A Comprehensive Guide to Dog Exercise

* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

Dogs are natural adventurers who approach a walk around the block with as much enthusiasm as they do a trip to the park. As long as they can feel the sun on their back, and have you by their side, chances are they’ll be happy (although they probably wouldn’t turn down their favorite treat or two). 

But daily walks aren’t just an easy way to get your dog’s tail to wag at warp speed, they also play an essential role in keeping them healthy. Regular exercise keeps dogs physically and mentally fit. It also helps them build confidence, develop social skills, and even help keep anxiety at bay. 

So just how much exercise does your dog need? Below we discuss how to make sure your dog is getting the right amount, and share some ideas to help your dog get those daily steps in. 

“Safety first”

This should be your mantra when exercising your dog. Make sure that your dog’s collar or harness fits properly, and that their leash is the appropriate length. If you’re headed out for a day at the lake or are hitting the trails, bring a bowl and make sure your dog gets plenty of water. 

It’s also important to avoid strenuous exercise in warmer months during the warmest times of the day and avoid walking on hot asphalt. Instead, get outside early in the morning or wait until the sun starts to set. 

How much exercise do dogs need?

Every dog is (wonderfully) unique, and that means that the daily dose of canine exercise a dog needs daily will vary from one to the other. There are, however, a few factors that can help you determine accurately how much exercise your dog needs. First, consider their breed (or mix of breeds). Then, use your dog’s age, including any medical conditions they may have, to create an exercise gameplan to keep them fit and happy. 

How much exercise does my puppy need?

If you’re a puppy parent, you’re probably more than a little familiar with the “zoomies.” That’s the term commonly used to explain the phenomena that occurs when a puppy has way more energy than their body can contain. Symptoms include rapid running around the room, wiggles, a general silliness. The zoomies don’t last long, but they can happen at any time of the day or night (and are guaranteed to occur just as you’re drifting off to sleep). 

Puppies grow out of zoomies, but until they do, they need plenty of short walks or other forms of exercise to use some of their energy. This is a good time to teach them leash skills on walks (these will exercise their mind, too). 

While you may be tempted to take your adorable bundle of fur to the dog park or on a long walk, we recommend avoiding these kinds of outings for a couple of reasons. First, puppies are learning how to socialize and need to do this slowly. And because their bodies are still growing, it’s best not to engage in longer, or strenuous exercise, until they are older.20 minute walks a few times a day is ideal.  

How much exercise does my adult dog need? 

The amount of exercise an adult dog needs can vary, based on factors like breed and size. For example, Australian shepherds and Border Collies require quite a bit more exercise a day than a Basset Hound or even a Great Dane. And breeds like German shepherds and Great Pyrenees, who are considered working dog breeds, need plenty of mental stimulation.  

You should also consider any health conditions, like heart disease or hip dysplasia, for example, when determining how much exercise your adult dog needs. And if your dog does have a medical condition, consult with your veterinarian, who can help you put together an ideal exercise plan to keep them safe and healthy. 

How much exercise does my senior dog need? 

Your senior dog may not need as much physical exercise as they once did, but they still need enough to keep strong and agile. Exercise is also essential for older dogs to help keep obesity and even arthritis at bay. Watch your senior pup closely on walks and go at their pace – not yours. If they seem stiff after a walk, consider cutting back a bit on the next one. 

Are there fitness trackers for dogs? 

There sure are. Whistle makes a monitoring device that works much like a FitBit or a Garmin fitness tracker does. The small tracker attaches to your dog’s collar and will monitor their daily activity, including how much they rested. You can set activity goals based on breed, weight, and age.  

10 fun ways to exercise your dog 

There’s bound to be a few ideas on the list below that you and your dog will enjoy doing together.  

Walk, jog, or run around the neighborhood 

Grab the leash and take your dog for a stroll or a run to explore the world just outside your front door. Not only are these outings a great opportunity to meet neighbors, it’s also an easy way for your dog to get in their daily steps. Change it up on the regular by choosing to go a different direction or walk down different blocks. 

Hit the trails

Find a dog-friendly hiking trail near you and spend some time taking in the great outdoors with your dog. Look for trails that are paved or routes that aren’t too steep in places to keep things safe for you and your dog, especially if yours is still mastering leash skills. Remember to bring water (for both you and your pup) and rest when needed. 

Swimming for the water-puppies

Got a water-loving dog? If so, head for a nearby creek or lake for a dip. Not only is swimming a great way for your dog to cool down on a hot summer day, it’s also an excellent form of exercise. We recommend that dogs wear a properly fitted life jacket when swimming, especially if they’re novices in the water. 

Attend obedience training. 

Whether you have a puppy or an older dog who needs to brush up their manners, they’re sure to benefit from basic obedience training. While it may not seem like exercise, obedience training is a great workout for your dog. It’s hard work learning new things after all, so don’t be surprised if your dog takes a very long, well-deserved nap afterwards. 

Sign up for agility courses

If you’re looking to take your dog’s exercise up a notch (or several), consider signing them up for some agility classes. Not only will learning things like how to jump over hurdles, through tunnel and weave through poles, but it will provide mental stimulation, build confidence, and help them develop body awareness. 

Host a puppy playdate 

If you have a fenced in yard, why not get friends, family and neighbors with dogs together for a puppy playdate? You could even start a neighborhood group and take turns hosting play dates in different fenced-in yards to keep things interesting. 

Before your four-legged guests arrive, make sure you have a few extra water bowls on hand and that you haven’t left anything in the yard – like tools, for example – so that the pups can romp around safely. 

Invest in interactive toys

If your dog wants to stop and smell roses on walks, let them, because the more chances they get to use their nose, the better they’ll feel. Nose work and interactive toys, like those with pockets to hide treats or a flip boards strategy game, provide mental stimulation, and can even help keep them calm and develop confidence. 

Tip: Have a few interactive toys on hand for rainy days when your furry friend can get plenty of brain exercise until the sun comes back out.   

Visit dog-friendly shops 

Need to run errands? Before you go, check to see if the places you’re going are pet friendly. If they are, chances are your dog will be happy to keep you company while you’re out and about. Home improvement stores including Lowe’s and Home Depot welcome leashed dogs, but did you know Nordstrom and the Apple Store do, too? 

Take a day trip 

Does your dog love car rides? If so, pick a day to hit the road to visit a nearby town and explore new hiking trails, dog parks, and even a dog-friendly shop or two. A day away can do wonders for you and your pup, who will get plenty of exercise and mental stimulation taking in all the new sights and smells of a different city. 

Sign up for Sniffspot

Don’t have space for your canine exercise routine? Find a Sniffspot host near you and let your dog have a ball (we also mean that literally) in a new fenced-in yard. And if you make it a regular excursion, you’ll be able to rest a little easier, knowing your dog is getting the exercise they need to stay healthy. After all, a tired dog is a happy dog.  

Trainer that reviewed this article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content. 

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Erica Marshall CPDT-ka, CDBC, 
Owner/Trainer of Wicked Good Dog Training in Christiana TN
Author of “New Puppy, Now What?”
www.wickedgooddogtraining.com

Comprehensive Guide to Scent Training for Dogs

* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

As almost every dog owner is aware, the nose of a dog is an amazing thing. Just as they can pick up sounds we can’t hear, their sense of smell and ability to pick up scents is well beyond ours. In fact, dogs have 40 times the number of olfactory receptors as humans. That’s why scent training (which is often referred to as nose training, nose work, or Scent Work) is so much fun. Not only does training your dog in Scent Work allow your dog or puppy to use its incredible nose, it gives you an excuse to spend time together in a highly enriching experience.

What is scent training for dogs?

You know when you see a dog at the airport sniffing suitcases or outside, sniffing the ground with its nose? What it’s doing is using its scent receptors and extraordinary sense of smell to find certain scents it’s been trained to recognize. Dogs are able to use their incredible sense of smell to find everything from drugs to truffles, but in order to do that, they have to be trained in Scent Work

Scent Work is when you train a dog to find a hidden odor or odors. Those odors may be dog scents, human scents, or even the scent of essential oils or drugs. While some dogs do it as, well, a career of sorts (as in the dogs at the airport), some dogs just do it for fun and to spend a little extra time with their humans. 

One of the best things about Scent Work is that with just a little bit of time and some simple puppy scent training, you can help your dog learn to hunt down all kinds of scents. Scent training for dogs can reap all kinds of benefits–for both you and your beloved animals. All you need are a few simple dog games and some time!

What are the benefits of Scent Work?

Although your dog may never use his or her senses to track down drugs or bombs, there are still so many benefits to Scent Work and so many ways to have them use their powerful senses of smell! Here are just a few:

  1. You can do Scent Work with any kind of dog.

Whether you’ve got terrier types at home or great danes, puppies or dogs, all canines have such powerful senses of smell and natural ability to detect odor, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t train your dog in scent work. With a few favourite puppy scent training games, your dog will be well on their way to Scent Work mastery!

  1. You can start Scent Work training on your own. 

You also don’t necessarily need a professional trainer to do it. Even if you’re not a licensed trainer, a dog’s sense of smell and natural ability is so extraordinary that you can at least get started on Scent Work with some simple puppy scent training or nose work games. 

  1. Scent Work stimulates your dog’s brain and allows your dog to utilize his or her innate ability to pick up scents. 

Imagine if you had an incredible superpower–let’s say flying. Maybe you can get off the ground but you can’t quite stay airborne or do loop-de-loops. Wouldn’t you want someone to show you how to get better, faster, and maybe even show off a little? 

Well, that’s how your dog feels about his or her ability to pick up scents. A dog’s incredible nose can not only pick up more scents than a human’s, it can even tell how long an odor has been in a certain place and can even distinguish the different scents within a scent (and we’re not just talking about strong scents here–they can also pick up super-subtle scents as well). When you help nurture your dog’s sense of smell through Scent Work, you help stimulate their mind and make them feel like they’re doing something great so give them a chance to show off by cultivating this natural gift! 

  1. It’s a great way to spend time together. 

In fact, this might really be the beauty of Scent Work. There’s nothing better than spending time with your furry friend and this gives you both a great excuse! Not only that, it’s a great way for both of you to get a little exercise

How to get started training your dog in scent work

As we said above, part of the beauty of scent work is that you can easily start this at home without fancy equipment or expensive training. Here’s a helpful guide to get you started:

  1. Start small and simply.

As with any dog training, it’s always best to start small and although there are nationwide Scent Work trials and competitions hosted by associations like the AKC, there’s no reason to think your dog needs to win a medal right off the bat! 

