National Train Your Dog Month

By Lisa Spector, Canine Music Expert, Juilliard Graduate, and co-creator of Through a Dog’s Ear.

The Association of Pet Dog Trainer’s (APDT) has declared January National Train your Dog Month. The purpose is to bring awareness to the importance of socialization and training, and most of all, to inform the public that training your dog can be easy and fun! Their goal is to promote the use of training methods that are kind, gentle and have an emphasis on building a relationship with your dog. So many dogs and puppies are adopted or purchased from breeders and brought home during the winter holidays. And, with many new year’s resolutions, it is the perfect time to devote a month to the topic of dog training.

Dr. Ian Dunbar with Dune

As a huge supporter of science-based, positive reinforcement dog training, I am dedicating my January blogs to interviews with a variety of respected behaviorists, trainers, and veterinarians who are in alignment with these training methods. And what better place to start than an interview with veterinary behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar, MRCVS, BVetMed, PhD. Dr. Dunbar has written numerous books and hosted dozens of videos about puppy/dog behavior and training.

In 1982, Dr. Dunbar designed and taught the world’s very first off-leash puppy socialization and training classes — SIRIUS® Puppy Training. In a delightful phone conversation with Ian, I asked him what inspired him to start the first off-leash puppy class, here is what he told me…

“I had just brought an 8 week puppy home and was looking throughout the San Francisco Bay Area for puppy classes for him. But, there were absolutely no classes that accepted puppies younger than six months. My work as a behaviorist told me that proper socialization would be so much more helpful to a younger puppy, so I just started the classes myself. I absolutely love educating people and I equally love training dogs, so it was the perfect match.” You can view the SIRIUS Puppy Training class in session below. I love watching how much fun these puppies are having learning how to sit, lie down, play appropriately, etc.

Eleven years later, in 1993, Ian founded APDT as a forum for trainers to associate with one another and to discuss topics of mutual interest.  He had been lecturing around the world about dog training and absolutely loved it. “The level of interest of pet owners is really amazing” he said. “I would meet people who immediately got it and thought they were the only ones in their city understanding positive reinforcement dog training.  In meeting all of these wonderful like-minded people in various cities, I wanted to find a way to connect these progressive thinking dog lovers. APDT has grown to nearly 6,000 members and holds a fabulous annual conference.”

Ian Dunbar and Claude

I had the honor of co-presenting with my Through a Dog’s Ear partner, Joshua Leeds, at the 2009 conference in Oakland. Our presentation was titled “The Effect of Human Soundscape on Animals… and their People!” In addition to the joy of presenting and connecting with so many like-minded people, I had the great pleasure of hearing Ian speak at that conference. He was as insightful and entertaining as he was educational.

What I really learned from his talk is that dog training is not about work, it’s about play – both for the dog and for the human. In our phone conversation, he shared delightful stories of how he took his dogs’ unwanted behaviors  – barking, jumping, pulling (or what would appear as unwanted behavior by others) – and used them as a reward for wanted behaviors. He added, “When you use life rewards in training, there is no argument.” Click here for Ian’s podcast that will help you understand dog training from the dog’s perspective. “Problematic dog behaviors are to be expected. The secret is to see things from the dog’s point of view”, he said.

Ian and Kelly Dunbar with Claude, Dune, and Hugo

Ian, his wife Kelly, and his son Jamie are so dedicated to educating the general public to the importance of creating enjoyment out of their relationships with their dogs, that they started DogStarDaily, a free website for dog lovers, a daily magazine with news, blogs and articles about dog behavior, training videos, and a TV show dedicated to training. The TV show addresses many common behavior problems that people often have with their dogs.

If you think you need to knee your dog or even say no when he jumps up on you, watch this video on DogStarDaily TV that emphasizes reinforcing the behaviors you want, rather than punishing the ones you don’t. Have you ever taken your dog to a dog-friendly event that is filled with hundreds of people?  Click here to view the Dunbar’s conversation on socializing vs. traumatizing your puppy. Want to teach your dog to chew his toys but leave your shoes alone, watch Ian’s dogs happily oblige and play while learning:

When I was a volunteer puppy-raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind, I was often asked, “How much time do you spend training your puppy?” My answer then was the same as it is now with my two current dogs, Sanchez and Gina, “It’s a 24/7 gig. But, it’s not work, it’s play.” When people think I’ve gone overboard and that my life has gone to the dogs, it helps that I’m reminded by Ian’s closing comments in our interview. “Dogs teach us how to interact with people. The skills that we teach when we educate a different species is such a safe forum for learning interpersonal skills with people. You won’t get the results you want when you yell at your spouse or your dog. Reward the behaviors you want, and you’ll get an unlimited amount of behaviors you want. It’s really that simple.”

What behaviors do you want from your dogs? Thanks for clicking on “comment” below and sharing them. And if you want further help with training through positive reinforcement while building your relationship with your dog, Dog Star Daily is a free online service filled with a huge variety of dog training topics that include blogs from noted trainers, videos, podcasts, DogStarDailyTV, and digital textbooks on dog training. My blogging experience actually started there, as I am honored to be an invited guest blogger amongst a highly respected group of trainers and behaviorists.


Cindy C.
Cindy C.5 years ago

thank you so much for this as it will help us

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener5 years ago


Ramona C.
Ramona Manea5 years ago

Cezar said a great thing...owner has to be trained.thats such a true thing...we should be trained how to handle our pets.

Stephanie B.
Stephanie B.5 years ago

I don't have a dog, mainly because it is a lot of work and you feel tied down to visiting your home on a regular schedule. But I have always loved dogs and always have wanted to have the chance to train one. :-)

charles thomas
Charles Thomas5 years ago

We have found, even with older dogs, that we get the best response with praise and treats. We avoid saying anything negative when they do wrong but simply start over and make it clear what we want. It is fun for the dog and usually only takes three or four repeats for them to get it right. They are like children however and will occasionally test the limits so it is important to always remain consistent.

Megan Cig
Megan Cig5 years ago

My dog is a work in progress. He is house trained, but dosen't really respond to commands very well with other people. He will "sit", "stay", "heel", "come", :"roll over", and "lie down" for me, but with others he won't do it. He won't fetch for anybody though. Not even me!

Chavonne Harvey
Chavonne H.5 years ago

my dog needs a lot of training lol

Past Member 5 years ago

thanks...i like a trained animal but i also do not want to harm their personalities either....

Walter G.
Walter G.5 years ago

I have found that I do better training my jack Russel terrier if, instead of resorting to the usual methods, just posting written instructions, I just post what I want him to do behind his food bowl, and engage the automatic page-turner.

Sundeep Shah
Sundeep Shah5 years ago