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Fri, 03/15/2024 - 5:53am

How to Train Your Human

A dog's guide to managing the behavior of two-leggers

Good morning, fellow dogs. We are here today to discuss the basics of human training. It’s no secret that trying to train a human can be a long and exhausting job. They have minds of their own, and, unfortunately, all of them are more stubborn than the proverbial mule. In fact, even the most obstinate mule is cooperative compared to virtually any human.  

Humans will try to dominate you at every turn, and they can turn aggressive at the drop of a hat if they don’t get their way. But they can also be tender, loving and generous. This is the side of their brain, the “thinking” side, that you have to work with in order to properly train a human. The “thinking” side of a human’s brain is generally small, but with patient, calm, consistent and positive-reinforcement training, the “thinking” part becomes larger, and when that occurs, your human will become a willing, trusting partner and companion.  

Most of the conflicts between we dogs and our human pals arise because humans have two very basic reflexes. They are “flight or fight” and “subjugate or be subjugated.” The first reflex doesn’t often create difficulties for us because if a human perceives a situation to be dangerous, we have already determined that we’re either going to have to stay and fight, or get the hell out of there in a hurry. No, the reflex that is really difficult for us to deal with is “subjugate or be subjugated.” When this reflex is triggered, humans can become quite aggressive.

Humans do what they do because it is in their best interests. The primary reason we have to train humans is to stop them from doing things that come naturally to them. This can only be done by creating a partnership with your human using gentle persuasion combined with a flexible yet uncompromising attitude based on kindness, respect and compassion.  

Every human deserves respect, and that respect includes being considerate. You need to do your best to find out why a human is doing what they are doing before you respond. Otherwise, you may lose your temper and react in a way that may actually harm the human, thus compounding the behavioral problem. You have to remember to not rush things because every human learns at their own rate. I’m often asked how long it takes to train a human, and the answer is always the same: “It takes as long as it takes.” 


It took years to teach my human that both of us would be much more comfortable waiting for geese to fly over our decoys in a haybale blind with a carpeted floor.



Patience is a key to successful human training. You can’t expect them to behave perfectly with just a few days of teaching. For example, it took years to train my human to only carry two spare pair of gloves, a spare set of socks and some foul-weather gear in the hunting packsack. The rest of the space is required for things I need on the hunt, like plenty of spring water, a dish from which to drink the spring water, a neoprene jacket in case I have to go in cold water, at least two towels to dry me off when I’ve been in the water, a bumper or two for me to chase in case I need a warm-up, and enough meatloaf sandwiches for both of us. It also took years to teach my human that both of us would be much more comfortable waiting for geese to fly over our decoys in a haybale blind with a carpeted floor. Not all of you attending this seminar are gun dogs, so you’ll all find many other things you’ll have to teach your humans in order to be successful and comfortable in any sport the two of you choose to do. Just remember to not rush this training or your human may start to balk, and overcoming that obstacle will not just require patience but a lot of finesse.


Dog kisses are a valuable commodity.


There are five major things you’ll always need to keep in mind if you are going to establish a great relationship with your humans: First, you need to practice deferential behavior. Second, do not use physical punishment when your human misbehaves. Third, teach your human that you are not a threat. Fourth, always reward good behavior with kisses and tail-wagging, even when that behavior seems to be spontaneous. Finally, be reliable and trustworthy.


If they are really down in the dumps, you may have to put your head on their leg and press down hard until they can emerge from their doldrums.


But the real key to successful human training is positive reinforcement. This means rewarding the behavior you want your human to repeat. When they pet you, be sure to respond with kisses and tail wagging. Ecstatic jumping about in transports of joy is definitely appropriate when your human needs some pepping up. If they need to be calmed down, putting a quietly blissful look on your face and relaxing your body will almost always settle your human down. If they are badly stressed, you may need to lean on them, snuggle with them and, in some instances, put a paw on their leg in order to get them to sit still and quietly pet you. If they are really down in the dumps, you may have to put your head on their leg and press down hard until they can emerge from their doldrums to pet you. Listen patiently to their recitations of their woes, and when they have poured out all their sorrows to you, give them a few face licks and some tail wagging. This will help them lower their blood pressure, which is very important, as it is part of our job to look after the health of our humans.


The dreaded turned back: Withholding works.


