Natural dog training

“Too much energy” is the No. 1 behavior problem in dogs. Almost all problems such as aggression, anxiety and hyperactivity stem from the dog’s high energy levels and the owner’s failure to give the dog something constructive to do with that energy.

You will always be able to re-direct your dog’s attention to you when faced with distractions as long as your dog views you as the greatest “prey,” according to Neil Sattin who trains dogs using what he calls natural dog training.

I have to admit I had a hard time accepting the idea of becoming my dog’s prey. I always want to be a leader to my dog and I associate prey as weak. But becoming my dog’s prey doesn’t mean Ace wants to eat me for dinner, it means I am the most attractive object to him. It means I am the center of his universe.

According to Neil, “natural dog training” is based on using the dog’s emotional interactions with the world to solve problems like aggression and anxiety. I received free copies of his Natural Dog Training DVDs in exchange for a review on this blog. The DVDs provided me with some activities to help dogs and their owners connect by engaging the dog’s prey drive.

Ace’s natural prey instincts kick in around squirrels, tennis balls and other dogs, but if I can always provide a much greater reward, I will be Ace’s greatest “prey” or what Neil calls, “the moose.” If I can get my dog to focus on me at any time, he will be able to ignore everything else and achieve reliable obedience when it matters most.

How to drain a dog’s energy

What our dogs want most of all is something to do with their energy. Neil uses what he calls “pushing” to accomplish this while also becoming the dog’s greatest prey.

Pushing is a way to work with your dog’s prey drive by hand feeding him with one hand while he pushes his chest into your other hand to get at the food. Eventually, the dog should literally be on his hind legs pushing you in a calm, controlled manner. Pushing should be relaxing for your dog as it drains his energy in a positive way. For more info on pushing, see Neil’s post on how to push with your dog.

I realize this pushing thing is a little weird and this Neil guy sounds a bit nuts, but stick with me. 🙂

If you know my mutt Ace, you know that he is generally a laid-back, calm dog, however he can quickly jump into an excited/fixated state. During activities such as fetch I have a difficult time getting Ace to calm down, and I can’t always re-direct his attention.

Neil’s pushing technique gave me something to try with Ace. I always keep an open mind and take different training methods for what they are worth. For Ace, there is nothing more valuable than a tennis ball. At one time in his life, playing fetch was his only source for draining energy, and because of that it became an obsession.

I decided to use pushing as a way to make me the “ultimate prey” to my dog. The goal is to provide an even better energy-draining source than retrieving. I will become “the moose” and therefore the center of my dog’s universe.

I’ve introduced Ace to this pushing exercise, using the words “ready?” and then  “push,” being careful to remain calm the whole time. I don’t want him charging into me or jumping on me. This is not what pushing is about. We’re slowly working on this, but so far when we are outside and Ace is off leash, he is much more attentive to me. We haven’t practiced pushing with a tennis ball around, but we’ll progress to more distractions soon.

I am not planning on using “pushing” to re-direct Ace’s attention when we see other dogs or people because I will look like a complete weirdo, but it’s a good exercise to work on when we are alone. It’s definitely strengthening Ace’s recall. He checks in with me on his own more often, makes better eye contact and is very interested in what I’m doing outside.

Even dogs that are initially non-food-motivated understand pushing, Neil said.

” … in the end it’s more about the game and the connection between you and the dog than it is about the food.”

Making the dog work for food

Dogs love to work for their food and most of us miss out on this opportunity every day by just plopping the bowl down or making the dog do one simple command before eating. If “sit” is the most challenging thing your dog does every day, he is probably desperate for a job or activity to help him drain more energy.

Neil recommends taking your dog’s breakfast with you on your morning walk and feeding it to your dog in bits when you come across distractions. This is a great way to make the dog work for his food while having fun. Offering food rewards or practicing pushing or obedience during the walk encourages the dog to pay close attention to you at all times.

Neil encourages dog owners to practice obedience with their dogs while the dogs are in high-energy states. That way the dog can learn to be obedient in context such as when another dog approaches. For example, you should be able to yell “down!” at any moment and ideally your dog should hit the dirt immediately in any situation.

I encourage you to take some time getting to know what natural dog training is all about and then decide if there is some aspect of it that can help you and your dog.

