SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Dog behaviour and training

Understanding dog behaviour and making an effort to work with your dog to teach him/her about acceptable behaviours will strengthen your relationship and make life better for you both.

It is very important to properly socialise a puppy; a socialised puppy turns into a well-adjusted, friendly dog.

Download our full Dog and Puppy Care Brochure (PDF)

Basic training

To develop a good relationship with your dog, it is important to teach the dog some skills that will help him/her live harmoniously in your home. Learning how to train your dog will improve your life and theirs, strengthen the human-animal bond, keep your dog safer, and it can also be a lot of fun!

If you would like a well-mannered dog, it is a good idea to teach your dog to perform a few desirable behaviours when you ask. It is really useful for your dog to know how to “sit” or “lie down”; this will help to help your dog control his/her impulses, and help you keep your dog safely under control. If your dog is sitting, he/she cannot do other things such as jumping up, begging at the table or running up boisterously to greet your visitors.

Dogs are generally keen to learn, and the key to success is good, clear communication. Your dog needs to understand how you would like him or her to behave. You do this by rewarding behaviours you are happy with using food, praise and pats. Do not reward undesirable behaviours. It is easy to fall into the trap of ignoring the behaviour you do want to see (i.e. lying quietly) and paying a lot of attention to behaviour you do not want to see (i.e. jumping up). This is a very good way of training your dog to display undesirable behaviours! Always be mindful of rewarding desirable behaviour. Set guidelines about how you would like your dog to behave and be consistent; it is important that all the members of your family are also consistent in rewarding your dog’s desirable behaviours and not rewarding undesirable behaviours.

Training tips

  • Aim for at least two short training sessions per day.
  • Keep sessions short and sweet; just 5 to 10 minutes each.
  • Always end on a positive note.
  • Only work on one thing in each session (e.g. “sit” or “go to bed”).
  • Be patient; training your dog will take time and effort but it can be a great deal of fun for you and for your dog. With patience and persistence, you and your dog can accomplish great things.
  • Be sure to reward your dog with things that he/she truly finds rewarding. Different dogs will happily work for different things; for example, dry kibble, small pieces of chicken or cheese, playing with a ball or a chance to run off lead at the dog park.
  • Use lots of verbal and physical praise to reward your dog for good behaviour.
  • There are many different training options and sources of training advice available, including: the SPCA, your veterinarian, dog trainers and training clubs. Pick a trainer who uses force-free training methods. Use of physical punishment or training aids which cause pain or fear to correct behaviour can damage your bond with your dog, cause development of problem behaviours and increase the risk of aggressive behaviour.

Toilet training

You will need to teach your dog/puppy where to toilet. Frequent visits to the garden, and praise when the dog toilets outside, will be enough to teach and reinforce the desired behaviour for most dogs. Puppies may need a little extra help, here are some tips to help:

  1. Watch for signs your puppy needs to toilet (sniffing, circling); if you see these signs, take him/her outside immediately.
  2. Puppies have limited bladder control, so need a toilet break after eating, drinking, sleeping or playing. Take your puppy to the toilet last thing at night and first thing in the morning and regularly throughout the day. Use the lead to take the puppy outside.
  3. Be prepared for a few accidents. Never punish your puppy; this will only slow down the toilet training and cause your puppy to be afraid of you.
If you find your puppy toileting inside, wait until he/she has finished and then take your puppy and the ‘accident’ outside in a paper towel. Put the paper towel in the toileting area, let your puppy sniff it and then praise your puppy.

Always praise your puppy when he/she toilets in the desired place.

If a sudden change in toileting habits occurs, take your dog/puppy to your veterinarian immediately as this may indicate that he/she is ill.

Use an enzymatic cleaner to clean up after accidents. Ammonia based cleaners do not remove the odours, and this may encourage your puppy to use the same place to toilet again.

Crate training

Crates are collapsible metal or plastic pens with many benefits; they are useful for restricting a new dog’s/puppy’s access to the house when you are out (but only for an hour or two), sleeping, when the dog needs some ‘time out’, or when you have visitors and the dog needs to be contained.

Crate training at night can help with toilet training, as dogs prefer not to toilet where they sleep. Crates are also good for dogs with separation anxiety.

Crates are a safe way of transporting your dog and can also be helpful when taking your dog on holiday. The crate becomes a familiar and cosy environment that you can set up anywhere and have your dog feel at home.

