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Ultimate Guide to Dog Training

Dog Training vs. Dog Behavior and Where Piloting Fits In

puppy sleeping on couch

Struggling to navigate the maze of dog training advice online? You're not alone. One corner of the internet preaches kindness with treats and praise, while another camp is all about being the Ultra Alpha Macho Dominant Pack Leader. It can be overwhelming, especially after you've already invested in puppy classes only to find your charming doodle still prefers the living room rug for their bathroom breaks.

Or you have the sweetest little Aussie mix who goes absolutely bonkers with dog reactivity when another dog walks by on a leash. You know it's anxiety, but one Boob-tuber video says to click and treat, click and treat, click and treat, click and treat,.... until your dog is now an obese bundle of dog reactivity. But that guy on Pugs and Ammo Dog Training is telling you to perform some kind of ninja death maneuver on your dog using a collar inspired by a medieval torture device.

We're here to demystify dog training with tips and tricks that actually work. Say goodbye to confusion and hello to clear, straightforward advice that will have your furry friend mastering the basics in no time. From mastering the art of potty training to understanding your dog's behavior, we've got you covered with insights that get to the heart of harmonious pet living.

Here's the real scoop for first-time dog owners: the world of dog training doesn't have to be so black and white. Effective dog training methods often fall somewhere in between the gentle encouragement of positive reinforcement and establishing a leadership role your pet can trust and follow. Finding the right balance is key to unlocking a well-behaved and happy pup.

Embrace the journey of first-time dog ownership with confidence. With a dash of patience, a sprinkle of dedication, and our expert guidance, you'll be on your way to creating a loving bond and a respectful relationship with your dog. Let's ditch the outdated advice and embark on a dog training adventure that celebrates the joy of learning together.

So what the answer? Punishment? Positive only? You've put a lot of time (and money) into training, where are your results? Let's clarify!

Dog Training vs. Dog Behavior

Corgi dog rolling in grass

Let's start with the basics: what is the difference between a dog trainer and a dog behaviorist? How can two different terms describe the same thing: training and behavior?


What is Dog Training?

Training a dog is striving to create (and recreate on command) a set of responses to specific stimuli.

Dog training usually encompasses things such as teaching your dog a new trick, basic commands (sit, stay, come, etc.). It can also be teaching your dog to sit down as soon as they come inside the house so you can wipe their feet. It can be fun things, too, such as teaching your dog to do various tricks.

The key phrase that keeps coming up is teaching your dog. You are taking actions or behaviors that aren't very dog-like and catching those actions, marking them with a positive. After doing this repeatedly enough, your dog will learn whatever you have taught them to do.

Typically training is designed to make your life a little easer. For example, teaching your dog that the word "come" means head over here in my direction. Teaching your dog to wait at the door so you can wipe their paws. Those are all examples of training a dog: Catching (and typically naming) a behavior so you can recreate it on command.

With children, it's similar to teaching them to read, or to count. Perhaps teaching them how to brush their teeth. Those are not things that are inherent knowledge in a child, and would be passed along to recreate those behaviors ("Go brush your teeth, brush hair for 30 seconds, and then we can read a bedtime story together").

Training is based on a "create behavior, catch behavior, repeat behavior" mentality.

Training is not designed to communicate with your dog regarding a situation. Training also doesn't answer your dog's questions about everyday life ("Can I steal food from the counter?").

Most importantly it doesn't do much to help anxiety, as it's designed to catch a naturally occurring reaction from your dog. Simply waiting until your dog is no longer reacting aggressively towards that other dog is a very, very long approach to a problem, with little guarantee of a result.

For example:

If you show me a mushroom, which I find repulsive, I may even give a mild reaction, saying, "Get that thing away from me". I may push it away from me, even.

Now you wait until my very mild reaction is complete, and present me with a candy bar. Perhaps I'll eat it the candy bar. And if you do it enough times, maybe I'll start to think of candy bars every time I see a mushroom.

But then again, maybe not.

Let's escalate that scenario. What if instead it's a mushroom, it's:

Literally NO candy bar in the world is big enough to get my focus off anything other than a freaking cordycep headed in my direction.

And for some reactive dogs, that's exactly what that dog across the street looks like. And you want him to ignore it because you waved a Milkbone in front of his face?

Training your dog is not designed to give real-time results to behavioral issues.

Training is designed to create a behavior that can be assigned a word or noise. to catch and recreate that behavior on demand.

What is Dog Behavior?

How to communicate with your dog through Piloting

Dog behavior is actions or reactions that naturally occur in your dog's normal daily life.

