Tips for a Calmer, More Obedient Dog

Frustration is a common dog parent feeling, especially in a busy, pet-friendly apartment with other dogs and human neighbors around. Dog parents often feel like their dogs won’t listen to them. No dog owner wants an out of control, anxious dog who is unable to listen to basic obedience commands or who is unable to calm themselves down during high arousal times.

So, what can we, as dog parents do to have our dogs listen to us more?

There’s Bad News… And Good News

Here’s the bad news: Any behavioral issue you are experiencing resides in a lack of trust, motivation, and/or respect between you and your dog. Here’s the good news: This is fixable. We teach our dogs how to treat us. When dogs ignore our commands, it’s because they think they can, or they think they need to. As dog parents who want obedient, well-adjusted, and stable dogs, it is our responsibility to communicate effectively and calmly with our dogs about what we want from them – and hold them to it. The more rules we enforce and follow through with, the more our dogs see us as someone that gives them access to the things they want (food, treats, play time, outdoor time, affection, etc.) in return for some obedience and calm behavior.

Teaching Your Dog to Self-Regulate Their Emotions

One of the best gifts we can give our dogs is to teach them how to self-regulate their emotions so they can relax and calm down on their own. We can teach our dogs how to relax by rewarding them for calm behavior and for listening to us.
When I rescued my dog Chance, he had no idea how to calm down on his own. He was an insecure, anxious dog who dealt with his anxiety by running around like crazy. To help him learn how to relax on his own, any time he was calm – either inside or outside – I rewarded him with a treat or some affection. Every time he ran around like crazy, I withheld these rewards. Then, as soon as he calmed himself, I rewarded him. Over time, he has learned that if he is calm, he is rewarded – without me having to micromanage him or yell at him to calm down.
By remaining calm and defining and sticking to defined boundaries, you can create a well-behaved dog regardless of what crazy distractions the neighborhood might be throwing your way.

Calm Creates Calm

As dog parents, we need to be aware of and responsible for the energy we bring into the relationship with our dogs. Negative, unstable, and weak energy will breed negative, unstable, and weak energy. On the other hand, calm energy will breed calm energy. Remaining calm when working with our dogs will help transfer calm energy onto them, which in turn will teach them what we want from them. How can we teach our dogs to be calm if we ourselves are not calm? It simply won’t work. Our dogs are similar to us in this sense and are more likely to respond to us, and actually understand what we’re asking of them, when we are calm and respectful. So, when working with your dog, stay calm. Take a deep breath (or 10) if needed. Your calm energy will help create a calm dog.

Teaching Your Dog to Be Calm in Day to Day Interactions

The more we teach our dogs to relax during high arousal times such as dinner time, before they go outside, and getting in and out the car, the easier it will be for them to relax themselves without us micromanaging them. So, what can you do to teach your dog to be calm in their day to day interactions?
  • Ask your dog to sit and stay before you let them outside. Do this every single time you let your dog out. Do not let them outside until they are able to hold a sit-stay for at least 5 to 10 seconds.
  • Ask your dog to sit and stay before you feed them. Again, do this at every mealtime and do not feed them until they are able to hold a sit-stay for at least 5 to 10 seconds.
  • If your dog loves going on car rides, ask them to sit and stay before getting into the car. Do this every single time you take them in the car.
  • When passing a neighboring dog or person your dog enjoys in the hallway or sidewalk, ask your dog to sit and stay before you allow them to say hello. Take a second to check in with the person that saying hello is okay before using your release word, or a simple “okay!” can let your dog know this person or dog is also excited and wants to say hello. This is a more advanced ask, but over time can help you and your neighbors establish a healthy neighborly relationship for your dog, too.
Remember that training a dog is hard work. It takes patience, diligence, consistency, and communication – from both you and your dog. Go slow. Continue to read best practices on how to train a dog. Contact a local trainer for help. And have fun! Done well, training your dog can greatly improve your relationship with them. Alexx Spannus, owner and founder of Chance’s Canine Club, is a happy mom of three rescue dogs. Her mission is to help other dog parents in the greater Burlington area establish better relationships with their own dogs. Alexx studied and trained with Rhonda Bilodeau of Vermont Dog Pack and co-creator of the My Dog Camp Program.

Published: Oct 4, 2019. Updated March 26th, 2024