How to train your dog (or other pet) to do anything

Anything your dog can physically do, you can teach him or her to do it on cue. Here are the fundamental behavior science theories that can help you design your own training plan to teach to your dog the things you want your dog to do.

Consequences Drive Behavior: Animals experiment in the world, and then they repeat behaviors that get the “results” they want, and they avoid behaviors that get results they don’t want.

Cues are associated with results: If a cue is associated with results the animal wants, the animal perform the cued behavior! If a cue is associated with a result the animal doesn’t want, the animal will avoid the behavior associated with the cue! If you want an animal to perform a behavior, it is important to associate cues and behaviors with things the animal WANTS.


  1. Set up an opportunity for an animal to experiment and “discover” a behavior that earns a reward. Example: 1. Hold the leash and wait for the dog to get bored and lay down. Say “yay!” and feed the dog as he is laying down, then release the dog from the behavior, or end the cue. I  say “get it!” or “okay”  and toss a treat for the dog to get. After enjoying his reward, the dog might try again, and lay down to see if that earns another treat. “Yay!” or “click!” when the dog performs the desired behavior. This is called “marking” the behavior, or letting the dog know that this is a behavior that is winning a treat. The release signal tells your dog that he can do something different now.
  2.  When  you can see that the dog is going to lay down again, start to associate the word “down” with the behavior of laying down. Don’t say it to “make the dog lay down,” while you are teaching the cue! Only say it when the dog is actually laying down. “Down!” Say the word in a normal tone of voice, associating with the dog’s natural “down” behavior.  Then give the dog a treat in the down position, and then  give your release signal such as “okay!”  or another cue such as “get it!” to release the dog. Soon the dog will understand the word “down” is associated with the opportunity to lay down and earn a treat, and the release signal is the end of that opportunity. Over time, you can can learn how to deliver different rewards for laying down, such as privileges, games, toy, etc. 
  3. Words/body language cues matter! While words don’t work so well to cue fish, they work amazingly well to cue dogs. But you do need to understand your words and body language as cues, and become conscious, more intentional and clear in your cues. Test to see how your dog responds to his name, or to a cue. Many dogs respond to the word “off!” by jumping up!  Because they would jump up and they’d hear “off! off! off!” I’ve also seen dogs that react to the word “come!” by running away, laughing! A cue is an association. While you are building the strength of the cue, you need to associate it with the the correct behavior, and not use the cue repeatedly while the dog is performing the wrong behavior

4. Notice environmental cues. Thunder, a knock on the door, a bicycle, door, dog, cat, passing cars,  bikes, stick, ball can also “cue” or trigger various responses in dogs.  Part of training involves intentionally associating  “environmental cues” with responses you like. This takes time and consistency. Have a plan for how you behave around doors(for example), and practice it. Make your plan  a habit.  Keep training very brief, highly reinforced or just avoid environments that are just “too challenging” until you’ve grown a bit as a team. Often you can work BESIDE a challenging environment, out of your car or crate, or from a greater distance, or with the help of a calming cap or head halter and roast chicken to help a dog learn to cope with strong distractions. Various collars, leashes, crates, gates and other training gear become associated with behavior. Take advantage of the way training gear cues behavior, by making sure your dog loves all the gear. If training isn’t fun, the dog isn’t learning.