Alternative Training

Training and discipline should “guide the dog, not instill fear.” –Victoria Stillwell

Hurting the dog or restraining the dog inappropriately should never be used when trying to stop or change behavior. Breaking the trust of your canine can make them react negatively or aggressively. As a responsible owner, you should teach positive training to your dog, not bully him or her into submission. At the Animal Care Sanctuary, we believe strongly in positive reinforcement when training your dog. Here you can learn the alternative training techniques to solve some common behavior problems. Victoria Stillwell also talks about how positively discipline your dog in our Video Reference Center.

The Problem with Shock Collars/Prong Collars/Choke Collars

Victoria Stilwell talks about which collars to use on your dog to ensure safe walking in the Video Reference Center.

Shock Collars: A shock collar is a tightly fitted collar attached to a small box housing two metal electrodes. When activated these electrodes can emit anywhere from 1500 volts to 4500 volts. They can cause pain and stress to the dog or make the dog aggressive. If left on too long, they will irritate and inflame your dog’s neck.

Prong Collars: A chain loop that fits around your dog’s neck and is made of a series of fang-shaped metal links, or prongs, with blunted points. When the collar is pulled, the prongs pinch the skin of your dog’s neck. These can cause soft tissue damage, eye problems, strangulation (in some cases leading to death), tracheal/esophageal damage and neurological problems.

Choke Collars: Consist of a length of chain with rings at either end that tighten on a dog’s neck when the dog pulls. Spinal injuries, fainting, paralysis, nerve damage, crushing of the trachea, damage to the larynx, esophagus bruising, brain damage and eye damage can result from these.


martingale style dog collar


Martingales: These collars are similar to the function of choke collars. However, they are made out of material and only tighten to the size of your dog’s neck and will not choke them. They are good for dogs that are skilled at slipping out of regular collars.

Easy Walk Harness: These discourage pulling by redirecting their attention to you. It sits across your dog’s chest instead of his throat so there is no choking or gagging. These are perfect for training your dog to walk on a leash.

Clicker training: Clickers are small devices that make a loud click noise to mark what behavior they did to deserve a treat. Visit the Video Reference Center and view Victoria Stilwell’s brief description of how to clicker train your dog, so that walking and other daily activities can be performed without the use of painful collars or harsh discipline.

The clicker is a small device that makes a loud click noise and identifies exactly which behavior the dog performed which “caused” a treat to appear. In the scientific world, the click is called a secondary reinforcer and the food treat is the primary reinforcer. Primary reinforcers are what animals need or enjoy in life such as food, water, attention, a toy. A secondary reinforcer is a marker, in this case the sound of the click.

To help explain how this works, go pick up your dog’s leash and see what happens. The leash is a marker for the walk, which is what the dog REALLY wants. If you never put a leash on your dog to take him for a walk the leash would be meaningless. You have paired the walk (primary reinforcer) with the leash (secondary reinforcer) so by picking up the leash the dog knows exactly what to expect – his walk! Leash means walk is coming. Once you follow the steps below – Click will mean food is coming!

The reason we use a clicker is that it precisely marks the behavior and eliminates the time delay of just using treats. For a treat to be associated with a behavior (and therefore effective in training) it must reach the dog within 3 seconds of the performed behavior, this is not always possible. The clicker is clicked exactly at the instance of the dogs behavior so there is no delay. Once you have charged the clicker (see next section) you can use it in your training tool box. Dogs learn extremely rapidly this way and enjoy every minute of it too!

dog clicker training

Charging up your clicker:
This is the first step to help your dog understand that click means treat (or other good thing). If your dog already performs obedience behaviors such as SIT, you may use that to charge your clicker. So for instance,
1) Ask your dog to “Sit”.
2) As your dog goes into the sit and his butt hits the ground, you will press the clicker.
3) And THEN offer the treat as quickly as you can.

If you have not trained any behaviors yet, just get a lot of good treats on you in a pouch, click the clicker and give your dog a treat. Do this in rapid succession about 20-30 times until the dog visibly notices the sound of the click and looks like he is *expecting* his treat!

Now you may use the clicker and treats to shape any behavior you want such as “Quiet” or “Leave It”.


Vocal interruptions:
A sudden vocal interruption could stop your dog from continuing bad behavior, so you can have the chance to correct and click for good behavior. Only use this technique sparingly because you want to surprise your dog, not yell at him.


