What commands should I teach my puppy? Don't forget these 3

Michael Peer, Professional Dog Trainer, Oakton, VA: Posted on Tuesday, October 30, 2012 5:11 AM

So you just got home with your beloved puppy looking so innocent and adorable? Not very long after you come to realize this bundle of joy is starting to annoy you with newfound behaviors! Every dog owner quickly starts "teaching" their puppy "NO!" or Sit. Unfortunately, especially when we get frustrated, our "NO" seems useless because our pup is ignoring it and continuing to jump up on people and things, picking up countless items and not dropping them, and getting its nose into everything! While reinforcing Sit right in front of us teaches your dog to beg for your attention. Therefore, we need to teach our dogs 3 commands from the get-go: OFF, DROP & LEAVE IT. Learning the OFF command requires us to reward our dog for keeping "four on the floor"-all four paws need to get back to the ground. So when your pup places his front paws up on the sofa, command "OFF!" and assist your dog in getting his paws off of the couch by quickly pushing them off as you say the command. The key here is to always remember to verbally praise him immediately with a "happy"- "Good Boy!". This helps your dog to learn that his action of getting off pleases you and that getting up on things (including people) without request is an unacceptable behavior. Likewise, you need to request your pup to get on things such as the couch and immediately praise him for responding. Of course when we encourage our dogs to jump up it's fun for them and makes it harder to then remove them. Herein lies the art of finesse, timing, anticipation, and PATIENCE. You'll need to enforce your OFF command even more but with repetition and persistence your dog's conditioning process will be jump started. As for teaching the DROP command, reward him by immediately giving your dog back the very item he dropped. After all, what's a greater reward then the article he's after? Don't forget to say "Good Boy!" and maybe add a quick pat (NO OVERPRAISE) too. Or you could use a delectable treat as your lure and reward. Be consistent!

Lastly, LEAVE IT or LEAVE entails a slightly forceful voiced command that gets your dog's attention and breaks his focus. It needs to be called early to beat his joyous capture of the article. And we must give our dogs a reason that usurps the reward of ownership, for example; another article that they're interested in (exchange) and that are acceptable (toys, rawhides, ropes, etc.) can work. Don't forget that LEAVE can be used with anything that you know your dog is focused on, including people, cars, squirrels, etc. Consistency, reward and ENFORCEMENT is paramount and goes a long way in teaching dogs these vital commands. 


Can you train my dog for protection?

Michael Peer, Professional Dog Trainer, Fair Lakes, Va: Posted on Monday, November 19, 2012 6:16 AM

I'm asked this question a lot. Yes, most dogs can be taught to protect their handlers. The problem with this is we're actually building a loaded gun. Then handlers need to always control this drive. Accidental targeting can be devastating, morally & liability speaking.

Therefore, I profess that if you already have a protective breed, leave it alone. Naturally your dog will protect you and your family as you build the healthy relationship of Leader & follower. By showing your dog calm & assertive leadership traits, trust will build along with his confidence. A sound, centered canine will protect his pack. It makes more sense to work with your dog in becoming the follower he should be while you strive to be the Leader he needs.

Dog Socialization: It's never too late!

Michael Peer, Professional Dog Trainer, Northern Va: Posted on Monday, December 17, 2012 8:07 PM

So your dog is pretty good in the house. She's not rushing the door, jumping up on people, chasing the cats, soiling the carpet or barking non-stop. That's great and you've done a great job! But have you exposed your mongrel to men, women, kids, dog parks, city places and the like? If not, please do. It's important to find out if she has anxiety with other dynamics she may come across and that they're dealt with. You never know when your living situation might change or you need to take your dog somewhere. This means if you find that your favorite friend has a negative association or is reactive to different stimuli, her behavior can improve through behavior modification. With help of positive reinforcement and an experienced dog trainer, "Sheeba" can learn to act indifferent to the things that bother her. This includes her handler's reaction or emotion displayed during the exposures. If your dog has been somewhat of a recluse, it's high time she sees the world!

