Guest column: Know your dog before training — and set realistic goals

Date Published: 
March 28, 2014

Every once in a while, things happen that can cause a really bad situation, and here it is in a nutshell: When you think your dog is harmless, think again! When a dog’s energy level is high and if you are unsure of the other dog or dogs or your surroundings, then taking precautions is the best policy — consider safety first!

Jeopardizing or compromising for the sake of wanting your dog to run free or needing to play with another dog for the sake of socializing will only cause a good intention to turn on a dime or a blink of your eye and become very dangerous — not only to you and your dog, but to others close to you, in your nearest surroundings. That includes children, adults and also other dogs. Not to mention the emotions involved! Ugh!

If you are unable to get your dog to come back to you on command (in my book, by the third command at the very least), know that letting your dog off-leash is just setting him, and you, up for failure — not to mention a very awful, dangerous situation.

If you are one of my clients, you have heard me say, and I am repeating: Set your dog up for success in order to get the wanted behavior that is acceptable — especially when others and/or their dogs are involved.

Until you are able to know that your dog will listen to you in any situation, keep maintaining and giving your dog the opportunity to give you the good, acceptable behaviors you need in any environment. Maintain the behavior and work: train to give your dog the wanted behavior needed to stay safe and have fun while you’re out with your dog. Then everyone will enjoy your company and your dog.

This is why I emphasize: Be the leader. Train your dog to the attention cues, a strong sit, sit-stay, the “settle.” And, of course, the “off” at the very least! Not to mention the “come.” Again, your dog must come to you on command; otherwise, keep them on a leash at all times — especially in public!

Put your training skills to the test. This simply means that you have trained your dog the individual commands/cues in your home. He is performing for you wonderfully within the home in a low (very low) distraction environment.

Now, take him outside. Guess what? You have to start all over again, by going back to the beginning (you will have to start over with the individual commands) in every new environment or situation you introduce your dog to. If your dog listens to and complies with your verbal commands/cues with new distractions, then, yeah — your dog is working with you, listening to you, and he will not cause a problem to others wherever you take him.

Dogs are reactive, so even though you think your dog is not going to get involved in a situation where you are close to a ruckus, he will. This is where the leash — your leash — is a tool to keep you and your dog out and away from whatever it is that is escalating and possibly becoming over the top and unwarranted and/or dangerous, where you don’t want yourself or your dog to be a part of it.

So, as a certified, licensed and insured dog trainer, I must always consider first: safety! Know your dog, and set us all up for success. Especially in public, please keep your dog on a leash. Then, everyone can enjoy the day out with their dogs!

If you want to learn more or just need a re-fresher course, inquire with K-10 Dog Training at (302) 236-2497 or

Nancy LaFontaine is an ABC-certified dog trainer, ABC mentor and CGC evaluator. Her website for K-10 Dog Training is located at