News Item | PAWS Chicago

Petiquette Three steps to a well-mannered dog

by Amy Williams Bernstein | Jul 13, 2015

Charlie, a two-year-old German Shepherd, bully breed mix “has a great spirit and personality,”says Melissa Footlick, who adopted Charlie with her fiancé David Blake at the PAWS Chicago Lincoln Park Adoption Center last summer. “She was the life of the party,” says Footlick. “At the park, all the dogs wanted to play with Charlie.”


Then Charlie suffered an accident while playing in a backyard. She got a stick embedded in her side and had to have it surgically removed. After the incident, some new troubling behaviors emerged, and some already existing ones got worse.

At home, Charlie was easily startled and fearful of unknown objects. On walks, she pulled on the leash and didn’t listen to commands. At the park, she growled and snapped at other dogs.

Charlie had been to an obedience class, but “we weren’t as committed to the training,” says Footlick. Now, she and Blake realized they had to do something about Charlie’s behavior.

They enrolled Charlie in a PAWS obedience class with Joan Harris, Director of Canine Training and Behavior, and also began private in-home training.

“Obedience training is the foundation that helps dogs learn desired behavior,” says Harris. A commitment to obedience training is key, but there is plenty you can do to improve your dog’s behavior in your own home. In fact, teaching your dog manners in the home can be broken down to a simple three-step plan.

The Three-Step Plan

1. Think Ahead

Having a well-mannered dog begins before you even have the dog. “Where people go wrong is they let the dog set the rules,” says Harris. “Instead, before you find your dog, decide what kind of behavior you want.” Harris suggests talking to a PAWS Chicago adoption expert. “They can help you decide what you want in a dog,” she says.

Before your new pet arrives, dog-proof your house to remove temptations. “So many problems can be fixed by not letting them start in the first place,” says Harris. Keep shoes in the closet, don’t leave food on the counter, and keep garbage cans tightly closed. Use baby gates and close doors to areas you want to be off-limits to your dog.

2. Manage Behaviors

Begin managing behaviors immediately so they can’t turn into bad habits. Harris uses the example of Pilot, a Doberman Pinscher she has been fostering for a few weeks. “When I’m there to watch him, I can interrupt unwanted behaviors. When I can’t, I crate him.” At first, she crated him even when she was going to step out of the room for a minute, but she has gradually given him a little more freedom.

3. Be Consistent

“If you want consistent results, you have to have consistent behavior management,” says Harris. For example, if you relax the rules when company comes over, letting the dog jump on the couch or take food from the table, he’ll continue to behave this way. It’s better to put him in a crate or another room than to have to change bad behaviors later.


These days Charlie is much calmer and able to focus on commands. But obedience training didn’t just help Charlie learn to listen to commands—it also taught Footlick and her fiancé handling skills. “Training is just as important for adopters as for dogs,” says Harris.

Footlick says the most surprising discovery has been that training is fun. “I’ve bonded with Charlie, and it’s stimulating to her.”

Learn more about your pet, PAWS Chicago news and the No Kill movement in PAWS Chicago Magazine.