Is Your Dog an Addict? Why Your Training Program Isn’t Working

I was trying to reason with a client just the other day.

She has an extremely dog aggressive dog.

The dog has no leash manners.

He doesn’t listen to her commands or pleas or yelling.

Once he is locked onto another dog she has little to no control at all.

Yet, I give her props for trying to work through his behaviors!

Can she work with a dog that is this out of control?


But she needs to stop walking him!

Yes, I said it!

I know it sounds ridiculous.

Dogs need exercise, right?

Of course he does!

But even if she spends 99%  (which of course is not realistic) of the time at home training, once she takes him out and about and loses control, her training goes back to zero.

There are plenty of other ways to exercise your dog!  A walk, actually, is not the best way to exercise your dog!

Mine, for example, enjoy retrieve games with obedience.

Your Dog is an Addict

She just wasn’t getting it.

She didn’t want to give up their twice daily walks, but she wasn’t seeing much if any progress with training when they were on walks.

So I told her, her dog is an addict.

dog training program is not workingHis addiction or drug is getting aggressive when he sees other dogs.  Add any other addictive dog behavior here.

By training at home teaching him leash manners, obedience, eye contact and focus and playing games, you are giving him alternate behaviors.  This is his “methadone”.

But, alternate behaviors and conditioning your dog to new training and teaching him to calm himself all takes time.  This could take many weeks or even months before your dog is ready to challenge his addiction with his newly learned behavior head on.

Just like being in recovery takes time.

They Tell You to Change Your Behaviors

My ex decided he was going to quit smoking.

The doctors told him that he needed to change his trigger behaviors.

For instance, he would get up, make coffee and sit in front of the computer each morning while he smoked.

He would turn the windows down and smoke in the car on the way to work.

They told him, that in order to be successful he would need to change many of these trigger behaviors.

Instead of having his coffee by the computer, instead perhaps he should go sit outside to change his habit.

Instead of turning the windows down, perhaps putting on the air conditioning and driving a different way to work would help him not get into the zone of needing a cigarette.

If you have ever tried to break some kind of addiction, you know how difficult it is and we are the humans making a choice to break those habits or addictions.

Why, Then, Do We Expect Our Dogs to be Stronger?

Why, then, do we expect our dogs to be stronger than us?

By continuing to throw our dogs into an addictive situation we are enabling the behavior.

We become enablers, instead of trying to help them stop the addictive behavior.

As owners, that want change, we need to understand that our dogs are often not strong enough to deal with their addictive behavior until we have solidified and conditioned changed behavior.

We wouldn’t walk the addict past the drug house, we shouldn’t walk the dog past his addiction, if at all possible either.

Lots of Training Can be Done at Home

Lots and lots of training can be done at home! dog training program is not working

You don’t have to step outside the house to work on eye contact and focus, or even leash manners.

The BEST place to work on new behaviors is at home where it is safe and there are little to no distractions.

Slowly, as the dog is conditioned and shows success you may begin adding distractions.

The Point

The point is not to ignore the problem or keep the dog from his trigger forever.

The point is to give the dog the tools that he needs to deal with those triggers and work, slowly for small successes.

The dog will learn to have other dogs in his environment, just like the addict learns to pass the drug houses or the cigarettes in the store.

We just need to give him the time, training and conditioning he needs to be able to be successful.

All too often, I think people push too hard and their expectations are waaaay too high, and therefore unrealistic, meaning the dog will fail.

Set your dog up for success and give him the time and training he needs!


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  1. My Dog Store says:

    When you take on a dog, you are in for an added responsibility to care for him and train him for your own benefit, and for the benefit of the society you live within. Other than that, motivating your dog through positive reinforcement and praise helps build a strong bond, and yields long-term results.


  2. Tiffany says:

    Hello! We got a very young dog, still under a year old but older than six months, and we do have an issue where he likes to try and take food from the table and what not. As you stated about trying to keep them away from their trigger, we have been trying to have him outside when ever there is food that we know may be left out and openly available to him. Is this a good way to keep him away from the trigger and to start breaking this habit? Any information and suggestions are greatly appreciated. Thank you!


    Minette Reply:

    No…. This is a training issue. A trigger is something that makes a dog aggressive or fearful.

    You need to teach the dog obedience around food.


  3. Kathy says:

    What about a trigger of sound that makes a dog frantic inside a house? The lawnmower, leaf blower, snow blower, saws, chippers, you name it sets this Irish Setter off. He was a rescue so his earliest years are unknown. He is 4 years old and spends a lot of time hiding in, under and behind things in the house. Lamps and other items have gone over as his panic rises. It has been a rainy cool season in the Northeast and the lawns are growing fast and people are mowing often. He is now on Valium when he is home alone. Any training suggestions for him?


    Minette Reply:

    Read this article


  4. Martha Vuist-Bruske says:

    My dog is a 2 year old yellow lab. Whenever anyone goes into our pool, she runs around the pool, barks and will actually nip as a hand or head surfaces near the edge of the pool. I have tried commands, food. Can’t get her to quit. Thank you


    Minette Reply:

    Put her on a leash and teach her your expectations while keeping her from the behaviors


  5. Lisa says:

    My dog acts nervous when people are in the pool also. I think they don’t understand the concept of being in the pool because they aren’t usually immersed in water like we are when we bathe. My veterarian suggested that our dogs are trying to save us from the pool because their is splashing loud voices screaming from the shock of cold water or excitement.