Win your copies of Neil’s Natural Dog Training DVDs

If you would like to win copies of Neil’s Natural Dog Training DVDs, leave a comment explaining what you do to drain your dog’s energy. Then, check out this post that Neil wrote and leave a comment there as well. I will choose a winner at random on June 19.

29 thoughts on “Natural dog training”

  1. To drain or channel our dog’s energy :We use pushing for all his food. I often use the neighbor’s dog as a distraction when pushing for his food.Then we play tug with the dog nearby. On walks he is put “up on the box’ be it large rocks, walls or picnic tables and he has to ‘Speak’ for food. With any distraction I always resort to pushing to calm him as it is faster at settling him than tugging- at this point. If no food available he is placed ‘Down’ to settle/ground. We also allow him to chew gently on our hands/fingers in the house. It seems to calm him. In his previous home it appears he was over stimulated indoors so we have to work to make him understand he has to be CALM inside, gently chewing on our hands and fingers seems to help. We also massage him to drain the energy and thus calm him.

  2. Lindsay Stordahl

    Those are some great ideas for the rest of us! Thanks. I like to put my dog in a down on top of random picnic tables, playground equipment, etc. too. I use what we come across on our walks as opportunities for training.

  3. I have read Neil’s blog and tried to implement some of his techniques over the last few months. I do a variation on pushing where Stella is elevated to about the height of my chest and I block her with my whole arm (otherwise she pushes me down(?). She understood immediately what I wanted from her and seems to actually enjoy it. When we walk I try to carry a tug toy and she’s learned to look right at me whenever she reaches a certain level of excitement. A minute of tugging and she shifts gears back to relaxed and happy. I don’t think I’m the center of her universe yet and we haven’t perfected it but Natural Dog Training seems to be extremely helpful. I would love to see the DVDs and take it to the next level. Thanks for the chance 🙂

  4. Lindsay Stordahl

    Glad to hear that pushing and tug have worked well for you and Stella. It’s nice to hear some feedback from someone who has been trying this longer than I have.

  5. I can’t resist but to comment since I most definitely don’t need these DVDs. I have the exact opposite problem as I’ve explained many times before.

    Bloodhounds make great dogs for people that wish to have a mellow companion. However, they are high maintenance in many other ways so they aren’t for beginners.

    I wish my bloody would have a little more energy! He’s probably the world’s laziest dog!

  6. Very interesting. That’s a method I’ve never tried. To drain my dogs energy normally I would say we go for a good walk, of 3-4 miles, and we do some training, either obedience or agility related. I don’t know if that’s what you’re talking about though.

    I wonder how this method would work with a dog that has a great deal more fight drive than prey drive? Dare’s prey drive is very low in comparison to fight. She’s definitely food motivated though. I guess I should probably go read Neil’s post. LOL

    I would be interested in seeing those DVD’s. Thanks for sharing this information. 🙂

  7. It’s the first time I hear about this “pushing” technique and I will go read about it more.
    I have hand fed my dog a few times with positive results.
    To drain its energy we go on structured walks for an hour or more every day and I include some obedience in it.
    We also like to play tug. She associates me with the fun of tug and she gives me excellent focus.
    After a long walk, we usually end by playing fetch when we come back home. She waits for my command to get it when I throw the toy and she brings it back to me for more.
    It’s important not only to exercise your dog’s physically but to also make it work mentally.
    We also do a bit of agility and AKC obedience competition training.
    Another thing she likes a lot is to go hiking in the forest. She has an excellent recall end she always will stay close to me and never goes out of sight. She will usually walk ahead of me and keep stopping and waiting for me to get closer.
    It’s important to work and have fun with your dog every day. Dog training is something we have to do for the life of our dog.
    Now it’s time to go for a walk 🙂

  8. Lindsay Stordahl

    Haha! Must be nice having such a lazy hound. But, I know he challenges you in other ways 🙂

    You’d probably enjoy seeing the DVDs Marie, just for the new ideas on training, even if you don’t use them. And Neil explains it MUCH better than me!

    Thanks for your comment, Richard. I like to work on obedience during our walks as well. Structured walks and runs are the easiest way for me to drain my dogs energy and I like to mix it up a bit and practice some commands along the way. Sometimes we play fetch or tug but that tends to get my dog more excited.

