Ask the Expert: Dog Training Tips with Mischief Managed

The South Kingstown Dog Training Facility shares their top trips for transforming your pooch's mayhem into manners.

Courtesy of Mischief Managed.

Jo Ferraris, founder and owner of Mischief Managed (yes, that is a Harry Potter reference) dog training facility in South Kingstown, shares her top tips for transforming your pooch’s mayhem into manners, no matter their age in dog years.


Set new pups up for success. In the beginning, whether it’s an adult or a puppy and regardless of housebroken status, you should supervise your new dog in and around your house. Use a leash to take them out at regular scheduled intervals throughout the day. Even if it’s an older dog that is potty trained and reliable. I would always treat a new dog coming into the home as though it’s not quite fully potty-trained right now in this environment.

Turn crate cries into contentment. You want to set the crate up as a safe space. Try feeding your dog in their crate, even with the door open. When the dog isn’t in the crate, drop a new toy or treat in there. Eventually it will investigate and realize good things appear in their crate. For puppies, I would provide lots of different chews and different textured things, and even a big stuffed animal to cuddle with — just be sure to supervise until you know what’s safe to leave with them. Hang out with them while they’re in the crate. Have it next to you while you watch TV and drop in a treat every so often for calm, quiet behavior. For puppies or smaller dogs, you could also put the crate up on a surface in your room where they can see you before they fall asleep at night. They usually settle very quickly.

Remember consistency is key. Establish your house rules and routine from day one. Make sure everyone in the house is on board with where the dog going to sleep, whether it’s allowed on the furniture, if it has access to the whole house and so on. It creates more of a challenge for the dog to learn when one person has different rules from the other.

Keep company in mind. Don’t not overwhelm new pets with lots of new people immediately. But if you can’t avoid it, have a separate, safe room for them to be while guests are over. Also, do not force any interactions between a dog and a stranger coming into the home — let the dog decide when it feels safe enough. If they don’t choose interactions initially, that’s okay, they’ll work it out. For puppies four months and younger, though, you do want to socialize them as much as possible. Just approach gatherings with some care and thoughtfulness as to how you want your puppy to interact in that setting. Make sure they are comfortable. If they appear stressed, have them take a step back from the action and watch from a distance.

Don’t be afraid to seek professionals. Of course, this applies to any situation where a dog is exhibiting concerning behaviors, like aggression or separation anxiety, but enrolling in quality dog training classes or lessons with a certified dog trainer is ideal for dogs of any age and people of any background, whether it’s your first dog or your fifth. Every dog is different, and there’s always something to learn.


Plus: you can teach an old dog new tricks. “Often, life experience has already taught older dogs a lot of things. Some good, some bad, but it does tend to lend itself well to learning. For instance, they already know how to use their nose. One of my very first students as a professional trainer was a twelve-year-old springer spaniel who came to me for scent work classes, and she was fantastic. She went on to compete for two years. She ended up suffering from canine dementia towards the end of her life, but her owners said nose work was the one thing that, whenever they did it, she was her old self. It was the coolest thing to watch their journey. So, older dogs can learn new things, you just want to keep a few things in mind. Number one, use positive reinforcement. That could be food, toys, praise, whatever the dog likes. Number two, keep your training sessions short so you don’t overwhelm them with too much at once. Just like kids, their attention can start to wander. Five-to-ten-minute sessions multiple times a day work best. The third is be aware of an older dog’s abilities and limitations. Maybe ‘sit’ is a difficult position for that dog to get into. Finally, be patient when it comes to retraining unwanted behaviors. It can take a lot longer for a dog who already has a solid history of bad habits to unlearn them, but it’s possible. And then again, classes or lessons are always good. We have older dogs coming into our classes all the time and they do very well.”