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Your Dog's Psyche


Obedience training is the foundation for solving just about any problem and opens up a line of communication between you and your dog.

Retrievers are typically a breeze to train. They possess a strong desire to please and will do anything for some affection and a treat or two. Some owners find them to be a challenge because they are so rambunctious, but the key is to start them off as puppies and keep training interesting and fun. Retrievers love to play, and if they think training is a game, will participate with great earnest. Training should start early, as these dogs grow quickly. If they don’t have basic commands mastered early on, can be difficult to reign in. They also behave like puppies for many years, so patience is an absolute must. No matter how obedient they are, they simply can’t contain their joy and will jump and bounce, so “down” and “stay” should be understood early on. Once basic obedience is mastered, retrievers can graduate on to advanced training or agility activities. They love the exercise and enjoy spending time with people and other dogs.

Obedience training is one of the best things you can do for your dog and yourself. Effective communication is necessary so your dog can understand what you expect of him. Obedience training should be fun and rewarding for both you and your dog. It will enrich your relationship and make living together much more enjoyable. A well-trained dog is more confident and can safely be allowed a greater amount of freedom.

Nearly all behavior problems are normal canine behaviors that occur at the wrong time or place or are directed at the wrong thing. For example, a dog will eliminate in the house instead of outside; he may bark all night long instead of just when a stranger is outside; or he may chew furniture instead of his own toys. The key to preventing or treating behavior problems is learning to teach the dog to redirect his natural behavior to outlets that are acceptable in the domestic setting.

Obedience training is also an easy way to establish the social hierarchy. When your dog obeys a simple request of “come’” or “sit,” he is showing compliance and respect for you. It is not necessary to establish yourself leader of the pack by using extreme measures such as the so-called alpha roll-over. You can teach a dog to submit to you by teaching him a paw raise (shake hands) or hand lick (give a kiss). Most dogs love performing these tricks, but they also acknowledge that you are in charge.

There is a plethora of books that will not only give you great obedience tips, but will give you wonderful insights into why dogs do what they do. Once you understand the dog psyche a little better, your training will be much easier.

The right time to begin training is now, no matter what age your dog is. The most important time in your dog’s life is right now. Your dog’s behavior is constantly changing and a dog that is well-behaved today may not necessarily remain that way. New problems can always develop. Existing problems can always get worse.

You can learn the basics by enrolling in a local dog obedience training class or having a trainer come and work with you on an individual basis. Once you’ve learned the fundamentals, most training can be done by you in your home.

Start your training in an area that is familiar to your dog with few distractions. When you feel both you and your dog are proficient at several obedience commands, such as sit, stay and down, then take these commands to a different area. Introducing distractions may seem like starting all over, but it’s worth the effort. Think about it. Who cares if your dog will sit-stay when no one is around? What you need is a dog who will sit-stay when someone is at the door. Who cares if your dog heels perfectly in your own back yard? But you need to start there if you want a dog to heel perfectly when walking down a busy street. If you want your dog to be obedient in your car, guess where you have to practice? If you suddenly want your dog to down-stay while you are trying to move over three lanes to make an exit, you had better find time to practice those obedience commands in the car long before you need them. Practice while the car is parked or while someone else is driving.

Keep the obedience training sessions short and sweet. A dog gets bored easily when he has to endure tedious and lengthy training sessions. Integrate training into your daily routine. Make obedience training interesting and meaningful to your dog.

The single most important aspect of training is rewarding your dog for good behavior. The more times the dog is rewarded, the quicker he will learn. Therefore, it’s essential that you set up situations repeatedly in order for your dog to get plenty of practice at doing the right thing. It’s equally as important that you always praise your dog for good behavior instead of taking it for granted. It’s easy to forget to praise good behavior because it goes unnoticed. You don’t notice when your dog is lying quietly, but excessive barking gets your attention. How many of us praise our dogs when they chew their own toys? But we go berserk when we notice our favorite pair of shoes chewed up! Praise and reward are the most important part of maintaining good behavior and preventing problems from arising.