Here’s an easy puppy scent training game to get you started that’s basically a combination of Scent Work and “Hide and Go Seek”: have someone hold your puppy while you find a good hiding spot, leaving a trail of treats as you go. Once you’re hidden, have that person release the puppy. They may take some time sniffing their way treat by treat to find you, but we can almost guarantee that little puppy’s incredible nose will eventually find your scent trail as dogs are very adept at picking human scents! When they find you, give them a treat as a reward. Repeat the process a few more times, hiding in a new spot without your fresh scent so they’re not just retracing their steps. Believe it or not, you’ve already completed the first step of Scent Work!

Here’s another great puppy scent training game: take your puppy or dog’s favorite toy and have them play with it a bit. After a while, take it from them and hide it some place where it will be relatively easy for them to find. Walk back to the puppy (when you do, follow your exact steps so you don’t leave another scent trail). Release your puppy and say “Go find it!” wait as they follow the scent traces back to the toy. When they do, use praise and a treat as rewards.

  1. Incorporate the scents of other animals into your Scent Work.

Remember that treats and human scents aren’t the only thing a dog’s nose can pick up. Dogs are incredible at picking up the scent traces and hidden odor of other animals like cat scents and even scents left by predators or prey. A good way to develop this ability is with a simple nose work exercise: take a blanket or other piece of material that has the odor of another animal on it like a cat or even another dog and hide it (as you did when you hid the toy, have your dog stay in another room as you do). Come back to your dog, release them and as you did in previous examples, say “Go find it!” Watch them use their nose to find the blanket, and then use praise and a treat as rewards.

  1. Incorporate other scents into your Scent Work.

Just as dogs can track down other animal scents, so, too, can they track down other scents like essential oils. Try this simple Scent Work game that can be done inside or out to see what we mean: put a little essential oil like lavender on a toy or ball. Play with your dog, using the toy for a couple of days in a row so he or she gets used to the smell of the essential oil.  

After a few days of this, hide the ball while the dog isn’t there (making sure it still has enough of the oil on it that the dog will be able to find it), leaving a scent trail of tiny pieces of paper that have been doused with the oil (dog park rentals are great places to do this since it will be devoid of dog or human scents already familiar to him or her). Have the pieces of paper lead to the ball. When you bring your dog into the room, say “Go find it!” and watch as he or she uses their nose to find the ball. When they do, use praise and a treat as rewards. 

  1. Have them look for treats.

The one thing that may motivate your dog to use its sense of smell even more than finding you? Finding a tasty treat! Just as you hid so your puppy or dog could use its nose to find you, you can hide their favourite treat around the house and then let them loose to find it. We recommend hiding them somewhere at ground level to make it easier–perhaps under a rug, a couch, etc. Pretty much anything can be turned into a scent-training dog toy if you put a treat on, in, or under it!

  1. Play “Which Hand is It In?” 

You know that game you play with children where you put a dime in one fist, swirl your hands around and then ask them to guess which one the dime is in? The same game works for dogs learning Scent Work! All you have to do is put a treat or a little piece of food in your fist (treats and foods with strong scents like meat work best) and let your dog smell it. As you do, say “Go find it!” and then open your hand and let them have the food. Do this a few times and switch hands each time. After a while, delay opening your hand until it’s clear his or her nose is really sussing out that there’s a treat in there (not that they just happened to pick the right hand). This allows your dog to learn that his or her nose is what’s allowing her to find the treat. 

You can also use the “Shell Game” version of this game to teach Scent Work. With about three or four cups you can hide a treat under one of the cups. When it’s clear your dog is zeroing in on one of the cups because he or she is picking up on the scent of the treat under the cup, pick it up, and then let them have the treat, praising them as you do.

      6. Make sure to reward them every time! 

Dogs are pretty much exactly like humans in that the more praise and adoration they get, the more motivated they are to do something well. The same goes for Scent Work. The more you praise your dog and offer a reward like a treat when they’ve done well, the more likely they are to improve. Yes, Scent Work is something that’s intuitive for a dog, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want a little recognition! 

     7. Keep your sessions short. 

As is the case with socialization or other puppy/dog training, there’s only so long a dog can train before they need a break. Keep your sessions short and productive so you don’t tucker your dog out.

That should at least give you a great foundation for getting your dog started in Scent Work. Even if your dog never becomes a bomb sniffing dog or ends up winning medals, playing scent training games is a wonderful way to spend some great, focused time together and make them feel great about their own natural abilities!

Trainer that reviewed this article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content. 

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Beth Joy, CPDT-KA, PMCT
Owner and Lead Trainer Unleashed Joy Dog Training – Mt. Airy, MD.
Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA)
www.unleashedjoy.com

How to Train a Dog to Pee on Pad

* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

There are many times that having your dog trained to pee on a pad is beneficial. Of course, puppies come to mind, but that’s not the only instance. Dogs don’t always have access to the outdoors easily or at all times. Perhaps their person works long hours or they’re not physically able to get them outside as much as needed or as dogs age they may not be able to hold it as long as they once could. 

For those times that puppies or dogs just can’t wait, training to use a potty pad is extremely handy and can be used in conjunction with crate training and house training. 

Reasons to Train Dogs to Pee on Pee Pads

There are a plethora of reasons for using dog pee pads. 

  • Do you live in a high-rise building?
  • Do you live in a city with no access to grass?
  • Do you live in an area with extreme weather conditions?
  • Do you have a job that keeps you away from the home for extended periods of time or a constantly changing schedule?
  • Do you have mobility issues that keep you from walking your dog as much as needed?
  • Does your dog have mobility issues?
  • Does your senior dog have trouble holding it as long as they used to?

Steps to Potty Pad Training

Unlike cats and a litter box, dogs using a potty pad isn’t an instinctual activity, so you’ll need to train them to use a pee pad. Whether you’ve just brought home a brand new puppy or your older dog needs some new accommodations, potty pad training can be a convenient solution. 

Pee pad training isn’t difficult, but it does require patience and time. 

What You Need to Train Dog to Pee on Pad

  • Pee pads
  • Treats for rewards
  • Leash

Step 1: Choose a designated area

You’ll want to choose the ideal location for your dog to potty. Choose a spot that is away from the heaviest foot traffic in your home but is easy for your dog to access. Privacy is nice, but not completely out of view. A corner of a room is usually a good choice. 

Step 2: Introduce your dog to the potty pad & phrase

Allow your dog to see, sniff, and check out the pads. Some dog pee pads have an attractant, but they still need to be introduced to it. 

To introduce your dog, put them on a leash so they don’t wander, and then lead them to the pad. 

You’ll also want to decide on your “potty phrase.” This can be helpful as dogs get older and they can actually go on cue. The next time you have to walk your dog in the pouring rain or the next time you’re traveling and you don’t have much time, this can come in handy. 

Some common phrases include:

  • “Go potty”
  • “Hurry up”
  • “Do your business”
  • “Get busy”

Step 3: Anticipate when they will potty

A puppy will usually go potty after napping, play time, and meals. After each of these things, carry your dog to their pad and say “Go potty” or whatever cue phrase you choose (be consistent!). 

You’ll also need to observe and be aware of the signs that they need to go as well. This may include them sniffing, walking around in circles, and so on. The more you get to know your puppy, the more you’ll recognize their pre-bathroom behaviors. 

Anticipating this and being proactive will help tremendously. When you recognize one of these behaviors, take them and place them on the pad and use your cue of choice. 

Step 4: Reward them

When your dog uses the potty pad, make sure you reward and praise them. Offering a treat or toy as a reward is definitely an option. As long as they make the connection between using the pad and something positive happening, then that’s a successful reward. 

(Optional) Step 5: Move from indoors to outdoors

If you’re eventually wanting to transition to your puppy using the potty outdoors, this step is for you. 

Keep the pad in the same place until your puppy starts going to the pad itself. Once they do, you can slowly move the pad closer to the door leading outside. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid when Potty Pad Training

  • Not using a phrase such as “Go potty.”
  • Not being consistent. Puppies and dogs do good with routine, especially during training. Keep your puppy on a regular schedule. This not only helps them, but it also helps you get accustomed to when their regular bathroom breaks occur. 
  • Do not encourage or allow your dog to play on, eat food on, or chew on the pad as this may confuse them as to what the pad is for. 
  • Letting your puppy run free. By keeping your puppy on a leash when they’re inside and out of their crate, they can’t sneak away and have accidents. 

Problems and Proofing Behavior

Not making it to the pad in time? Try moving it closer to where they usually play or eat. If they know what it’s for but simply can’t get there in time, that’s setting them up for failure. 

Not going when placed in the potty area? If your puppy begins playing or doesn’t go potty within a few minutes of being placed in the potty area, remove them from the pad and place them back in their crate or pen. Try again in 10-15 minutes. 

Not going in the potty area? If your dog has an accident, blot the pee on a paper towel and place it on the pee pad to attract your dog’s sense of smell to the pad. 

Trainer that reviewed this article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content. 

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Janice Gifford
Dog Trainer – PAWSitively Obedient, LLC
Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed, CPDT-KA # 1185279.
Canine Good Citizen Evaluator – #94102.

Canicross: Guide To Trail Racing With Your Dog

* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

One of the countless benefits of being a dog parent is having a built-in exercise buddy who is always ready and willing to train, explore the outdoors and have fun with you. Of course, walking and running are great ways to do so. But if you want to take it up a notch or two, canicross might be just the activity for you.

What is canicross? Short for “canine cross country,” canicross is trail racing with your four-legged best friend. However, there is much more to it than simply hitting a random path.

Read on to learn a little history behind canicross, how you and your pup can train for the sport, why canicross is beneficial, and how to get started.

So, What Is Canicross, Exactly?

Sled dog trainers started training their dogs in Europe during the off-season. Over time, canicross, sometimes called “urban mushing,” became a stand-alone sport in its own right. By the early 2000s, canicross enthusiasts started to organize competitions.

Although canicross has been largely unheard of in the United States until recently, it is gaining popularity. While canicross USA events are more prevalent in cooler regions of the U.S., where mushing and sled dog sports are popular, people are becoming increasingly interested in the stand-alone sport across the country.

So what is canicross? It is a team sport consisting of one person and one or two dogs running together. The dogs are always connected to the human runner. Canicross USA events are typically 5k, but they can be as long as 10k.

Most often, the person wears a specially-designed waist belt to which the dog’s canicross harness is connected. When two dogs are running together, an elastic line is also used to join them, reducing the shock to the entire team when a dog pulls.

What Are Some Benefits of Canicross?      

Why canicross? The sport offers numerous advantages for dogs and humans. One of the many things people and their pets have in common is a need for physical activity. Canicross is excellent for reaching or maintaining a healthy weight, strengthening muscles, and supporting the cardiovascular system.