  9. I try to do many different things to tire out my terrier. We walk every day, trying to go on trails so he can be on a long rope, and get to go up and down hills and on uneven terrain. We do only short runs, since my knees are not great.

    We practice agility most days, and every day I practice his stays, where I try to get 50 or more feet away from him, and then call him to me.

    This winter I invested in Get on the Ball, and we used the exercise ball 3-4 times a week, that was great for keeping him in shape and tiring him out when it was too icy to do much walking.
    In the winter we do more trick training too, it helps tire him out mentally which is important too.

    It would be great to get more ideas!

    Nancy and Stewie JRT

  10. Lindsay Stordahl

    I think you and Stewie would enjoy some of these natural dog training techniques. I’m not familiar with the exercise ball you talked about. I’ll have to look into that and see what it is 🙂

  11. To tire out my dog, we walk together, go for runs, and he runs with the bike. I try to do some training and playing when we get home to help him settle down and transition from running to going inside. He has a hard time calming down again. I will have to look more into this training. We are looking forward to using a backpack with our dog soon, also.

  12. Lindsay Stordahl

    Those are all things I do with my dog. I really like biking with my dog and he has a backpack, too. He wore the pack a lot more when he was younger and had more energy.

  13. Amanda Steiner

    I think someone needs to write a book called “101 ways to train your dog” because there are sooo many different methods! This method is very interesting to me, I haven’t heard of it before. It sounds almost backwards from most dog training methods, where you strive to be your dog’s leader. Being prey to your dog sounds a little odd to me, but I know that if I was a “rabbit” to my dog, I would have his full concentration 100% of the time! I have started reading Neil’s blog and will try to implement his techniques. There are a few areas that we need to work on and hopefully these techniques will help!

  14. Pingback: Natural Dog Training DVD Set Review on - Natural Dog Blog – Training and More

  15. To drain energy we generally go on a walk. Trying to work up to being able to bike, but she hates to go that fast and miss all the smells. Unless I have someone for her to chase. Have been playing tug and fetch/tug like Neil recommends and that seems to work better than walking. Working on pushing too, but we’re not at a point where there’s much physical effort yet. She certainly seems intrigued though.

  16. Lindsay Stordahl

    Glad you find it interesting, Amanda. I had the same concerns as you, but I think it’s fine as long as you are incorporating other training methods as well.

    Brendon, Ace and I are at the same point as you with the pushing. He’s very interested but doesn’t put too much effort into it yet. You don’t want to rush it, though.

  17. I’m intrigued to learn more of Neil’s approach. The more options and techniques you have in your training/communicating repetoire the better able you are to tailor the communication for each individual dog, particularly the tricky ones who require you to ‘step up’! My dog, Slipstream the eighteen month old whippet is very prey-driven (naturally!) and I’d love to be able to harness that drive so much that I’m more magnetic than even a rabbit or wallaby in the bush!

    Slipstream’s innate aerobic fitness and athleticism are impressive. The best ways I have found to drain his energy are: (1) A run beside me on my bike – I have him on leash and he trots, lopes and runs beside me as I cycle either on roadside verges or through the bush (with him occasionally jumping logs as I pass beside them on the bike – big fun!). Occasionally too, when it’s very quiet in my street, which is a dead-end road in a rural area, he is able to Sprint off-leash along the road verge as I do my best to keep up, pedalling furiously along the edge of the road (for safety I have taught him “off the road”, “Stop”, “Wait”, “Steady”(= ease back on the speed a bit), and “Okay, cross over!”
    (2) Frisbee/Disc. Slipstream is brilliant at sprinting after the frisbee, leaping into the air, grabbing it and then doing a few high-speed laps around the house yard (which is about an acre) before returning, joyfully, for another go.
    (3) Play dates with other dogs. One of the best ways to help Slip find contented rest is to have a play date with another high-energy friend. Slip LOVES to initiate “chase me” games, and after some big fun chasing – with sprinting, play bowing, dodging, weaving etc. he’s always very happy to snooze most of the rest of the day away.
    (4) A trip to the dog beach! We live 45mins from a wonderful dog beach and an afternoon at the beach with lots of exploring, meeting new dogs, running, playing, paddling and sand-between-the-toes is a sure fire rest-inducing experience.
    (5) An off leash walk where he gets to run as well as explore, walk and check in with me regularly!


