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My Dog’s Training Progress – One Year Later

It’s hard to believe that my pup Wally has been with me for over a year now!

I fostered him in January 2019 and then became a “foster failure” on January 31, 2019 when I decided to adopt him myself. This post is a little update on my dog’s training progress!

He was a bit on the shy side yet cautiously curious when I started taking care of him. He also came with a few bad habits like counter surfing and zero understanding of what “leave it” meant. The latter was particularly fun when he’d kidnap squeaky plush toys at pet stores and would not let go, meaning I had to pay for them!

So my plan of attack for Wally was an obvious one to me. I realized that he needed a confidence booster in order to be better behaved. That meant exposing him to the world and introducing him to all the greatness in it. How did I do that? I applied the following formula:

Obedience & trick training + Socialization to other dogs, locations and activities = Confident Wally

Together, Wally and I have made major progress, but of course that doesn’t mean that we’ve reached a level of perfection. There are still a few things we need to work on, and I’m mentioning those towards the end of this article.

Now without further ado, here’s what Wally and I achieved together!

Obedience Training – Impulse Control

We started our obedience training by working on polite behavior around food. I expect my dogs to sit or lie down next to their filled bowls and wait for my “ok” before they start eating. That’s because I have one pet peeve, and that’s unruly dogs around food. Can’t stand it!

Wally in a “down-stay” next to his raw dog food

This impulse control requires three commands, the “sit” or “down”, “stay”, and “leave it”.

See my post: How to keep your dog calm before meals.

Teaching My Dog Sit & Down

Wally already knew how to “sit,” but couldn’t “down” on command yet. I taught it using two approaches. Whenever he would lie down on his own, I’d use that behavior and mark it with the command “down” followed by a treat. That’s called capturing.

I’d also lure him into a down position by moving a treat from his nose down to the ground. As soon as he followed the treat and lied down, I’d mark the behavior and reward him with the treat. That approach is called shaping.

One of my advantages is that Wally is food motivated, but I also made sure to work with the smelly stuff. You know, like green tripe and fishy treats.

He learned the “down” quickly, within just about a week. If you have a dog who’s seemingly not food motivated, try offering him something smelly that says “food jackpot” that he’d be willing to work for!

Teaching My Dog to Stay

I also taught the “stay” with high-value, smelly treats. I’d put Wally in a down position, place my open palm right in front of his face, and take one small step backwards. I’d then reward him for staying put with a treat.

We first worked with the small distance inside, then slowly increased the level of difficulty. I did that by taking several steps back and ultimately practiced with him in the backyard as well as on walks.

Wally in a “down-stay” on a walk

Wally learned to “stay” reliably within several weeks.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to teach the “stay” command, check out our articles:

Teaching My Dog to “Leave it”

I also used smelly jackpot treats to teach Wally the “leave it” command. Remember the squeaky plush toy problem I briefly mentioned earlier? I knew I had to nip that in the bud when I saw him clench his teeth together around the plush toy victim and heard him growl when I tried to take it away from him.

So I filled my treat bag with smelly treats, had Wally sit and then gave him a plush squeaky toy. I let him have it for a minute or so, and then offered him a few treats on my open palm. The idea here was for him to let go of the plush toy he had in his mouth in order to be able to eat the treats.

He briefly thought about it but then spat out the toy and went for the treats. Goooood boy!!

He offered exactly the behavior I was after, so I marked it with the command “leave it” and made sure to tell him what a good boy he was.

We repeated this 4 or 5 times and practiced 3 to 4 times per day.

I like to keep training sessions short so they don’t get boring for either of us.

Wally needed considerably longer to learn the “leave it” command, several months to be exact. He was pretty hooked on those plush toys, so that one was challenging!

Teaching My Dog to Come When Called

I taught the “come” command using the same approaches as mentioned above. I’d capture the behavior whenever Wally came running to me on his own. I marked it with the command “come,” and then rewarded with high value treats.

Shaking a treat bag also helps tremendously in getting his attention when he’s outside in the yard, especially at night time when he’s busy “reading” rabbit tracks.

A cool tool we started using for recall training purposes is a long leash or check cord. It’s effective in practicing obedience in a semi off-leash scenario. The check cord is essentially a long leash that’s clipped to your dog’s harness or collar that he drags behind him. The idea is to be able to quickly correct his behavior by redirecting his attention with the leash.

The “come” command has been a work in progress, and Wally has been able to reliably obey it.

Stopping my dog’s Counter Surfing

This was a big item on our to-do list. The very first approach I took towards getting Wally to stop counter surfing was to not leave out any food, period.

The second one was to bring out my spray bottle filled with water and apple cider vinegar. I’d give him a spray every time he attempted to put his paws on my kitchen counter, and it definitely helped in curbing his enthusiasm for this bad habit.

You can find more information on how to Stop a Dog from Counter Surfing here on the blog.

Dog Trick Training

Wally learned two tricks in our first year together, the “shake” and the “play dead” command.