Protection Dogs: a problem not a virtue

Michael Peer, Professional Dog Trainer, Glen Echo, Md: Posted on Wednesday, January 16, 2013 10:24 PM

I often visit homes and encounter a dog whose behavior can be aggressive right at the front door. Most times this can be attributed to an overzealous owner who has actually helped shaped this behavior. if someone comes to your door and you immediately grab hold of its collar telling Spot to back-up and are nervous, then you might as well be telling your dog to "watch him!". Our nervousness and restraint sends dogs the wrong message. This especially holds true for dogs that have pampered their canines. See, when owners cater to their dog's every need like a human baby, the dog becomes enamored with the owner. The owner becomes a special resource, due to the heavy amount of attention given, and many dogs will protect this very human. I'm not saying our dogs shouldn't protect us and many owners worry about this. Strong leadership teaches dogs to listen to us and adhere to our wishes. Recognizing leadership our dogs will naturally protect us if something went awry and out of character from the everyday human interaction they observe. Too much unearned attention doesn't allow dogs to learn to feel confident and relaxed. When you and I make a big deal of a visitor coming in, our dogs may respond in an aggressive or heightened sense of alert. Proper leadership directed in a calm, decisive manner tells the dog "I'm in charge and I'll let you know if I need you; otherwise, chill. Among others, an often seen problem is when dogs "guard" their adult owner from a family member. They may growl to ward the "other attention seeker"(child or spouse) from the protected resource (parent/spouse). if the warning is not effective in the dog's view, this may lead to a lunge or worse. The picture is clear, too much attention constantly given to a dog that is not utilized as a reward for performing good behavior is a bad practice. We all know that practice makes perfect, but under these circumstances, it's a recipe for disaster.

Dog exercise: How crucial is it?

Michael Peer, Professional Dog Trainer, Crystal City, Va: Posted on Monday, February 25, 2013 5:40 AM

Answer: VERY. We all lead busy lifestyles and finding available time to exercise our dogs can feel next to impossible. Yet if you are experiencing behavior problems with your dog-then their amount (or lack their of) of exercise needs to be a consideration. The importance of exercise is easy to overlook. I even have to remind myself to mention to my clients to consider finding ways to get their dog moving. Dog parks can be most rewarding. As the dogs I work with improve through behavior modification, this topic usually comes to mind. Many people use dog walker visits and doggy daycare. These are rewarding for our dogs. Still, many dogs need more exercise than those two avenues provide. Two or three walks by owners at our regular or even stepped up pace often won't be enough to exhaust Buster. A number of owners elect to run with or bicycle alongside their pups which provides an excellent way to drain that pent up energy. If you have a perennial ball fetcher in your pack, you must realize that Sheeba can keep that up better than the Energizer Bunny! So be creative or consider dog parks where our four-legged pals can exercise mind, body & soul.You'll thank yourself once you develop ways to truly exercise your dog because of the noticeable relief it brings.

Puppy crate training & Dog Separation Anxiety

Michael Peer, Professional Dog Trainer, Sterling, Va: Posted on Monday, March 18, 2013 1:08 AM

Spring is here & it's that time of year people bring home a new puppy. Chances are you're trying to do the right thing & keep Cutesy in a crate. That's a good thing but what if that pretty fur ball doesn't like it and whines every time she occupies it? First, it's important to try & make a positive association between crate & dog. If you simply order her in & when she looks at you with those longing eyes you still manage to work up the muster to push her in- she won't like it. She will immediately develop a negative association & even more so when you leave the room! Therefore, it's better to make a positive association before you send her into "solitary confinement". There are several ways to make a good impression for Cutesy & her home away from home. Try tossing in a couple of tasty treats while saying nothing, leaving the door open. When she goes into the crate to retrieve the morsels tell her in a happy voice "Good girl!".  After doing this a small number of times, simply touch (make a physical association) her crate door while dropping treats & tossing a couple inside. You can segmentally break down the entire process of getting her in & keeping her there if you make positive associations in steps from: nearing , passing, touching door, shutting door momentarily while dog's inside, re-opening while walking away, to short stints with door latched, to brief times away with puppy inside, and to quiet returns with uneventful releases.

