How to be proactive in your dogs behaviour training and get faster results

In dog behaviour training, it’s really easy focus on what we don’t want! When people get in touch with me they often tell me all the things they wish their dog would stop doing. Whether that is to stop barking, or stop jumping up, or stop stealing, or whatever! But actually it’s much more effective to focus on what we do want instead. Here’s how to be proactive in your dogs behaviour training and get faster results.

The pitfalls of reactive training

When you focus your training efforts on what you don’t want, you must wait until the problem behaviour starts, so you can respond to it. But, if you wait until then, you have already missed some great opportunities to prevent and change the behaviour.

Emotion drives behaviour. So, once the behaviour has already started, it is also likely your dog has gone over threshold. When this happens your dog has become overwhelmed with anxiety, excitement, anger, or loneliness, and is now more focused on the distraction or trigger. They are definitely not listening to you, so it makes sense that this is the least effective time to try to change a behaviour. It is also worth noting that once the behaviour is already in progress, it has already been rewarding for your dog, if only for a short while. All unwanted behaviour has a goal and if it succeeds it will be rewarding to the dog in some way. After all, if it didn’t achieve something, the dog wouldn’t keep doing it. Even jumping up just once achieves the goal of getting attention, and therefore makes it worthwhile.

For more information about threshold check out this video on YouTube

When you are reactive, rather than proactive, you also run the risk of the training experience becoming quite negative, for you both. When you only work on stopping a behaviour mid-flow, you are restricted to corrective, punishment based methods such as yelling, lead jerks, physical corrections, or worse. Not only are these techniques stressful for your dog, they also contribute to your own stress and guilt levels – no one got a dog for that!

Don’t worry, there is a better, more effective, way…

The benefits of getting proactive

When you focus on what you would rather see from your dog instead, you tend to take action before the behaviour has started. Doing it this way means you become proactive, rather than reactive. It turns you from a “NO” dog trainer into a “Good Boy!” trainer, and this makes things much more positive for you, and your dog. It also means you take advantage of the best time to train your dog.

If you think of every behaviour as having a before, during, and after. The before is the bit before the problem behaviour starts. It’s that bit when the trigger has only just occurred but the dog is still in a calm state. This is the most effective time to try to change a behaviour, you’ll do less work for maximum benefit if you choose this option. The after comes when the trigger has gone and the dogs emotional state is returning to normal. This is the second more effective time. And the middle is when the unwanted behaviour is in full flow, your dog is not listening at all and is acting on instinct. You’ll be working your ass off and getting very little benefit if you choose this option, so this is the worst time to teach a new behaviour.

So we can see how being proactive in your behaviour training gets faster results for less work, and is less frustrating too!!

What should we do instead…

Instead of waiting for a problem to occur, you’ll start to watch for training opportunities. So rather than waiting for your dog to start jumping all over a passer-by, and then correcting that with a jerk and a “NO”, you’ll look out for a person approaching and get your dog into a sit well in advance. As long as they stay calm, you can be rewarding your dog with plenty of praise, the promise of a treat, clicks from the clicker, or all three – why not?

Getting your dog to sit and look at you, before the trigger arrives, is a great way to be proactive in your dog training

Because you got in there early, your dog was not over threshold so they were much more responsive to the cue. Plenty of praise, and the promise of a treat, encouraged them to stay calm and continue focusing on you as the person passed. Then finally, we back it all up with the promised reward.

There is nothing you can’t teach using proactive methods, and a clicker works brilliantly for this kind of training. If you are interested in using a clicker then check out this video which includes examples and goes into detail about how to introduce the clicker and use it to shape and capture new behaviours.

So, what do you want?

Whatever you are working on right now, take a moment to think about what do you wish your dog was doing instead. If you aren’t sure, wait until he’s doing something you don’t want, then ask yourself the question. It often becomes more obvious when you are in the moment!

Then, once you know what you are aiming for, you can start working on it. First, find a way to reward him that he likes. Then break down the new behaviour down into manageable steps. Practise it without the main trigger, or distraction, to start with, you will add the trigger back in later. You can’t overdo this stage, in fact, the more you drill the same behaviour over and over, the more instinctive it becomes.

Instinctive behaviours are particularly useful, especially if your dog goes over threshold, as that’s what he will default to. When he’s really good at his new behaviour, start adding back in triggers and distractions. Take it slowly at first: if there are several steps add one at a time, or keep your distance at first. But over time you’ll get back to normal and then you can start looking for opportunities to put it all to the test!


How can I help you with your dog’s behaviour training?

If you’d like help with your dogs behaviour, why not get in touch and find out how I could help you resolve your dog’s training and behavioural challenges. Consultations are available in-person in the Dundee area and beyond, or online if you’re further afield.


I have more than 15 years experience solving all kinds of canine behaviour problems, at home and in rescue. A bad experience with a old fashioned dog trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour, and it is because of him, that I wall never use harsh methods when training and rehabilitating dogs.

I work privately with clients in Dundee and the surrounding area with dogs of all ages, breeds and issues including anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.

In 2009 I was proud to publish a book about dog behaviour and training. How to be the Perfect Pack Leader (by Caroline Jenkins) remains popular today and a follow up is expected very shortly.

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