My Smart Puppy

with Dog Expert, Sarah Wilson

You’re Grounded! Quick Reform for the Problem Dog


Is your dog pushy, unresponsive, distracted, disobedient, out of control or aggressive?

Ground him!

Grounding calms, sweetens and refocuses such dogs in just a few days. It also can help shy/sensitive dogs feel more secure in the world and confident in you. Do this:

“Say Please”

Dogs “say please” by obeying commands. Before you give him anything he enjoys, a command is given and obeyed. Before doing him a favor, like getting a toy or letting him outside, he should “say please.” Anticipating what you want is lovely but not enough here, listening is what we’re going for.

Dogs maintain their group status through day-to-day interaction, so having your dog obey you frequently keeps you quietly in the driver’s seat.

Show Respect

When you’re grounded, part of the deal is being on your best behavior. If he’s in your way tell him to move and make him do so. If he resists, leave the lead on and guide him out of the way. If you’re walking out the door, don’t allow him to shove you aside so he can go first. Put him on lead and teach him “Wait.” Jumping up, nose nudging and pawing to solicit attention stops. Have him “Sit” or “Down” and then reward him with your attention.

Four on the Floor

Keep your dog on the ground and humans off the ground. This is important. Couch time and bed cuddling is earned. It is lost the moment behavior goes askew and is rewarded to your dog when all else is back on an even keel. Having your dog on leash will help you do this at first. Be calm, be clear, be consistent. That works. Really well.

Do Chores

Doing chores is a time honored, attitude adjustment mechanism. “Chores” for your dog are obedience routines. Three short five-minute sessions a day will go a long way to bringing your dog’s attitude around. Praise him plenty, but make him work. The formula is simple: Say it, Follow through, Reward.

Organize His Free Time

His free time should be limited. Keep him on lead near you most of the time. Give him a toy or two but hold on to the lead. When you move, he moves. The more he follows you, the more he will see you as his leader. Use commands often and indiscriminately, always calmly insisting that he obey. Why? Because you say so, that’s why.

Please note: We do not say “Tie the dog to you” – please don’t do that! Hold on so you can pulse, guide, help when that is needed. When your dog is calm and entertaining himself, by all means drop the lead and let him. But if he starts to get into trouble, calmly pick it back up and get him organized again.

Go To His Room

Most “problem” dogs benefit from a crating schedule. Even if you are home all the time, crate him for at least three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon. This helps to establish good behavior, stop destructive cycles and teach him to sleep when you’re out or busy.

Less Attention

Many problem dogs get too much attention. If you’re averaging more than ten minutes of attention per hour when you are home, then you need to cut back. Attention means talking to or petting. Lying at your feet or taking a walk do not count. Going over to your dog and petting him is particularly detrimental. Dogs cannot help but interpret this as submissive behavior on your part. If you want him to be enthused about being praised, make him work for it. If it is a little more rare, it will be a little more dear.

A Dozen Downs a Day

A dozen downs a day for a few weeks will help make “down” second nature for your dog; mentally making him more accepting and responsive. Don’t do them all in a row, ask for them when your dog least expects it. Hint: Pretrain the guided down so you can create a down easily from light pressure if your dog doesn’t respond.


This much change can be stressful for your dog. Plenty of exercise is required to help him through the first few weeks of this new program. If done properly, he will be getting plenty of attention, but in a more productive way.

Have Fun!

Teach some silly tricks or a new command that amuses you. Have a good time with your dog – that is the reason you have a companion. Changing the way your dog relates to you doesn’t mean you stop enjoying each other.

by Sarah Wilson

Author of handbooks: My Smart Puppy (book with DVD) and Childproofing Your Dog

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