Homeless People with Animal Companions

Dogs and the Value of Training

This page will help you train your dog so you increase your dog’s safety, your dog’s health and well-being and the depth of the relationship between the two of you.

How is this possible ?

1. A dog who does some training is getting mental exercise and stimulation. This is really good for your dog's health and well-being.  It will also tire your dog out.

If you are stuck indoors or not able to get access to safe outside space, or are in a line waiting, then doing some training is a way to keep your dog occupied and for for your dog to get some exercise.

2. A dog who knows some basic cues or commands will be much safer in the world.  For example,  tell your dog, “leave it” and they won't eat a poisonous mushroom; tell your dog “wait” and they will stay where you asked them to wait; tell your dog to “stay” and they will remain in the position and place where you asked them to stay. 

3. Build your relationship with your dog by having words in common.  The more a dog can look to you for an instruction, the better your dog will feel.  It means that you are being the leader and there’s less for your dog to worry about.  If you have some expectations and you dog knows what to do then you both win.

What do you need to train your dog ?

You need only 5 things.

Being Clear About What you Want and Breaking Things Down To know what you want to ask your dog to do and to ask for actions in small pieces.  Your wouldn't expect to go out and run a marathon you would spend time training and build up to the race.  So it is with training your dog.  You break down the skill and work with small pieces.

Patience :  You cannot rush.  You want to be sure your dog has understood.  You need to practice and you need to practice in different places.

Good observation skills : Teaching your dog means seeing exactly when your dog has done what you want. Rewarding what you wanted that the dog did.  So you need to be quick.

Treats : If your dog is motivated by food, then teaching using very small pieces of food or treats will increase the fun for you and for your dog.

A marker word: this is short word you can say quickly as soon as the dog has done what you ask.  You need to say it before the dog starts doing something else. 

You need to give the dog a treat as soon as you say the marker word.  This way the dog knows the marker word is a very good word to hear and looks forward to hearing you say it.

Teaching a Cue

When you teach a cue
1. Get the behavior you want consistently (e.g., sitting),
2. Add the cue  (e.g., “sit”) when the dog is sitting.
3. Then start giving the cue while the dog performs the behavior.
4. Gradually move the cue back in time until you are giving the cue before the behavior.
5. If done correctly, this is an easy way for the dog to learn that a particular cue is associated with a particular behavior. 

Teaching Wait

This is a really useful cue for keeping your dog safe.  It means the dog waits and you can go ahead and check all is safe or you can both wait at a curb before crossing a road.

You just want the dog to wait, you don't mind if she sits, stands or moves a little.  She just has to wait in that spot.

   1.     Train this using a doorway, walk with the dog to door.  If you have no doorway, make some type of gap between two objects.

2.     Say “wait” and move on, through the doorway, leave the dog stationary behind you.  Block the threshold so the dog can’t move through. 

3.     When you say “wait” you can reinforce the idea of the dog stopping by passing your hand back and forth in front of the dog’s face as you say wait.

4.     Step back to your dog and praise your dog for waiting and then move on.  Before you move on tell the dog that you will be moving, for example say, “let’s go”  or “ready”

5.     Gradually increase the amount of time the dog waits and the distance you are from your dog.  

6.     You could move on to an imaginary threshold that you do not want your dog to cross so the dog does not only associate “wait” with doorways.

Teaching Leave It

It is important for your dog's safety that when you ask your dog not to pick something up off the ground or get into someone else's stuff that your dog does what is asked.  This avoids problems like your dog eating something bad for her, getting burned trying to eat something off a fire or you getting into a fight with your neighbor.

To teach leave it you need some treats and your dog's attention.

1.    Have a treat in your hand, that the dog can see and sniff but not take.  The dog shows interest in the treat, but then looks at you.  Say good dog and give a treat from the other hand. 

2.   Repeat this exercise, so the dog knows that she is not going to get the treat from the hand, but will still get praised and rewarded.

3.   Now, let the dog see there is a treat on the floor, put your foot over it and again you want to dog to realise that she is not going to get the treat under your foot , but that by sitting and looking at you or just looking at you she will get praise and a treat from you.

4.   You are teaching your dog to give you the attention and not the treat in your hand or udner your foot.  You are putting her paying less attention to the treat in your hand or under your foot with the cue “leave it”

5.   Now you can try with a treat on the floor and walking past the treat.  The dog needs to be on a leash and you need to be at a distance from the treat so wehn you walk past she can’t grab it.  As you get nearer to the treat on the floor say “leave it” walk past a little way and then praise her and give her the treat.

6.   You can get closer to the treat on the floor, over time.  As she pays attention to you and not the treat when you say “leave it”, praise her and give her a treat.


It is good to do this with a better treat to reward her with then the one which is on the floor.  You need to keep the treat you will give your dog hidden so the dog is still interested in the treat on the floor or in the earlier exercises, under your foot or in your hand.

Teaching Settle

This is a really important cue. It will help your dog to have calm time when things are stressful, it could be a useful cue to use if your dog has a crate in a dormitory, it is a useful cue if you have your dog in a waiting area or are going to meet a worker.

Teach settle after you have walked or exercised your dog.  Remember it’s hard to settle when you want the restroom or to play.


1.    Find a quiet place to start this work, where your dog can be relaxed and not feel they have to be on alert

2.   Have your dog on a leash and step on the leash so your dog can’t move away.  Have your dog close to you.

3.   Wait until your dog has decided to lie down or sit, if you wait long enough your dog will lie in a comfortable position

4.   Once the dog has settled down, then reward and say “good settle”

5.   Repeat so your dog gets the idea that “settling down” is a good thing and gets a treat. You are teaching the cue “settle” with the action of the dog lying down.

6.   Be patient…. You may only have a few moments of settle at the beginning  - as with watch me and wait you can build up the length of time before you give the dog her treat and reward for having settled.

7.   You need to notice if you think your dog is about the break the settle, to get up.  Watch what your dog is doing and before she gets up use your release word “ok” or “release” and move on to doing something else.

Being able to calm your dog down or ask for a settle when you are around a lot of other people in a service or at a shelter will help everyone, and especially you and your dog.