Rules of the Road

            I have a lot of clients that tell me about what they don’t want the dog to do and I have to re-direct them into what they want.  As with driving, you cannot be focused on how to not get there but on how to get there.   There are many methods of dog training and, for me, it took some time to develop what I think are the best ways to get there. 

            You can get in your car and go anywhere you want, if you have followed the rules of the road.  You can drive from New York to Los Angeles without restraint.  Following the rules has given you freedom.  The same works for your dog.  Following the rules equal freedom and then the dog can go to places that would have been impossible before. 

   Consequences for speeding in your car can cause you to lose your freedom and your behavior will be corrected every time you are caught.  If there is a stretch of road that you know the Police always are on, you won’t speed there since you know you will be caught.  Working with your dog is similar.  We have to be the traffic cop to let them know when they are breaking the rules.  We have to also be there so we can let them know that they are doing what we need them to do. 

            Clearly defined rules are the speed limit signs in your dog’s life.  We can see the signs along the road and we know exactly how fast we are allowed to go.  A dog owner will work to make sure their dog knows what the limits are and teach them how to follow them.  Between my driver’s education class and my parents following up at home with consistent practice, I learned how to follow the rules of driving as your dog will learn the rules for your house.  

            The basic rules of driving can also be applied to your dog.  Heel is the speed limit on your dog walking with you.  Down or sit can be used as the stop sign that keeps traffic from getting out of hand.  Teaching your dog to yield right of way to you, the owner, is another important “rule of the road”.  Parking your car is similar to your dog staying in one place.  Sometimes you need to leave them and you want to know that they will be there when you get back.  

When I taught my children to drive, we didn’t start out on the interstate at rush hour.  We found a nice quiet parking lot to practice in first.  Then we moved to the neighborhood streets and built up to the major roads and downtown driving.  The interstate at rush hour was one of the last things on the list along with long distance driving.  Think in the same terms with your dog.  Make it easy to be successful at listening to you and then build them up to listen anywhere.  Practicing in a quiet area first will get your dog “driving in rush hour”. 

Everyone who drives follows the concrete rules of the road and it helps people become mature, capable drivers.  Your dog will become a mature capable dog once they understand that rules are firm and are there to benefit everyone.  Freedom comes from obeying them but getting there can be half the fun.  Good training develops a sense of responsibility and teamwork into your dog that you cannot get anywhere else.  Watching your dog learn and develop into a mature, behaved and companionable member of the family is always a joy for me no matter how long I have trained.  A solid, comprehensive approach to dog training, showing them the benefits of good behavior and the negatives of poor behavior, will give your dog the information it needs to obey the “rules of the road”. 

            I was on my way to a client’s house the other day when I ran into a road closed sign.  Uh oh, how do I get to their house now?  Fortunately, I knew the area pretty well and was able to take a different way.   Sometimes there are roadblocks and detours that must be taken to get to where you need to be.  Since I knew the other roads I had options available that someone unfamiliar with the area would not be able to use.   To them, they couldn’t get there from here.   

            Working with dogs is a similar pursuit.  Sometimes you must use different techniques to get to the end results you are looking for.   As a professional trainer, I must be ready to adapt what I am doing to suit the dog in front of me.  That can change from lesson to lesson with the same dog.    Being able to take detours and different approaches is the hallmark of a good trainer.   As a professional, it is our job to know how to get there from here despite obstacles.   

            Just as roads curve and bend, in dog training you must constantly adjust for every bend and curve in a dog’s personality.  Using approaches that are flexible enough to flow with the dog and owner but rigid enough to provide structure is a balancing act that, just as a professional driver is serious about the best way to get to where they are going, education and flexibility is something that professional trainers take serious.   Every dog is an individual that will, if we listen, tell us how to work with them.   

            Rules of road and how to get there are important to living with and loving your dog.  Without rules, there is no freedom and without knowing how to get there we cannot teach the rules.  Take time to think through where you want your dog to be and map out the way to get them there.  Practice and patience is the key to learning good driving skills and just like driving; you have to know where you are going and how to get there.   Professional trainers can be your navigator on the road to a well behaved dog.  Find one at



Greg Hollen is owner and head trainer of Indiana Working Dogs.