Any of these 25 things could make your dog behave so much better, according to trainers

To train your dog is to know your dog.

ByChristina X. Wood
Originally Published: 

Getting a dog is a big commitment as well as a massive life upgrade. Almost no human will love you through thick and thin the way a dog will. But if you want to enjoy having a dog that can accompany you anywhere, stay home alone without doing damage, and be trusted around other dogs and children, you have to put in the time and energy to teach your dog what humans expect from them, in terms of behavior. Don’t worry. This isn’t hard. In fact, it’s a lot of fun. But like teaching anything, you have to know the subject before you can convey it to your pup.

Dog trainers are experts at this stuff. So that’s who we asked for in-depth advice on what treats work best to train a puppy, how to stop a dog from destroying the house when you’re not there, quieting one that’s prone to barking, and every other difficulty you’re likely to encounter in this fulfilling human and animal relationship.

Read on and discover these expert tips for training, calming, and protecting your squirming bundle of fur and joy.

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1. These bacon-flavored bubbles for bonding play with your pup

Sometimes the key to training a new puppy is fun and love, according to Colleen Demling-Riley, a canine behaviorist for Dogtopia. Because “every well-behaved and responsive dog has a strong bond with their pet parent.”

Creating that bond is part of teaching your puppy to live in your world. “It’s through this bond that the dog learns to be responsive to the pet parent and listen to subtle commands and directions.”

Bonding “needs to be fun for both the pup and the person!” says Demling-Riley. “One great way to create it is to play with bacon or peanut butter-flavored bubbles! Tell your dog to sit and stay. Start to blow the bubbles. Release them from their stay with a happy ‘OK!’ and watch them have lots of fun.”

This bonding activity will make for some terrific photos for your pup’s social media channel, too.

The mistake so many new pet owners make

There is one mistake, so common among new pet owners, that can inadvertently lead to a dog that’s naughty and annoying: Not rewarding your fur baby for being a good dog.

“Pet parents mostly notice the times when a pup is acting up,” says Demling-Riley. “But they ignore them when they are calmly chewing on a toy or laying on their bed during dinner.” In the training phase of a dog’s life, you have to teach them what’s good behavior, too. If you never praise a puppy for being quiet and behaving, “over time the pup learns that any attention is better than being ignored and will start to misbehave more and more.”

The solution is simple. You just have to be intentional about it. “Actively notice and praise them when they are being good. Did the pup quietly watch someone walk by the window? Good job! Are they calmly chewing on a bone while you are in the middle of a three-hour Zoom meeting? Yes! Take a moment and congratulate the pup on a job well done. Rewarding good behavior creates more good behavior!”

2. These healthy treats for reinforcing praise

Some (most) dogs love treats, which is a great thing if you’re teaching tricks or reinforcing good behavior. If you’re lucky enough to have a “treat hound,” offer something tasty when you say, “Good dog!” If you choose a healthy and nearly irresistible goodie like these single-ingredient, freeze-dried beef liver treats you don’t have to worry that your training technique is encouraging puppy weight gain or the ingestion of weird preservatives.

3. The chews that help benefit your pup’s joints, coat, skin & more

This supplement isn’t meant to be given to your pup as a reward treat, but it still has a cheesy fish oil flavor that they’ll probably love. The chews themselves are packed with omegas 3, 6, and 9 — amongst other ingredients like vitamin E and biotin — to help improve their joint, coat, and skin health. These weren’t directly recommended by trainers, so check in with your veterinarian to see if you can add these to your pup’s diet (and how many to give them daily).

4. A toy you can stuff with yums to encourage calm, long-term relaxation

“Ever feel refreshed and rejuvenated after an unexpected day off work or a three-day weekend?” asks Demling-Riley. “Dogs are the same! It’s okay to take a break from training here and there,” she says. Dogs get tired from training just as you get tired from focusing on work. They need to take breaks. “During the time off,” she says. “Allow the pup to sniff on long walks instead of heel and help them self-soothe at home by giving them a KONG stuffed with peanut butter, yogurt, or canned pumpkin. "

5. This training treat pouch for quick access to pup rewards

Have you ever noticed that people who have well-behaved dogs always have treats in their pockets? There’s a solid connection between these two behaviors, according to Nicole Ellis, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Pet Lifestyle Expert with Rover.

