Trainers say you should never do these things if you have a dog — & here's what to do instead

These mistakes are common, but the fixes are so easy.

Trainers say you should never do these things if you have a dog — & here's what to do instead
ByClaire Epting
Originally Published: 
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Taking care of a dog is an ongoing learning experience — I myself have definitely made mistakes along the way. Luckily, we don’t have to go down the path of pup parenthood alone. Dog trainers are here to help — and they offer plenty of clever pet tricks to keep our furry friends well-behaved and happy. As it turns out, many “bad” behaviors are actually easy to fix with the right combination of training tools, toys, and treats. Below, I’ve gathered some of the most important dos and don’ts of training, straight from the professionals.


Don’t: Feed your dog table food to stop them from begging

Do: Keep them occupied with a puzzle toy filled with kibble or treats

Veterinarian Sabrina Kong, DVM, at We Love Doodles, suggests diverting your pup’s attention away from your meal with a puzzle toy the next time your dog begs for table scraps. “Ignore them and give them something else they can focus on,” she says. “It won't only keep them busy and away from you while you eat, but it will also serve as a great IQ training and mental enrichment tool for your dog, making it a win-win for everyone!” This toy is designed with 15 different compartments for hiding kibble and treats, encouraging your dog to to forage each tidbit out from under the flaps. Plus, it encourages your pet to eat their own meal slower, which can aid in digestion and prevent bloating.

  • Available styles: 4


Don’t: Ignore Dental Hygiene

Do: Give your dog these teeth-cleaning treats

“Dental health is also just as important for dogs as it is for humans,” says Rice. “I make sure I brush my dog's teeth regularly, provide them with dental chews or toys, and schedule regular dental cleanings with my vet.” One of the easiest ways to spruce up your dog’s teeth is to give them these dental treats. Not only does the unique texture help remove plaque and tartar, but they’re packed with natural, breath-freshening ingredients such as peppermint, fennel, and dill. Just one Minties treat a day may make a significant improvement in your dog’s oral health.

  • Available sizes: Tiny/Small, Medium/Large


Don’t: Attach your dog's tags to a flat collar

Do: Invest in a collar that’s embroidered with your dog’s name & contact info

Certified dog trainer and behaviorist Susan Nilson of The Cat and Dog House, suggests ditching your dog tags for a personalized collar with your pet’s name and phone number stitched right on. “Dog tags can easily get broken or lost,” she says. “Not only that, if your dog has to wear more than one tag, they'll most likely be clanking together and making a constant noise he can never escape from.” (That may be uncomfortable for a creature with superb hearing.) Available in bright colors, this durable, high-visibility nylon collar ensures your pet is easily identifiable in case they ever wander away. There are 15 different embroidery color options to choose from as well, giving your dog’s collar a customized feel.

  • Available sizes: X-Small — Large
  • Available colors: 5


Don’t: Assume putting your dog in the backyard is enough physical or mental stimulation

Do: Set up an agility course to exercise their body & mind

How can you make sure your dog is actually getting tuckered out in the backyard? “Teach your dog how to use an obstacle course!” encourages Witkowski. “Doing agility with your dog will tire them out mentally and physically — and it is a great opportunity to bond!” This wallet-friendly agility course just takes a few minutes to set up — it comes complete with a pop-up tunnel, an adjustable high jump, and four weave poles. It also packs away neatly inside the included bag, so you can bring it along to a friend’s backyard for the afternoon.


Don’t: Use just one type of treat while training

Do: Switch up your dog’s rewards to maintain their interest

“Using a variety of treats helps keep their reward exciting and different.” says Witkowski. “Using the same treat over and over can become boring and ultimately cause it to lose its value.” This multipack of dog biscuits includes three different flavors: bacon, gingerbread, and pumpkin. The grain-free treats are made with human-grade ingredients and no preservatives, so you can rest assured your pup is getting only the best. They’re also easily breakable, which is useful when you’re in the middle of a training session.


