Ten Ways to Encourage the Behaviours we want to see in our dogs

Hello Dogshare community!

We are all part of this community because we love dogs. So let’s start looking at ways to encourage our dogs more when they are doing a good job. I am sure you can think of plenty of things you wish your dog would stop doing, like digging up your backyard, barking at every passer-by or stealing your socks each morning? Or things you wish your dog would do better, like coming when called or walking nicely on the leash? There’s a good chance that you get frustrated by your dog’s behaviour and might even find yourself yelling at your dog or saying “no” to them all the time. But do you ever stop, acknowledge and give your dog praise for all the things they do right every day?

Think about it. Our dogs come into our worlds not knowing our language. We just expect them to fit into our lives, and to be able to control many of those behaviours that come so naturally to them, like barking, digging and mouthing, etc. I think we take for granted that these are all natural behaviours for dogs. They don’t realise that they are “not acceptable” in our world.


One of the really valuable lessons I learnt when studying the science of behaviour, is that it’s important we stop trying to give our dogs labels (e.g. intelligent, dominant, naughty, aggressive, etc) as these are not behaviours - they are concepts and concepts cannot cause behaviour. As a result, these descriptions are often barriers to understanding and changing our dogs behaviour. 

I’m the first to put my hand up and admit that I’ve given my dog (and my kids) labels, but when I really think about it, there is no long term benefit in doing this, rather we need to look at the actual behaviour, what’s causing it, what’s happening in the environment to reinforce it and what we can do to encourage the behaviours we want to see more of! 


So how do we do this effectively… 

Ten Ways to Encourage the Behaviours we want to see in our dogs

1)  Describe what your dog does, not what your dog is. 

2)  Identify what you want your dog “to do,” instead of “not do.” 

3)  Arrange the environment to stimulate activity and mental stimulation with enrichment items (we will talk more about enrichment in a later article). 

4)  Identify what your dogs’ reinforcers are (i.e. treats, toys, pats, etc) by observing what it chooses to do.

5)  Catch you dog being good more time each day than you can count. 

6)  Reinforce behaviour you want to see more often. 

7)  Ignore behaviours you want to see less often. 

8)  Change what you do to change what your dog does. 

9)  Replace force with facilitation – give your dog a reason (consequence) to do what you need it to do. 

10) Empower – don’t overpower your dog – healthy animals need to be able to affect their environments too.

Finally, please remember that we are all human. Sometimes we get frustrated and yell. But we need to remember that it never helps and we need to give ourselves a break. Let’s channel motivation towards the behaviour that we want and help to set them up for success. 

By increasing the amount of positive acknowledgement we give our dogs on a daily basis, we will transform our relationships with them. Frequent feedback helps ours dogs to get life right more often, and will encourage them to continue to try to do the right thing more. 

Mel Ritterman is a qualified dog trainer and mum-of-three. You can find more information about Mel on her website Cooper and Kids, or follow her on Instagram or Facebook. If you have a question for Mel feel free to email her at mel@cooperandkids.com.

Disclaimer: Dogshare and Mel Ritterman will not be liable for anything that happens to you or your dog by following our advice and tips. If you have real concerns or worries about your dog, please seek out a professional vet or behaviourist to come and assess the situation.

Photos by Murilo Viviani