“Having treats on me to reward good behavior is so vital,” she says. In fact, keeping a constant supply of treats on hand is so vital when out with a pup that she doesn’t rely on a jacket pocket. She opts for a devoted bag instead. “My hands-down favorite is the Blue-9 Inspire Training Pouch,” she says. “It holds my phone, keys and, of course, lots of treats... timing is crucial, so rewarding as soon as good behavior occurs, and having treats on me ready to go, is important.”

6. This treat-dispensing camera for rewarding (or distracting) a dog when you’re not home

One of the most difficult dog-training tasks you’ll face is teaching a dog not to bark, tear up the furniture, or otherwise misbehave when you aren’t home. Technology has made this easier, according to Ellis, who uses a pet camera to look in on her dogs so she can reinforce good behaviors and discourage bad ones when the dog is home alone. “A camera allows me to see if my dogs are being disruptive, howling, or stressed when I leave,” she says.

The secret to being a good trainer is to think like a dog

Some days, it might seem like your dog is such a misbehaver there’s nothing you can do about it. But that’s hardly the case. You have to get your head in the game, says Colby Lehew, the owner and head trainer at Dogletics in Chicago. Understanding how your dog thinks can help you create the behaviors you want.

“Dog behavior issues are usually caused by boredom, the dog not understanding what you desire, anxiety, pain, or canine instincts being ignored,” says Lehew.

7. An agility kit that alleviates canine boredom by engaging the mind

If your dog is destructive, barking, or otherwise acting up, your problem is likely boredom. “To solve boredom,” says Lehew, “You need to engage your dog's mind, not their body. Too many times, pet parents try to run their dog ragged. This does not work. A dog will take a 20 to 40-minute nap and be right back at it.”

Taking your dog’s training up a notch is a great way to engage their mind. And it has the bonus effect of building a deeper bond with your animal, and cultivating a pet that can not only sit and stay, but can also follow more complex commands. “Do training in obedience, agility, scent work, flyball, rally, herding, and tracking,” suggests Lehew. A good agility kit with lots of tunnels, obstacles, and jumps is a great place to start.

8. This book that walks you and your pup through agility training

Ready to take on doggy (or heck, human) boredom with some agility training, but have no idea how to do that? Start at the very beginning — building a playful relationship with your puppy — then expand from there, all detailed in this agility training book. “The basis of champion-level agility is playing with your dog,” says one reviewer. “A happy dog is a high-performing dog so play is a reward. I love this book. It cuts to the chase and offers concise training tips to help your dog develop into a successful agility canine.”

A prudent method for using treats to reward is putting them in a puzzle

If you have a dog that responds well to treats, you have to be careful about not letting those treats become a big source of calories warns Lehew. One way to use food in training — and to prevent boredom — is to use puzzles that have to be solved before the dog gets the reward. “You can [engage the mind] with food-based puzzles,” says Lehew. Though, “Be careful with food enrichment. It's the most popular reward because it takes little effort from dog parents, but it is a huge contributor to our canine weight epidemic.”

9. This Snuffle Mat that’s the perfect place for hiding treats and food

Mealtime and treats offer great training opportunities, but are often over quickly if your dog hoovers up food like a vacuum cleaner. This snuffle mat turns every meal into an adventure by hiding the kibble — or treats — in the many crevices of the complex fabric mat, so your dog has to use scent and detective work to find it all. It’s fun, interesting, and super engaging for dogs of all ages.

10. This ball with secret compartments for treats

Lehew also recommends this clever Lotus Ball throw toy that lets you secret a few treats inside for the dog to retrieve. It’s fun — and good exercise — for your dog to fetch the ball, then open it and eat the treats. Even dogs that are only motivated by snacks will play fetch with this clever ball.

11. This complex puzzle to engage smart dogs

Keeping a smart dog engaged — and not anxious or destructive — can be a lot of work. But this puzzle toy gives them a challenge that keeps that brain engaged, with treats at the end. The compartments unlock in a variety of sequences. When a dog solves it, it can take quite a long time and some serious concentration. “My border collie’s level of intelligence is a part-time job for me,” says one reviewer. “He requires engagement and figures out everything fast. This puzzle took him a good hour and a half to figure out the first time and every time after that, he sits with it for about an hour. He’s really calm and concentrated, methodically moving pieces.”

12. A dog seat cover so your best friend can go where you do

“[To further engage the mind] you can bring them places,” says Lehew. “Your grandparent's or friends' house, a pet store, doggie play dates, or just car rides." The more places they go with you, the more they’ll learn to behave in the world. To make that easy, create a safe space in your car with this dog seat cover that not only keeps your dog contained in the back seat, but protects your car from fur and dog-tracked dirt. It anchors securely, has a window looking into the front seat, is easy to clean, and won’t let your dog slip around. There’s even a big pocket for toys and chews.