Your dog should not constantly be bombarded with, ‘NO, Bad dog, Stop that, get off!’ He will tend to get used to it and the reprimands become meaningless. If most of our interaction with the dog is praise for good behavior, then reprimands will take on much more meaning. Whenever you need to reprimand your dog, immediately show him what you want him to do, then reward him for getting it right. For example, if you catch him chewing the furniture, tell him, ‘Off!’ Then immediately direct him to his own toys, enthusiastically entice him to chew on them and praise him for doing so.

If done correctly, your voice alone is sufficient for reprimand. A correct reprimand is short, sharp and immediate. Don’t continue to nag the dog and never reprimand him unless you catch him in the act. Never hit, kick, slap or spank your dog. This type of inappropriate punishment always creates more problems and usually makes existing problems worse.

While RROC highly recommends that you enroll in a class or use a personal trainer, we would like to offer the following tips that will help you and your new dog find harmony together.

Here are some useful training tips:


You cannot train a dog to do anything unless you have his full attention. Getting your dog to focus is a huge accomplishment for some dogs. Here are some tips to train your dog so that he has his eyes on you and ONLY you.

Most dogs respond to the shortest and simplest commands so your best course of action is to simply use the word “focus,” instead of “look at me.”

The best way to start is to get him to focus on you for a limited time and then reward him with a treat. The most difficult part will be getting him to focus on you instead of the hand holding the treat. Hiding your hands beneath you or behind you is a good idea. Start by lowering yourself to the dog’s level so he doesn’t have to look up to make eye contact. Call the dog to you. Then say “Focus”, make him hold it for a couple of seconds and then reward and praise him. If he is too scattered or excited, you might meet with some success by gently taking the dog by the chin and holding his gaze to your own. Then say “focus” and reward him with the treat.

You can then slowly, over a period of days, lengthen the time five seconds or more before you produce the treat. If your dog’s concentration breaks while you are trying to lengthen the time, simply refocus him back on you by gently taking his chin, reward him and then shorten the time next time you train.


A dog can have a variety of habits that you would rather he not do. This may include jumping on guests, digging in the garden, barking, or chewing on inappropriate items such as shoes or pillows.

Usually the main goal for a dog owner is to get the dog to STOP the behavior. However, what is often missed, but very important, is redirecting the bad behavior into good behavior. In other words, you should not just look for unwanted behavior to stop but teach the dog to do something in its place.

Some examples of this may include:

• When strangers approach your dog, your dog should be taught to sit and stay on command in order to greet this person. The dog cannot sit and jump on the person at the same time.

• Designate a “digging” area in your yard. This may include a selected corner or even a sand box. Encourage your dog to dig here by surprising them with buried “treasures” and reward them immediately when they have dug in the correct area.

• If your dog constantly barks at people passing outside the window, get him to do something on command like a down/stay or teach them a fun trick like “spin”. Get them to focus on the “job” at hand to stop the barking and direct that energy on something constructive.

• If your dog is chewing on inappropriate items, remove the item from his mouth and replace it with a chew toy that belongs to him, such as a rawhide bone or food stuffed Kong. Give him lots of praise when he starts chewing on that toy.

Set your dog up for success! Don’t just wait for him to misbehave and then punish him. It will be much clearer to your dog if you can interrupt the bad behavior and give them a task to do. By rewarding the correct behavior with repetition, your dog will soon start repeating the desired actions. With practice and patience your dog’s bad behaviors will soon be a thing of the past.


By exposing your dog to different kinds of people, animals and environments, you can help him develop confidence and comfort. This goes a long way in helping the dog recover quickly in the face of unsettling situations.

Socialization does not end at puppyhood. While the foundation for good behavior is laid during the first few months, good owners encourage and reinforce social skills and responsiveness to commands throughout the dog’s life.

Socialization activities might include taking your dog out frequently to meet other people. Regular play dates with other dogs, doggie day care centers, and/or trips to the park can help continue socialization.