Ignoring the behavior:
By simply not allowing a dog to get your attention, it is telling them to stop that certain behavior, such as jumping. Turning around and not petting the dog when it jumps doesn’t reinforce the bad behavior and also doesn’t punish them for jumping. Hopefully, the dog will realize that when all four paws are on the floor, he gets rewarded and praise.


Remove the dog from the situation:
To deter the use of painful collars to stop behaviors such as barking, you can simply remove the dog from the situation that is causing the problem. This is when he can go play outside or distract them using clicker training or toys. Taking a dog for a walk can always relieve stressors when trying to stop undesirable behavior such as chewing or barking or jumping. Learn how to loose leash your dog by visiting the Video Reference Center at the top of this page.

Barking, Chewing, and Mouthing

Barking is another area where we sometimes run into trouble. Certain breeds are more prone to barking than others and you may wish to look into this before picking out your pup. A good way to keep barking in check is to teach a “Speak” cue and a “Quiet” cue. Chew toys are also good because if the puppy is busy chewing he most likely not able to be barking! Be sure not to reward barking by yelling back at him, as he will most likely think you are barking along with him. Yelling could also be reinforcing the barking because you are paying attention to him. Whenever your pup is quiet is the best time to praise and reward him. We all tend to forget to mark the correct behavior and take it for granted… grateful and tell your pup that you appreciate his good behavior! So, if your pup is barking at you un-cued and unwanted you should turn and walk away, do NOT give him attention of any kind. When he stops and becomes quiet you may then turn back to him and offer your attention. You may then also wish to offer him a chew toy or treat and get him busy doing something more acceptable with his mouth.

Chewing and mouthing
Chewing is a NORMAL dog behavior. Puppies and dogs use their mouths to explore the world around them. We may not appreciate it when we find a piece of furniture destroyed or our hands full of teeth marks but the fact is that puppies NEED to chew. The trick is to teach them what is acceptable and what is not.

Here are some helpful tips on how to teach this:

~ Have lots of acceptable chew toys and stuffed KONGS for them at all times.
~ Teach your pup to take food from your hand GENTLY.
~ Do NOT allow your pup to chew on your hands- have a toy ready and offer that.
~ Teach your pup the Leave it and Take it cues.
~ Use time outs when your pup gets the “crazies”.
~ Put your pup in her crate with a chew toy when you can’t supervise her.

Crate Training

Your puppy or dog’s crate should be one of her favorite places to hang out….IF you introduce it to her properly.

Using a crate to confine your pup is extremely helpful in training your puppy proper behaviors. His crate keeps him safe when you can’t be watching him, prevents destructive chewing, helps with house training and provides a cozy rest area when he needs some much needed sleep! If you follow the directions below you will be able to use his crate to develop proper manners and much desired household behaviors.

Another way to keep your puppy safe and out of trouble is to create a play area with plenty of chew toys that includes his crate for sleeping. Here you can also include a toilet area in the farthest corner away from the crate and a water dish in the other corner. You can create this by enclosing the space with an exercise pen or putting this all in a small room, such as a laundry or mudroom. Your puppy should be here when you can’t supervise him to limit mistakes and accidents. It is your responsibility to teach your puppy what you want him to do and if he has unsupervised, free run of the house before he has proper indoor manners you will make your job MUCH harder.

Teaching your puppy to LOVE his crate is easy to do if you include lots of positive reinforcement in your training. You can use a chew toy stuffed with his favorite treats, such as a KONG, to help. Show your pup the stuffed toy and let him sniff and lick it so he knows what it is. Then place it in the crate about half way in and shut the door, keeping your pup outside of the crate so he can’t get it but can see it. When your pup is trying hard to get at the toy in the crate, open the door and let him in. You can do this with also by throwing in a few treats on the bottom of the crate for him to find and eat. Close the door and let him stay in there a few minutes at a time or until he has finished his treats. Increase time slowly and be sure NOT to open the door when he wants you to. Do NOT open the crate when he is whining or crying. Opening the door when he is acting fussy only reinforces the fussiness and teaches him that is what he needs to do to get you to open the door. Watch him closely while he his eating his teats and open the crate when he is close to finishing the treats and is still happy and quiet.



Jumping has to be tied as the number one complaint along with pulling on the leash! Teaching your pup polite greeting behaviors such as 4 on the floor from day one, is critical to your success. 4 on the floor is just that…any behavior where all 4 feet are on the floor such as sitting, standing or lying down.

