Control over your dog

Control over your dog

There is no point in having a dog that is only obedient if he is on leash or if you have food on you.” Dr Ian Dunbar.

Most of the dogs I am asked to rehabilitate have owners who find it too difficult to control them. These dogs are what can be termed, “Under cooked.” Their owners took them to Puppy school, bought books, watched TV dog programmes or did some training at a club but did not fully understand the training concepts or stopped before they had mastered proper voice control over their dogs.

It is not always the dog’s fault!

The training was never that strong in the first place. They did not go through a proper proofing phase. Training stopped for a while and the behaviour extinguished. It is often a case of failure to generalise e.g. “Sit” means to sit anywhere, not only in the house.

They spend nearly all their time and energy trying to control the dog instead of gettingthe dog to control itself.  I tell my dog, “You can get what you want as soon as you calm down and control yourself.” You need to be patient but also be very insistent.

The following training concepts should be re-visited if you find that your dog is disobedient or listens only when on leash or when food is available.

Dog’s name

You cannot teach a dog anything if he is not paying attention!

The dog’s name means, “Pay attention.” When a dog hears its name it must immediately look at the caller to be praised or rewarded. This is not a request, but a command! If the dog does not react soon enough, clap your hands and say, “Hey, I’m calling you.” Reward in the beginning as soon as you see those brown eyes looking at you. Repeat often at home, in the garden, on walks, in the car, day and night, week in and out until you have perfection!!!!

“Sit” The first and most useful command all dogs must learn.

When a dog has mastered the “Sit” he cannot go walk-about, jump on people, fight another dog, cross the road or grab food off the counter. Everything can be stopped before it happens if the dog has a reliable, “Sit.

To test yourself, have your dog standing next to you, turn your back to the dog, fold your arms, look up and tell your dog to sit and see if the dog obeys you. Make sure with further tests by sitting or lying down, standing on a ladder etc. to see how well the dog understands the sit command when given in another context or in front of guests. Can you tell your dog to sit when it is on the other side of the road or when it comes running to you?

Most untrained dogs will happily sit when ordered to do so but immediately afterwards get up and carry on with what they were doing before. They need to be taught that Sit means to Sit until given an alternative or release command. I immediately respond with, “No, sit” and a forward movement when the dog moves. Never leave a dog sitting for long otherwise they are inclined to lie down and you will be encouraging disobedience. One minute at most.

Because dogs have a difficulty in generalising, they need to do frequent sits on a walk, at the beach, in shops, in the play park and in the house until they realise that “Sit” means that they have to obey the command whenever and wherever it is given and wait for the “Ok” release.

On a walk food is not needed because it is replaced with an “Ok” release. Say, “Come with me” and start walking. After a short walk say “Sit” and the moment he sits, give the “Ok” release as reward for sitting. Very soon the dog learns that as soon as I obey the command I’m going to be walking again.


Dog leaders are calm and dogs respect calm behaviour.

Dogs must learn to be calm and relaxed indoors and when on leash under your control. With your palm facing upwards, take hold of the dog’s collar under his chin and hold it still until the dog calms himself. NO petting, feeding, talking or eye-contact must be used.

Do not attempt to attach a leash until the dog is completely calm. When dogs see the leash they anticipate “Walkies” and go bananas. Show them the leash and sit down to read something until the dog sits or lies down in a relaxed manner. You decide when to move, when to go walking, not the dog! Dogs need repetition so that they can know what is expected of them.

Most of my home visits have to do with difficulties experienced when taking dogs for a walk. Pulling and leash aggression are the main problems owners have to cope with.

Leash walking

A leash is a training tool and means, “Follow me.

The leash should be used only to guide the dog to walk next to or slightly behind the handler. The most common mistake is to pull backwards on the leash in order to slow the dog down. This pulling action creates tension on the leash and creates competition between handler and dog resulting in the dog pulling even harder. By doing this you are actually teaching or encouraging the dog to pull. See “Stop pulling on the leash.”

Dogs have what is called an opposition reflex. As soon as they feel pressure against their necks or chests they reflexively lean away into it. If you push a dog he pushes back and if you pull at him he pulls away. So, you need to begin anti-pull training immediately.

