The taming of Tansy

Careful planning keeps last season's puppy from turning into this season's nuisance


It seemed like a good idea at the time. The kids would be home for the summer to help, housetraining would be a snap in nice weather, and puppy teething and naugh tiness would be under control before the time changed in October and winter weather closed in.

Now it’s August, and the dog days of summer loom large. The puppy is a gangly six-month-old, 60-pound mouth on four feet, the kids are tired of being scratched and chased, and Mom has had it with checking gates and doors to make sure the dog doesn’t escape and rescuing dirty socks from slimy jaws. So, time for a family council and a frank discussion about Tansy, the lovely but energetic and disobedient Collie-shepherd mix who stole their hearts but frustrated their daily existence.

The family decided that establishing a routine for Tansy is the way to get her under control. The kids (10-year-old Tricia and 12-year-old Matt) agreed to help. Dad picked up a couple of dog training books on his way home from work and Mom and the kids searched the Dog Owner’s Guide website and downloaded articles on obedience training and the use of a crate.

From that day forward, Tansy was required to sit before she got a treat or anything else, even a pat on the head. The kids taught her to sit by exercising patience; they could not reward Tansy for jumping around, so they waited until she sat, then praised her and gave her a tiny treat. Tansy learned quickly that she didn’t get the treat or dinner or play time or a walk until she sat, so the family had some fast successes with their project to teach manners to their ill-behaved pet.

The next lesson was ‘down.’ Many dogs do not like to lie down on command because it puts them in a submissive position, so the kids had to be careful to avoid triggering Tansy’s stubborn streak. They taught her to lie down from the sit position by getting her to focus on a treat, then lowering the treat to the floor so she had to lie down to reach it. Before giving her the treat, they praised her for lying down.

Tansy’s medium-long, double coat picked up lots of debris when she romped in the field behind the house, so it was important that she learn to stand to have her hair brushed and the seed pods and foxtails removed from her fur. So, the kids taught her to stand with treats and praise. The grooming sessions were short while she was still learning to remain still, but they grew longer as dog and owners recognized grooming time as bonding time.

Walking on a leash

The two toughest lessons for Tansy – after she learned that she had to calm down and sit, that is – were walking nicely on a leash and coming when called. She was too strong for the kids to take for walks and Dad was gone to work most of the day, so Mom took a turn as teacher.

First, Tansy had to sit to get the leash clipped to her collar. Mom had purchased a prong collar at the pet supply store for training. Although it looks harsh, this collar is often gentler and more effective than the traditional chain-link slip collar because it allows the handler to control the dog without putting direct pressure on the dog’s trachea. The prong collar has blunt tines that squeeze when tightened, can be more accurately fitted to the dog’s neck, and puts even pressure around the neck to tell that dog when he has stepped out of bounds. Used properly, the prong collar requires very little movement of the leash because it allows the dog to correct himself.

To teach Tansy to walk nicely on a leash, Mom had to convince the dog to focus on her, not on the sights and smells that attracted attention on their stroll. Mom used a simple trick described in several dog training books and articles: go to a large open space, attach a long line (15-feet or longer) to the dog’s collar, wait until the dog’s attention has wandered, and start walking. When the long line was played out, the collar tightened and Tansy looked up. Mom praised her and changed direction, again walking until the line tightened. Again, Tansy looked up; again Mom said “good girl.”

Soon Tansy was paying attention and moving closer to Mom before the collar could tighten. Mom then switched to a six-foot “let’s go for a walk” leash and repeated the exercise. When Tansy was paying close enough attention to avoid the collar pull on this leash, she was ready for a walk down the road or at the park.(1)

Come when called

Coming when called is often the single most difficult command to teach a dog. Puppies that learned to come at three months of age often forget the command when they reach adolescence. Until Tansy learned to come, Mom, Dad, and kids decided that she should never be allowed out of the house without a leash or a long-line.

Every member of the family practiced with Tansy in the house. No one called her to punish her for a bad deed; instead they walked to her to scold her and retrieve a forbidden object, corrected her with a stern “stop it” from several feet away, or simply gave her a command she knew and could be rewarded for accomplishing. For example, if she stole a dirty sock, Tricia would offer her a treat in exchange. After retrieving the sock, Tricia would give a command such as “sit,” “down,’ or ‘gimme five’ before giving the treat. She would then show Tansy the sock and say ‘no’ in a calm but firm voice.

Treats came in handy; Tansy would respond to bits of cheese, a bite of apple, or a special dog cookie or tidbit. Toys helped too. Tansy liked to chase tennis ball ‘sticks’ and crinkle balls (2); Matt would call her to ‘come,’ and when she reached the spot where he was standing, he’d toss the toy over his shoulder for her to chase. Tansy quickly learned to come back when Matt called again so she could chase the toy over and over.

If Tansy was distracted and toys and treats did not hold her attention, Mom would attach the leash to the dog’s collar and tug lightly as she gave the command to ‘come.’ Once she had Tansy’s attention, she lightened her voice and encouraged the dog to come, and Tansy willingly obeyed.


The family learned from the dog training books that dogs are experts at reading human body language and tones of voice, so Mom and Tricia practiced lowering their voices when scolding Tansy and telling her to stay put, and Dad and Matt practiced using happy tones when giving commands. They all learned to relax and have fun with training, so Tansy began to enjoy their sessions.

Tansy hesitated to approach Mom or Dad if they were angry, so they softened their voices and sat down on a chair or the floor so they wouldn’t tower over her. If she refused a command, they reminded themselves to take a soft approach; instead of scolding, they’d jolly her into obeying by playing with her. However, they made sure their sessions ended with success; in the end, Tansy had to obey.

There are many, many good training books for families who want a well-mannered pet. The titles in this list can be ordered from the Amazon bookstore on the Dog Owner’s Guide website:

There are also many books for solving dog behavior problems:

Those who want to explore dog learning styles in more depth will enjoy:


1. For more about teaching your dog how to walk nicely on a leash, see “Walking the dog” at
2. Visit the Dog Owner’s Guide website and enter our Dogtoys store for a selection of toys for play and training.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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