Don’t: Allow your dog off leash if it won't return the 1st time you say its name

Do: Use a long line to maintain control while still giving them freedom

“Use a long line to maintain control of where your pup goes while still giving them freedom,” says Corina Witkowski, dog trainer at “Your pup may be friendly, but others may not be — or they may be in training! You don't want your pup running up to the wrong dog and getting hurt.” Made of durable nylon, this training leash comes in lengths ranging from 15 feet all the way up to 100 feet. It has a reinforced handle that offers an easy grip while you take your dog for their daily walk. The nickel-plated swivel clip swiftly attaches to your pup’s collar, while also resisting twisting and tangling as you go.

  • Available sizes: 15 feet — 100 feet
  • Available styles: 5


Don’t: Buy a ball that’s too small for your dog

Do: Get a ball that’s too large for your dog to swallow

Erin Askeland, animal health and behavior expert at dog boarding service Camp Bow Wow, warns against giving your dog a ball that’s too small — it can become a choking hazard. “Instead, buy a ball that’s too large for your dog to swallow, like ChuckIts, which come in a variety of sizes,” she says. The ChuckIt! Ultra Ball is made out of durable, bouncy rubber that stands up to rough play. There are five sizes available — the smallest is designed for dogs up to 20 pounds, while the largest suits dogs over 100 pounds. Plus, its bright orange hue increases its visibility in grassy settings.

  • Available sizes: Small — XX-Large


Don’t: Leave your puppy in your home unsupervised for long periods of time

Do: Train them to rest in a kennel until you come home

“Kennel your puppy while you are away,” advises Witkowski. “You might be trying to puppy-proof your house the best you can, however you could accidentally forget to put medicine away or your puppy could decide that day to destroy the couch!” Boasting a 4.7-star overall rating, this sturdy wire crate is an excellent choice — it’s available in six different sizes, so you can pick one that will give your dog enough room to be comfortable. The manual locking mechanism is reliable and secure, so you can rest assured your puppy won’t be able to escape. Plus, a removable tray at the bottom allows you to easily clean up any accidents that happen while you’re away.

  • Available sizes: 6


Don’t: Allow your dog's nails to become overgrown

Do: Teach them to scratch their own nails on a nail board

“Teaching your dog how to scratch their own nails not only helps them keep their nails at an appropriate length, it is also mentally stimulating and allows you the chance to bond with your dog through training!” Witkowski says. Keeping your dog’s nails filed also improves their mobility and saves you from some painful scratches. This scratch board is made from durable wood with nonslip pads on the bottom. At the center, you’ll find a slot for a treat or bone — simply train (and tempt) your dog to scratch at the board to keep their nails in check.


Don’t: Let your dog ride in the car unrestrained

Do: Secure them to your car seat using a harness

“Using a crash-tested harness or kennel while your dog is in the car will keep them safe in the event an accident ever occurs!” says Witkowski. This dog harness — with its broad, padded chest plate and sturdy metal buckles — fits the bill. Tested at Calspan’s Buffalo, New York crash-test facility, the harness secures to your car’s seatbelt with a strong steel carabiner. There are five different sizes available, making this a worthwhile investment for dogs both large and small.

  • Available sizes: X-Small — X-Large
  • Available colors: 5


Don’t: Go on walks unprepared

Do: Wear a fanny pack filled with training treats & waste bags

Saul Araujo, dog trainer at Troop Canine in Los Angeles, suggests picking up this utility fanny pack before heading out on your next walk or training session. He points out that the high-quality pack is sized to fit a phone, treats, and waste bags, and it can be worn cross-body or around the waist. Equipped with three zippered pockets and a waste bag dispenser, the hard-wearing pack allows you to keep your hands free — so you can focus all your attention on your pup. A faux suede accent also gives the bag a rugged, outdoorsy vibe — because if you’re going to wear a fanny pack, it better look cool.

