A half second after he finishes, praise him.

5.) Repeat this process every time your dog needs to eliminate, and you'll soon find that he will begin to understand and at least make an attempt to evacuate the contents of his bladder on command.

Misc Info:

Rumor: It is said that in China, 10,000 bears are being kept in cramped cages, so small that they cannot stand, and that permanent holes have been made in their bodies or catheters inserted to allow bile to removed on a regular, painful basis. 

The Truth:  This was true but the Chinese government has announced that it will close down the bear farms and try to reintroduce the bears to the wild.  According to a Reuters report dated July 25, 2000, Chinese officials signed an agreement with the Hong Kong based Animals Asia foundation to end the mistreatment of the bears, some of which had lived in the conditions of the farms for decades. 

The World Society for Protection of Animals had investigated the allegations with first-hand visits to some of the bear farms and documented what some experts called the most appalling treatment of animal life they've ever seen.   The bears were kept in small enclosures that looked more like coffins with bars than cages.  They could not stand, change position, or move around.  They had holes or catheters in their bodies where the bile could be harvested, which was said to be a painful procedure.

For many years, there has been concern over the hundreds of thousands of bears that have been killed by poachers who want just one thing:  the bear's gall bladder.  Gall bile is highly valued in Chinese traditional medicine.  An industry had emerged in China, however, to provide bear bile for more than the Chinese medical purposes.  It was being extracted in massive quantities for use in products ranging from wines to shampoos.   According to the WSPA, the Chinese medicinal use of bear bile is 500kg per year, but more than 7,000 kg of bear bile is being extracted annually, most of it for consumer products.

These Pages A Courtesty of The Animal Rescue Fund of South Carolina
and the FoxNest Veterinary Hospital