Fresh air is beneficial to pups and their parents, as well. Even the cleanest indoor spaces often contain toxins and allergens, like mold, dust, and chemicals from household cleaners. Getting out into nature can help both breathe easier. The sun is a natural source of vitamin D, which supports strong bones.

Canine enrichment is essential to the physical and mental well-being of your dog. Canicross stimulates dogs’ minds, fulfills their natural drives, offers socialization, and provides sensory engagement, making it a well-rounded opportunity for enrichment.

Dogs who are anxious or reactive can also benefit from canicross. Typically intelligent and sensitive, reactive pups can quickly become bored, increasing anxiety and behavioral issues. Giving a reactive dog a “job” gives them purpose and a sense of achievement that keeps them focused and happy.

Can My Dog Do Canicross?

Your dog doesn’t have to be a special breed, size, or even a certain age to participate in canicross. However, there are certain factors to consider.

Wondering what age to start canicross? Dogs should be full-grown before starting the sport. While it might seem like the ideal activity for an energetic puppy, dogs should be at least a year –or even two years old for larger breeds– before starting. Puppies need more rest than adult dogs do.

Also, puppies’ bones are still growing and their muscles are still developing. It’s a good idea to talk to your vet about obtaining preliminary hip and elbow radiographs before starting. Your vet can help rule out (or detect) any underlying conditions that could be exacerbated by the pulling force used in canicross.

While any size or breed can enjoy canicross, you’ll have a different experience with a small dog than with a larger one. Some breeds, such as malamutes, huskies, Weimaraners, and vizslas, are physically suited for the stamina and energy the sport requires. But don’t rule out your furry best friend. Any active, healthy dog can be a great candidate for canicross.

 On the other hand, dogs with certain health issues or predispositions toward them might be safer and happier participating in other activities. For instance, if your pup is prone to joint problems or breathing conditions such as brachycephalic syndrome, talk to your vet before giving canicross a try.

How To Train Your Dog for Canicross: Preparation

Before you begin to train your dog for canicross, make sure you have the required gear. There are three essential items you need:

  •          A pulling harness.
  •          An elastic leash.
  •          A canicross waist belt.

The best harness will have an ergonomic fit with a y-shaped opening at the neck to support breathing and movement. A strong but lightweight waist belt and an elastic leash that connects to it complete the setup. Trail shoes are also recommended for the best traction and protection.

As with any new sport or exercise routine, it’s a good idea to consult with your vet and your own healthcare provider before you begin to train your dog for canicross.

How To Train Your Dog for Canicross: Exercise and Commands

Warm up before training to prevent injuries and prepare for exercise. Some canicross trainers prepare active stretches, which encourage the dog to stretch, while others like static stretching, where the person gently stretches the dog’s muscles.

During warm-up, watch for any signs of issues or injuries, such as limping, reluctance, yelping or sensitivity when touched in a specific area, or unusual panting. Seek medical advice before continuing if you notice that your dog has any concerning symptoms.

Cooling down after training is also essential. Gradually slow down from a run to a casual walk to allow your dog’s heart rate and body temperature to regulate.

Teach your dog common canicross cues, such as the following.

  • Line out. This is a cue for the dog to stand facing forward with the leash tight in preparation.
  • Hike. This means “go” and is most often used at the start of a race.
  • Gee for “turn right.’
  • Haw for “turn left.”
  • On by for “keep going,” often used to go around other canicrossers or ignore a distraction.
  • Let’s go to speed up or resume racing.
  • Back or behind to prompt your dog to fall behind you or back up.
  • Let’s go home to pick up speed, especially at the end of a canicross race.
  • Whoa means “stop.”

Once your dog has mastered these skills, you can teach them to pull. Begin using the canicross harness when training for canicross. You can still use a traditional harness for regular walks and other activities, but use the canicross gear exclusively for canicross training.

Some dogs find success when starting with an easy pace, like power walking, and praise when the dog pulls. It can be helpful to have someone else walk ahead of you alongside the dog, encouraging proper speed and pull.

How To Start Canicross

When you and your pet are ready, you can plan how to start canicross. First, make sure you are both well-hydrated. Encourage drinking lots of water starting three hours before you run. It’s also recommended that you not feed your dog for several hours before a race, as running on a full belly can be very dangerous and even fatal. 

Be sure to check your pup’s feet and legs before and after runs. Look for swelling, cuts, skin damage, or signs of pain.

Find a soft trail (natural surfaces are recommended) and choose a time to run when there are not likely to be many cars or people passing through.

If you can find other canicrossers in your area, try to meet up and run together. Canicross is a social sport, and practicing together will encourage you both while helping you pick up the sport more quickly.

When you and your dog are ready, enter a race!

Where to find canicross events, groups, and more

Check out these groups and organizations to find other canicrossers in your area, race info and, perhaps most importantly, to find canicross events.

Facebook also has dozens of canicross clubs, from general groups based on experience level to location-based groups and even groups based on breed. So there’s a good chance you’ll find the perfect fit for you and your best buddy.

The only thing left to do is start racing and have a blast.

Trainer that reviewed this article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content. 

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Camilla Echeverria, CTDI, KPA CTP
AKC CGC and Trick Dog Evaluator
Founder and Managing Director of the Northwest School for Dogs

Leash Training: A Guide to Training Your Dog to Walk on a Leash

* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

Taking your dog for a walk can be an incredibly relaxing experience, and a great way to unwind after a stressful day at work or a long day running errands. However, a dog walk can also be stressful—a nightmare—when your dog doesn’t know how to walk properly. Being pulled from side to side as you hold on to the leash for dear life isn’t what most people would consider fun, and it could even be dangerous for both you and your dog. 

If this scenario sounds familiar or if it’s something you want to avoid as your puppy gets older, it is time to start leash training your dog and work towards a positive walking experience. How? Let’s find out.

What is Leash Training?

Before we dive deeper into the subject, we want to start by clarifying what the concept of leash training entails. What does it mean to leash train a dog? In short, a leash-trained dog is a dog that has been taught to walk with a loose leash by your side, and one that doesn’t pull, cross in front of you or bark uncontrollably at the sight of other dogs, cats, humans, or other distractions.

These are basic leash skills your dog should know, but dogs aren’t born with this knowledge. Instead, it is something you, as their owner and closest friend, will need to teach them. Inadequate loose leash walking behavior is usually not a sign of your furry friend being naughty or intentionally disobedient, but an indicator of a lack of training or a leash training process that didn’t work for your dog. 

Your pooch isn’t purposely defying you or misbehaving out of spite—he just hasn’t figured out what you expect from him yet. 

Physical Exercise Nurtures the Dog/Owner Bond

Physical exercise is essential for dogs and humans alike, and daily walks provide corporal movement along with mental stimulation and an opportunity for the two of you to bond. Yes, walking your dog has many benefits, but proactive leash training is a must for your dream of relaxing dog walks to become a reality.

Leash Training to Foster the Formation of Proper Walking Skills

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be difficult to embark on the leash training journey, and it won’t necessarily require you to hire an experienced dog trainer. What it does require is lots of patience on your part, to help construct positive experiences as you start taking your fur friend for walks around the neighborhood.

The following guide contains practical loose leash walking tips for dog owners who wish to prevent the formation of bad habits, as these can be difficult to break further down the line.

Why Leash Training Your Dog Matters

If you are new to dog ownership or if you live somewhere remote with little to no need to keep your dog on a leash, then perhaps you are wondering why you should bother leash training your dog? Well, the reasons are many, and regardless of whether your dog will be frequently kept on a leash, good loose leash walking habits are undeniably essential for every dog. 

Here are three key points in favor of leash training:

Safety

Leash training is the foundation of secure dog walks. A dog that doesn’t walk properly while leashed could suddenly pull straight into traffic and get hit by a car—while you are holding on to the other end of the leash! There is also a significant risk of you dropping the leash if your dog was to suddenly lunge at something unexpected, resulting in a lost dog or worse.

No, it is not enough to simply leash your dog and call it a day. Your dog needs to learn how to walk on a leash, and it is your job to teach proper leash walking skills while still maintaining a positive attitude, patience and keeping it fun and engaging for your dog. A leash on its own does not keep your pooch safe, and it all comes down to how the tool is used.

Comfort

Pulling can have negative consequences in more ways than one, and not only is it uncomfortable for a dog to have to put so much unrewarded effort into a walk by constantly straining on the leash, but it could also be harmful. 

Dogs walking with collars could sustain severe injuries to the neck area, and it is not unheard of for dogs (especially small breeds such as Chihuahuas and Yorkshire Terriers) to suffer a collapsed trachea as a result of an unfortunate leash yank. 

Sled dogs and dogs participating in sports like competitive canine weight pull use proper equipment to prevent injuries, including (but not limited to) special harnesses, and the equipment for leash training and standard walking isn’t always ideal for pulling. 

As a result, prolonged pulling puts unnecessary strain on bones and joints, which could cause, worsen or speed up the development of hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and other joint disorders in dogs. Teaching your dog basic leash skills is key to keeping your fur friend safe and comfortable, while also lowering the risk of pulling-related injuries.

Convenience

Our circumstances in life can change unexpectedly and without warning, and even if you don’t see a future need to keep your dog on a leash based on your current situation, there are no guarantees for what is to come. What happens if you fall ill and someone else needs to care for your dog? What if you lose your job and find yourself having to move somewhere with strict leash laws in place?

No one wants to think about these types of worst-case scenarios, but responsible dog ownership is all about setting your dog up for success regardless of the situation. If you have access to dog parks or the option to rent private land where dogs can roam free—great, but your dog still needs leash walking skills.

You might also need to leash your dog for vet visits or similar, and you will be doing everyone (including your dog) a favor by teaching basic dog cues and loose leash walking ahead of time.

Best Age to Start Leash Training a Puppy

Puppies are adorable, but it is not uncommon for new dog owners to become overwhelmed with puppy stress due to the newfound responsibility of caring for something so small, fragile, and innocent. As a result, training could end up becoming postponed or overlooked, and we are here to explain why this is problematic. 

A puppy is constantly learning, and it’s crucial to take advantage of this window of opportunity by initiating training as early as possible. 

The first 3-4 months are critical, according to the American Kennel Club.

Can You Leash Train an Adult Dog?

If your dog wasn’t leash trained as a puppy, can you still teach your adult pup basic dog manners and leash etiquette? Absolutely. Many rescue dogs are adopted as adults and may never have had the opportunity to go on walks before meeting their forever family, and while it can take longer to succeed with an adult dog, we can almost guarantee that there is a leash training option out there that works. 

With patience and positive reinforcement, anything is possible.

The leash dog training tips you’ll find here can be used both when training puppies and adult dogs, and the only difference is that an adult dog with set habits might take a little longer to train depending on how much training they have had in the past.