As with any training, consistency is the key. You cannot expect your pup to know when it is ok to jump up on you and when it isn’t, unless you train it to a cue. That takes double the work as with the barking. You are much better off to only reward your pup when her feet are planted on the ground! That means if she jumps on you do NOT pet her, talk to her or feed her treats! Instead, you should turn your back and walk away. This will teach her that if she jumps on you it makes you go away….something she does not want! A good behavior to teach in place of jumping is the “Sit” as this is incompatible with jumping. Highly rewarding sit is invaluable and I recommend you practice this often!!!

Jumping is also quite popular with your pup when company comes over. You should work on this by having many people visit your house and practice your proper greeting behavior. Have your guests ask your pup to sit and then have them pet your pup and offer her treats to reward her for 4 on the floor. Working with many visitors also helps socialize your pup to strangers, so be sure to do this as often as possible in the next few months and you will avoid many potential behavioral problems. Another good place to practice this is out on walks. Follow the same protocol as with guests visiting your house.

If your pup jumps excessively you may wish to tether her or keep her on a leash. Anytime your pup makes contact with the person it could be viewed by your pup as rewarding so use management to limit her ability to practice an undesirable behavior! When the pup settles, your guest may approach her, pet her and offer a treat.

Dogs are quick learners when you are clear and consistent!


House Training

House training is one of the most important training projects for new puppy owners, or refresh older dogs if they need it. It can be a great start to all future training if you take a positive and active role in it.

House training should only take approximately two weeks if:
YOU are consistent and committed
YOU are prepared to train your pup from the moment you bring him home

Retraining a dog that has established habits can take six weeks or more!
FIRST….Take your puppy to the vet for a complete check-up. This will assure you that you have a healthy pup and are aware of any medical complications that can make house training difficult. Conditions such as intestinal upset, parasites and urinary tract infections can make house training difficult to impossible until they are cleared up.

Choose an area outside for the pup to relieve himself. Having a plan of where to go when it is time to go out is a key to success. As with any training, you cannot teach the dog what is acceptable if you don’t know yourself!

A positive attitude is one of the most important ingredients in house training your dog. Your puppy does not know what is wrong. When the pup has done well, pat him, praise him. The pup will want to do things that are rewarded by you. Affection, praise and food treats can all be used as a reward for proper response of eliminating outdoors.

1. Create a schedule that is practical for you to maintain. If you cannot stick to your schedule – you can’t expect the pup to either.

2. Do not allow your pup free access to food. Be very careful of your dog’s diet so you don’t cause him to have an upset digestive tract.

3. Schedule your dog’s bed time and waking-up time. Try to maintain this schedule.

4. Young pups take many naps. Be sure you can take your pup outside after each nap.

5. Play times and other excitement may cause the pup to need to relieve himself.

6. Most dogs will be able to “control themselves” after a few days of training for up to eight hours during the night.

Resource Guarding

This protocol will assist in redirecting your dog from protecting toys, bones, food bowls and other prize possessions. The industry term for this behavior is Resource Guarding. Resource guarding is a normal dog behavior. However, it’s not something we humans want in our relationships with out dogs. Whether it is due to perhaps to genetics or is has become a learned behavior, we can use classical conditioning and training to help minimize and possible eradicate this undesirable behavior.

The main focus of this protocol is to teach your puppy or dog that the approach of a human to his food, toys, space, etc. is a Good Thing. We will do this by using classical conditioning as well as operant conditioning with the use of a marker and reward system.

The following process should be instituted in the puppy or dog’s life. Every member of the family should take part in the exercises listed below. Children should be assisted by parents – keeping safe is the first order of business with this or any type of behavior modification or training program.

Teach your puppy to respond to training cues such as sit and reward him with food rewards or attention or other items he values.

ask dog to sit

Teach your dog to trade up for items use a cue word such as GIVE or DROP. Start with objects that he does not value as much and treats that are highly valued. Then gradually work your way up to objects that he cares very much about. Ask for him to give the object, then either wait for him to do so (if he knows the cue) or cause him to do so by presenting food near his mouth or as we did a similar or another of the SAME item. Reward and praise him for dropping the object, then give it back to him as soon as he’s done chewing his treat. Practicing this cue, giving the resource back each time, helps the dog understand that giving away his resources to a human is a good thing, so there’s no reason to guard them. Children should only work on this step under adult supervision. Start with the family member that the dog trusts most (growls at least).