13. An in-car seat belt for safer travel with your pup

Lindsay Stordahl, an agility expert and member of NADAC, NAVHDA, North American Canicross, and founder of That Mutt, says, “I highly recommend using a dog seat belt in the car.”

“A seat belt designed for dogs will keep them safely confined to one spot,” says Stordahl. This makes not only for safer driving, but also for better canine behavior (and conveniently works with the seat cover above). Stordahl is a fan of strapping in because “It prevents them from bolting out when you open the door.” Your pup might even enjoy it, she says because “a dog seat belt helps a lot of dogs feel less anxious in the car because they understand their place.”

The rule you teach (intentionally or not) is the one your dog learns

“[If there’s] a lack of understanding of what is desired,” says Lehew, it’s usually because the dog got the wrong message. “Many times, our dogs are very ‘honest.’ Honest is a term that means they want to do what's right. If your dog is ‘honest’ but still has behavior issues, it's because they don't understand. Too many times we reward dogs too late which causes them to be confused as to what behavior is being rewarded.”

14. This clicker that helps dogs know they’ve done the right thing

There’s a trick to timing your reward. You have to draw attention to the behavior exactly when it happens. “Trainers use clickers,” for this, says Lehew. “The clickers identify the exact moment a behavior occurs. When you ask for a ‘sit,’ click the very moment your dog's butt touches the ground. Then give a treat. Now they know that ‘sitting’ was the correct behavior.”

15. A dog-training kit that includes a clicker, treat pouch & more

Although this training set wasn’t specifically recommended by the pros, it still includes a few must-have items to help train your pup (including a clicker). Aside from that clicker is a treat pouch, a whistle, and door bells to help with potty training. There’s even another dog training guide to help you along your journey.

16. The Thundershirt that calms a stressed canine

When dogs get anxious and scared, all their training goes out the window. They enter fight or flight mode and the only thing you can do is help calm them down. “Dogs with anxiety tend to show fear-based aggression,” warns Lehew. So be careful. “Fear-based aggression is when a dog acts aggressively but then backs off immediately. Some things that can help dogs with anxiety include Thunder Jackets.” These are like a constant hug that calms their nervous system. When you put one on an anxious dog, the relief is often visible and immediate.

17. These hemp supplements that can also help calm your stressed pup

Another way to help calm your stressed pup is with these hemp supplements. They’re made with various ingredients like hemp seed powder, valerian root, ginger root, chamomile, and more to help ease any anxious feelings that your dog might have. These weren’t recommended by trainers, but they were veterinarian-approved (per the brand). Still, you should check in with your vet before adding these to your dog’s day-to-day diet.

18. A guide to helping a dog through pain

Pain makes everyone cranky, short-tempered, and unlike themselves. Dogs are no exception. “[If your pet is in pain],” says Lehew, “because your dog is recovering from a sprained ankle or surgery, they may show unusual behavior. To help soothe them, you can give them... a Canine Massage.”

Canine massage isn’t quite the same as a massage on humans, though, so maybe pick up this canine massage reference manual so you know where the muscles are and what feels good, and helps relieve pain, for a dog.

19. An exercise pen that limits doggie’s area (& capability for destruction)

If your dog is prone to destroying things or is likely to injure itself further if you leave them alone, Lehew suggests putting the pup in a pen. “You can help dogs who are showing behavior issues due to an injury by enclosing them in a pen.”

Dogs calm down when the space they have to protect is limited to something fixed and easy. So they often relax when penned. “Pens limit their ability to misbehave,” says Lehew. This foldable pen gives a dog just enough room and is easy to store when you aren’t using it.

The optimal way to handle problem instincts is redirection, not change

If your dog is a herding breed, a working dog, or a ratter, there is nothing you can do to change that innate instinct. “A lot of my client's dogs are either herding or terrier breeds,” says Lehew. “Herders chase and bark while terrier breeds dig and chew. Many times, I get clients that want to stop those natural behaviors. However, you can't. The only thing you can do is redirect.”

20. This sandbox so your terrier can dig all it wants

If your dog is a digger, you won’t be able to change that. Instead of trying to train this natural instinct out, provide digging opportunities that are okay with you. "Redirect terriers to sandboxes and chew toys,” suggests Lehew. This collapsible pool is a great place for your terrier to play and bury bones and chew toys, all without destroying your rose garden.