When treating, ensure you say nothing & please refrain from standing there while marveling at how wonderful your little Cutesy looks devouring the goodies. The reason for this is to properly make the association of crate+treats= Positive! If you involve yourself too much you will be bringing into the equation all your "wonderfulness" rather than the simple association of Crate & Treat. Yes, we do want to praise our puppies when they do get involved with the crate so they will learn that certain behaviors they perform make their Persons happy (please us); this is critical because of dog's inherent need to please us. Remember unconditional love? As I often profess, it's our duty as Leaders to teach & ensure our fidos learn that acceptable behaviors please us and shall be rewarded while the unacceptable behaviors shall be discouraged. Please don't answer those whimpering whines for "help" when poor Cutesy sounds-off! You will only reinforce more of the same because it worked before. Eventually, your tiny ball of joy will give up on calling you back because her screams of woe were unanswered. If you develop a positive association & ignore the whines, you can prevail!


Manipulative dog behaviors: your Dog is actually owning you!

Michael Peer, Dog Behavior Specialist, Fairfax, Va: Posted on Monday, June 24, 2013 10:22 PM

Interesting twist: Dog owns the owner. Crazy but true, unfortunately. In my practice I see this each week. Everyone's dog is getting in the owner's way, owning its space. She is always walking up to, crossing the owners path, demanding upfront & personal attention. Don't confuse this with a leisurely walk in your neighborhood. Your dog should be walking ahead & sniffing about taking in all the information of other canines that have been on the beat. Back to the owning- it's about your mongrel taking your space around you & especially in front of you. This is solely to get your attention. It begins with your eyes. A dog's behavior is reinforced all the time when it interacts with us. When your dog gets your attention and is praised or petted it enjoys that. So you may wonder, what's wrong with that? Nothing IF your pup has earned your attention. Calm & submissive behavior is what all animal experts are after, and thus shape. As dog owners we want our dogs to behave, yet when we constantly give them more & more attention, they will seek, demand & provoke us- for more of it. This is when they are owning us or simply controlling us to get want they want. Reinforced behavior is a strong suit & pooches wear it well!

We as good owners need to reinforce (praise/reward) the right behaviors. Example: if your four-legged clown runs up to you and is all up in your space (smack dab in front of you, jumping up on you, climbing you, mouthing your hands, licking your legs, etc, etc); then you need to teach your hound to respect your space. Start ignoring her when she comes up on her own & begins performing her appeasing behaviors to gain your attention. Tell knucklehead to go on and direct or physically guide him away and out of your space (say a few feet from you) & enforce it. Then wait momentarily because poor neglected puppy will become distracted and move away on her own. This is the time to show verbal attention when she's moving away. Your timing will decide whether a new behavior, which can be viewed as calm and submissive, will be created because of its reinforcement by your attention. If, or should I say when, he comes pounding back over all excited again, simply turn away acting disinterested & un-engaged--choosing to ignore. Your "baby" will soon learn that it's appeasing behaviors will not be reinforced by your attention & they will become extinct! Her new behavior which is less excited & quiet will become the norm and you shall once again become the Owner :-P


How do I get my dog to Stay?