Working with your dog's behavior is a bit different. It's about answering your dog's questions, and yes, they have questions. Case in point, that dog across the street. Your beloved little Bella, the Cavapoo, is barking, lunging and snarling at that dog. What she's asking is, "Is that dog a threat?" and "Do I have to back him off before he hurts us?"

And your answer is "No".

Essentially, think of responding to your dog's behavior, in a similar way a therapist may respond to a child's behavior. Yes, you can teach/train a child how to read, and you can take them to school, but if they are getting into fights with other kids, or are struggling with anxiety, you don't wait around for them to not beat up another kid, nor do you just hope your kid will have a non-anxious moment so you can reward it. You would be engaging in behavioral therapy. Communication.

So behavior is something that isn't controlled, it's something you "discuss". You answer questions for your anxious child so they can feel some relief. You listen your your child who is bullying other kids so you can figure out that the core issue is fear, which you can then answer questions about.

For dog's, I call it Piloting their behaviors. Answering their questions.

Piloting is direct communication with your dog via a series of Q & A.

For example:

Fido: Can I jump on you.

Me: Pilots them with a gentle negative.

Fido: Okay.

The key to Piloting your dog's behaviors is understanding the communication. With the training aspect, your are typically giving. a positive to your dog to catch the behavior in the hopes of recreating it at another point ("Sit", for instance). You use it for the "positive" behaviors.

Piloting is simply used to negate your dogs questions ("Can I eat the mulch?", "Is that other dog going to hurt us?" "Do I get second dinner today?" "Should I be afraid"?).

All of those questions will be receiving a negative answer. Your dog isn't bad, nor do they ever ever deserve punishment. But what they do deserve is an answer, and that answer happens to be "no".

Piloting is designed to change a current behavior by opening the channels of communication, thereby creating a bond of trust, as well as alleviating your dog's anxiety.

How To Pilot Your Dog's Behaviors

Two steps to Piloting and negating your dog's unsavory behaviors.

As I always tell my clients during our training sessions, there are two steps to working with your dog's behaviors. Be it jumping, barking, counter surfing, or any other behavior your dog is giving that will require a negative.

1. Control yourself.

I don't know why dog experts on SPinterest and DisgraceBook gloss over this, but your dog is a reflection of you. If you want get control of your dog's behaviors, you need to get control of your own first.

If you're acting hyper, angry, rushed, annoyed,'s not going to work.

Your dog is just going to fling all of those reactions right back at you like an angry monkey with a handful of poo.

So control yourself.

But control is something that can be perceived, too. We typically can judge if someone is in control of themselves (and a situation) based upon their body language.

Stand up as straight as you can. I always tell my clients, pretend you rubbed Viagra all over your body. Stand tall.

Hands belong either beside you (not tense), in your pockets, or behind your back. Keep them away from your dog, as hands are a target and add energy.

Don’t feel the need to get down to your dog’s level; aim your belly button either at them or directly over them.

I call this stance your Piloting uniform. It’s the uniform you wear whenever you’re about to answer your dog’s questions, such as, “Can I bark at the door?” or “Can I jump all over our guest?”. And do you know who wears this uniform best?


Yes, you read that right. Perfect body language, as usual, from RuPaul. She looks confident. In control of herself. She doesn’t look aggressive, but she looks as if she could handle just about any opposition without breaking a sweat. Is that what she (or any drag queen) looks like all the time? Not necessarily, but it’s part of the job, so they put on their uniform. It's their glorious armor.

And they wear it proudly.

2. Control the Situation

Okay, you’ve released your inner drag queen. You have your armor on, aka your Piloting uniform, as I like to call it. Now it’s time to control the situation.

Let's say the situation is the door. Someone has the audacity to ring the doorbell. Your dog is going banananananas at the door.

Your dog is most likely at the door already. That’s fine. You’re about to control that by claiming the door. Simply walk up to the door, get between your dog and the door (stomach facing your dog still, RuPaul style) and back him off the door by using a gentle negative.

Just pretend you’re a snowplow (and your dog is snow).

-Gently, but firmly, use your legs to nudge and guide him back from the door. Now you’ve got a few feet to operate, or as I call it, "Ground Zero" plus a bubble for personal space.

-As soon as Fido is backed off the door, I want you to start backing up towards the door. Once you're a few feet back from him (butt towards the door you're protecting, stomach facing Fido), give Fido the finger (don't rightly care which finger- middle one if you're feeling frustrated).while pointing at him like your finger is a squirt gun and you’re going to shoot him between the eyes with holy water.