  18. Thanks for the review Lindsay. My dog Senge loves to play hide and seek and to chase and be chased but she has no interest in playing tug or fetching. After trying the pushing game I have noticed that her attention is much more on me when we are out among distractions off leash. Other dog owners at the dog park are amazed when I call her and she comes barreling at me in a beeline, stopping on a dime when she arrives. It’s really fun to be so connected with her. I am going to be learning more about Natural Dog Training.

  19. My Fiona is a mini labradoodle, so she is pretty high energy, smart (i.e., willing to question authority), and easily distracted by anything in the environment (especially one of the cats when in the house). Also, she can be very timid and freak out if a smell or a sound startles her. I learned early (I’ve had her for less than a year now and she is 14 months old) that yelling at her or even raising my voice (never a good thing anyways) does not get the desired result in her. She seems to freeze, perhaps in confusion or panic, and then I’ve lost my connection to her because she’s only listening to her own instincts and impulses. Until recently, she was also a poop-eater, which was a problem hiking off-leash in the woods because I had to compete for her attention with horse poop! Otherwise, though she runs ahead of me in the woods, she waits at intersections, comes when called about 70% of the time, more if I have good treats with me, and recently, she jumped back into the car voluntarily at the end! Holy hallelujah! She’s also a sweet, easy, sociable dog who loves to run, play, hike, meet other dogs and be outside. She loves to be with people, or other dogs, and follows me around the house. So…training continues with the time that I have, which never seems to be enough, and I am looking to learn and use as many positive training methods as possible because I think those work best with her spirit/breed. I hadn’t had a dog in 30 years and didn’t expect to enjoy her so much, and care so much about her. I hate going to work!

  20. Lindsay Stordahl

    Melanie, I think you summed it up well when you said the more options and techniques you have in your training/communicating repetoire the better. I definitely take bits and pieces from all kinds of different training methods.

    Thanks for the feedback on the pushing exercise, Michael. That’s awesome how well it’s improved your dog’s recall! Makes me excited to try more natural dog training.

    Good point Dee, positive reinforcement training and natural dog training do work better for certain dogs and owners. Sounds like you are on the right track with your dog. Keep up the good work with her!

  21. This is really cool stuff! I love the idea of natural dog training. I get it! To help my small terriers burn off some steam, especially when it’s raining, I have a “toy derby”… I grab up all the toys and squeakers into their basket and head into an open area of the house, like the family room. I throw all the toys out, one at a time, slowly, and instead of asking for them to be retrieved, I just keep them coming – it really gets the dogs going! Pretty soon they are doing tug-of-war with each other and getting very playful instead of moping or being bored. I do that a couple times a day when it’s not great weather and it does really break up their day. And my day too! I would love to win a DVD.

  22. Lindsay Stordahl

    Aww, your little dogs have so much fun with you! What a great game, and I’m sure it gets them tired (while enforcing that you are the best person ever!). I need to do more of this with my dog and his visiting buddies.

  23. Though initially skeptical, I did spend quite a bit of time reading this website and blog after you posted your review.

    There are a lot of good tips on there and good insights about dogs & working with dogs. A lot is stuff I’ve seen and read in other places, though the more people disseminating good info, the better! Here are some of Neil’s tips that I already use and can vouch for:

    – tug sessions do “end” with my dog having the toy and getting to enjoy chewing it & my dog brings the toy back for more play when she’s still into it, just as she will shove it in the face of another dog when she wants to play tug with them.
    – walking away or retreating is the best way to get the dog to come to you
    – practicing offleash if possible or long lead if you have to use a leash is the best way to do things
    – hide & seek is a great way to practice and reinforce recall
    – dogs do get “energy boosts” from stimulating events, like a rabbit dashing off 5 feet in front

    That said, I’m not really sold on the “unique” quirky narrative of being the moose, teaching pushing as an energy release, or even the dichotomy suggesting that your dog only sees the world in prey/predator categories. The moose thing is just figurative language. If you find the analogy helpful, great. Having lived in a region with moose, I don’t see what it adds. So I’ll put that aside.