What You Need to Get Started

There is a lot to take in and plenty to add to your loose leash walking checklist, and you should preferably start planning ahead already before your training sessions even begin. You need to consider the types of leashes you want to use, stock up on your pup’s favorite treat and a few other things, and the first step of leash training is always preparation.

Stock Up on High-Value Training Treats

You are undeniably going to need lots of treats to reward your pooch for getting it right, and it can’t be just any old and stale chew treats you have lying around—you need extra yummy treats your dog will want to work for.

Keep in mind that using moist treats might not be a great idea if you plan to carry them with you for your walks, as you will end up with sticky pockets or a messy pouch with treats. Instead, opt for a tasty treat alternative with more solid consistency. 

There are countless options on the market today with anything from longer-lasting bacon dog treats to crunchy dog food treats you can break into smaller pieces. Rewarding a dog’s behavior with treats is a great way to maintain motivation and to keep training fun, and you will gradually be able to increase the distance between treats as your leash training progresses.  

Don’t Forget to Moderate Your Dog’s Treat Intake

Dogs should only get a maximum of 10% of their daily food intake from treats, and if you plan to be using more than that for your leash training, consider mixing high-value treats with a portion of your dog’s daily kibble. This is also a good idea if your dog is on a diet or if you are on a budget.

Dog Collar or Harness—What Works Best?

Believe it or not, whether you opt to use leash training collars or a harness isn’t as important as you think. Yes, there are pros and cons that come with both, but when it comes down to it—collars and harnesses are tools, not solutions. Your dog needs to learn to walk on a leash regardless of what the leash is attached to.

When you pick out a collar or harness for dogs in your household, make sure you choose one that is comfortable for your pup and that you feel you can work with. Harnesses tend to provide more handler control, and a properly sized harness is generally harder to escape compared to a collar.

Still, some people prefer collars over a standard harness and that’s okay, as long as you take the increased risk of neck and trachea injuries into consideration, and use the tool responsibly. 

Please note that we do not recommend shock collars, choke chains, or similar gadgets when leash training your dog, as more often and not, these types of tools can cause serious damage to the relationship you have built with your furry friend. 

The tips and suggestions in this article are based on positive reinforcement techniques where you reward good behavior rather than punish the dog for its mistakes.

How About No-Pull Harnesses & Anti-Pull Head Collars?

While we are on the subject, let’s talk about the headcollar or front-attachment harness, which are both tools meant to reduce pulling. Does a front-attachment harness or a head halter really work, and can it substitute leash training? The answer is that yes, they do work to prevent dogs from pulling, but no, they cannot replace teaching dogs to walk on a leash. 

A head halter or a front-clip harness is designed to reduce pulling, where the dog becomes unable to pull forward without being pulled to the side. When used correctly, these can certainly help in situations where the dog is too strong for you or where the pulling is getting out of hand, but they are only designed to control your dog’s behavior on leash and not necessarily alter it permanently. Chances are that once the collar or harness comes off, your dog falls back into old habits. 

Use these if needed, but remember: Loose leash walking training is still a must.

Best Leash for Leash Training

You have so many leash choices nowadays that it is easy to get confused; should you go with an old-fashioned leash or could retractable leashes work? Should it be a 4-foot leash, a 6-foot leash, or something else? There is a whole jungle of leash varieties out there.

When you are initiating your leash training and teaching basic cues, a simple and classic leash is your best bet. Don’t overcomplicate things, and get a sturdy leash that you can comfortably hold on to. A shorter leash provides more control, but it is up to you if you prefer a longer leash you can shorten as you see fit, or a shorter leash to use for training. 

Retractable leashes are, as you might have already figured out, not good for leash training.

Invest in a Dog I.D Tag to Keep Your Fur Friend Safe

Accidents happen, and you should make sure your dog has an I.D tag or a collar or harness with your contact information on it at all times, especially when you are teaching key cues and leash walking. You might think you’ll never drop the leash and that your dog can’t get away from you, but it is always best to prepare for the unexpected.

Teaching Different Types of Leash Training

A common misunderstanding is that there is only one way to leash train a dog when, in reality, different methods might work for different dogs. The smartest thing you can do is to familiarize yourself with your options and make your decisions based on your dog’s individual needs, abilities, and personality. 

Just because something worked for your neighbor or when you leash trained your last dog, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work this time around. It is perfectly okay to adapt your leash training sessions as needed.

There is a difference between teaching what is often referred to as an “off-duty” walk and teaching ‘heel’ and other cues, and both techniques are explained in detail down below. Before you start, make sure you have already introduced your dog to the leash and that you take breaks between sessions to keep it fun for everyone.

How to Teach Loose Leash Walking to Your Dog

The loose leash style is what most dog owners associate with the term “leash training,” which is where the dog is allowed some room to roam around and sniff, but where they should still refrain from pulling or tugging at the leash.

Step 1

Bring the treat bag out again but keep it in your pocket this time. Start walking and allow your dog to explore. With off-duty dog walking, your furry friend is given a lot more freedom but is not allowed to pull. Use verbal praise here to encourage correct behavior.

Step 2

If your dog pulls, call them back and have them heel by your side. Use your release word to initiate off-duty walking again. Should your dog continue to pull, come to a full stop and remain still until your dog’s leash goes slack. This will eventually teach your pooch that the only way to move forward is to stop pulling.

Step 3

Distractions are common, and if your puppy or adult dog starts lunging at or pulling towards another dog—turn around and walk in the opposite direction. Reward if your dog turns the attention to you instead of the distraction.

Always make sure to reward the behavior you want to reinforce, and to work on each step with patience and a positive attitude. Multiple positive sessions are usually more proactive than hundreds of leash training hours with a negative attitude.

Hiring a Trainer vs. Leash Training on Your Own

The solution to many dog-related issues is to hire a professional trainer, but most pet owners are perfectly capable of leash training their dogs on their own, unless you run into complications or if you are dealing with a dog with pre-enforced bad habits. It comes down to whether you have the patience and persistence required to work with a puppy or adult dog, and whether you are willing to try before resorting to hiring a dog trainer.

If you decide to hire a trainer, make sure you choose someone who uses methods you are comfortable with and who focuses on positive reinforcement in their training.

Understanding Why Dogs Pull on Their Leash

Now, it is important to understand that your dog’s natural walking pace is likely significantly faster than yours, and what you consider pulling might just be a case of your dog walking at a quicker pace. Fast walking is a natural behavior in many dog breeds. 

Understanding why your dog pulls will help you determine the best course of action when initiating loose leash training.

Pulling can also be a result of over-excitement, dog anxiety, fear, aggression, leash reactivity and many other things, and if you are having issues figuring out why your dog pulls, professional trainers can help point you in the right direction.

Socialization is Essential for Successful Leash Training

Behavioral cues aren’t all you should teach your dog in order to successfully get through the often chaotic puppy time, and socialization is essential. The concept of socialization during the puppy phase is often confused with a puppy’s need to meet other dogs, and while dog interaction makes up a part of socialization, it is far from everything.

When we talk about socializing a dog, we are referring to providing the dog with a thorough introduction to the world. Puppies need to familiarize themselves with sounds, smells, sights, and experiences, such as getting used to seeing humans on skateboards, on bikes, wearing headwear, and walking around with umbrellas, as well as seeing different types of animals, vehicles, and more. 

All this will be helpful once it is time to start your dog’s leash walking training. 

Just like when you leash train, socialization requires you to alternate a familiar environment with a challenging environment to prepare your puppy for scenarios they might come across later in life.

Communication is Key when Leash Training a Dog

Positive reinforcement training is all about creating a safe space for you and your dog, where you can work together and mutually enjoy the experience. Forget everything you’ve ever heard about “being the alpha” or making sure your dog “knows who’s the boss,” as modern dog training is all about teamwork and respect. 

Communication isn’t only about getting your dog to listen to you, but also about you learning to listen to your dog and read your dog’s body language. Find ways to communicate your preferences and needs without using force or fear-based methods, and you’ll soon start seeing the formation of a much stronger bond between the two of you. 

The Importance of Patience & Managing Your Own Frustration

It is human nature to want things to go our way, but the truth is that leash training takes time, and it requires patience. You can have the best natural dog treats prepared for your pup, shower your fur friend with praise and think you have everything under control, but the truth is you’ll likely get frustrated at some point

Perhaps your pooch does a great job for a week or two, then suddenly seems to take three steps back and fall into old habits? It’s normal.

Ideally, 2-3 sessions kept short are better than one long session, as this helps keep both your frustration and that of your dog at bay. There are going to be setbacks, but hard work pays off as long as you stay calm and collected. Take a break when needed, do something else, and come back to leash training when you are both ready.

Our Final Say on Leash Training

Take a deep breath, fill your pockets with treats, and gear up to start your loose-leash training! You and your dog likely won’t be leash walking pros right away but with persistency, consistency, and patience—you will get there.

There are leash requirement laws in place all around the world that puts pressure on dog owners to make sure they have dogs that can be walked on a leash, but additionally, it comes down to keeping your fur friend safe. Taking a walk offers an invaluable opportunity to relax and disconnect, and you owe it to yourself and your dog to make the most of every moment you get to spend together.

Are you ready to start leash training your dog?

Trainers that reviewed this article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content. 

These are the trainers that reviewed this article:

Marnie Montgomery
PMCT4, CPDT-KA
Tellington TTouch® Practitioner
Fear-Free Certified Professional
JOYFUL DOG LLC
www.joyfuldogllc.com

Sugako Sugar Sasaki 
佐々木 清己
Owner: Happy Stretch Dog Training LLC
www.happystretchdogtraining.com
Certified Fear Free Trainer 
Certified AKC CGC and Tricks Evaluator 

Complete Guide To Dog Training Hand Signals

* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

Have you ever wondered whether you should teach your dog with verbal cues or with hand signals? Does it make a difference?  While for most pet parents it may just be a personal preference, there are a lot of great reasons to consider training hand signals to our canine friends, with scientific studies to back them up.

Why Use Hand Signals for Dogs?

The most obvious reason visual signals work so well is that dogs are themselves body language communicators, and readily read body cues. Because of this, dogs will usually respond more reliably to visual prompts, and will have a tougher time  with verbal cues. One study looked at a group of dogs that had been taught standard cues with both visual and auditory signals. It was found that the hand-only cues reached up to 99% reliability while voice cues only reached 82% reliability.

In addition, hand signals are useful in a noisy environment. It is much easier for a dog to focus on their handler’s body positioning amongst these types of distractions. It can also be easier for your dog to read gestures during times they are a distance away from you. And if your dog loses their hearing as they get older you will still have a way to communicate with them. 

If another person is with your dog, they can also use your dog’s visual signals with more reliability than with an auditory dog cue. Dogs may get confused by different intonations, accents or even tones of voice. Research shows that hand signals are much easier for dogs to understand when given by different people.