Just make sure your finger is *never* in your dog's face. That's a bit much.

If Fido starts to move towards you as you back up to the door, move into him again. Gently snow plow him back, and then "RuPaul" him with your body language and by pointing at him, nailing him to his spot with your finger and eyeballs. ("the Mom stare").

You are creating a bit of breathing room between the door (where you are going to be engaging in a moment) and your dog.

In other words, the door is goal, and you are goalie. Your dog is playing for the opposing team. Goalie doesn't let anyone right up to goal (there's no breathing room to maneuver), but goalie doesn't hang out midfield. Just back him off a little bit.

Just once you're a few feet back from him, give him the finger again.

Hint: the closer you are to your dog, the farther away your finger should be from your dog. So if you have to move into him again to back him off the door, as you do so, drop your hand behind your back, as opposed to into his face.

You are answering Fido's question, which is, “Do you need help at the door?”.

This is how you give a dog a calm, gentle negative. It may take a few times, but as you do it, you’re getting more and more money from his Piloting Piggy Bank into yours (more on that in a minute). Whoever has the most money wins. Only once you have enough money in your Piloting Piggy Bank will you be able to s-l-o-w-l-y open the door (keeping your back to your door and your front towards your dog as much as possible).

Continue to control the situation. If you lose control (your dog comes running up again), simply stop and reboot. Do not add more stimuli if you lose control. In fact, remove stimuli. Close the door again if you need to.

Hint: Continuing to open the door (ie., adding stimuli) to a situation you already don't have control of is like taking a drink of milk, realizing it's gone bad, and putting it back in the fridge, hoping it gets better.

Your guest would rather wait outside a few more moments rather than be mauled and jumped on when they come in. Once you let your guest in, you’re going to make a sandwich. Your dog is bread, your guest is bread, and you’re the cheese. Bread doesn’t touch bread. You will be the cheese between them, answering your dog’s questions about your guest, even as your guest comes through your house and sit down on the couch. Remember, your navel points at what you are engaged with (your dog). Your backside faces what you are claiming (first the door, then your guest). Continue answering your dog’s questions using the same body language.

Congratulations, you’ve just answered your door without all the drama. And the best part is, each time it gets easier and easier! RuPaul would be proud.

The Piloting Piggy Bank

Piloting is a contest, but we all want whomever is best to win.

Piloting is a lot like parenting. Anyone can be a parent; doesn’t mean you’re a good one. Parenting, like Piloting, is built on trust.

Every time I answer my dog's questions, I get what I call money in my Piloting Piggy Bank. Each question she asks costs a certain dollar amount (which is different for each dog). I answer the question, I get the money.

My dogs, Ellis and Arwen, both want to know if they can have any of the carrots I'm chopping up for a salad. I'm going to negate both of them. Arwen only requires a very minimal negative before she accepts my answer, so we'll say that question only cost me $5 out of the Piloting Piggy Bank. Ellis, however, has decided that accepting my negative will cost about $15. Is he bad? No, it's just that carrots are more valuable to him, so I have to pay for my answer. Which he accepts after just a bit more negatives.

Now I have added $5 to my bank account with Arwen, and $15 to my Ellis account. So what do I do with it?

Spend it.

I can then use that money to pay for the next question. Both dogs are barking at the door because the Fed-Ex guy is making many deliveries at our door. That's a $5 question for each of them, but since I just earned more money, this question requires just a hint of a negative before they accept. Remember, any dog behavior isn't bad, it's just negative or positive.

So now my running total in the banks are $10 and $20 respectively per dog. And the amount just keeps growing throughout the day with each question I answer.

It doesn't matter the cost of the question; if I have enough balance in my Piloting Piggy Bank, they accept the answer almost immediately. If the question costs more than I have in the bank, then I simply earn that money by continuing to answer their question until they accept my answer, just like answering the door.

How Piloting Increases Trust

AKA, that time my daughter got busted by the police

I don’t mention my kids in my blog posts much anymore, as they’re teenagers now. If I do mention them, I always ask permission first.

Me: River, can I write a post about the time you got busted by the cops?

River (15): That’s fine, but can you please not use “busted by the cops”? It sounds terrible, and I’m not a felon.

Me: Yet.

I'll get back to River and her brush up with the cops in a minute.

Piloting is designed to answer questions, specifically questions that require a negative answer. And let me repeat it for those of you in back:

Negative does not mean bad. Negative does not mean punishment. Negative just

Let's go back to answering the door.