Teaching My Dog to Shake

The “shake” command was the first trick Wally and I worked on. It’s a basic trick and didn’t take very long to teach. Wally had it down within about 4 weeks.

Wally practicing the “shake” command

I wrote about it here on the blog in the article How to Teach Your Dog to Shake.

Teaching My Dog to Play dead

The play dead trick was a fun one for both Wally and me to work on. I had never taught it before so it was a fun challenge for me as well. Wally got the hang of it within just a few weeks. We broke the trick down into 4 steps – from a “sit” to a “down,” followed by moving his head to the side and then plopping down on his side.

Wally practicing the “play dead” command

I wrote about the “play dead” command here on That Mutt in the article How to Teach a Dog to Play Dead or “Bang”!

My Dog’s Socialization

Socialization is an ongoing, daily task for Wally and me. It’s contributed greatly to our bonding and has turned him into a confident pup. I’ve very much enjoyed watching him come out of his little shell and see him navigate the world.

Backpack walks with my dog

I’m a huge believer in backpack walks for dogs, so I got Wally one the very day I decided to adopt him. We’ve been going for backpack walks almost daily ever since. The beauty of backpacks for dogs is that they give them a job to do, something to focus on.

They reduce unwanted pulling or lunging at other dogs while out on walks tremendously. It’s also convenient to just have your dog carry his own water bottles and treats or food, your keys, first aid supplies, etc.

I bought Wally’s backpack at an independently owned pet retail store here in our NC neck of the woods, but you can also find them on Amazon.

Wally out on a walk with his doggie backpack

Head Collars for Dogs

Besides doggie backpacks, head collars are my favorite dog walking tools. Like the name suggests, a head collar is worn around the dog’s head, over the muzzle and clips behind his ears. It gives the handler a lot of control over the dog and is a very gentle way of being able to redirect him when needed.

Common head collar brands are the Gentle Leader and the Halti. I personally prefer the Halti because of their padded nosebands, but both work equally well. Order a Halti for your dog here.

Wally wearing his doggie backpack and his head collar

Lots of visits to dog friendly stores

We’ve been going on lots of little shopping trips together. As a matter of fact, it’s turned into one of our favorite activities. It helps that Wally loves going for car rides!

He’s also learned that there’s always something in it for him when we walk into a pet retail store together, so he’s more than willing to follow me.

Whenever we go for one of our shopping trips, I practice basic obedience commands with Wally inside the store. I’ll have him “sit” in one aisle and then do a “down-stay” in another one. He always gets rewarded with high value, tasty treats for being a good boy.

Wally and my roommate’s dog Lila at a pet store

Car rides with my dog

Like I just mentioned above in the shopping section, Wally LOVES going for car rides. He usually gets to come along in the car a few times per week. We’ll either go to pet retail stores, local parks, the groomer’s or vet’s, or just to get gas or coffee at a drive-thru.

When Wally’s riding along with me in the car, he stays in the back and is secured with a doggie seatbelt that clips to his harness. I don’t believe in loose and unruly dogs in the car, it’s just too dangerous. Wally very quickly learned that car rides are a fun, but calm activity.

Wally secured in my car

Urban walks with my dog

Car rides bring me to urban walks because we definitely need to hop in our car in order to get one of those in. That’s the downside of our countryside life.

Urban walks offer a distracting environment and are a nice change from our neighborhood walks. I always ask Wally to obey a few obedience commands when we’re walking along stores. It’s a nice mental challenge for him because it’s so much more demanding than just doing a “sit” or a “down” in my living room.

The best part is that Wally always crashes once we’re back home from an urban walk/car ride! A tired dog is a good dog, and it gives me some me time.

Wally and Lila on an urban walk

Bike rides with my dog

Wally and I discovered bike rides fairly recently, and we both love this form of exercise! Wally gets to stretch his legs and runs next to me while I enjoy a more strenuous workout than walks as well.

I’ve written about our bike journey here on the blog in the article titled 10 Tips for Biking With Your Dog.

Treadmill for my dog

A few months ago, Wally discovered a new surface. It’s the rubber of my roommate’s treadmill. He wasn’t too sure what to think about it initially, but then he followed me on there no questions asked when I offered him some of his favorite green tripe treats.

It’s a good idea to teach dogs to be comfortable walking on different surfaces such as grass, asphalt, sand and anything else like rubber, tile, carpet and hard wood. Why is it a good idea? Because it increases our dogs’ confidence!

These days, Wally likes to stand on the edge of the treadmill to look out of the window, and I also use it to practice obedience commands like “sit”, “down”, and “stand-stays.” He doesn’t run on the treadmill, but some people teach their dogs to do so!

Wally practicing “stay” obedience commands on a treadmill – “stand-stay”, “sit-stay”, and “down-stay”

Socializing with other dogs

Meeting other dogs has been an important part of our socialization plan. Wally’s met other pups of different breeds and sizes, from my roommate’s small Pekingese mix Lila to golden retriever Lucy and goldendoodle Lulu.

