CAP10: Dog Training and Behaviour Advice From The Experts

Top tips on reward-based training and caring for dogs of all ages from the experts in dog training and behaviour. 

A GSD and an Aussie amongst the lupins, two happy dogs, to illustrate an article on dog training advice
Photo: lightman_pic/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd PhD

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Earlier this year, Companion Animal Psychology turned 10 years old. As part of the celebrations, I asked some amazing dog trainers whose work I admire—all experts in their own field of dog training and animal behaviour—to share some of their favourite tips with me. 

From tips on puppies, senior dogs, dealing with behaviour issues, and trying a dog sport for the first time, there’s some excellent advice below.

And I've included links to websites and social media so you can give all of these brilliant dog experts a follow. 

Kristi Benson

Dealing with a serious behaviour issue can be embarrassing and stressful. The first thing us dog trainers do is often try to prevent the behaviour from happening at all, so we can take a breath before training starts. 

If your dog is behaving aggressively or out of fear, take a page from the dog trainer’s bible, and see if you can organise your life to prevent your dog from even experiencing the scary trigger at all. 

For example: keep them in the backyard when friends come over; cross the street on a walk; or head to the country for July 1st/4th. 

Kristi Benson, dog trainer, in a field with two of her dogs

Kristi Benson CTC PCBC-A is a professional dog trainer who helps dog guardians through online, work-at-your-own-pace courses. She is also on staff at the Academy for Dog Trainers, and a Special Correspondent to Companion Animal Psychology. 

Website: Kristi Benson Dog Training  Twitter  Facebook

Ayoka Bubar

If you are considering starting a dog sport for the first time...

It's important to find an instructor who will use positive reinforcement to help you teach your dog sport-specific behaviors. Using positive reinforcement can enhance the bond between team partners, and will ensure you both have fun while you learn a new sport together.

It's also important to find an instructor with recent experience competing in your sport of choice. Their expertise will ensure they are teaching you the correct foundations while keeping the safety of your team in mind. 

This will set you up for success if you choose to step into a competition ring down the road.

Ayoka Bubar, dog trainer, competing in agility and running beside her dog who is jumping over the barrier

Ayoka Bubar is a CPDT - KA and an approved Canadian Association of Rally Obedience (CARO) Judge who trains and shows in a variety of performance venues including agility, tracking, herding, and rally obedience and conformation. Rottweilers are her passion and her two beautiful girls are herding and playing other sports with joy and success.

Website: Ayoka Bubar, CPDT-KA  Facebook Instagram

Kate LaSala

Having a fearful, anxious or aggressive dog is difficult, frustrating and embarrassing. It’s easy to fall victim to the allure of quick fixes and well-meaning, but often flawed, advice. But, long-lasting behavior modification takes time and professional guidance from a qualified professional. 

Avoid using corrections (like scolding, yelling, saying "no", "eh-eh" or "tsssst") or tools that hurt (like prong, choke or shock collars) in your training. Current scientific research supports using positive reinforcement training (yes, even for aggression) and shows that alpha, dominance or compulsion methods make fear, anxiety and aggression worse. 

Animals learn best with compassion, not corrections.

Dog trainer Kate LaSala poses for a photo with her two dogs by a river

Kate LaSala, CTC, CBCC-KA, PCBC-A, CSAT is a certified, professional behavior consultant and trainer, who specializes in helping fearful, aggressive and separation anxiety dogs and their people live better through one-on-one online positive training. Follow @RescuedByTraining on FB and IG.

Website: Rescued By Training  Facebook  Instagram

Ruby Leslie

Do you have a fearful dog? A dog who cowers and shakes in fear when they hear a loud car engine, fireworks, or thunder? Or a dog who explodes in barking, lunging, and growling when they see other dogs or when a strange person approaches?

5 Tips to Help:

  1. Management- close the blinds/use window film so your dog can’t see out, walk your dog at morning or night 
  2. Create a Zen dog room- in a safe room, spray pheromones, give tasty enrichment, water bowl & covered crate
  3. Music- calm music or podcasts drown out outside noises
  4. Create routines - to create confidence, working at your dog’s pace
  5. Talk to your vet about behavioural meds- to reduce your dog’s fear and improve their quality of life.