Accepting People

If you’ve brought a new dog into your home, your first concern should be to check how well socialized the dog is and to strengthen any weak spots.

Reward-based techniques often work best when dealing with fearful or aggressive dogs. Treats will help send the message, “Hey pal, I like you. If you come a little closer, I’ll give you a treat.”

Example 1: If your dog is aggressive or fearful of people coming into your home, you might have the visitor toss treats on the floor immediately upon entering.

Example 2: If you find that your dog is uncomfortable with men then make the effort to introduce him to lots of males and have them offer him treats or kibble.

Using food as a lure is also an effective way to communicate when the dog is afraid of your voice or physical contact. It is easy to toss a piece of kibble to the ground when you can’t praise or pat. Eventually the dog will come closer, lured by the kibble first on the ground and then in your hand.

Accepting Other Dogs

Many dogs are not adequately socialized to other dogs. However, keep in mind that your dog may not be best friends with every dog he meets. After all, we don’t like every person we meet either.

A well-socialized dog may still chase, hump and argue. However, socialization ensures your dog is able to enjoy and confidently interact with unfamiliar dogs and resolve arguments without doing damage.

Dog to dog aggression is often inadvertently trained in by the owner. When an owner sees another dog and tightens the leash, their tension is relayed to the dog. The dogs hackles go up and he growls, the owner tightens the leash more and might raise his voice to the dog. Over time, the dog makes the association between other dogs approaching and his owner’s anxiety. So now the dog wants the other dog to stay away, and he accomplishes this by growling and barking.

Since dogs are controlled by the fight or flight instinct, tightening the leash also removes the flight option. And it often forces the dog to lean forward on his front feet – a threatening posture to another dog.

Obviously, keep your dog on leash for safety, but learn to control your dog without tightening the leash. By keeping the leash lose and acting calm, your dog may also remain calm!

Don’t punish your dog for barking or growling at other dogs. The punishment may teach your dog “I need to bark at other dogs to keep them away, because I’m punished whenever they show up.”

Instead, try to get your dog to associate other dogs with things he likes. One method is to go outside and sit on a park bench. Whenever you see another dog, you say, “Oh, look, here comes a new friend.” Start hand-feeding your dog or get his attention on a toy or bone. This way, you can expose him to a dog at a safe distance and give him something to focus on other than the approaching dog. This will help him start associating the presence of dogs with things he likes.

You are probably asking yourself, “If my dog is tense and growling aren’t I rewarding him for acting badly?” But keep in mind, the dog cannot help but make a positive association between the approaching dog and the treat, he will improve quickly and soon will look forward to seeing other dogs.

Any time your dog acts appropriately when a dog approaches, offer a reward. Be sure you give your dog enough space from the other dog to feel safe and comfortable. Watch for early signs of discomfort, such as yawning, hackles rising, and excessive panting or activity. You don’t want to push your dog too far too fast.

A variation of this would be to get very happy whenever another dog passes by. Your dog cannot fail to make the association between the appearance of another dog and your positive change of mood. This is important because it is the owner’s (negative) change in mood that has caused most of the problem. If the dogs were left to their own devices, they would probably resolve the problem amicably.

Seek Professional Help….

If you think your dog is fearful, stressed or worried — for the dog’s sake —work on this problem. It’s no fun for a dog to be anxious all the time and may cause emotional as well as physical problems down the road. If your dog has any kind of serious aggression problems, seek help from a professional as soon as possible.


Most dogs are bored and under stimulated. If he lived in the wild he would spend the majority of his time on survival activities. He would be hunting for his food — he would have to find prey, run it down, kill it and then eat it! He might even have to protect it from other predators. That’s a lot of exercise and mental stimulation!

Dogs need and want a job. A busy dog is a happy dog and a tired dog is a good dog. There are many things you can do to keep your dog stimulated. Your imagination is the limit as long as it is safe. RROC would enjoy learning what you do to keep your dog stimulated so that we can share it with the readers of our quarterly newsletter.