    As for pushing, I have no doubt that it works. I just disagree with the storyline that suggests there is something better about pushing than any other focused activity that re-directs your dog’s attention. Dogs are meant to work. They are not wolves with happier tails. If you give your dog a task that is viewed as a JOB, your dog will focus and re-direct pent up energy in a healthy way. It seems like pushing works because you are giving your dog a rewarding job to do. If you train your dog to do something else that is physically or mentally challenging when faced with stimulating situations, your dog can achieve the same release. I can’t prove this, but I do know that my dog and other dogs can be taught a proper “response” to a scenario, and then they view executing that behavior as the release too. The most extreme version of this is how service dogs act. You can see it in the dog’s energy and focus. Trust me, you can do this at a lower level with your dog too. If you get the hang of pushing, great. I just don’t see why this is “the” activity to focus on training your dog as opposed to another focused task, especially if you are self-conscious doing it in public.

    The other disagreement I have is with the idea that everything is either predator or prey at all times to your dog. There is also a category of “neutral” or nothing. Your dog does not view the tree as a predator or prey. Your dog does not view friendly dogs he encounters as predators or prey. Dogs are hardwired to recognize things that matter and things that don’t, to categorize threats and non-threats, sources of sustenance and dead-ends. However, you can influence this instinct, especially when it comes to people, dogs, and other common creatures you see inside and out. That’s what socializing a dog is!

    More important, Neil’s technique presumes that your dog will get excited by certain events, and you need a technique to release this energy. I think its a mistake to presume that your dog will always be highly stimulated by common things like other dogs, your neighbors cat, even sometimes smaller prey! (Remember the Dog Whisperer ep where he pet the dog with the family rodent? or with a chicken? The dog learned not to get excited.). Now, it’s true that most of us can’t sit there petting our dog with a squirrel, so it does make sense to have some game plan for more challening situations if you have a high prey drive dog. At the same time, I think some of the time you spend practicing energy release via techniques like pushing can be spent de-sensitizing your dog so he doesn’t view everything as a prey/predator trigger event to get worked up about. Teaching your dog to self-regulate and become less instinctively stimulated by common things in the human world is just as useful, if not more. I’d hate for Neil’s approach to be viewed as justification for giving up on trying to teach your dog not to get worked up every time you see another dog.

  24. Hey All,

    Just thought I’d check in to say that I’ve been really enjoying the comments – both here and back on the NaturalDogBlog. I look forward to finding out who wins the contest!

    In terms of the question of “what you do to drain your dog’s energy” – I think an important distinction to consider is “what energy are you draining?” Are you draining physical energy (through exercise and physical exhaustion, e.g.)? Are you draining mental energy (through puzzles and problem solving)? Or are you draining emotional energy?

    The way that I train is meant to work with dog’s on that emotional level – paying attention to what causes (ultimately) states of flow in a dog vs. what causes overload responses, anxiety, and stress.

    When you work on pushing with your dog, you’re dealing with your dog on that level. For instance, I’ve had clients who say things like “I used to go for 2 hour jogs with my dog – and he’d come back home, sleep for 30 minutes, and then be ready to go again. Now I push and play tug for 15-20 minutes, and my dog is good for the whole day.” So, theories and metaphors aside, I continue to find these techniques to be uniquely useful. If you can get over the “weird” factor. 🙂

    Pushing not only is giving your dog an increasingly rewarding experience (the reward is “greater” as the push gets stronger) – it’s also building your dog’s attraction to YOU as the environment stimulates them. And while an important part of building that attraction is the reward, another important part is simply helping your dog overcome their potential resistance to interacting with you (especially as situations get emotionally intense).

    So it’s not that interacting with an owner is the ONLY way for a dog to deal with their emotional energy (e.g. the “jobs” that Shay mentioned). I’ve just found it to be the most useful way, for me – since it encourages a connection between human and dog, both during relaxed situations – or around “neutral” items (and let’s face it – those times are EASY and require little interaction) and also during the intense times where it’s really IMPORTANT that communication is taking place.

    Additionally, perhaps a more “neutral” way of thinking about “prey” vs. “predator” is just to think about the world in terms of what things attract your dog vs. what things repel your dog (or YOU for that matter). In the moments when we most want to have communication with our dogs – i.e. you don’t want your dog to chase that ball you accidentally threw into the road, or that deer you encounter on your walk in the woods – the easiest way that I’ve found to keep the communication lines open is to have consistently shown your dog that you are the most attractive thing in their universe – no matter what. If you can attract them more than that ball, or that deer, or…then they will consistently respond to you in those kinds of situations.