  • Available colors: Black, Huckleberry


Don’t: Pick any random dog bed without doing research

Do: Invest in a dog bed that suits your dog’s needs

Your dog will likely be spending a good deal of time on their bed, so it’s important you pick one they’ll actually want to curl up on. According to Arujo, one of the best dog bed styles is an elevated cot. “They can’t destroy it and the elevation keeps them cool,” says Arujo. Plus, he adds that it an be used indoors or out. (Points for versatility.) So, if your pup tends to chew up plush beds or has a thick coat that could cause them to overheat, this lightweight cot is an excellent choice. Coolaroo’s signature breathable fabric promotes airflow, while its flexibility supports your dog’s pressure points. Last but not least, the removable cover is easy to clean — just rinse it off under a hose and let it air dry.

  • Available sizes: 3
  • Available colors: 8


Don’t: Neglect exercising your dog

Do: Play with them in the yard or dog park

“Neglecting my dog's exercise needs can lead to weight gain, behavioral problems, and even depression,” shares Aaron Rice, expert dog trainer at Stayyy in Chicago. “I make sure I take my dog for a walk every day, play with them in the backyard, or take them to the dog park.” One surefire way to tire your dog out? Play fetch with ChuckIt!’s flying disc toy. Made of lightweight yet durable EVA foam with a polyester cover, the disc soars through the air and even floats in the water — making it a great choice for beach or lake play. Its bright color also increases its visibility, so it won’t get lost among the grass.

  • Available sizes: Small, Medium


Do: Make car rides to the park easier with this seat cover

Before you make a trip to the dog park, protect your back seat with this waterproof cover. Made from hard-wearing, 600-denier Oxford cotton, the hammock-style seat insert can take all the mud, claw marks, and pet hair during your car ride — leaving the interior free of dirt and damage. It secures to the headrests with a set of buckled straps, while a pair of side flaps come down around your seats for extra coverage.

  • Available sizes: 2
  • Available colors: Orange, Black, Blue, Pink


Do: Brush your dog’s teeth on a regular basis

Complete with a dual-ended toothbrush, finger brush, and peanut-flavored toothpaste, this dental kit has everything you need to keep your dog’s teeth in great shape. Simply squeeze the non-foaming paste onto either brush and spread it all over your dog’s teeth — not only does it fight tartar and plaque, it also helps freshen your dog’s breath.


Don’t: Neglect regular vet checkups

Do: Use calming hemp treats to keep your pet relaxed at the vet

“Early detection and prevention of diseases can significantly improve your dog's quality of life and reduce long-term health-care costs,” says Kong. But if your pet tends to get nervous at the vet, regular checkups can be difficult. One way to ease your pup’s mind before making the trip? Give them these calming hemp chews. Formulated with natural ingredients including organic hemp, chamomile, and ginger, the treats help promote a more relaxed mood in your dog — so they’ll be less stressed in the vet office and on the car ride there.


Don’t: Leave home without giving your dog something to do

Do: Give them a lick mat covered in a soft treat like peanut butter

“Presenting your dog with a LickiMat as you are about to leave is the ideal way to give him something to do and distract him from the fact that he's going to be left alone,” says Nilson. In addition to busting your pup’s boredom, the mat also encourages repetitive licking — a behavior which promotes calmness in dogs. The textured surface serves as the perfect base for soft, spreadable treats such as peanut butter, Greek yogurt, or canned pumpkin. Want to give your dog even more of a challenge? Place the filled LickiMat in the freezer for an hour before serving.

  • Available colors: Orange, Green, Turquoise


Don’t: Walk your dog on a flat collar

Do: Use this no-pull harness that leads from the front

“Use a dog harness to keep your dog safe and comfortable, while giving you better control,” says Nilson. Unlike a traditional flat collar, this no-pull harness leads your dog from the front of the chest. If your pup happens to lunge forward during your walk, the design of the harness directs them towards your body, so you can redirect their attention away from the distraction. The nylon straps also feature a soft velvet lining that prevents uncomfortable rubbing against your dog’s skin.