Training Hand Signals for New Behaviors

How to Add Hand Signals to Already-Trained Behaviors

If your dog already responds to an auditory cue for basic obedience behaviors, the training process for teaching hand signals is easy!  And because dogs respond more reliably to body language, teaching hand signals can actually help you build a better response to your verbal cues.

Anytime you want to build a new prompt for a behavior, you can use the same training process. First, perform the new visual signal, then follow up with the known verbal cue. With enough repetition, your dog will start to see your physical gesture as a predictor that the verbal cue is coming. You should start to pause for longer periods of time to give the dog a chance to start responding before you give the verbal cue.  

When this happens you will now have two ways to ask your dog for a behavior: both a visual and a verbal cue.

Training Hand Signals for New Behaviors

When you are teaching a new behavior cue with your furry friend’s favorite treats as a lure, Then you can turn that lure right into a hand signal. Hold the treat in your hand while luring for the behavior that you would like. The trick here is to hide the treat with your fingers in your hand so it does not become a visual part of the cue. Then you want to start trying repetitions without the treat in your hand. Does the dog respond? If not, try luring again and take note to make sure your hand looks exactly the same. Is the treat visible? Is the dog’s nose busily sniffing to see if there is a treat?  If so it will be better to keep the lure until you notice the dog responding faster. 

Important: the training process for new skills should always begin in a distraction-free environment. Keep training sessions short and fun to accommodate our furry friend’s short attention span. Training without distractions is key in the beginning. As behavior becomes more fluent, you will want to practice with your dogs in a variety of situations, including stimulating situations, like outside or at the park. This will help to proof behaviors.

Dogs can learn these body cues at any age. So you can start training with hand signal non-verbal cues to puppies as well as your adult dogs!

Mistakes to Avoid

One of the most common mistakes people make when teaching hand signals is that they will give the verbal and visual cues together. If you give them simultaneously your dog won’t be able to separate them and will focus on the more salient, or obvious prompt. For dogs, that will always be the physical prompt. What happens then is they learn the words you keep saying to them have no meaning and it all becomes background noise. 

So when training the new cues, wait a second or two in between the known and new prompts. Keep them separate in order for your dog to respond to them separately.

The other mistake people make is that they keep the food tucked in their hand. Make sure to fade the treat from the hand so you are truly teaching the dog  hand-only cues (not just rewarding them for following the treat). You can still mark (click or say “yes”) and treat the behavior with a snack from your pocket. You are still rewarding the behavior, but the dog will learn to perform without seeing, or smelling, the treat.

By teaching hand prompts to your dog, you are avoiding one of the biggest mistakes humans make while teaching basic obedience: talking too much to your dog. Humans like to talk a lot, and when we do that, our dogs start to zone us out. We become nothing more than background noise. So avoid that mistake by teaching a visual prompt!

What Are the Common Hand Signals for Dogs?

Here are a couple of steps for teaching your dog hand signals for some basic obedience cues. 

Attention Cue

You may also hear this cue called  “watch me” or “look”. You are teaching the dog to look at you, or give you attention.

The physical gesture is your index finger pointing to the outside side of your eye. You can use either your right or your left hand and eye, but once you pick a side, stay consistent. This will help your dog make the connection between your body movement and what you are asking them to do.

When your dog looks toward you, mark and follow up with a tasty treat.

Release: You’re Free

This releases your dog from any position your dog is in. Start with your hands in front of you, palms down, right over left.  In a sweeping motion, move the right hand to the right, and the left hand to the left to tell your dog they are “all done”.

As your dog is learning what this means, you may need to encourage him to move from the position he is in.

Sit

With your palm up, start with your arm in a natural position and sweep it in an upward motion over your dog’s head. As your dog watches your body movement, their head will naturally look up, which will make many dogs sit naturally.

If you are luring this behavior, hide the treat in the hand, but cover it with your thumb so it does not become part of the visual cue for your dog. Remove the food after just a few successful repetitions.

Down

The hand signal for down is almost the exact opposite of the sit. Hold your hand at your dog’s nose, palm down, and sweep your hand in a downward motion, almost between your dog’s feet. Imagine there is a string from your fingers to your dog’s nose, and you are guiding him to the down.

If the down is new to your dog, tuck a treat under your palm out of sight and slowly lure the dog into a down position.

Stand

Imagine that string from your dog’s nose to your fingers again! Hold your hand with your palm facing his face. Move it out a few inches, so if your dog follows it they have to get up from the position they are in. The moment your dog stands up and has four still feet, mark and treat!

Stay

The physical gesture for stay is a hand brought forward toward your dog’s face (without touching him) and immediately pull back and relax your hand. Think of how you would gesture at a person to tell them to stop. 

The most common mistake the average person makes when teaching the stay is that they want to hold their hand in their dog’s face for the duration of the stay. This will hinder the dog’s performance because he will become dependent on that hand being in his face, making it hard for the handler to move away or go out of sight while building the stay. So making this cue short and sweet can help you build a better stay.

Come

Coming when called is the most important cue for your dog to know, and you will want to teach both a verbal cue (in case your dog is running the other way) and a visual cue (in case he can’t hear you). Be sure to read our full post on Reliable Recall Training for more thorough info.

With your hand open at your side, sweep it in a diagonal motion until your hand is on your opposite shoulder. When your dog gets to you, throw a party with treats and praise.

Target

A target is always initially taught as a hand signal. You present your hand, and when your dog sniffs your hand, you will mark and treat. The hand signal will simply be your open hand.

So what is the point of teaching this?  It can become an alternative to the come cue. But you can also use the target to get your dog into a position (such as on the scale at the vet’s office). Or you can use the hand target to get them to greet people. This makes a fun cue to start with when first getting started in teaching hand signals to your dog.

Heel

The hand signal for the heel tells the dog where his starting position is. You tap your left hip. When your dog goes to that side to investigate you will mark and treat. While on a walk, if your dog gets out of position you can use this body language to get your dog back in the right position again.

Place

Place teaches the dog to position himself on a target. This can be a bed, a crate or a platform. Point to the object. Studies show that dogs actually have a rough understanding of what the gesture means. So when they go to investigate where you are pointing, mark and treat their interaction with the object. Eventually you will tighten up criteria, and they will need to have all four feet on the target. But start easy to keep the game fun, motivating them to keep playing.

Quiet

You can probably guess the hand signal for quiet. It is a body language cue even humans respond to! Your index finger in front of your nose. Practice using this hand signal with your dog in low distraction areas. Give the physical gesture and the moment your dog is quiet, even if just for a second, mark and treat. 

Final Thoughts

Dogs are tapped into our body positions, so it makes sense that they respond well to body signals. By taking just a couple of steps, your canine buddy will be looking to you for visual direction with hand signals.

Make sure that while beginning these steps, train in an area free of distractions. Give your dog your undivided attention and use the power of positive reinforcement. Before long you will have a whole new way to communicate with your dog.

Trainer that reviewed this article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content. 

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Olivia Peterson, CCS
Owner – Sound Connection Dog Training WSU Bachelors in Animal Science Business Management. Northwest School of Canine Studies (NWSCS) Certification

How To Crate train An Older Dog – A Comprehensive Guide

* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

If you’ve recently adopted an older pup or simply never got around to crate training your dog at a young age, there’s good news. You can teach an old dog new tricks. Crate training is a vital skill for dogs to have because, when trained through positive reinforcement, the crate can become a safe space for your dog and aid in training other behaviors. 

Is it possible to crate train an older dog?

Though it can be done, crate training an older dog may prove to be more challenging than training a puppy on the skill. Puppies are enthusiastic learners whose minds are sponges–they are naturally curious and eager to work with you. An older dog may be more settled in its ways and find comfort in the habits and routines they already have. 

Don’t be discouraged, however. The crate training process for an older dog will only require a bit more patience and more repetitions. Despite the challenge, it is worth it to help your dog learn this skill. 

Reasons for Crate Training an Older Dog

Crate training is a valuable skill all dogs should learn. There are myriad reasons why crate training is so important:

  • Housebreaking:
    Not all older dogs come housebroken. If you’ve recently welcomed an older dog into your life and notice they can’t be in the house without accidents, you may need to potty train from scratch– and a crate is the perfect tool for house training. Very few dogs will have accidents in their crate as the space is too confined. So, if you make the crate a part of your potty-training routine, you can help teach a dog to hold their bladder longer.
  • Safety:
    We love our dogs and want them to be safe and live long, healthy lives. In your house, crating your dog can keep them engaging in bad behaviors by preventing them from eating things they shouldn’t. A chewed cord or swallowed piece of your shoe could lead to choking or a bowel obstruction. With your dog safely in a crate, you can rest easy when you leave your best friend unattended.
    Peace of mind is important, and in the event of an emergency, such as a house fire or other natural disaster, crating your dog can ensure that they are easily located as you evacuate or are rescued by emergency personnel.
    When traveling with your dog, the safest place for them is within a crate. Unrestrained pets can become projectiles in a car crash, and according to the American Automobile Association, only 16% of dog owners properly crate their dogs while traveling, creating a huge risk in the case of an accident. If you need to fly with your dog, generally speaking they must be crated either in the cabin or in the cargo. It is best to prepare your dog for these situations so they are calm and happy during their ride.
  • Help ease anxiety:
    Crate training is not only beneficial for your mental health, but also your dog’s. Introducing them to the crate in a positive manner can give them a safe retreat when they are experiencing anxiety from  thunderstorms, fireworks, and other loud noises. Your pup can also experience anxiety from being left alone. Because departures can be emotional for dogs and humans alike, separation anxiety is a common complaint from pet owners, and crate training can be a remedy for separation anxiety and aid in behavior modification. Beyond separation, a bustling household can also be stressful on older dogs. Especially if you have children, it is important to give your dog their own space to retreat during a stressful situation.
  • Vet visits and grooming appointments:
    When your dog has to go to the vet or the groomer, they will likely need to be crated– especially if your dog needs to stay overnight if they are sick or injured. Vet visits and grooming can be stressful on their own, by making sure the crate is a familiar and safe place, you can help your best friend feel comfortable and ease their mind.
  • Training classes:
    Having fun with your pup can include training classes. From obedience to agility to rally, the world of dog sports is full of opportunity. However, many of these classes require that you crate your dog while other dogs have their turn. 
dog in crate

Steps for Crate Training an Older Dog

Now you’re ready to start crate exposure with your dog, but where do you start? It’s important to ease into the training and be patient–this way you can make sure your best friend learns to love their crate! Below are the training steps:

Step 1: Crate selection

To find the correct crate size for your dog, measure their length from the tip of their nose to their hindquarters and their height by measuring from the floor to the top of their head or ears while seated and add two to four inches on each measurement. This is the length and height of the crate you will need to provide a comfortable resting place for your pup. You can find extra-small to extra-large crates depending on what size you need. 