Michael Peer, Dog Behavior Specialist, Reston, Va: Posted on Sunday, June 23, 2013 12:10 AM

Our pet dogs love to be with us, all the time. If they had their way they would be with us or near 24 hrs a day. So when teaching your dog to Stay and then walking away from him becomes difficult because he wants to go with you. One way to help your dog to Stay is putting her into a Down position. This helps to keep Tootsie there because it takes more effort to get up. Dogs also are more comfortable when lying down. When you do manage to leave your dog make it momentary. By this I mean leave for a split second and return immediately praising Lucky. Always give a firm command before you step off by Hand & Voice. Don't take your eye off of him because he will break the held position. Slowly increase distance and duration as your dog progresses. Try not to involve distance and duration at the same time at first because they can prove too much for your dog. The other dreaded "D" is distraction. Everyone sees how dogs are easily distracted all the time. If possible work with your dog where there are few. Remain positive throughout. BoBo will let his behavior show you when you are moving too fast. Simply return to the point where you were last successful and remain patient. Always praise and reward your dog for small accomplishments.

Dog-to-Dog (Leash) Aggression: Are you projecting through the leash?

Michael Peer, Dog Behavior Specialist, Rosslyn, Va: Posted on Sunday, May 26, 2013 9:33 PM

You're walking your dog on-lead (leash) and you come upon another dog with its owner. Your dog reacts by growling, lunging, barking, etc. So you pull back hard on your lead yelling "No!". First, that's a normal response, but the incorrect one. When we pull back we place tension on the dog's collar and send a negative message to our dog. We tell him that the dog is bad! Therefore, we reinforce our dog's reactive behavior. Miss Pretty will do it again and again. Yelling "No!" sounds like barking in her ear and will reinforce her further as if we are barking along. What to do instead? It can depend if she's scared, protective of her owner or acting like she owns the land (Territorial Dominance). Best to seek help from an experienced dog trainer or dog behaviorist to apply behavioral modification techniques. Until that's possible or at the very least, try to move closer to your dog allowing less tension on Ruff-Ruff's collar putting yourself in a better position to control the encounter. Move your dog away and in another direction to lessen the impact of the reactivity on the reinforcing factors. Plus, you will allow your dog to calm down more quickly because he's not stuck in the situation with no way out. That won't rehabilitate the dog like a professional can but at least you'll have a plan of action until then.

So you think your dog is dumb?

Michael Peer, Dog Behavior Specialist, East Falls Church, Va: Posted on Sunday, May 19, 2013 8:55 PM

Often owners convey to me that they think their dog may be stupid! Rest assured I haven't met a "stupid" or "dumb" dog yet. What may be troubling these owners or maybe yourself is probably the frustration you feel with your dogs. Many dogs, especially young, old or anxious ones, can take a long time to process the information we are giving them. It can take approximately 45 secs for a dog to process our command and perform the behavior. Best advice- try and be patient, holding your position and give your "clown" a chance to perform. Try averting your eyes from his because sometimes we freeze them with our stare. You can repeat the command but don't get into a habit of voicing repeated commands (frustration) because that reinforces Tiny to not listen the first time. If she fails to perform then help her, by placing her in the position. With more difficult behaviors, break it down into parts, making each successful eventually linking them to complete the behavior chain.

Using voice to control your dog

Michael Peer, Dog Behavior Specialist, Fairfax County, Va: Posted on Tuesday, May 07, 2013 12:26 AM

Have you tried changing your pitch or tone when voicing dog commands? Utilizing higher sounding voices can help encourage your pup to perform or learn new behaviors. In my Police K9 training school I learned to develop a "baby voice". By this I mean a higher pitch similarly used when talking "Gaga-GooGoo" to your baby. Sound ridiculous? It works. For example, sounding your Come command with a high pitched voice reminds your dog that its a great thing to be with you! Likewise, a firm, deeper sounding voice aids Sassy to remain in a Stay position. The stronger tone sort of "wards off" the dog's attempt to break and move closer to you. When teaching or encouraging her to perform something new or difficult, it's preferable to voice softly and with that higher sounding pitch. Another example of voice control would be say on a second or (hopefully not ;) third attempt at a Down/Stay the mutt rises yet again. After quickly returning to him I would ratchet up my stronger tone a bit to help remind Willy that he DOES need to stay down- thank you. Dogs possess such keen senses and working with their hearing sense in -how we sound when we say things- definitely can made a big difference in delivering the message.

