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Looking at Dog Training with Fresh Eyes

You have your treats ready. Maybe you have a clicker and a treat pouch too and you’re ready to train your dog. Yippee!

Setting up structured training sessions where you do your homework from puppy or dog training classes is common, isn’t it? But what happens outside of these sessions? Do you ever think to yourself, “I’m not training now.”? Well, we have news for you!

Cartoon of a dog wearing glasses, reading a book. Looks like a student.

While we might not think we’re actively training, our dogs are always learning. They’re either learning that things they do get them rewards from you, or what’s rewarding them in the environment.

Here are our top tips for real-life, day-to-day training to help you encourage good behavior and manners from your dog at all times, not just when you’re wearing a treat pouch.



Manage the environment and set your puppy up for success – puppy proofing your home will mean there’s much less chance of puppies getting into things you don’t want them to.

Shoes are a favorite dog chew toy, but they needn’t be! Put them out of harm’s way so your puppy can’t get to them.


Use the ‘Smart 50 Method’ to Reward Behavior in Real Time

  • Decide on three behaviors you want from your dog. Choose easy ones that can be paid easily at first, like your dog lying on the floor while you watch TV or sitting politely while you put the lead on. These don’t need to be cued behaviors that you ask for, but they can be as well.
  • Count out 50 pieces of your dog’s kibble (or tiny treats if they are more discerning) in the morning and put them in jars you can have dotted around your home so that they’re easily accessible.
  • When your dog does anything you determine as good behavior, reward him! Simple right?

You should start to see your dog offering these ‘good behaviors’ more often. Hallelujah!

Training this way encourages dogs to think for themselves about what’s going to get rewards vs. what doesn’t get rewards.


Dogs Do What They Find Reinforcing

When you take your dog for a walk, pay attention to her. We know it can be easy to let your dog off the lead and just let her do her own thing, but you want to be the most interesting and exciting thing in the park and on walks.

Each time you take a dog out for a walk it’s a learning experience. We’re either teaching them by actively engaging with them, so we’re exciting and fun to be around, or we ignore them, and they learn that chasing a squirrel is their way to get their kicks.

If your dog is unreliable off leash and doesn’t listen to you, use a long line on a harness and practice your recalls. Walk him on the long line and give him some fabulous rewards when he looks back and checks in with you. For many dogs, this is food, but don’t discount the fact that many dogs love seeing you smile and being happy with them! They will run back for some rough play and wrestling or some lovely strokes and verbal praise. Play chase! YOU can be the reinforcer. Give your dog what dogs want most, your attention and your time.


About the Author

Petrina Firth is a Dog Trainer and Certified Animal Behaviorist of over 10 years who now mainly specializes in Separation Anxiety (CSAT) and also creates content, lessons and articles for the Zigzag puppy training app and website. Petrina is a member of the Pet Professional Guild, the head of marketing and board member for the APDT UK, and a member of the CAPBT committee. She is also a tech and gadget enthusiast who enjoys city living with her rescue French Bulldog and partner.


The Zigzag logoZigzag* is a puppy training app with a difference, rather than focusing solely on obedience we take puppy guardians on a journey through Life Skills and important developmental stages, to hopefully give them happy, confident and well-behaved puppies, with an understanding that puppies and dogs aren’t robots, they have big feelings, and that’s ok!

* Available in the UK and coming soon to the US.

Zigzag is a Pet Professional Guild Corporate Partner.

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