There are many types of standard crates that come in a variety of materials from plastic to wire. Wire crates are easy to come by and collapsable, making them easy to store away. Lightweight plastic crates are ideal for travel and plastic crates tend to be more budget-friendly, while a soft-sided nylon crate is a great option for smaller pups. If you are looking for a stylish option for your home, you can purchase an indoor crate or that blends seamlessly with the furniture in your home. Soft-sided carry crates are great for travel, but not recommended for long-term crating. Choose an option to be your dog’s permanent crate, so they always know where to go when stressed.

Step 2: Prep the crate for your dog
It’s time to make the crate comfortable for your older dog. If your pup is not one to chew up beds and soft blankets, line the crate with their favorites. Bolster beds and crate mats are a great way to entice your dog to cozy up inside. You can even add your dog’s water bowl to make sure they have access to water when inside the crate. Select a quiet, low-traffic, quiet location to put the crate, such as a bedroom, that is away from the busyness of the household. Keep this crate in the original location for as long as the training process takes.

Once you’ve made your crate space complete, gather your training tools. Choose your dog’s favorite high-value treats or toys to make the training process fun.

Step 3: Exercise and potty your dog

Before any training session, provide for your dog’s biological needs by making sure they are properly fed, hydrated, and exercised. Also make sure to only crate after potty training your dog. Your furry friend will thank you for helping them get rid of excess energy and reduce excited behavior as it is difficult for a dog with lots of energy to go into training with a calm mindset if their needs have not been met

Step 4: Begin building a positive association with the crate

It’s time to introduce your pup to the crate. The best way to do this is to introduce the crate with food or a toy. Grab what your dog finds reinforcing, be it that favorite treat or toy and start playing some crate games. Toss special treats (different from their daily treats) or a toy into the crate and leave the door open, letting your dog go into the crate to eat the delicious treats or retrieve their toy. Keep this up until your pup is eagerly going in and out of the crate. 

You can also feed your dog in the crate during meal time, by either placing the bowl inside and leaving the door open while they eat, or tossing kibble into the crate for them in the same way you did with the treats or toys. By using the crate as a part of your  routine for mealtimes, your dog will associate it more and more with a good thing instead of with frustration.
Don’t rush this step, it’s important to build positive experiences around the crate and show them that crate time is fun! If you’d like, you can even layer verbal commands or command phrase such as “kennel up” or “go to bed” when your dog is reliably going into the crate. The more you use this regular command, the more your dog will understand when to go into their crate.

Step 5: Closing the door and building duration

Once your dog is happily going in the crate regularly, start closing the door for a short period of time. Start with only a second or two and increase duration slowly. As you work up to longer time periods and your dog is settling, try giving your dog a special treat, such as a stuffed kong. Choose a safe option that requires minimal supervision, unlike a harder chew that could be a choking hazard.

You can also help your pup out by playing a white noise machine when they are in the crate alone. This can create a more soothing experience for your dog and they will settle for longer periods of time. 

Step 6: Create a crate schedule

Now that your dog is comfortable in the crate, work crate time into your life, and crate him or her periodically throughout the day. Keep your pup’s activity schedule in mind and crate them more often during their downtime.

Eventually, you may want to crate at night, and if that is your goal, try to take your dog in and out at the same time to create a recognizable schedule. Dogs find comfort and clarity in a firm routine, they are creatures of habit after all.

dog in crate

Potential problems

With all dog training, there are things that can cause you to take several steps back in the process or even completely ruin the crate for the dog. Here’s what not to do:

  • Don’t force your dog into the crate, this can frighten your pup and make them even more cautious about crate time.
  • Don’t leave your dog in the crate if they are showing extreme signs of anxiety. Look out for signs such as pacing, excessive panting unrelated to exercise, or attempting to escape which can all be a sign of fear. Go back to the beginning and start your training over with positive reinforcement or try crating for a shorter time period.
  • Don’t leave anything in the crate with the dog that could cause a choking hazard or obstruction, such as hard chews or toys you know your dog will destroy.
  • Don’t use the crate as punishment (even social isolation punishment). If you are only using the crate when you are mad at your pup, it will result in negative associations and they will not want to be in it. You may have to go back to an earlier step in your training if this happens. 
  • Don’t crate for too long. Crating periods should be kept to a reasonable amount of time. Older dogs can handle being crated for no more than six to eight hours.

Crate training is a useful skill for any dog to have through their entire life. Even if your dog is not a puppy, taking the time to crate train your dog will be beneficial throughout their life by creating a safe space where they can feel comfortable and relax.

Trainer that reviewed this article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content. 

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Hallie Wells
Owner-Lumos Dog Training, Atlanta, GA 
Certified Professional Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA)
Fear Free Certified Professional (FFCP)
Applied Animal Behavior Analysts (UW-AABA)

How to train a dog not to jump

* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

Jumping up is a common behavior for dogs, and it happens for many reasons. Whether they are excited, want attention from people, are seeking information, or are nervous or anxious, dogs aren’t out to behave badly. It’s common for dogs to jump up when they encounter new people, for any of the reasons listed above. Jumping is a totally normal canine behavior, especially for puppies, and it’s good to remember this if it becomes an issue we would like to work on.  

The rules of engagement

If you like your dog jumping up to greet you, remember that you make the rules in your house. Encourage the behaviors that you like with positive reinforcement (in this case, your attention) and add a cue for your dog, like patting your lap or chest, to indicate that’s how you’d like to interact with them. 

Jumping can be an issue when very young or older people are involved. Knocking humans over, causing injury, or frightening people are valid concerns. To help your dog stop jumping up, work to establish an alternative behavior that is incompatible with jumping, such as sitting or lying down. Positive reinforcement based training provides an engaging and fun way for you to work with your canine bestie to establish new habits.

Management

Management is an integral part of any training plan. Simply put, management gives your dog access to a space where they are not able to rehearse the behavior you are trying to eliminate, work on, or replace. This is especially important for puppies as they learn to navigate a human world. 

Use management when jumping is likely to occur, such as when people are arriving (home from work, guests, or people working in the home). 

Put up a baby gate or exercise pen, or close a door to restrict sections of the house or keep the dog in one room. If your dog is crate trained, sending them to their cozy crate is a good option to avoid jumping. 

Provide your dog with a space to engage in an activity on their own that they find enjoyable and fulfilling, like working on a long lasting chew, a lick mat, or other food enrichment toy. Licking, chewing, foraging, and sniffing are all relaxing activities for dogs that encourage calm behavior. 

If it is difficult for your dog to be separated from you inside of the house, reach out to a credentialed trainer who utilizes modern, science-backed, humane training methods. 

Management takes the pressure off of the human and the dog by providing a space where the jumping behavior cannot be rehearsed, and time for everyone to be calm.

If you’re having a hard time entering your home without your dog jumping on you, first consider if there is a better way to manage their access to you when you get home. Exercise pens can expand to block a longer area and may provide a good barrier to let you get in the door.

Scattering a handful of kibble or some small treats on the floor is an easy way to reinforce your dog for keeping their feet on the ground. 

What to do if your dog does jump on somebody

You won’t be able to remove every opportunity for your dog to jump up. Be it an interesting space they’d like to investigate (like a countertop), or a person they meet, if your dog is prone to putting their front feet up, work with them to modify the behavior.

If your dog is on a leash, avoid pulling them back, especially if they are wearing a collar. Pulling all of the slack out of the leash may also make it easier for the dog’s front feet to leave the ground. Ensure the leash is secured but still has slack as much as possible. 

Here’s how to redirect your dog after they have jumped up:

  1. Move your body backward in an inviting and encouraging way, calling your dog to you. 
  2. Provide treats down low or on the ground when they are close to you. 
  3. Cue your dog’s incompatible behavior (sit or down).
  4. Provide treats down low or on the ground as soon as they perform the behavior.

If your dog is excited and likely to jump again if you approach the object or person, simply walk the other way and provide treats and/or praise for following you. Take note of the things that make your dog more likely to jump up so that you can work those situations into your training. Seek out a qualified trainer if you need help creating a training plan. 

Training

Set yourself and your dog up for success by making training treats easy to access. Place small containers of treats around the house where jumping is most likely to occur, like by the door you generally enter. Dogs continue to engage in behaviors that are reinforced, and treats and attention are the easiest way to reinforce a behavior. 

Always begin training sessions in a low-distraction environment, such as inside the house. Keep each session short and positive. Training is a wonderful bonding activity–you and your dog will both learn a lot!

Positive reinforcement for four on the floor

Provide your dog with a few small treats when they keep all of their feet on the floor (a.k.a. four on the floor) in these common jumping zones. Tossing treats directly on the floor is an easy way to accomplish this. 

Do not engage with your dog when they are jumping up and you don’t want them to. There is no need to push, kick, or punish your dog. Removing your attention can send the desired message if attention is what they are after. See if you can stand still and wait for them to make a different decision. 

If your dog has a solid sit or down, cue one of those behaviors after all of their feet touch the floor, then provide treats. 

Teach cues for “up” and “off”

It may be useful to have a cue that means “please put all of your feet on the floor.” Teaching your dog how to get up on an object and then off is one way to accomplish this. 

Use a low bench or piece of furniture that your dog is familiar with and is easy for them to get on for this exercise. To teach “up” and “off”:

  1. Use inviting body language (such as patting your hand on the surface) and encourage your dog to get up on the platform you’ve selected. 
  2. Provide treats and/or praise.
  3. Move your body backward and use inviting body language and an encouraging tone of voice. 
  4. Provide treats on the floor.

Repeat this sequence until your dog is familiar with it. Then add verbal cues such as “up” for step 1 and “off” for step 3. 

Since the “off” cue is reinforced when all feet are on the ground, it can be practiced if the front feet leave and then land on the ground. If your dog puts their front feet up on something or someone, cue “off,” and provide treats on the ground. 

Move at your dog’s pace. If they do not understand a verbal cue, avoid repeating it. Help them succeed by using your personality, inviting body language, and providing treats and/or praise. 

Calm greeting setups

If greeting guests without jumping is difficult for your dog, use management to help them. Have a person your dog sees often (such as another person they live with) help your dog practice greeting in a calm manner. Practice approaches in a low distraction environment first. 

Note: Ensure your dog is wearing equipment that will not cause damage (e.g. a well-fit harness) if they pull at the end of leash or tether.