Feeding Ideas

Nothing for free rule; never give your dog food without making him work for it. It can be as simple as a “sit” or as complicated as running an agility course. This includes all treats, handouts while you’re fixing your own meal, or putting his bowl down in front of him. And this means by everyone in the family.

Try some feeding variations like a feeding cube or ball. This is a square or round shaped ball which you fill with dry food and the dog has to roll it around on the floor to get the food out. Don’t worry, when he finds out there is food in it, he won’t let it go under the furniture. Or forget the ball and just scatter his food all over the floor. You will be surprised how even picker eaters will soon be loving meal time. Try stuffing a Kong with food. You can stuff them with almost anything. Try hiding it to make the game even more challenging for him. Here are some stuffing ideas:

• Buy more than one and save time by stuffing them ahead of time and keep them in the refrigerator.
• Stuff with peanut butter, cheeze whiz, cream cheese, cottage cheese, can dog food, chopped hot dogs, cheese, or dog treats
• Stuff them and then freeze them, it will take the dog longer to eat them
• Plug the opening with white bread to keep the stuffing in
• Too messy! Give it to him outside or in his crate
• Put it in a margarine container or tie an old rag around it so he will learn how to get it open
• Hide it-make him hunt for his dinner

Exercise Ideas

All dogs need exercise. A walk is great for your dog’s mental stimulation and allows him to encounter other dogs, people and smells. While taking a walk, you want to dog to be obedient and behave, but also let him be a dog. Give him a little slack in the leash so he can smell all the interesting smells along the way.

Walking is not a substitute for strenuous exercise however. If you exercise by jogging or bike riding take your dog with you. Be sure to check with your vet to make sure his health will allow this type of exercise.

Here are some games you can try that will provide some strenuous activity.

Fetch — It doesn’t matter what he fetches; ball, Frisbee, stick, or slippers. Just make sure you keep playing until he is worn out. When you are through put the ball away so he knows it is time to quit. If your arm gets tired, there are automatic machines that will throw the ball for you. There is also a great little invention – a long-handled scoop that will pick up the ball so you don’t have to bend over 50 times.

Tug-of-War — This is a great energy burner and also addresses predatory energy. People ignore the fact that dogs are predators and try to eradicate the predatory drive which often leads to other behavioral problems. Instead, you should channel the drive into useful activities. If you play tug-of-war remember the game has rules;
• Use a specific toy that is not used for anything but tug-of-war. Put it away when you are not playing.
• You say when the game begins and ends. (Get the advise of a trainer if you are not sure how.).
• The dog must never touch you with his teeth, although keep in mind that on occasion, accidents will happen
• If the dog breaks the rules, the game is timed-out or over

Dog Parks — Take him to an off-leash dog park and let him run and play or set up play dates with a friend’s dogs. Dogs playing with dogs is great exercise. It increases their social skills and problem solving abilities.

Sports — There are a lot of dog sports out there which are fun for you and your dog. You can do it for fun or for competition. Figure out what is involved in participating, what you and your dog enjoy and go from there. Some examples are: agility training, bikejoring or scootering, canicross, flyball, water work, sledding, and dozens of others. Go to for more information on these and other dog sports.

Obedience — Obedience training is great mental exercise for your dog. Make him practice at home. Join a class or competition.

Toys — There is no shortage of dog toys out there. Everything from tennis balls to electronic learning toys. Make sure your dog has plenty of fun toys and chew things. They need to chew to keep their jaw muscles and teeth in good shape. This applies to adult dogs as well as teething puppies. Experiment to see what your dog likes and then make sure you have plenty around. However, don’t give them all to him at once. Rotate a few different toys and/or chews each day. You can even let him pick which ones he wants for the day. This is also a good way to keep him from chewing things he shouldn’t.

Don’t get upset when your dog tears apart a cloth stuffed toy. Remember that predatory drive. When he holds the toy down and picks it open he is doing what he would in the wild. He will love you if you let him do this. Just keep in mind that toy guts are not as digestible as the real thing and you don’t want him to actually eat it. This type of play would be best if supervised.