Some SPCAs and pet stores stock crates for dogs of all sizes. Crates and crate training should be a positive experience for your dog. You can read more about crate training on our website.

Acceptable and unacceptable behaviour

Managing your dog’s behaviour when you are not home

Some dogs can develop separation anxiety. Many factors can contribute to separation anxiety, these include things such as moving to a new home, a change in who is living in the house, or changes that mean your dog is at home alone more often. Separation anxiety can result in excessive barking or destructive behaviour. Your dog may chew him/herself excessively or toilet in the house. These things are not done by the dog to annoy you, rather, your dog is expressing anxiety and a need for help.

Reducing separation anxiety

You can gradually train your dog to be more independent. Put the dog in the garden and shut the door, or use a screen so the dog can see you but still feel safe while being alone.

Start by making short departures of just a few minutes and then returning calmly. Build up to longer departures.

Provide your dog with a treat dispensing toy filled with high value treats, or hide treats around the house for the dog to find whenever he/she is left alone, even for short periods or when you are in sight but out of reach.

Dogs with separation anxiety may learn the routine that leads up to you leaving the house (e.g. putting on your shoes, picking up keys…). To reduce the escalation of anxiety before you leave, make these unreliable indicators of you leaving (e.g. put on your shoes, pick up your keys, then take them off and sit down on the sofa). Practice this many times a day.

Keep departures and arrivals calm. Do not rush to greet your dog when you come home or make a fuss when you leave. Instead, simply leave and when you return ignore your dog until he/she is settled and not seeking attention.

Crate training can be helpful in reducing separation anxiety. Once trained properly your dog will associate the crate with safety and relaxation.

Encouraging acceptable behaviour

Consistency by ALL family/household members in managing behaviour is key. If your dog behaves in a way that is not acceptable the best way to change this is to encourage and teach acceptable alternative behaviour. For example, when puppies play they use their mouths, and so may bite or ‘mouth’ your hand. If you offer acceptable objects such as toys instead, this can redirect this behaviour to something more acceptable and safer. Scratch behind the ears with one hand and offer the toy with the other. This is a good thing for children to learn.

Training your dogs to have nice manners, such as sitting to say please (e.g. at dinner time and before going out for a walk), means they are likely to offer this behaviour, rather than undesirable behaviour such as jumping up, when they want something.

Discouraging unacceptable behaviour

Teach your dog that unwanted behaviour results in removing the thing they want, such as attention or social interaction. Remember that even if you push your dog away or get cross at the dog, he/she is still getting attention.

For example, if your dog jumps up when he/she wants attention:

  • Turn away and ignore the dog or say “off”.
  • Continue to turn away until all four of the dog’s paws are on the ground, then quietly praise the dog. If your dog knows to sit when you ask, ask the dog to sit, then quietly praise the dog when he/she is sitting.
  • If your dog begins to jump while you are praising him/her, simply turn away and start the process again.
  • With larger or very boisterous dogs it may be hard to ignore jumping up, so use a baby gate or lead to allow you to move out of reach when turning away.
  • Be aware that, before ceasing the unwanted behaviour, your dog is likely to initially try harder to get your attention, increasing the intensity by jumping more frantically and/or mouthing at the person. This is known as the “extinction burst”. Be patient; if you continue to ignore the behaviour, it will stop.
  • Your dog will realise that you remove attention when he/she jumps up, but give attention when the/she sits. Always reward good behaviour; be careful not to ignore the dog/puppy when he/she comes and sits politely, waiting for attention.

What not to do

Never tap, slap, yell at or hit your dog. This can create many problems, such as “hand-shyness”, fear biting, or a dog that is distressed and afraid of you.

Children, dogs and puppies

It is very difficult for children under eight to practice behaviour management with a dog. A child’s first reaction to being nipped or mouthed is usually to push the dog away. The dog might interpret this as play and repeat the behaviour. Adults should closely monitor all interactions between their children and dogs.


Dogs who roam the neighbourhood unattended can get hurt or injured, lost, or annoy neighbours in many ways. The dogs may foul properties, chase cats or other dogs, and can cause traffic accidents. The dogs may join up with other dogs and form packs, which may attack other animals and stock. However, you can make roaming unlikely if your property is securely fenced, and you have your dog de-sexed and regularly exercise the dog under your supervision.

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