Loose leash walking

In a quiet, distraction free area and with a loose hanging leash say, “Come with me” as you start walking in a left circle. This has the effect that the dog automatically begins to push against your body and the leash is hanging loose as you continue to walk in ever larger left circles. This works best if you reward him with nice treats as you go.

SSCD Start Stop Change Direction

When starting outside on leash training, the walk should not go anywhere but be confined to the driveway or garden. With the dog sitting calmly, on your left side, on a loose leash and with a treat or toy in your hand say, “Come with me” as you step off on your left leg, walk 4, 5 or 6 paces and halt. When you halt, the dog should also come to a halt. Change direction and repeat another short walk. Repeat many times but remember to take a new direction so that each time you are the leader and the dog must begin to stop when you stop. Do not use the leash to make the dog stop when you stop. He must work it out for himself. Now new locations can be used for training.

Leaving home for a walk

Taking your dog out for a walk, on leash, requires a special set of rules to be followed in the form of a regular routine until the dog understands the new way of walking.

See “Becoming the Pack Leader” for more information on how to control your dog on a walk.


Dog owners usually complain about their dogs being aggressive towards any other dogs they meet on walks. They also do not want to allow their dogs to play with other dogs; the reasons being: Normal dog play is often extremely rough and therefore frightening for some owners to witness, so they want to stop it in case their dog “becomes aggressive.” They also find it difficult to control their dog in the presence of other dogs. Dogs prefer the company of other dogs. They say things like, “He’s dominant with other dogs” or “he gets too excited.”

Dogs that do not regularly play with other dogs have poor social skills. They are tense, antisocial and have difficulty “reading” other dogs as easily as their more experienced friends. I have a major problem at the club with owners who will not let go of their dog to play or socialise even after it has been giving play bows to a new friend. What they do not realise is that they will never make him dog friendly by restricting his interaction with other dogs or people. “My dog does it perfectly at home” but has difficulties to obey orders near other dogs.

Dogs that bite people are afraid of people. Heavy socialization is the smartest investment you can make in a dog.

Remember your aim is VOICE control and not leash control.

Handlers with poor voice control invariably use leash pops/jerks to regain control.

The problem with using the very popular Choke/Check collar or similar equipment is that the check on a dog’s neck is mild to moderate for most dogs. It does not hurt that much. Rarely does one or two jerks work with the result that a virtual lifetime of leash corrections is in store for the dogs whose owners use choke collars. The problem arises in that the owners increase the number and force of leash jerks and succeed in desensitising the dog gradually to the jerks. All the while the windpipe is being damaged.

The Prong/Pinch collar (See my article) pinches like a mommy dog admonishes a naughty pup. Because it pinches all round the neck and is self limiting it is much safer than a choker if used correctly. Because of the increased awareness it has on the dog it is called “power steering” and in my opinion an infinitely better choice for a small person with a large dog.


The Canine Good Citizen tests list “A Dogs Rights” as water, food, shade, exercise, play, leadership, affection etc. and the “Responsibility of Ownership” as feed regularly, groom,  bath, not left unattended, socialisation, car management etc. etc.

This means that we have control of almost everything our dogs need, what they can do, smell and eat, where they play or train and take them for walks rain or shine. We can give life to a ball; play Tuggy and open doors and cans for them.

Most people accept that they must provide these responsibilities as dog owners. But in return they expect the dog’s obedience and thus control over their dog. However, this will only work if you can make the dog first play his part in such an arrangement. You must re-train the dog so that he realises that he must first be obedient before he can eat, must wait or sit  before the door opens and that his owner will leave first to see that the coast is clear. He must sit and wait before he can get into the car, go for a walk etc. Obedience is the way to get things done for him and his owner and is not something stopping him from doing what he enjoys or wants to do.

Stophanding out treats for free. Nothing is free! Be selective and reward only actions that gives you control of the dog or actions done quickly and obediently. You must also withhold rewards and say “Nope” if the dog does not get it right. Correct behaviour, which is rewarded, gets stronger. So you need to let your dog understand that, “Only if you do as commanded you will be rewarded.”