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  • Writer's pictureskywalksgla

3 most important things I teach dogs

Let me start this with a wee reminder of how lucky we are to have such smart creatures at our side that we can and are teaching to do the most incredible things: dance, detect scents, catch criminals, assist people with disabilities – you name it. However, here’s me – the queen of hypothetical questions – thinking of what 3 things I’d teach every dog if there was a limit. What three things do I put so much value and focus on when working with clients and, basically, any dog that comes through my studio doors?

Not sure if you will be surprised but “sit” didn’t make the cut. That’s definitely one of the first things we tend to teach our puppies, but here’s the unpopular opinion: you can have an incredibly well-mannered dog without teaching them “sit”. In short, the three most important things I want to train my dogs are that check-ins pay big bucks, hand targeting is awesome and impulse control rocks. If that sounds like a bunch of fancy words, keep reading.


In a simpler way, it’s your dog paying attention to you and offering eye contact. I don’t need them to stare at me the whole walk or don’t let me out of sight at home, I like my independent time too and wouldn’t want to take away exploration time on walks from them. I want, however, my dog to check in with me, especially outdoors, as this is where recall, loose lead and everything else starts. I want them to know that not only these check-n’s are paying in big currencies (think of the glorious chicken breast, cheese or whatever your dog cannot resist), but they also open doors to a bunch of other amazing stuff, for example, off lead time or greetings with people and other dogs. I want them to know it also provides safety because every time they feel uncertain, all they have to do is look at me or come close, so I can be warned and advocate for them.

It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you’re consistent with rewarding those voluntary check ins, if you show your dog that looking at you is the best thing in the world, you will be able to prevent many issues like on leash reactivity or lead pulling.

Want to know another reason why I put so much emphasis on trying to catch your dog offering eye contact? It’s because it means that you’ll put your phone away and pay attention to the other end of the lead. Think, if you’re now constantly ignoring your dog, it doesn’t sound fair to expect different from them, does it?


Oh, my beloved “touch”. I always tell clients to imagine there’s a button on their palm that whenever it’s pressed by their dog’s nose, a reward is delivered. It might seem like a useless trick at first but the variety of ways it can serve your team in daily life is actually exceptional. Let’s explore.

First, this is one of the most fun and reliable ways to recall. If your dog knows well what the button on your palm does, you can not only get them back but, I’ve noticed, it teaches them to come back all the way to the handler. Not to stop 3ft away (where most people deliver rewards by the way) but right next to!

Secondly, it can be an amazing positive interrupter, especially for puppies. Of course, you can bark at them “no” when they’re running away from you with a shoe in their mouth… or you can ask for a touch and redirect them onto something else.

Is your dog jumping up on people? Is your dog not particularly enjoying being patted by other people? Hand targeting. Make it a “this is how we greet people” cue. Remove the unpredictability and tension from the situation by letting your dog do something they know so well a.k.a. “touch”.

Hand targeting can serve you and your dog in so many other ways (think trick training, moving them on and off the vet scales) that it makes it such a versatile and useful cue to have in your toolbox.


I was thinking a little longer about this one. There were a couple of things I couldn’t pick from, however, here we are. Now, this is in no way about nonsense like “leader leaves first” or “don’t touch it unless the leader says so” yadayadayada.

I do like to teach dogs impulse control for safety first and foremost. If I can teach a dog to not sprint through the door the second it opens or not to swallow the first thing they find on the ground, it removes potential risks of them being hit by a car, getting into a fight with a stranger dog running outdoors or getting a food poisoning from an unknown thing they picked up on the street. It simply means I have time to assess the situation and make any changes needed. I know these examples sound harsh but the reality is that we brought dogs into urban environments that are not overly safe, unfortunately, and even with your best effort, you might not be always able to manage their environment, so having a dog that doesn’t act on impulse every minute of their day can have a huge impact on the quality of your day to day activities. Not to mention the eye contact we already spoke about in the first part 😉

So here are my three choices. For the record, I love teaching dogs to sit or lie down on a cue but that’s not something I’m obsessed with as long as I can get the above.

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