Understanding Dog Behavior and Training

Dogs do not communicate the way humans do, so understanding dog behavior and training is an important aspect of successfully adding a dog to your home. Dogs learn to understand our behavior, so it is important for us to understand theirs.

Dogs Live in the Moment

Dogs do not connect events like we do. If they pee on the floor while you are gone, they don't connect that with revenge for leaving them alone. When you come home hours later and punish them, they do not connect the punishment with the act of peeing several hours ago. They connect it with the last thing that happened before their punishment-whatever they were doing when you walked in the door.

Dogs are situational learners. They do not generalize well. Thus, if you only enforce "sit" in the kitchen, your dog knows to listen to "sit" in the kitchen but not in the living room and certainly not in the park where there are hundreds of distractions. Thus, to successfully train a behavior, practice in many environments until your dog can correctly respond anywhere. Everyone in the family needs to practice, or the dog will learn to whom he has to listen-and to whom he doesn't!


Dogs do not have verbal language, so they use body language to communicate. If your dog looks "guilty" when you punish him hours after he did something wrong, that's because you look "angry."

During training, use hand signals to teach a new behavior. This will help him connect an action with a word. Don't overuse your words. If your dog hears a word repeatedly when he doesn't have to respond, he learns that word means nothing to him. Say a word only once before expecting an action.

Because they are so aware of body language, dogs are also aware of space. When greeting, they do not greet face to face. They make a sideways loop in order to observe the body language of the dog they are greeting. When introducing dogs on leash, be aware of this and allow dogs to approach from the side. When approaching a strange dog yourself, don't greet frontally with your hands and face right in his face. This is very rude.

Training with Consistency

Dogs also learn through repetition which actions benefit them and which don't. For example, if your dog jumps on you when you open the door and you push him off you while yelling, he learns that he can get your attention through jumping. Since he wants your attention, this behavior will continue.

If you respond by ignoring him 75 percent of the time and then push him 25 percent of the time, he learns that you don't respond consistently, so he will always try jumping to see if this will be one of the times you give him his desired response.

However, if you never respond to his jumping, that behavior will stop because it does not benefit him. He can also learn this way that you never set the food bowl down until he sits etc.

One of the biggest training obstacles is the incorrect assumption that dogs think like us. To make training more effective, learn more about dog behavior and translate that knowledge into effective training.