Ruby Leslie of Welfare For Animals gives a talk on dog training at a conference

Ruby Leslie is the founder of Welfare For Animals (WFA), a humane, companion animal training and animal welfare business based in Calgary, Alberta Canada. The aim of her work with WFA is to train the trainer, veterinarian, animal professionals, shelter professionals, companion animal guardians and interested individuals.

Website: Welfare For Animals  Facebook  Instagram

Jessica Ring

Teach your puppy to feel safe and comfortable when home alone. Do this very gradually and gently. If your puppy shows signs of discomfort, go back to an easier version. 

Before starting, make sure your puppy’s needs have been met — they’ve had food, water, play and a potty break. 

First, pop out of sight briefly, immediately returning. Gradually increase the amount of time you’re out of view, starting with seconds and then minutes. Repeat this process with the front door. Watch on camera to make sure they’re comfortable at every step. 

Contact a separation anxiety specialist if your puppy struggles.

Dog trainer Jessica Ring lies on the floor with her two dogs, one on each side of her, facing the camera

Jessica Ring is the owner of My Fantastic Friend. Jessica helps you bring out the best in your dog for a happier life together. She offers online private and group training for puppies, basic skills, and tricks, as well as consultations and programs for separation anxiety and behavior problems.

Website: My Fantastic Friend  Facebook  Instagram

Beth Sautins

As your dog ages, they may not be able to enjoy their favorite activities in the same ways they did when they were younger. Here are several ways to keep your dog engaged while making allowances for the effects of aging:

  • Spend more time snuggling and taking slow walks.
  • Instead of asking your dog to sit, try asking your dog to make eye contact or touch their nose to your hand.
  • Shop for toys that may be easier on aging bodies, like stationary food puzzles or lick mats instead of kibble-dispensing balls. These toys will enrich and entertain your dog even if they have pain or mobility issues.

Portrait of Beth Sautins, found of Doggy Geeks

Beth Sautins is a dog behavior consultant, trainer, and educator. She loves to help people and dogs live well together by sharing her expert knowledge and common-sense advice for working with our canine family members. Beth believes that understanding dog behavior is the key to helping them be comfortable in the human world.

Website: Doggy Geeks  Twitter

Lisa Skavienski

I’d love puppy owners to worry less about “manners” and more about teaching pups the world is safe.  

They are babies.  The best puppy training focuses on gentle exposure to things they will encounter throughout life (people, animals, sounds, body handling), and pairing those experiences with something they naturally love, like high value treats and play. 

Puppies are sponges for good experiences and sitting ducks for bad, and exposures now have lasting impact.  We have their entire lives to teach dogs to greet without jumping and other skills, but we don’t get a do-over of this fleeting developmental stage.

Dog trainer Lisa Skavienski poses for a photo with her much-loved dog Tuck

Lisa Skavienski, CTC, CSAT, FFCP is the owner of Dog Educated in Rochester, NY, where she specializes in classes, workshops, and private consultation for dog owners.  She is deeply invested in animal welfare, participating at the local community level, as well as holding a seat on the Pet Professional Guild’s Shelter and Rescue Committee.

Website: Dog Educated  Facebook  Instagram

Nickala Squire

You see your dog every day, but how well do you know them? 

People often have preconceived notions about what dogs should enjoy and how they should feel in various situations, based on societal claims or past behavior. This can distort the lens through which you see your dog’s current body language and behavior, unless you practice your observation skills! 

Describe your dog in objective terms including eyes, ears, mouth, head, body, tail, behavior. Do it again later, in a different context. And again. 

Recognize and check your assumptions with what you see on a regular basis. Observe your dog.

Dog trainer Nickala Squire poses for a photo outside with her two attentive dogs

Nickala Squire is an honors graduate of the Academy for Dog Trainers (CTC), a Fear Free Certified Professional (FFCP) and has completed Michael Shikashio's Aggression in Dogs Mastercourse. She is the sole owner and trainer of Carefree Canine in Grand Forks, North Dakota in the USA. Nickala offers a variety of training services, however is most commonly called upon to help with aggressive or fearful dogs. 

You can contact her through email or the inquiry form on her website, or follow Carefree Canine on Instagram or Facebook.

Website: Carefree Canine  Facebook  Instagram

Thank you to all of the experts for sharing their wonderful tips with me!

For more on Companion Animal Psychology at 10, see:

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the award-winning author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy and Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. She is the creator of the popular blog, Companion Animal Psychology, and also has a column at Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats. 

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