    Another interesting thing to consider that illustrates the point is: what if my dog is always “right”? In other words, what if my dog is always responding in situations by simply connecting with the most “attractive” thing in their world, in that moment, as a way of releasing emotional energy. What does that tell me about how to help my dog respond the way I want them to in those situations?

    Many of the clients I get are people who have dogs with “problem behaviors” such as aggression, hyperactivity, anxiety – and who haven’t experienced success with more “mainstream” ways of examining dog behavior. In my view, the root of all these problems is simply an excess of stress and emotional energy with no clear, relaxed way to deal with that energy. It’s in these situations that it becomes really important to me to teach a dog how to stay relaxed and “in the flow” – and communicating with their owner particularly.

    In terms of how this training helps with the problem behaviors, this little analogy just occurred to me – I’ll close with it in case it’s helpful at all. If it isn’t – my apologies. As I said, I just thought of it and it hasn’t stood the test of time…

    Imagine that someone was going to take you on a tour of what they promised would be the scariest haunted house you would EVER experience. Maybe you’d even heard of some people who went through the house but never came out – because their guide didn’t have what it took to get them through safely. And this guide, your guide, had never actually been in that haunted house before. Would you rather your tour-guide, on whom your own safety depended, be a person who says:

    1. I’ve been scared before, but each time I’m scared of something I take my time, face my fear, and learn that it’s not so bad and work through it. I’ve been through other haunted houses before, so this one shouldn’t be too much different.


    2. I’ve literally learned how to respond in a relaxed manner even when I’m in the middle of being completely frightened by something. So no matter what we encounter in this house, I’m confident that I can stay relaxed and get us through it safely.

    Personally, I’d want a #2 kind of tour guide. And replace “frightened” with “energized”, and that’s the kind of dynamic that I’m helping people create with their dogs. Personally I have found it to be more effective than desensitization in my practice.

    This type of training IS great for just building a stronger emotional bond with your dog too, of course.

    I’d also like to clarify – this technique doesn’t presume that your dog will get “excited” by certain events. What it does presume is that interactions with the world stimulate a dog (to varying degrees), and that dogs respond to that stimulation by doing something to help them feel grounded and in-the-flow.

    Just like how when you’re out the in the world you are picking up on what’s happening around you with your senses and responding to it. Some people are relaxed no matter what they encounter, while others will flip out for a whole week after someone cuts in front of them in the line at the grocery store. It’s certainly clear that the relaxed people have one way of reacting to the “energy” of the world, while the angry people have another way.

    And there are clearly different ways to get to that relaxed state, just like there are different ways to work with your dog and conceptualize the relationship that you have.

    Thanks again to everyone for your time and consideration, and thanks to Lindsay for the balanced review and willingness to experiment. Even if she did say that I seem a bit “nuts”. 🙂

  25. Lindsay Stordahl

    Thank you everyone for your comments, and thank you Neil for offering a free set of your DVDs to a reader. The winner of the DVDs is Susan! Congrats, Susan, I think you’ll enjoy them!

  26. I take my dog for three walks daily and play fetch with him 2 times daily and that seems to keep his energy under control and he’s a 2 yr old black lab. Also my favorite indestructible dog toy is the tug a jug by premier.

  27. I am new to this blog. I have a 1 and a half yr old rescue with severe anxiety issues and we have tried (at least it seems) everything. I am always happy to find new things that don’t seem scary (I don’t like the submissive, chain jerking treatments). Right now, my pup eats out of food dispensing balls, jugs, etc (we have about 7 of them to rotate as she is smart). We also play fetch at least twice (more when its not 100 degrees out) and are constantly playing inside) She has a lot of energy. All that being said – I am very intrigued by his site and this one for more ideas to hopefully help my dog become happier and healthier! Thanks everyone!

  28. Lindsay Stordahl

    Hey Pam! Good luck with your rescue dog. A lot of exercise is key. You may want to check out my posts on dogs needing more exercise and also my post on separation anxiety. Not sure if your dog has separation issues or just anxiety in general, but all anxiety is related. Let me know if you come up with any good ideas others might like to try!

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