Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

If You Have a Dog, You Are a Dog Trainer!


dog trainerYes, you are a dog trainer. Even if you don’t want to be, mean to be or have any idea how to be, you are. Because every time you interact with your dog, you are teaching them something.

Example: my client told her dog “down” and her dog looked at her. Then she repeated it. Then she used a hand signal. Then the dog downed. She lit up praising and petting. I asked her if she thought that was the best her dog could do. “No, not really,” she answered. Then I asked her if her dog knew that. The woman looked a little confused. “Well,” I explained, “if she gets the same praise for responding after two verbal commands and a hand signal as she gets for listening immediately, what are you teaching her? How can she tell which one you like better?”

What we do everyday with our dogs either makes things clearer for them or more confusing. As I wrote in My Smart Puppy: You get what you pet and you raise what you praise. That is a simple sentence that speaks the absolute truth.

Here are three things you can do to make life easier for your dog and with your dog:

  1. Think Big Picture
    A client of mine is annoyed her dog jumps on the couch and climbs all over her when she eats in front of the TV. I pointed out that she laughs and wrestles with the dog when he does that when she isn’t eating. Even though she has fun doing that at those moments, that is not “big picture” thinking. If you don’t want your dog doing something some of the time, don’t reward it any of the time. Our dogs are as consistent as we are. Never more.
  2. Practice Productive Praise
    Do you squander your praise? Giving it to your dog for just being cute? Then you dilute both its power and meaning. Instead, use it thoughtfully. Give it abundantly for jobs well done and save it for those times. Remember, if we praise everything then it will mean nothing.
  3. Add In Training
    Training, like manners, is best practiced in real-life interactions rather than in formal sessions. Going to hand your dog a toy? Sit. Open the door? Sit. Take off the leash? Sit. Pet? Praise? Feed? Water? If you add in sit or down or come or wait to your daily interactions with your dog, you will instantly add in dozens meaningful communications a day. Dozens.

Dog training requires commitment and awareness but it needn’t be difficult or time consuming. You won’t be a perfect dog trainer. Your dog won’t be a perfect student. That’s okay. You don’t need to be perfect to make progress. You need try and you need to keep trying and believe me, that’s what all dog trainers do.


Dog Training Tip: You Have No Choice What Your Dog Needs

Dog Training: What Does Your Dog Find Rewarding?



  1. Hi Sarah,
    This is probably really be easily solved but I’m struggling with the drop/out command. I’ve been trying the MSP protocol but our newly adopted dog Clara (1 yr old Gr Pyrennes/lab/standard poodle mix) is outsmarting me. As soon as she knows I have a treat she won’t take anything in her mouth. She just sits & stares at me. I get one drop if I manage to sneak up on her while she has a toy. But then it’s all over. Should I just forget structured teaching/ practice and do this spontaneously when I can? She loves our cats’ toys and I could get some practice in there daily. But even those don’t rival treats. Should I try with low level food instead? I’m just afraid she’ll eat it first. She’s quick about eating. I want to eventually get her to the point where I don’t need the food/trade/reward every time- just a variable reinforcement schedule.
    Thanks for any insight,

    • First of all, WELL DONE! So now, practice it whenever you can. Praise her mightily for dropping it and use food. You may not be able to practice it often so make it count when you can. 😀

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