Fido is an anxious mess at the door, jumping and barking, or perhaps even acting aggressively (another expression of anxiety). And what's the definition of anxiety?

Anxiety is fear of the unknown.

So how do you make the unknown ..well, known? By answering your dog's questions.


Fido: Is the person here going to kill us?

Bella: If it's Grandma, can I jump on her?

You notice how both Fido and Bella are asking a question, both rooted in anxiety. Anxiety is neither good nor bad (I'm anxious before opening birthday presents, and I'm anxious at the dentist).

I this case, Fido's anxiety has a negative energy (he's not bad, but he's not in a healthy place right now mentally). Bella's anxiety has a boisterous, excited vibe.

However, each question will be answered with a negative.

No, Fido, you're not going to die.

No, Bella, you can't jump on Grandma.

Two different questions, same answer. Not bad, just no.

Now I've alleviated Fido's nervous, anxious behaviors (for the moment) and helped Bella with some impulse control. In other words, you've helped both dogs trust you to answer the door without drama.

Back to River and her life of crime.

My kids are almost grown now, but I've always been very fair, yet strict with them. Plenty of praise, love and affection, but negatives aren't to be contradicted simply through whining, cajoling or sheer disappoint at the consequences of your actions.

For example, both of my kids are extremely gifted, and have no trouble pulling excellent grades. Therefore, the rule in my house is that if you have a grade below a "B-", you lose all electronic devices until you bring it back up to a "B-" or better (which I can verify in real-time though Powerschool).

I have indeed had to enforce that rule with River previously. She knows that I always follow through on my answers, so when River came home with a bad grade in a class a couple years ago, she, without prompting, immediate put her cell phone, laptop and iPad on the table for me to collect.

And that was the last I heard about it until 1.5 weeks later, when she came home with a test she crushed with an A+, putting her back into electronics territory. She knew I would follow through with my answer regarding electronics devices vs. poor grades, so she didn't try to negotiate.

I didn't berate her. I didn't yell, or preach. I gave her a big hug and praised her for being so mature and strong while she lost her electronics. And when she got them back, she got even more praise (and candy for such a great grade!).

A few weeks ago I got a phone call from River during school:

River (in a frightened, quavering voice, close to tears): Mom, I'm in the principal's office with the police.

Me: You'll be okay. I'll handle this.

River: I know you will.

And that right there is why you Pilot. River was terrified (and deathly pale from fright) when my husband and I got to the school. We didn't ask her anything, but gave her a hug, and said, "I love you. Now let's figure out what's happened and what we will do to fix it."

River followed behind me as. we went to meet with the principal and Officer T-Bone the police officer usually on duty at the school.


I listened as Officer T-Bone explained what heinous thing my daughter had done:

She lent a student (we will call them "A") her cell phone. Said student A then texted a "friend" who was out of state, sending a series of messages using River's phone.

Said "friend" turned out to be an adult, not a kid, as they were posing. Now the police were investigating, headed up by Officer T-Bone.

Officer T-Bone proceeded to go on a tirade about never knowing who was on the other end of the line, and how dangerous and stupid it was for her to do that. He proceeded to use frightening descriptions of what could have happened, and how dangerous this world is. How, as a cop, River had put his own family in jeopardy because River had texted her friends that she was in the office with Officer T-Bone to discuss what was going on with Student A. Officer T-Bone was angry at River for mentioning him by name to Student A.

River's eyes got bigger, and her lower lip started to quiver as she desperately fought to keep from crying. I stopped Officer T-Bone.

I recapped the situation: River lent a kid a phone (because River is kind). Said kid proceed to message a person of interest. River put a stop to the texting herself, cutting off access to her phone. A few days later, she was called down to the office by OfficerT-Bone.

OfficerT-Bone nodded his head in agreement to those facts.

I told him were were done and leaving. But first I needed for T-Bone to realize who actually had caused harm in this situation.

While I feel badly for Student "A" and the mess they were in, and it was silly of River to lend out her phone, once River realized that this was not a good idea, she cut off access to her phone with no prompting.

The truly frightening person in the situation was Officer T-Bone.

Rather than allowing River to trust that he was there to help, he berated her. He took a girl who is already very timid and shy, and continued tried crush her with words and anger, simply because he could. I told him that he had an opportunity to gain her trust, and let him know that he was there for her as a guide, as a Pilot, but instead he chose to punish and show dominance.

"Just know", I said as I left with my daughter, "That you have taken a girl who has a 3.8 gpa, no history of any infractions of school rules, who takes out our neighbor's trash unprompted, and made her afraid of you. She will never come to you for help. She will always be more afraid of your response to any problem she has than the actual problem. She will probably avoid you when she sees you. She has no trust in you, and most likely never will again."