Teach your dog the OFF cue. If he is guarding the furniture, teach him to jump off of it on cue. Get him up on the couch by patting on it or luring him with a treat. Don’t give the treat yet (we want to reward for “off”, not jumping on the couch). Then say “off” and lure him back onto the floor. If you use a clicker, click as soon as he heads off the couch. Give him the treat. Don’t start to teach off when your dog is all settled down on the couch. Work up to that level.

Condition your dog to expect good things when you approach him, especially if he has some sort of highly prized resource, like a bone. As with “give”, start with something your dog does not guard. Walk over, present the treat while he’s enjoying his low value toy or food, and leave. Do this with several low value toys throughout the day. Repeat this for several days until he begins to look up at you, with a “Hey, she’s here to give me a treat” expression on his face. With the low value objects, move up to touching the dog in some way, touching of taking the object (often saying “give” first), then popping a high value treat in his mouth and returning the object. Over a period of weeks or more, gradually move up to repeating the above with higher and higher value toys or food. With high value toys/food/bones, start by just walking by the puppy, out of the range that makes him growl, and dropping a treat. Move closer as the days go by, if the dog is ready; never progress faster than your dog is happily willing to go. If the dog is not relaxed and happy at any stage, you have moved too fast. Retreat to the previous level. Repeat this entire process with several high value objects. After that, progress to doing this process with more people around, more stress in the environment. Children should only work on the conditioning step under adult supervision.

Keep your dog from exhibiting resource guarding behavior by not moving past his acceptance level. If he growls when you get within three feet of his toy, then don’t make him growl — stay more than three feet away from his toy next time. Better yet, remove the toys that he guards from the living area, so that he can’t accidentally be triggered. If your dog guards his dinner, make sure no one approaches or give him his dinner in a separate room, for now. If your puppy guards the couch, try to keep him off of it by not inviting him up and/or by making it uncomfortable to lay on (an upside-down carpet protector works well for that). Any approaches that you make to your dog at this time while he has a resource should be on purpose and accompanied by a treat. Do NOT punish him for growling by scruff shaking or any other show of violence. All you will be doing is proving to your dog that he was right — humans are crazy and you’ve got to protect yourself from them!

Maintenance. After your dog or puppy is happily accepting any human approach to his food or toys (a state that humans call ‘normal’ and dogs call ’strange’), you are at the maintenance stage. Twice a week, at first, then once or twice per month, approach him while he’s eating, pick up the bowl, and plop in a handful of treats before setting it back down. Do the same with toys or bones as well. Occasionally practice the “give” cue, replacing the surrendered object with something else if you really must take it away. Finally, continue this for the rest of the dog’s life, incorporating new tricks as your dog learns them.

Oh no, he’s doing it again! If your dog ever starts up again with resource guarding, it’s not because he is trying to take over the world. It’s probably because you haven’t kept up on his training and he has started to notice that it’s not such a good thing to give up his resources, after all. Remind him that humans are the source of all good things by going through the above process again.

No guarantee is stated or implied. Implement this protocol at your own risk or contact a professional behavior consultant.

fearful timid dog

Fearful and Timid Dogs

Do NOT attempt to use these techniques with your dog if they respond in any way aggressively or puts your safety at risk.
Counter conditioning and training sessions as listed below will build confidence and positive association with things they may fear.

Consider attending a basic obedience class to develop proper behaviors and build a bond with your dog as well as socialize him with other people and dogs.

Reward calm behavior around new people by offering treats if your dog looks at people and does NOT cower or run away.

Your guests or any strangers may also toss treats to continue to build a positive association. Do not rush a dog regarding accepting the strangers or people he behaves fearful towards. This should be done on his terms and allow this to take as long as he needs. This will build his confidence as he is the one who will know best when he is comfortable. People should not approach a fearful dog, it is best at this time to keep them at a distance and if he wants to approach them be sure to take this opportunity to have them toss a treat.

BE PROACTIVE! Be sure to recognize good behavior and reward it. Good behavior in a fearful dog’s case would be willingly moving around guests and strangers.

Work in small steps when training or shaping behaviors to avoid pushing the dog past his threshold for comfort and into a defensive or fearful mode. This will only set you back in helping your dog.

Keep treats around the house so they are handy. Use the clicker (or a marker like a verbal click or word) as much as possible to benefit from its usefulness as a “good things are coming” signal when you see an opportunity.

Incorporate other rewards such as toys, walks, belly rubs etc. to also add positive associations to people.

Constance Dwyer, CABC
Certified Animal Behavior Consultant
copyright 2013 – Constance Dwyer – all rights reserved



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