Wally also met with one of my client dogs, Lab mix Bailey, for a playdate. Bailey was totally ready to play, but unfortunately Wally wasn’t, so they just hung out for a while.

Wally socializing with other dogs

Drinking out of a pet water fountain

Just like I introduced Wally to different walking surfaces, I also introduced him to a new style of drinking. We had the opportunity to review a ceramic pet water fountain, and it was a lot of fun to watch Wally explore the splashing new “toy.”

For more information about the fountain, check out my review blog post PetSafe Drinkwell Pet Water Fountain Review.

Wally checking out the pet water fountain

Food puzzles for my dog

Food puzzles were another fun way of introducing Wally to mentally challenging items. He’s eaten his raw dog food out of hollow dog toys such as KONGs and Nylabone toys, as well as out of slow feeders.

Hide & seek inside the house

This is a fun game I first played with my previous dogs Missy & Buzz. They loved it, and I’m excited to report that Wally enjoys it just as much. It’s a fun combination of obedience training and nose work of sorts.

I’ll put Wally in a “sit-stay” or a “down-stay,” then disappear out of his view and hide somewhere inside the house. Then I’ll call Wally to come find me. Once he does, he gets rewarded with praise and tasty treats.

10-15 minutes of this game is all it needs to tire Wally out enough for him to settle into a nap for about an hour.

Training My Dog – What We Still Need to Work On

As you can tell, Wally and I have made a lot of progress in our first year together, but there’s still several items on our to-achieve list that need checking off.

Getting my dog to sleep in would be nice!

As soon as my alarm goes off, Wally is up and ready to start the day. Like the millisecond after! It’s insane, but he’ll jump up on all four paws, then hops off the bed and runs next to my bedside where he whines annoyingly until I give him a command to do something (like a “down”).

In an effort to stop that behavior, I recently started crating him at night. It’s already reduced his level of alertness in the mornings when my alarm goes off, so paws crossed that it continues to improve.

See That Mutt’s post: How to get my dog to sleep in

Not reacting to other dogs on walks

We’ve made a lot of progress on walks as far as not overly reacting to other dogs is concerned. The head collar Halti and Wally’s backpack have contributed a lot to this achievement.

However, there are still some instances in which Wally spots a dog on our walks and will want to lunge at him. It never happens when we bike, probably because we’re engaged in a faster pace than on a walk. It also doesn’t happen anymore when we’re inside a pet store.

I feel like I may be contributing to his reaction, maybe because with some dogs I spot on our walks I’m thinking “hmm, he might just react to that one” and then boom, he does.

See That Mutt’s post: How to stop your dog from barking on walks

Still looking for the perfect playdate for my dog

Wally’s met a decent number of dogs in his first year with me. He’s had some playtime fun, but it seems to me like he still hasn’t met his perfect playdate. His play buddies have either had lower energy than him or way more.

It would be great to find a dog for him who has the same level of energy and a similar way of playing. Fingers and paws crossed that we’ll find a pup who meets the criteria this year!

Now we’d like to hear from you!

Now it’s your turn! How long has your dog been with you and have you had any training and/or socialization successes? What do you still need to work on?

If you have any questions, let us know in the comments!

Barbara Rivers writes regularly for That Mutt. She is certified in raw dog food nutrition from Dogs Naturally Magazine and the author of three ebooks about balanced raw dog food. She is a blogger at K9s Over Coffee.


Monday 23rd of November 2020

Counter surfing has always been an issue for Charlie. Tiring her out with a good session of fetch or a long run is the only thing that consistently works.

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 5th of March 2020

You guys have come so far in a year! That's one fun thing about a new dog, the progress usually seems so much more noticeable. Great work with Wally! My pup Remy has a major issue with not giving up toys and other items. AND, I would like to work on calmer behavior before meals.

Other than those things, I'm working with Remy on coming when called more reliably off leash and better "stay" off leash with distractions, basically want to work on trusting him more off leash, even if he has to wear his e-collar. And, we're working hard on agility in general. Part of that is coming when called after running a course and staying at the beginning of a course. So it's all related.

Barbara R.

Wednesday 11th of March 2020

Thank you, Lindsay! The e-collar might be a good idea for helping me to trust Wally off leash. Especially when small critters like rabbits, squirrels, and his nemesis - cats - are around! I love that you started agility practice with Remy. It's amazing how active you are with him in general :)

Julia at Home on 129 Acres

Thursday 5th of March 2020

It's great to hear about all of the progress you've made in your first year and some of the techniques you've used. I like how specific you've been about your goals. It sounds like you and Wally have had some good experiences and are developing a great bond.

Barbara R.

Wednesday 11th of March 2020

Thanks Julia! Every now and then I catch myself comparing him to my late pup Missy, although I know it's silly. But then I appreciate how different and unique both are/were. Wally and I still have a long way to go together, but I feel like this past year we poured our foundation!