How do I know when my dog behavior problem warrants the help of a Professional Dog Trainer?

Michael Peer, Dog Behavior Specialist, Reston, Va: Posted on Wednesday, April 17, 2013 2:58 AM

This is a tough question. When is the right time can be relative. The problem with having a dog who is exhibiting behavior problems lies in the fact that most will continue while some get worse :-( All dog owners have put up with annoying behaviors. They can be frustrating which doesn't help with the relationship between Man/Woman & Dog. When we identify a behavior problem in our pet we really have 2 choices we can make.

Either we use Maintenance of the problem e.g. leash aggression (reactivity)- cross the street and avoid the other dog or person -OR- Fix the problem through applying behavior modification techniques that can be taught and applied more easily. I believe owners should initiate help when their dog's behavior drives them to a point where it is disrupting the calm environment of the home or the walks in the neighborhood that are supposed to berelaxing times for owner & dog to spend some quality time together. Since most bad behaviors can exacerbate, action versus inaction would be most appropriate. Fortunately for all of us, most poor dog behaviors can be improved, including aggressive ones, through professional teachings of behavior modification. Positive reinforcement is rewarding to the Owner-pet relationship and can be a lot of fun. To properly rehabilitate difficult dog behavior it takes a trained eye to identify triggers, apply necessary changes and a lot of patience to bring welcomed change in a dog's behavior. It is never too late to bring about positive change!

Importance of Dog Agility training

Michael Peer, Dog Behavior Specialist, East Falls Church, Va: Posted on Monday, April 08, 2013 3:48 PM

So you think okay, all dogs know how to jump. Correct, we don't need to teach our dogs HOW to jump but rather control or command WHEN. By this I'm driving the point that if we teach our dogs to jump or crawl on command (maybe at times when they may not want to) we are actually leading them. Isn't a dog who is unwilling (some say stubborn) to jump over a simple obstacle on command an act of not following its leader? By consistently leading your hound through a simple agility course, you are building confidence and trust in you-the Leader. A bonus is the special bond that the confidence/trust molds- a harmonious relationship. Never forget that your relationship with Linus is one of give and take. He learns to rely on the consistent practice that if he listens to you, you will take care of him and provide in all ways. Through agility exercises, FiFi grows to understand that her behavior of simply attempting a simple feat will be rewarded with your positive attention. As her confidence and excitement builds so does your praise and reward. This process is monumental and beautiful to watch unfold. Agility incorporated into obedience training gives us another tool in working positively alongside our canine partners. As the old adage goes: There's no "I" in team! Your relationship with your dog is a forever partnership. I wouldn't have it any other way!

The Importance of Dog Obedience

Michael Peer, Dog Behavior Professional, Reston, Va: Posted on Friday, December 27, 2013 6:35 PM

This may seem like a silly question. I'm amazed at how many dogs have little to no obedience training. Even if we are to do it ourselves rather than having professional guidance. When dogs learn obedience skills from their owner it's beginning a positive Leader/follower relationship. Every time we tell our dog to do something and follow through to ensure they do it, we are providing the information they need to know they are pleasing us. You see Ruffy & Fluffy are here for one reason only- to please us. Sounds cold? Not really. What's cold is when owners don't communicate properly what it is that pleases us. All owners consistently reward their dogs for unearned attention. This means when Girly waddles up to you and gives you her googly stare, you respond by talking to her or petting her every single time. Over time this becomes very reinforcing and before you know it, she is owning (controlling) you! Obedience training your dog helps to ensure your dog is following its leader and breeds confidence in your relationship and your dog too. When your dog knows what is expected of him, he will offer more appropriate behaviors which will be deemed pleasing to the two of you. This synchronization is the harmony we are after. Structure and boundaries are key. Obedience helps to bring this necessary element in your relationship with your dog.