And as we left, River squeezed my hand and whispered, "Thanks, Mom".

So what on earth does that have to do with Piloting?

White dog on grass

Well, let's. go back to the phone call from River. She told me the police had her (never a good thing). She had believed she was in trouble, even potential danger. And the person she called was the person who is most strict with her (my husband was there, and just as supportive, but was so angry at the situation they had placed our daughter in, he decided to step back from the conversation). The person who gives a lot of negatives (and follows through).

But that's why when I told her I'd handle this, her immediate response was, "I know". Because she trusted me. Because I followed through with every answer I had given her, from

"Can I go ride my bike?" Sure.


"Can I get a D in Science?" No.

I never made her afraid of my answer or my response, but unless she had more or better information to give me, my answer didn't change. No matter how awful I felt watching her check her grades every day, hoping it went back up, and then looking crestfallen when they hand't yet, I followed through.

Since I followed through in every other situation, why would the situation with Officer T-Bone be any different.

Recap: Training a Dog Vs. Piloting A Dog's Behavior

Golden retriever in water

Whew, that was a lot! Let's recap.

Dog Training:

Training is a like a new book. You've never read it, and you're excited to start it.

Piloting Dog Behavior:

Piloting is knowing how to read. You aren't getting very far with the new book if you don't know how to read. You learn it from someone else, and are guided as you sound out words to find out what works and what doesn't. After a bit, you don't need help reading each new book.

Can you get by with just Piloting alone? Um, yeah, sure, I guess. But training helps with things like answering the door. I've worked with the behavior of being anxious at the door by Piloting, but now that we've done that, it can be easier to train your dog to go to a specific spot when the doorbell rings. And dog tricks are never not fun, so teach them tricks through training.

Piloting is real-time answers to real-time questions.

"Can I steal food from the counter?" is a real time question that requires immediate Piloting, "No", using the same body language I outlined above.

Training is a bit more proactive rather than reactive.

Is Piloting tough. Not really; the more you do it, even in small value situations ("Can I jump on you?"), the more money you get to put towards larger value items ("Can I eat the cat?"). As you do it, your dog begins to have more and more faith and trust in you and your answers.

Until one day, they are asking a particularly difficult question, ("Will the vet's office be too scary for me?") and you respond with your answer: No. I've got this.

"I know you do, Mom."

Border collie learning to sit

Dog Training, Differently

Building the bonds of love, respect, and trust with your dog through communication, rather than dominance or bribery, will result in a happier and more fulfilling relationship.

Are you facing challenges with your dog's behavior? Is your puppy behaving like a piranha? Feeling like you're trying to manage your dog rather than enjoy a healthy bond with your pup?

Discover our dog and puppy training services to help your dog to a calmer and happier way of life starting today.

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training and Behavior

Greater Cleveland Area



What a great review of the Piloting principles. I like the explanation of the difference between Dog Training and Dog Behavior - it's spot on! I think it explains why so many dogs have behavior problems, even after going to doggy school and having training. I think most trainers themselves don't know this difference. This post is definitely one to pin or print in order to highlight (nay, memorize!) all the key elements. Thank you!

Kerry Stack
Kerry Stack
Feb 28, 2023
Replying to

Thank you so much for your kind response. I think you are spot on: a lot of trainers don’t understand the difference either. That’s why you can leave a perfectly wonderful training school still not understanding why your dog is behaving a certain way. Hopefully this cleared up a lot. 


Feb 28, 2023

Another great post. Parenting and Piloting, not so different. I'm glad your daughter is ok. Could you post an step by step example like you did with the answering the door, an example of body language/behavior to use when your dog is going absolutely bananas on the sidewalk on a leash when another dog walks by. short of picking your own dog up, what should you do. again milkbone treat won't cut it when dog thinks their literal life is in danger.

Kerry Stack
Kerry Stack
Feb 28, 2023
Replying to

Thank you so much for your wonderful feedback! 

When your dog is having difficulties, passing by another dog, or perhaps a person, it’s best to always remember the steps :

1) control yourself

2)  control the situation

With regard to step number two, controlling the situation doesn’t always mean maintaining present course. Sometimes it means you need a bigger bubble, just like I mentioned when answering the door. That may mean curving around the person or dog, by maybe a couple feet, or a couple hundred feet. In other words, you need more personal space between your dog and whatever they feel is a threat. 

I will be, indeed, showing some videos, and offering some workshops in…

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