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Dog Training Basics: Tips to Controlling A Situation

puppy lying down

If you've been following Darwin Dog's for a hot minute, you'll know about our holy mantra of dog training.

dog training quote

dog training quote

I repeat it to my clients over and over when they get stuck in a situation with their dog. Any situation they find themselves in always boils back down to the simple mantra: control yourself, control the situation. Then move forward.

But what does that look like? How do you get control of a situation that's already out of control? Let's take a look at some common scenarios that might occur when you're training your dog or puppy, and how you can finesse your way back into control.


Note: this post contains affiliate links. I value your trust, and will never recommend anything that I don't actively use with my own dogs.


1. Housebreaking Your Puppy

Perhaps it seems as if a strange place to start, but yes, this is a situation that you need to have control of. How do we get that control back? By respecting the situation and not adding stimuli to an overstimulated dog.

So what does that look like when housebreaking?

puppy peeing

Housebreaking your puppy is all about impulse control. Your puppy feels pressure on their bladder, therefore they release that pressure just about anywhere they are. Controlling the amount of stimuli they have and breaking it into manageable pieces for them is how you start helping them exert impulse control.

Don't let your puppy have run of the house.

That's a lot of area in your house for a puppy to explore, and just like a toddler who is being potty trained, it's easy to get sidetracked while exploring, and forget about holding it.

Rather than allowing them to run amok, give them a confined area to play in. A true lifesaver I've used is a puppy playpen. While housebreaking my Hazel, it allowed her to have a place to safely play that didn't overstimulate her.

Bonus: as my puppy gets older, I simply use the segments of the pen to section off multiple areas of my house, gradually allowing her free roam rather than overwhelming my puppy with the amount of places she could get into trouble. This is especially useful as my house has an open floorplan, so traditional baby gates aren't useful.

This is the exact brand I used, Rollick Dog Playpen, and am still using it as there are areas that remain off-limits to Hazel (for now).

Not Monitoring Your Puppy's Access to Water/Food

Think about it: when I was potty training my kids, I didn't leave carafe of orange juice by their bed for them to guzzle in the middle of the night, nor did I allow them unrestricted access to the milk in the fridge.

By monitoring your puppy's water intake, you will be able to identify roughly when they will need to potty next and start to help them get into a rhythm that includes going potty outside rather than on your favorite rug.

Bonus: by supervising the water/food situation with your puppy, rather than allowing a free-for-all, you will be able to quickly identify health issues based upon their eating/drinking habits. Making sure they're eating and drinking normally is key to managing health issues.

Not Tracking Your Puppy's Intake/Outflow

I don't know a single person who enjoys housebreaking their new puppy (myself included), but simply logging when your puppy has eaten or had water, when accidents happen, and who is in charge of next bathroom break, can turn a monster of a chore into a more manageable task. Think of it as tidying up your house everyday rather than trying to deep clean only 1x month. I don't necessarily enjoy either, but by managing the situation, the situation doesn't manage me.

Bonus: by having the details readily available, you are able to convey necessary information during your puppy's regular vet visits, or in worst case scenarios, emergency trips.

Not sure how to start organizing this information? Get my free housebreaking checklist here, and start controlling the housebreaking situation with your puppy (or dog) today.

For more information, tips and tricks to housebreaking your puppy or dog, check out these links.

2. Leash Training Your Dog or Puppy

Whether you've just brought home your new puppy, or are trying to work through your dog's leash reactivity, this is a prime example of controlling a situation to work through your dog's behavior. Let's take a look at some chaos that can happen on a walk, and how we can regain control of the leash training situation.

dog pulling on leash

Your Puppy or Dog Has No Focus

Your dog or puppy is all over the place, smelling this, peeing on that, side to side, back to front, and it looks like absolute havoc.

I call it The Minesweeper or The Weedwhacker.

How do you control this situation? Well, by starting in the house, or rather, in all areas. If you haven't been expecting your dog to have any kind of impulse control in any other scenarios (at the door, during feeding time, or when you play), it's so much more difficult for them to show impulse control during the greatest time in their life:

Start Piloting your dog's impulse control everywhere, and your dog will be able to manage it anywhere. By managing your dog's expectations towards calm on a regular basis, they are able to gravitate towards that expectation with greater ease. Learn how in this article.

It Feels like You're Walking an Angry Triceratops Instead of a Dog

Every step is a struggle. Your dog is pulling or lunging at everything and everyone, and even though you know they only want to play (do they?) it's still wreaking havoc on your arm muscles, and you're starting to dread the going for a walk with your dog.

How do you control this situation, with a juiced up dinosaur trampling your calm?

Let's start with how you got into this situation to begin with: by confusing leash training with going for a walk. In your mind, you have destination to get to. You're going to walk to the park. You're going to walk around the block. But you can't go for a walk with a dog who isn't leash trained.

Leash training is helping your dog understand the protocols and rules while you walk. Think of it as the difference between someone driving to the store vs. driver's ed class. You would not expect a teenager who hasn't pass the driving test yet to safely navigate a drive to the store. You get in the car with them and teach them how to drive.

The same goes for your dog. Focus on leash training first. That means you minimize the area you are walking. There is always a baseline you can find where you are both comfortable.