  1. Leash or tether your dog, keeping slack in the lead. 
  2. Have the greeter approach calmly.
  3. If the dog is able to keep all of their feet on the floor, scatter treats on the ground for them.
  4. If the dog is jumping, back away and approach again.
  5. Repeat Steps 1-4.
  6. After a few successful approaches, cue sit or down when the greeter approaches.
  7. Provide treats on the floor/ground.
  8. If the dog can stay down, allow the greeter to move closer and touch the dog (if the dog is comfortable being reached for and enjoys being touched).
  9. Repeat Steps 6-7.
  10. Practice this training exercise in progressively more distracting environments and with new people when your dog is ready. 

It’s important to work with your dog in a way that allows them to succeed. Save greeting guests for later.

Stationing behavior

Teaching your dog to go to a certain place, known as a stationing behavior, is another way to teach behavior that is incompatible with jumping. The station could be a mat, rug, bed, crate, or any space you’d like your dog to go lie down and chill out.

Stationing (place) is trained using positive reinforcement. Force or aversive equipment is not necessary. 

Setting your dog up for success

Management is key when working on changing your dog’s behavior. You may also need to work with the people in your life so they understand how to engage with your dog in a way that helps them succeed. A place or stationing behavior is also management. Any behavior or setup that provides your dog, your guests, and your family calm spaces are worthwhile endeavors. 

Remember that all dogs are individuals with their own preferences. Not all dogs like to be approached or touched by strangers. When you advocate for your dog’s needs, everyone wins.  If they are not comfortable being approached, reached for, or touched, let approaching humans know this. Practice a u-turn behavior with your dog so you can quickly change directions and avoid situations they are not comfortable with. 

Managing your dog’s environment and teaching your dog to perform behaviors that are incompatible with jumping are both forms of management. Management is more than baby gates and crates, and the purpose is always setting your dog up to succeed and have positive experiences. 

As previously mentioned, if you need help working with your dog, find a qualified trainer to be part of your team.

Trainer that reviewed this article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content. 

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Lindy Langum
Founder – K9 Fun Club Staff Trainer – Summit Assistance Dogs Certified in Canine Studies (CSS), NW School of Canine Studies

Reliable Recall Training: Teaching Your Dog to Come

* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

Of all the things you can teach your dog, teaching them to come when called, known as a reliable recall, is arguably the most important. The outside world can be unpredictable despite your best efforts. This imperative command will help keep your dog safe and keep you from chasing your dog at the dog park. 

What is a reliable recall?

A reliable recall is when your dog comes to you when called whenever you ask. Whether you call your dog in your own house or at the dog park surrounded by all their best friends, a reliable recall ensures your dog will listen to you no matter the distraction or situation.

You don’t just want your dog to come, but you want them to want to come and enjoy it. 

Benefits of Reliable Recall Training

A solid recall is a valuable tool for all dogs and one of the most important behaviors you can teach your dog. 

A strong recall can mean getting their leash back on easily, removing your dog from a potentially dangerous situation, or just as simple as not having to play an unplanned game of catch me if you can with your dog. 

What you’ll need for training reliable recalls:

  • A training treat pouch
  • High-value training treats
  • A long lead
  • A cue word (or sound) of your choosing
  • A clicker or marker word (such as “yes”)

Step by step guide to teaching reliable recalls

Step 1: Choose a word and reward for your dog’s recall

Choosing your “come” cue, whether it’s a word or a sound, is the first step. 

Tip: If your recall cue is a predictor of negative outcomes, such as getting nails cut or having to stop play, then the cue could become poisoned. In these cases, go get your dog rather than using your recall cue to avoid poisoning it. 

Poisoned cues don’t just exist for “come.” If they get bathed every time you yell “bath time!” and this is something they find unpleasant, then “bath time!” is a poisoned cue as well. 

Reliable recall cue ideas:

  • “Here”
  • “To me”
  • “Hurry”
  • A whistle
  • “Come” in another language

Whatever you choose, make sure it is used consistently by everyone in your home or who cares for your dog. 

Step 2: Teach your dog what “come” means

Start by introducing your cue, saying “come” or the equivalent in a cheerful voice, and giving your dog a high-value treat. Repeat this many times until you see that light switch in their eyes – they realize the cue means good things are about to happen.

Your pup doesn’t have to actually come for this step. Make sure your dog hears the cue and gets the treat immediately afterward. 

Now begin enticing the dog to come towards you. Do whatever it takes to be exciting enough. As your dog is about to reach you, say, “come.”

Say “yes” or click your clicker as they reach you, gently grasp their collar, treat, and praise. 

Step 3: Practice your recalls on-leash

Now that your dog understands what your cue means, it’s time to start putting things into action.

While on a leash, say “come” cheerfully and start running. After 10-15 feet, reward them when you stop. Change up the rewards with different treats, toys, and attention to keep your dog guessing but always excited. 

Next, still on a leash, wait until your dog is a few feet away from you. Say “come” and run away. When your dog consistently runs to you and with you during these exercises, it’s time to start practicing off-leash, but in a safe area such as your home or yard. 

Step 4: Practice your recalls off-leash

In a safely enclosed and low-distraction environment, start practicing. When your dog is not right beside you but also not in a highly rewarding activity such as chewing on a bone, say “come” and run away. Consistently reinforce with treats and praise. 

Tip: Always set your dog (and you) up for success! Avoid calling “come” when they’re not likely to come. You can even say their name first, get their attention, and then use your cue. 

Step 5: Practice recalls on walks or in the yard 

It’s now time to practice outside on a long lead (a 20-50 feet long leash – not a retractable leash!) and off-leash in a safely enclosed location. Either way, practice using the same steps. Always call them in a loud, cheerful voice and use a high-value reward. 

Step 6: Introduce more people and distractions

It’s time to see if your dog will do it for everyone. Gather a few people and give them yummy treats and toys. Take turns calling and running away fast. Reward. 

Start adding in different levels of distractions and various types of distractions. Small ones at first such as walking across their recall path, and then bigger ones, like having someone holding a toy or treats in their hand, and then even bigger ones, like tossing the toy in the air and walking across the yard with another dog on a leash. 

Step 7: Introduce new environments

Once consistently successful at the previous steps, you can start using your dog’s recall in new locations. At each new site, practice on the long line until you’re sure it’s reliable. 

Once you’re confident, you can start using your reliable recall off-leash. Just make sure it’s legal and safe to do so!

Turn real-life activities into real-life rewards

Capture when your dog is naturally coming to you. This isn’t a necessity, but it should tremendously speed up your dog’s reliable recall! Here are some examples:

  • Whenever your dog is coming to you, say “come” and reward them when they get to you. Turn everyday life activities into a training opportunity. 
  • Say “come” when they’re coming to you at mealtime and reward them with their food bowl. A food puzzle bowl can also be a good option here. 
  • When you get them ready for a walk, say “come” as they come to you at the door and reward them with getting to go for a walk.
  • Play fetch and as they’re running back to you, say “come” and reward by tossing their toy again. 

Structured training process

Using real-life moments and games can be much more fun for you and your dog when teaching a reliable recall. However, if you like the idea of a structured training session or just want to do a mixture of training styles, this plan works well. 

Beforehand, your dog needs to know how to sit (or down) and stay reliably. 

A structured training plan for recalls looks like this:

  • Ask your dog to sit or lie down.
  • Ask them to stay.
  • Walk a few steps away.
  • Call them to “come.”
  • When they complete, praise and reward them.
  • Repeat (in short time increments). 

Tip: This only needs to be used when you’ve already introduced your cue word, and your dog knows what the cue word means. 

Troubleshooting when teaching your dog a reliable recall

Unless you’re just fortunate, there will be times when your dog does not come when called as you are teaching them reliable recall. 

Remember not to move on to the next step too quickly. Your goal should be to prevent them from being reinforced for unwanted behaviors and reinforce the behavior you want (coming when called). 

Dog reliable recall training: what not to do 

  • Always sound optimistic and excited when calling your dog, even when you’re not. 
  • Don’t repeat your cue word. 
  • Don’t punish them when they come, even if it didn’t go as planned. 
  • Don’t move too quickly through the steps. 
  • Don’t be inconsistent. Establish an everyday training schedule for small increments of time. 

Trainer that reviewed this article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content. 

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Shannon Finch
AnimalKind Training M.Ed. Humane Education Karen Pryor Academy. Certified Training Partner. Certified Tellington TTouch and TTEAM Practitioner

How To Socialize A Dog – A Comprehensive Guide

* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

Right up there with good nutrition and regular visits to the vet, teaching our dogs proper socialization is one of the most important responsibilities we have as pet parents (and one of the most important aspects of dog care prospective owners need to be aware of). With a little patience and some time, as a dedicated dog owner you can help your fur child become comfortable in just about any situation and improve your quality of life in the process. Read on to find out why socialization is so important, what you can expect if you don’t socialize your dog, and get some tips on how the socialization process works to improve your dog’s quality of life. We think you’ll find it’s a win-win situation all around!

Why should you socialize your dog?

Socialization is the process by which we help our dogs reach their optimal comfort level when they’re out in the world but it’s far from the only benefit.

For starters, socialization will vastly improve your dog’s mental health and make them more secure both outside and at home. Not only that but it will even improve your mental health because you’ll spend more time playing with your dog and less time scolding them. 

Socialization will also discourage bad behavior or frantic behavior in your dog. People often assume that if a dog is behaving poorly it’s a “bad dog,” when in fact, it’s just never been socialized. When you socialize a dog and instill proper canine behavior, you’re helping to minimize their fear about the world and thus, they’re much more likely to behave well. 

By socializing your dog, you’re also making it much easier for them to have both human and doggie friends. Friendship in dogs works much like it does with humans–the better someone’s social skills are, the more likely it is that people will want to be around them. The more comfortable your dog is around other dogs, the more pals they’ll be able to make. 

Keep in mind that even if you, as a dog parent, spend a lot of time with your dog and they behave well around you, they still have to be socialized to be around other people. Socializing them will help curb panic attacks and temper tantrums around groomers, petsitters, or just people on the street, making their everyday life a lot easier. 

Possibly the best benefit to socialization is that It will help establish and/or strengthen the bond between you and your dog! Snuggling on the couch is great but spending happy, positive, focused time working on socialization together is a great way to instill trust in each other and reinforce your connection. 

Common dog behavioral issues resulting from missed socialization

Just as socializing your dog can lead to good behavior, not socializing your dog can trigger a lot of not-so-great or even dangerous behavior in your dog. Here are just a few of the behavior challenges that can develop in dogs who are unsocialized:

Nervousness and fear – If you think about how you feel when put in a situation that’s out of your comfort zone, chances are the words “nervous” and “scared” will probably come up. Dogs feel the same way when put in new situations and that can be a real problem when they need to go to the vet or the groomers. Instilling what’s known as cooperative care behaviors will make these visits much, much easier. 