  • Available sizes: X-Small — XX-Large
  • Available colors: 19


Don’t: Feed your dog from a plain ol' bowl

Do: Hide your dog’s kibble inside this mentally stimulating snuffle mat

Certified dog trainer and behavior consultant Jennifer Malawey suggests owners use food toys to serve meals — not only do they provide mental enrichment, they promote calmness at home. “Choose toys that cater to your dog's particular instincts — do they like to paw or nudge things or do they prefer to lick or chew?” she says. For instance, this snuffle mat is great for dogs who enjoy foraging with their nose. It’s covered in felt flaps and holes that hide your dog’s kibble, encouraging them to sniff it out. A textured, nonslip bottom layer ensures that the mat doesn’t slide across your floor while your dog “digs up” each morsel.

  • Available colors: Gray, Blue, Pink


Do: Give this treat-dispensing puzzle ball to your aggressive chewer

Following Malawey’s advice, this treat-dispensing ball toy is great for aggressive chewers — it offers a fun challenge in a nearly indestructible package. Made of hard-wearing, textured rubber with a tantalizing beef flavor, the ball encourages your dog to gnaw their heart out — cleaning their teeth in the process. A built-in squeaker keeps your dog’s interest as they try to get the treats out of the center of the ball.


Don’t: Punish your dog

Do: Encourage your dog with positive reinforcement for a job well done

According to Meg Marrs, dog trainer and founder of K9 of Mine, positive reinforcement is key when training. “Rewards for good behavior can go a long way, while punishment can just create fear and confusion,” she explains. “Instead of treats, try verbal praise or a good old-fashioned petting session to show your pup some love.” To really up the ante, you can pet your dog while wearing these textured grooming gloves. Covered in flexible, skin-friendly nubs, the gloves gently massage your dog’s skin — lulling them into a happy, relaxed state. Even better, they work to lift up excess hair from their coat, which is a plus for owners of heavy shedders.

  • Available colors: Blue, Yellow


Don’t: Expect your dog to be a genius overnight

Do: Aim to teach them new tricks & behaviors

“Learning takes time, so be patient and take it easy,” says Marrs. Instead of starting with complex tricks and behaviors, teach them something simple — like how to ring this smart doggie doorbell. The wireless device can be installed either indoors or outdoors using the included self-adhesive backing. Your dog can ring the doorbell using their paw or their nose — with a little bit of practice, they’ll be able to tell you when they want to go outside without scratching at your door or whining.


Do: Incorporate fun, new techniques into your dog’s training routine

Another way to reinvigorate your dog’s training sessions is to incorporate these colorful buttons with recordable voice commands. Each button can replay any message of up to 30 seconds — for example, “I want to go outside,” or “I want to eat.” Then, you can train your dog to press the buttons to communicate their needs to you — which is easier than guessing why they’re barking or whining all the time.


Don’t: Bore your dog with too much repetition

Do: Switch up your dog’s playtime with an assortment of toys

When it comes to playtime, Marrs says, “Mix it up and keep things interesting.” If your pup is tiring of their usual toy rotation, pick up this assorted multipack of balls, ropes, plushes, and more. Whether your dog loves to chew, play fetch, or engage in a game of tug, you’ll find everything they could want in one budget-friendly package. As an added bonus, you also get a set of waste bags and a bone-shaped dispenser that clips onto your fanny pack or belt loop.


Don’t: Keep your dog from sniffing while on a walk

Do: Use this hands-free leash to give your dog more freedom

“Sniffing is a fantastic way to let a dog interpret the area and provides much-needed mental stimulation,” says Askeland. And while she specifies that it may not be right for every situation, Askeland notes that “A hands-free leash [...] can be a great tool to help dog owners stop tugging their dog away from sniff spots.” This particular hands-free leash features a retractable bungee cord that allows your pup to explore their surroundings while walking next to you. Great for hiking and jogging, the leash’s adjustable belt fits securely around your waist with a buckle closure. A pair of padded handles allows you to reel your dog in closer to you, when necessary.

  • Available colors: 5