  • If your dog is a maniac at the park, start leash training in your neighborhood.

  • If your dog is a nut in the neighborhood, start leash training in front of your house.

  • If your dog is a lunatic in front of your house, start leash training up and down your driveway, your backyard, or even indoors, like I had to with my Arwen.

It's not up to you to determine how much stimuli from the outside world your dog can handle, it's up to you to manage the amount they're getting when they are overstimulated, and hopefully preventing an influx of stimuli that they can't handle.

So what to do when you're in the thick of things, and you have a tow truck instead of a dog at the end of the leash?

Don't add your own stimuli. Are you clenching the leash tightly? Are you yelling or chattering non-stop? Are you dancing around? Or are you grounded and silently in control of yourself, and not adding energy to an already amped up situation? Unclench your fists, stop holding the leash tightly, and don't make matters worse.

Shorten your dog's leash. Don't give your dog enough rope to hang themselves with. The more area they have around you, the more stimuli they are taking in, and that's what we are trying to prevent.

Create a smaller world within the overstimulating world. If you're at the park, it can be a vast place full of bedlam. We need to limit your dog's world within the park. To do that, start leash training your dog in a small circle (maybe 10-20 feet in diameter) off trail, or a bit farther away from the main commotion. Make sure your dog is inside the circle, and you are turning into them. In other words, you are on the perimeter, as a buffer between the world and your dog. Your dog is inside the boundary.

man leash training a dog

3. Your Puppy is in the Witching Hour

Ah, the Witching Hour, as I like to call it. It's that time, usually about 1-2 hours before bedtime (or in very young puppies, in the morning as well) where no matter what, your young dog just can't settle down. Jumping. Nipping. Zooming through the house like a demented race car.

Your puppy is out of control!

Head Off Your Puppy's Witching Hour.

My puppy Hazel has about a 2 hour window when her Witching Hour might start. I stay diligent, and the moment I notice her behavior go from her sweet, angelic self to slightly mischievous, I head off her behavior. I can still Pilot her a bit in these situations (and I do) but these are emotions and frustrations she needs to work through. So I let her, with a little bit of help.

Prior to her Witching Hour, I make sure she's had activity, but not in a terribly structured way (for instance, no leash training). We usually use something unfortunately named "flirt pole" or "teaser stick" (don't google it - trust me), and as all my clients tell me: it's truly a lifesaver for their puppy, as it gets out energy without you being in the line of fire.

Right after playing with the flirt pole, Hazel gets a Kong with peanut butter, which usually smooths her right through the Witching Hour with no trouble. Potty break before bed, and she's calmly in her crate sleeping through the night.

puppy sleeping on blankets

Make Your Puppy's World Smaller (and more manageable). Unfortunately, you may not be able to anticipate the Witching Hour, and now you're doing damage control.

Similar to what we did with the leash training, we are going to make your puppy's world less stimulating by making their world smaller. That may mean putting them in their crate, in their pen, or letting them burn it off outside in a fenced in area. But make their lives easier as they struggle to regain control: give them a high value entertainment, as I call it. A Kong filled with peanut butter, or my favorite, a Kong Wobbler with some of their favorite treats in it.

No, you aren't rewarding their tantrum any more than giving a child a hug while they cry is rewarding a meltdown. If your kid is hanging on by their fingernails, you don't need to smack their hands. Same thing with your dog.

Since you are working through impulse control issues in every other facet of life, you will still be making massive leaps forward. You're just not attending every fight you are invited to. You need to win 100% of the battles you choose to fight, and believe me, you will not be winning this battle. So politely decline the invite.

Don't Add To Your Puppy's Drama


Just like with the leash training, your puppy cannot handle this amount of stimuli the day has given to their young soul, and sometimes this causes some drama.

Understand that your puppy is acting the same way an overstimulated child or tween might: they aren't against you, it's just you're a convenient target for all that angst. Now is not the time to Pilot your dog or "discipline" them, anymore than a 3rd grader having a meltdown can handle even more math homework.

This is a situation where you need to remove stimuli, and that's it. Don't become part of this drama.

Dog Training Basics: Tips to Controlling A Situation

These are just 3 situations that you may find yourself in during your dog training journey, but there are takeaways that can be used for any situation: Do not add to the chaos your dog or puppy is experiencing.. Remember, even though you may be frustrated and angry with your dog's behavior, your dog isn't against you.

Your dog isn't giving you a hard time. Your dog is having a hard time.

Dog Training vs. Dog Life

By focusing on dog life, rather than dog training, our goals can become so much more attainable and clear-cut. Most of us don't want an obedient dog, we just don't want a dis-obedient dog. Robot-style dogs who are afraid of stepping out of line are for certain types of people I guess.

But that's not my style. That's why I developed the Piloting method of dog training over 20 years ago, a force-free method of dog training and puppy training that didn't rely on abusive shock collars or cruel prong collars, yet didn't constantly bribe with non-stop click-n-treat style dog training. I want a bond with my dog based on trust and communication.

Learn more about our Piloting method of dog and puppy training here.

Find out more about our private in home 30 Day Best Dog Ever and 30 Day Best Puppy Ever training packages here.

Have questions about our puppy training or dog training?

border collie dog

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training and Puppy Training

Greater Cleveland Area

Northeast Ohio

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