Hesitation about going out – If a dog fears what’s on the other side of the door, chances are, they’re going to do everything they can to avoid leaving home. From hiding under the bed to sobbing uncontrollably, they’re going to make a major scene every time you try to leave the house. 

Major separation anxiety – As a dog parent, there is no sadder or more upsetting sound on earth than the sound of a dog crying because you just left for work. When you socialize a dog, you’re giving them coping skills they can draw on when they have to be alone for a few hours. 

Depression – Dogs are very much like people in that a lack of social interaction can quickly lead to depression. The more your dog is able to be a good friend to other dogs, the less likely they’ll be depressed. 

Aggressive behavior and reactivity – Although a number of factors can cause it, in many dogs, aggression is really just a response to fear and dogs who aren’t socialized are much more likely to be fearful of the world. A lack of socialization can cause all kinds of aggression, from baring their teeth to actual biting. A dog that shows that kind of aggressive behavior is usually a pretty unhappy dog. 

Over excitement – We all know that dog — the one who comes to the door and practically knocks you down or can’t get their zoomies under control. Although sometimes overexcitement is about too little (or even too much) exercise, a dog’s excitement level can also be an indication that he or she just doesn’t know how to act around people or other dogs. 

Keep in mind that having an unsocialized dog also affects how you have to live your life. If you can’t depend on your dog to behave it’ll be a lot tougher to have friends over or just schedule appointments like the vet or the groomers without a lot of worry. 

When to socialize your puppy

While it may be a challenge to teach an old dog new tricks, socializing your dog, no matter how old, is usually very doable. Even if you’ve missed that crucial puppy period of socialization, you can still socialize your dog. That said, there are some differences between aspects of puppyhood socialization and socializing an adolescent or older dog. Here’s what you need to know:

It’s much better and easier to socialize a puppy than it is to socialize an adolescent or older dog so start early if you can and be aware of the time frame in which puppies socialize. Up until a puppy is about eight weeks of age, he or she is mostly learning to socialize with its littermates but even at three weeks, a puppy can start looking to humans for socialization. Ideally, puppies should be socialized by the time they’re about 12 – 16 weeks old. 

Also, keep in mind that puppies can’t be socialized with other dogs until they’ve been vaccinated so be sure you’re aware of your puppy’s vaccination schedule. Most dogs receive their vaccinations from the age of eight weeks to twelve weeks and shouldn’t be exposed to other dogs until they’ve had all their shots. Keep in mind that the goals of puppy socialization are really just to get your puppy comfortable in the world–not to have them behaving perfectly. 

If you have another dog in the house, you can also use crate training to create a frame for socialization. Just let them sit in their crates and observe your other dog or dogs from a safe distance. Having crates also lets the puppy retreat for a crate break if they start to get overwhelmed by the other dogs or even people in the house. 

Remember, there’s no reason you can’t start the socialization process at home! Keep in mind that anxiety in puppies is often a result of them not being socialized since they’ve had literally no experience with people, let alone a wide variety of them. When you socialize a puppy and offer exposure to the world, you’re introducing them to more sensory experiences–being touched, the ground beneath them, sounds, smells, etc., as opposed to socializing an older dog. If you’re able to do this at home, have them walk on different textures, have them smell all possible smells, and meet as many people as possible. 

You might even want to teach them just a few basic skills (like name recognition) and some basic obedience skills (like “sit” or “stay”) so they feel more secure going into the process. If you’re not sure how to do this, an AKC-approved trainer can always help!

Since so much is new to puppies, it might also be a good idea to use a checklist for puppies when you socialize them! It will also make the process easier for you!

What about older dogs? 

As a dog owner, it’s important to be aware that adult dogs or older dogs may have a more difficult time with socialization because they may be unlearning behavior from unsuccessful forays into socialization experiences  (or even dealing with trauma). They may have missed the crucial socialization period when they were a puppy. Poor adult behavior can also be the result of not just an unsuccessful socialization experience but a downright bad socialization experience. For that reason, dogs that have been left with a bad socialization legacy may need even more patience when learning remedial socialization. 

Since an older dog will already be familiar with most textures and even smells, it’s important to get them around people and sounds so they become comfortable. Below are some great tips for making that happen!

Tips for helping an unsocialized dog

One of the great things about socialization is that as your dog’s person, it’s something you and your dog can do together–and you don’t need to be a professional dog trainer to conduct a socialization session (although you certainly can always enlist the services of a professional trainer). Here are a few basic steps for socializing your dog: 

  1. Remember that patience is key–for both of you! The period of socialization is different for every dog and you may need to give it a little time before you see perfectly correct behavior. (And cut yourself some slack–you’re not a professional trainer!) Just take baby steps in your socialization sessions and with continued practice, you’ll start to see a big improvement in your dog’s social skills.
  1. On a similar note, start small and slowly in a controlled environment. Try socializing your dog with the dog across the hall or a family member’s dog before you bring them to a dog park, doggie day care, or around big crowds of people so they don’t get discouraged, scared, or experience anxiety. Also, make sure you’re instilling socialization in small time increments (like an hour at a time as opposed to whole days of socialization) so you don’t wear them out. You can always increase their challenge level as your progress!
  1. Walking, exercise, and even play is key in socializing your dog! Not only will taking your dogs on frequent walks allow your dog to release a little energy, it exposes them to an environment with lots of cars, people, other dogs, and all the other stimuli to which you’re trying to get them to acclimate. 

Play not only teaches them how to get along with other dogs, it teaches them how to recognize and adhere to boundaries with both dogs and humans. Even a little fun game of gentle roughhousing with you or another person they trust is a great way for dogs to learn when they’ve gone too far. 

  1. Introduce and have them spend time around other dogs of various breeds and ages. The more time your dog spends around other dogs, the less likely it is that they’ll be intimidated by or aggressive with unfamiliar dogs. When you first start, it’s probably a good idea to do it with a dog that’s around the same size, if not smaller than your dog so as not to intimidate your dog. Then, little by little, bring them around dogs of larger breeds and sizes. 

It’s also a good idea to provide exposure to puppies in particular so they’ll know how to behave around them (just make sure you’re doing it in an appropriate environment for puppies–a big dog park or daycare is not the place just yet. Try to find a nice, calm environment like someone’s home.)

While you’re at it, try to set up some time where they can interact with other kinds of animals like cats. You never know when you’ll need to ask a cat-loving friend to dog sit. When that happens, they’ll be totally fine. 

  1. Expose them to a variety of people of different ages, sexes, etc. with close-up interactions. One great way to do that is to carry around some treats to give to unfamiliar people and even children when they meet your dog (modifying a dog’s behavior with treats and food is probably one of the faster ways to get them to behave!). It not only makes people more likely to interact with your pup, it acts as a reward and encourages positive feelings towards people. 

When you do this, feel free to tell people your dog comes in contact with that the dog is just learning and ask them to be mindful of that (i.e. make sure they don’t start playing with the dog in a rough way, tease them, or even pet them too vigorously). 

If you have friends with children, try to arrange a few playdates so they can have some one-on-one interaction! You want to expose them to as many different kinds of people as possible. 

  1. Expose them to different environments. The more you bring your dog to different environments the more likely they are to feel safe anywhere. A few different dog park rentals would be a great way to do this as it will get them used to different smells, noises, textures and other stimuli. This kind of controlled practice is also a great way for a dog who’s especially sensitive to triggers like other dogs or certain noises to learn how to socialize on their own terms, away from the pressure of a dog park or day care. 
  1. Slowly acquaint them with unfamiliar noises and other stimuli. From car horns to the sound of an ambulance, the world can seem like a very loud and noisy place to your dog. (As most dog parents know, anxiety during fireworks in particular is very common among both puppies and older dogs!) Get them used to those sounds and they’ll be less likely to panic when they hear them. You can even start off playing soft noises on your computer or phone and then gradually raise the intensity level. 
  1. Have a dog sitter or trainer watch them occasionally. It’s great to have your dog meet people in the wild, but it’s also a good idea to have a sitter or trainer look after them every now and then. Using this kind of positive interaction allows them to learn not to be afraid of someone other than their parent taking care of them. Once they’re comfortable with this, you can try out a day of doggie daycare, have them board with people for a day or two, or book a private session with a trainer.
  2. Approach them when they’re at their food bowl – It may seem odd to approach a dog when they’re at their food bowl but it’s a good way to teach them that no one is after their food. This doesn’t just go for food bowls but other feeding tools like bowls that hide their food in order to slow down their eating. In the future, if other dogs try to approach their food bowl or other eating device, they’ll be less likely to exhibit food aggression.
  3. Reward them when they do something right. Like humans, dogs lap up praise so have some food rewards on hand as well as a positive tone of voice when they do something right or exhibit calm behavior. If you do, they’ll be much more likely to repeat the behavior in the future. Remember you can use food in training, too, by offering treats when they’ve done something well or even just reward their behavior with petting!
  1. Be consistent and positive! It’s hard to learn from an inconsistent, negative teacher. The more you stay the course, exude a confident energy and make socialization a positive experience with only positive interactions, the faster they’ll learn. Also, make sure to use a calm-assertive energy so your fur child knows that you’re empathetic, but in control. The idea is to create positive feelings towards people, not instill fear. 
  1. Keep an eye on body language. If your dog is showing on-going signs of aggressive canine behavior or even fear like snarling, showing their teeth, or exhibiting stiff body posture, contact a certified trainer, especially if the intensity level of this behavior seems to increase. You don’t want to cause more harm by stressing the dog out or cause further anxiety.
  2. Manage your own expectations. Not every dog will get to the point where they’ll be a shining example of the epitome of socialization or a social butterfly, but if your dogs are happier and calmer after socialization and leading more enriched lives, you’ve done your job. Happy lives and proper behavior–not perfect dogs–is what you should aim for.
  3. Keep it up! Socializing your dog isn’t a “one and done” process and you may need to provide some remedial socialization every now and then with a few extra “good boys” or rewarding their behavior with treats. For example, if your dog is a country dog and you’re taking a visit to a city, it’s a good idea to get them around sounds associated with urban life. And remember, as we said, if your dog doesn’t seem to be improving within a certain time frame, there’s no shame in using the services of an AKC-approved dog trainer. It’s a great idea to book an evaluation session with one who can assess your dog’s current skill level and then work with them in a private session until your dog is ready for exposure to new people and dogs. 

As you can see, socializing your dog will result in a much happier, mentally healthy dog with a much calmer disposition. It’s a surefire way to allow them (and you) to live their fullest life!

Trainer that reviewed this article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content. 

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Rayanne Spence CPDT-KA, IAABC-ADT
Professional Dog Trainer – Animal Medical Center of Hattiesburg