As a professional trainer, I often hear the same questions from concerned puppy owners wanting to train their dog to avoid aggression and be the best dog that he or she can be. One thing to remember is that all puppies are completely different in terms of their personality, and the impact of nature versus nurture. Remember that 50% of a dog’s personality and behaviour traits are based on genetics, and the other 50% is determined by what we do right and wrong with them when they are a puppy.


A: A positive interrupter is a noise that cues a dog to expect something it likes. Once you have conditioned the dog to reacts to the noise in anticipation for the good thing to follow, you can use it to call your puppy away from potentially dangerous situations or to stop them from chewing on items, such as furniture. Always reward the puppy for leaving these situations, and then focus their mind on something more safe and suitable.


A: Management is the key to success here. Puppies are used to relieving themselves whenever they require, which could be when they wake up, or even in the middle of play. Get your puppy on a good schedule starting with going outside every 20 to 30 minutes for the first week of training (for most eight-week-old pups). If no accidents happen inside the home, increase the intervals between bathroom breaks to 45 minutes for a week. If the success is maintained, bump the indoor time to one hour between outside visits, and so on. If at any time your dog has an accident, go back a step for another week and increase the intervals again based on success.

What if you bring your pup outside and they do nothing? Come back inside with the pup on leash (no freedom) and then try again every 15 minutes until they relieve themselves, at which time they can come inside and experience freedom again!


A: When your puppy puts teeth to your skin, you can say “ouch” in a flat tone while raising your hands in the air (as if you’re surrendering). If the puppy stops the unwanted behaviour, offer your hand back to them and say “kisses” (offering your palms to the pup). If the pup licks your hand, praise them calmly and provide a suitable toy for the pup to play with. If the puppy does not stop and lunges for your hands (or any other body part), get up and leave them behind for two minutes, isolated. When you come back, do not acknowledge the pup in an excited way — just act normally and calmly. Repeat when necessary.

You also need to practice proactive training by smearing honey or peanut butter on your fingers and hands, allowing puppy to lick them on a regular basis. This this will teach them what to do with people’s hands — lick and be gentle. If this doesn’t work, it could be that your puppy is not getting sufficient sleep time throughout the day (pups should be up for a total of five hours each day), or that they do not have proper chew toys.


A: A leash can be fun for puppies because it’s a long, skinny cloth that they can really sink their teeth into. The best way is to train your puppy with the leash on so they can habituate themselves to it while enjoying some treats, too. Ignore it when the puppy is mouthing the leash; if you move the leash, you make it more interactive and fun. Keep it boring and keep walking, engaging your puppy with its environment while practicing other training items.


A: Creating a small area for your pup to sleep in can be one of the easiest ways to get them to settle in for the night. It has to be a big enough space that allows them to move around, but small enough so they can’t have a party by themselves in the middle of the night. Puppies always need access to fresh water and a soft bed, and you can give your puppy a safe bone to gnaw on if he wakes up and is bored; this should pacify him back to sleep.

Set the puppy up to succeed by tiring them out one hour before bed (physically and mentally) and then give them a drink. Allow a one-hour rest period for the water to go through their system and one last bathroom break before heading off to bed.

Kristin Crestejo, CDBC, is head trainer and behaviour consultant at Modern Canine Training in Kamloops, BC.


Training The Untrainable

When an owner tells me that their dog is impossible to train, or that the dog isn’t motivated by food, what I hear is that the owner hasn’t yet found a way to reach the dog. Training isn’t simply an owner giving a cue and the dog complying because they should; dogs have their own interests and desires. The simple truth is, you’re not going to get what you want out of your pet’s behaviour unless you know how to reach the dog on their level.

Certain breeds are going to be more diffi- cult to reach due to their genetics. A good example of hard-to-train breeds is any dog that was specifically bred to be independent (hounds and Mastiffs being the two most common). These dogs were meant to work on their own and think independently, meaning they don’t need a human to complete their job.

True, we don’t necessarily bring home a Beagle or Bloodhound to go hunting, but owners need to understand that the dog has been bred to be independent for hundreds of years, and they still possess those independent traits. What does it mean for us? We need to be clever when training them.

On the other hand, we have dogs that were specifically bred to work with humans, such as Border Collies, Labrador Retrievers, Huskies and others. These breeds will be more inclined to want to listen to their owner and work with them.


For hard-to-train dogs, this is crucial for success.

STEP 1: You need to understand what your dog wants and what they like, which will involve recording the activities you see your dog engaging in. Is she smelling the ground, playing with other dogs, playing with sticks, sleeping, going for walks, herding a group of dogs, running wildly across a meadow?

STEP 2: Now, take those “likes” and put them in priority of the ones your dog likes best, second best, and so on. You now have your rewards list from high value to lower value (#1 being the crème de la crème; #2 being darn good, but if #1 is around, #2 takes a back seat; and so forth). These rewards will be your tools for training, so remember them well.


You can successfully utilize your rewards in realistic situations using what’s called the Premack Principle, which tells us that dogs (people, too!) can be driven to perform a particular activity if they know they will consequently be able to do something even more desirable to them. Here’s how:

  • Management must be 100%. This means you need to keep the dog away from their desired “like” unless you give it to them.
  • Ask for the behaviour you’d like.
  • Wait for the dog to perform the desired behaviour (this may take upward of 20 minutes for some dogs, so be patient).
  • Once the dog has given you the behaviour, give them what they want.

Here’s an example: A dog likes to sniff on walks. We will keep the leash short and don’t allow sniffing (management) until we give the cue — “go sniff” — after asking for a behaviour we want (pick simple behaviours to start, such as sit, eye contact, down, etc.).

Repeating every time you see that something they like is within the vicinity will greatly increase your success and create a more attentive dog.

dogs are and what they like, training can be very successful — you just need the time and patience to complete it.


Kristin Crestejo, CDBC, is head trainer and behaviour consultant at Modern Canine Training in Kamloops, BC.