Reward-based human training simply means taking the path of least resistance. There are a number of ways you can modify your human’s behavior to get what you want from them and eliminate the things you don’t want. One way is to withdraw rewards and ignore undesirable behavior. It’s well known that most humans stop whatever they are doing if they don’t get “paid” in some way or another. If there is no longer a reward attached to a certain behavior, the behavior usually stops. So, when your human is doing something you consider undesirable, withdraw your attention. Turn your back on your human or, in extreme cases of bad behavior, walk away and refuse to pay any attention to your human for several hours. That usually brings them around. 

Having covered the most elementary aspects of human training, it’s time to move on to more specific techniques. Humans have trouble comprehending that dogs can understand mathematics. Even though we’ve shown them time after time when they put three treats in their pockets but only give us two that we can count, for some reason they never seem to catch on. So, you can never allow them to get by with this behavior. Keep insisting with barks, nose pokes and whatever other means you find necessary until they give you the treat they think they have hidden. 


We dogs understand geometry quite well, thank you, whether we are a Herding dog cutting off livestock (above) or a Sighthound getting the angle on a fleeing jack rabbit (below).


They also don’t seem to understand that we can figure angles, which requires both geometry and trigonometry. Apparently, they’ve never seen a herding dog cut off the escape of some livestock. They’ve also never watched a Sighthound get the angle on a fleeing jackrabbit better than any NFL safety has ever gotten the angle on a running back racing down field, or watched a gun dog loop around to pin a pheasant between the dog and a hunter. If they have, they clearly didn’t understand what they were seeing.

Humans tend to have great difficulty understanding simple canine language. This means you have to train them to read signs. For example, when your human puts new treats in the treat jar, reward them with licks and tail wagging when they give the treats to you, and bark their ears off when they don’t. If they think you should wear a coat or a sweater and a look of total disgust doesn’t deter them because they fail to comprehend that you already are wearing a warm coat, you may need to spend an afternoon tearing the sweater or coat to rags to convince them that this was something that wasn’t needed and, in fact, embarrasses you to be seen wearing.  

There’s also the matter of teaching them to walk properly on a leash. Humans have this overwhelming need to lead when everyone knows that it’s the dog that should always take the point. It is our job to protect them from bad people or people whose motives are not in our human’s best interests. There is an old saying, “If your dog doesn’t like someone, you probably shouldn’t either.” So, humans have recognized that their dogs know best. What we need to teach them is that if they are in doubt for their own protection, they need to pay attention to us and how we are reacting. 

As for teaching them the proper technique for walking with you, if they insist on leading, quietly lag back a pace or two, then firmly plant your feet and brace yourself. When your human reaches the end of the leash, the backward jerk won’t be pleasant for them, but they have to learn that you are the one who should always be in front. You may have to repeat this correction several times, because humans are notoriously slow to grasp simple concepts.


Humans like to hog areas of the bed, so you have to make it absolutely clear from the start where they’re allowed to sleep.


Finally, that brings us to the topic of beds and sofas. There are some national studies that indicate that nearly 70 percent of all dogs in America allow their humans to share the bed with them. But caution is in order here for novice bed-sharers. Humans like to hog areas of the bed, so you have to make it absolutely clear from the start where they’re allowed to sleep. If they try to intrude on your parts of the bed, don’t cede an inch of your territory. Stay as low as possible and apply steady pressure to the back of their legs and lower back. If you do this correctly, they may complain, but they’ll eventually move back to their own area of the bed. 


When the area of dispute is the sofa, always remember to be the first one onto that piece of furniture. 


If the resting place in dispute is the sofa, always remember to be the first one onto that piece of furniture. That way you firmly establish your position, thus making it that much more difficult for your human to try and dislodge you. It takes time to get them to understand that the sofa is yours and you’ll let them sit on it, provided they don’t crowd you.

It is important to remember that if your human doesn’t do what you want them to do, you’ve gone too far too fast. So, you have to back up to the point where they have been successful and build from there. The only way your human will ever learn how to do anything reliably is to have them repeat the desired behavior over and over. As tedious as it may be, even once they’re trained, you have to repeat these drills from time to time. There are no shortcuts in training humans. It takes time and patience. 

Thank you for attending this seminar. I hope the information I’ve provided today will be helpful in your quest to understand how best to turn your rebellious humans into well-behaved, loving and reliable companions.



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