  6. Renee says:

    My spaniel/lab mix gets extremely anxious with new people and dogs. His bark becomes high pitched as he runs along the fence chasing the dogs on the other side of the fence. I don’t understand how I should handle his behavior. Saying NO is not working. I have to keep him separated from other dogs because I worry he will hurt them. He does the same thing when people come over. He goes after them and nips them. I have to put him in the back room where he proceeds to bark and jump on the door. I have a new room mate and I need to know how to introduce him to the new person in the home.


    Minette Reply:

    Keep him on leash and work on his obedience, his sits, downs and stays and when he is no longer bothered by the person (probably many days or weeks) he can begin being off leash; provided that his behavior is good


  7. Heather says:

    My 6-month old Morkie-poo is already great on walks (lays down and looks at me when people or animals come within 10 feet), he sits and looks at me for “okay” before he can eat, cross the street, or come through the door, etc. He doesn’t have the usual triggers like doorbells, balls, people, animals, etc. The problem I’m having is that he panics when I leave the apartment. How do I keep my addicted dog away from his addiction, if his addictive behavior is his panic reaction to my leaving? I have to leave him when I go to work every day.

    Thanks so much!


    Minette Reply:

    crates! Being alone in a house can be terrifying Read this


  8. Heather Casterlin says:

    Hi Minette,

    I probably should have mentioned that I live in a small, 2 bedroom apartment, and Waffles (my pup) isn’t allowed in the bedrooms, so the amount of space he has access to on a regular basis is fairly small. Additionally, when I leave the apartment (for any length of time), he’s in a 4×6 exercise pen in the living room, inside of which is his “crate” (it’s actually a rabbit hutch with an open door for him to move in and out of). The crate has a bed in it, and the pen has a mat, his toys, and water bottle. He has been in this environment since I got him at 9-weeks old (he’s 7 months old now). No life changes to my schedule or people living/visiting here. It’s always just me, save for (literally) a few short visits from different friends.

    Every time I leave for work, I give him Kongs with peanut butter or cheese, which he LOVES. I don’t make a big deal about leaving (or coming home, either). Sometimes I say, “have a good day” and other times I say nothing. When his treats are gone, he realizes that I am gone, and he panics. After about 15-30 minutes, he usually calms down and naps or pushes his empty Kongs around a bit. Even when he wakes up from his nap, he remains calm. Then I come home on my lunch break, feed him, take him out to potty, and we do the whole thing over again… I leave, he panics. I used to leave the TV on for him, and I have tried a variety of programs. Drama (too much angst and shouting) Comedy (too much energy and shouting). I have tried classical music but violins can be high-pitched and irritating, so I recently switched to contemporary jazz (Norah Jones).

    I HAVE NEVER walked into the room or the apartment while he’s crying, barking, howling, etc. NOT ONCE. I always wait until he’s quiet. Usually not until he’s laying in his bed, but sometimes when he’s just quietly sitting and staring at the front door because he heard my car pull up. If he’s overly excited when i walk in the door, I say “hello” and keep moving. I go into the kitchen and wait until he’s calm before I come back and feed him.

    If I leave him in his pen when I’m at home and I go into one of the bedrooms, he cries/howls. If I take the trash out or go to the laundry room in the next building, he is even worse than when I go to work. He won’t even LOOK at his treats, he just howls and barks for 15 minutes. I stand outside the door and wait for him to quiet down before I come back inside. I even had a friend come over to see if Waffles was anxious because I left, or just because he was alone. He still lost control.

    He’s not being aggressive, protective or fearful. He doesn’t care if people walk by outside or knock on the door (I have a nanny-cam and can watch him from anywhere on my phone). He’s never shown fear of anyone or anything, EXCEPT my leaving. I was right outside my front door last weekend, planting flowers in a planter. He was inside, but I had blocked the door with a gate. He could see me, and he was only two feet away from me, but he freaked out. He NEEDED to come outside and be with me doing the people-stuff.

    My most recent efforts to work through this with him involve playing with him inside his pen ONLY, no more playing in the living room. He eats all of his meals in the pen (always has) and now I do all of his treat-training in there, too. I’m trying to instill the mindset of, “Everything awesome happens in your room. It’s a fun place to be.” When I let him out, he has to watch me wash the dishes, read a book, watch TV, etc. BORING people stuff. NO more napping on me while I lay on the couch to watch a movie. He’s on his mat on the floor.

    Maybe it’s too soon to tell because I just implemented this a couple of weeks ago. But he still has NO drive to amuse himself. He loves to play with me, but will not play by himself in his pen. He will, however, play with his toys in the living room while I do people-stuff. As I write this, it’s around 2:30 pm, and he’s been in his pen all day watching me do boring people-stuff, and he WON’T play with his toys. He’s not even napping, he’s just laying in his bed, staring at me. If I go into my room for a few minutes, he cries. When he stops, I come out to give him a treat and I see he’s peed on the floor, when i know he could have held it.

    I’m really at a loss. Am I doing the right things? Do you have any other suggestions? I absolutely HAVE to leave him alone to go to work, run errands, etc. And I don’t want to have to take him with me to do laundry or take the trash out, either. Please help!!


    Minette Reply:

    He needs more exercise.

    Can you imagine living in an environment that is so small for such a long period of time with little to no entertainment or exercise?

    Dogs need physical and mental stimulation to be happy.

    Get up earlier and take him running until he is exhausted.

    When you get home train him and teach him obedience to stimulate his mind.

    Then take him out and exhaust him again.


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