21. A sturdy squeak toy that withstands the toughest chewing

If your dog is a serious chewer and loves the sound of a squeak, this durable chew toy with a squeaker will outlast most other toys and give your dog hours of fun. “Our dog loves to destroy squeakers,” says one reviewer. “It is her one true joy in life. She is insane and focused on it. One time we had a squeaker that lasted two whole play sessions and I thought it was the greatest toy I’d ever found. This squeaker lasted a whole week! It is blowing our minds.”

22. This book of tricks that can help redirect a herding dog

If your dog is a herder, you might find yourself being pushed around the house, and, maybe, there are some nipped ankles in the process. You have to give that dog something else to do! You can redirect herders with trick training, says Lehew. This book of dog tricks will bring you and your dog lots of fun as your dog learns everything from bringing you the paper to walking themselves.

23. These tiny, tasty treats that are ideal for training

When training a dog, you need treats that are easy to keep on hand, taste so good your pup will do anything to get more, and are low in calories so your dog doesn’t gain weight from training. These beef-flavored treats are tiny, just three calories, and, tasty.

According to one reviewer, “these treats have helped me train numerous dogs who were said to be ‘non-food motivated’ and dogs who have been said to be ‘completely untrainable.’ I have never once had a problem convincing even the pickiest eaters to accept these treats.”

The secret to good dog behavior is to know your dog well

“Dogs are individuals so they will enjoy different types of activities,” says Renee Rhoades, a certified canine behavior consultant and the founder of R+ Dogs Behavior and Training. That means there is no single trick, toy, or treat that will work for every dog.

“It's important to get to know what your dog likes to do and try to do more of that type of activity,” according to Rhoades. “Many behavior problems we see with our dogs are related to boredom or a medical issue. So if you are doing plenty of activities your dog likes but are seeing behavior that’s troubling you, see your vet."

24. This slow-feeder coffee cup toy

Rhoades recommends something like this slow-feeder toy that looks like a coffee cup. You can fill it with treats, peanut butter, or kibble when you want to go out and leave your dog home alone — the dog will be so interested in getting to that treat, they may never notice you’re gone. It’s made of natural rubber, is easy to load, and comes in bright green or red, which are thought to be visually-stimulating colors for dogs.

25. The bouncing slow feeder that’s super unpredictable

Rhoades also likes the durable Gnawt-a-Rock because you can fill it with treats to make it irresistible to a dog and, when you throw it, the odd shape makes it bounce in unpredictable ways so your dog has to pay attention to what’s happening instead of running off in the direction of the throw. It’s easy to load with treats and comes in three bright colors.

26. These rawhide-free, water buffalo chews that are safe and fun

“Chewing is something that we often associate with puppies,” says Rhoades. “But adult dogs like to chew, too. And they use chewing as a stress reliever.” So, no matter the age or size of your dog, stock up on chewable goods. “Keep the chews natural and edible so your dog will keep chewing those instead of your sofa,” says Rhoades. “Avoid rawhide, but go for natural alternatives like air-dried fish skins, beef cheeks, tracheas, hairy cow ears, and bully sticks.”

These cheek rolls come in a pack of five, and are sustainably sourced from grass-fed, free-range water buffalo — and are a terrific, long-chewing option.

27. The spray that can help deter your dog from chewing the sofa

As previously mentioned, dogs like to chew — regardless of whether they’re a puppy or a full-grown adult. If your pup is known to chew on things like furniture, curtains, and more, this spray can help deter them. It’s alcohol-free — and although it wasn’t recommended by trainers, it’ll arrive with a training program to help.

28. These long-lasting bully sticks for dogs that love a good chew

These (rawhide-free) bully sticks, made from grass-fed beef, are another way to keep a dog busy, work jaw muscles, avoid bored antics, and remove plaque from teeth all at once. This is a six-pack of jumbo-sized bully sticks, which are suitable for medium to large dogs who are enthusiastic chewers. There are various sizes available.

29. A trash can the dog can’t open

If you have a dog, chances are they have a deep propensity for wanting to dig through garbage — and their powerful noses lead them right there. Lehew says that a good step-on-garbage can is essential for preventing this form of mischief. This bin with a soft-close lid holds over five gallons, has a removable bin that makes emptying it easy, and won’t open unless you’re smart enough to understand the step-on pedal.