Millan's work focuses on handling a dog with what he calls "calm-assertive energy". He believes that dog owners should establish their role as calm-assertive pack leaders. According to Millan, dogs have three primary needs: exercise, discipline and affection, in that order. In other words, it is the owner's responsibility to fulfill the dog's energy level needs through challenging exercise; then to provide clearly communicated rules, boundaries and limitations; and finally, to provide affection. According to Millan, a common pitfall for American dog owners is to give a great deal of affection with very little exercise and even less discipline. He encourages owners to understand the effect their own attitudes, internal emotions and physical postures have on a dog's behavior, counseling owners to hold strong posture (i.e., shoulders high and chest forward) and to project energy that is calm-assertive.
Observational learning is the learning that occurs through observing the behavior of others. This form of learning does not need reinforcement to occur; instead, a model animal is required. While the model may not be intentionally trying to instill any particular behavior, many behaviors that are observed are remembered and imitated. The domestic dog is a social species and its social dependency makes it aware of the behavior of others, which contributes to its own behavior and learning abilities. There is, however, ongoing discussion about how much, and how, dogs can learn by interacting with each other and with people.
Even if you try to transition to the outdoors, your puppy will be confused because you will likely have items resembling potty pads lying around the house. Do you have pillows? Blankets? Sheets? Rugs? It’s not a stretch to think that your puppy, or an older dog, even, may confuse one or more of these items with plushy, soft potty pads and decide it would rather go there than outdoors. Just save yourself the headache and don’t use puppy pads.
The Monks of New Skete, who were breeders and trainers of German Shepherds in Cambridge, New York, published How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend: A Training Manual for Dog Owners in 1978 and it became an immediate best seller. Despite advocating a philosophy that "understanding is the key to communication and compassion with your dog," they endorsed confrontational punishments which were later shown to elicit dangerously aggressive responses in many dogs.
Operant conditioning (or instrumental conditioning) is a form of learning in which an individual's behavior is modified by its consequences. Two complementary motivations drive instrumental learning: the maximization of positive outcomes and minimization of aversive ones. There are two ways in which behavior is reinforced or strengthened: positive reinforcement occurs when a behavior is strengthened by producing some desirable consequence; negative reinforcement occurs when a behavior is strengthened by avoiding some undesirable consequence. There are two ways in which behavior is decreased or weakened: negative punishment occurs when a behavior is weakened by not producing a reinforcing consequence; and positive punishment occurs when a behavior is weakened by producing a consequence that is a disincentive. In combination, these basic reinforcing and punishing contingencies provide four ways for modifying behavior. Reinforcement increases the relative probability or frequency of the behavior it follows, while punishment decreases the relative probability or frequency of the behaviour it follows.
You should always accompany your puppy outside for potty breaks. You’re there not only to ensure that he actually goes, you’re also there to reward your puppy with a treat for going in the proper spot. Wait until your puppy finishes eliminating and immediately give him a tasty reward for a job well done. If you wait until you get back in the house, your puppy won’t make the connection between his elimination and the reward.
A satirized version of Millan was portrayed in "Tsst", the May 3, 2006, episode of the Comedy Central animated series South Park. In the episode, Liane Cartman enlists Millan's help in applying his principles to her misbehaving son, Eric Cartman. The principles work and Eric temporarily becomes completely reformed. However, in the end when he refuses to go on an outing with his mother, she caves in to his demands in order to persuade him to go along with her, thus reverting his behavior to its original state. In 2010, when Millan was asked if he was offended at all by the episode, he stated that the creators of the show (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) contacted him to inform him of their intentions beforehand and that he found the episode fantastic. Millan reacted to the episode in a video posted on November 13, 2019 to his YouTube channel.
If your dog isn’t giving you an obvious signal that they need to go out (like whining at the door) I suggest teaching them to ring a bell when they need to go outside. Some of the other signs dogs give that they need to go out such as pacing around or circling can be easy to miss if they’re in another room, which is why a noise based signal such as ringing a bell can make things easier.
One of the easiest ways to prevent accidents is learning to recognize when your puppy needs to go out. Most puppies will sniff the ground when they’re getting ready to potty, but there are many other more signals that happen prior to sniffing. Puppies that pace, seem distracted and walk away from play are subtly signaling that they have to go out. If your puppy tries to sneak out of the room, take a potty break right away.
In the 1950s Blanche Saunders was a staunch advocate of pet-dog training, travelling throughout the U.S. to promote obedience classes. In The Complete Book of Dog Obedience, she said, "Dogs learn by associating their act with a pleasing or displeasing result. They must be disciplined when they do wrong, but they must also be rewarded when they do right." Negative reinforcement procedures played a key part in Saunders' method, primarily the jerking of the choke chain. The mantra taught to students was "Command! Jerk! Praise!" She felt that food should not be an ongoing reward, but that it was acceptable to use "a tidbit now and then to overcome a problem." Saunders perhaps began the shift away from military and police training methods, stressing repeatedly the importance of reinforcement for good behaviour in training—a move toward the positive training methods used today.
It’s best not to punish the puppy for making a mistake. Instead, focus on praising appropriate bathroom behavior. If you catch your puppy in the act, interrupt it by saying “No!” in a firm voice or clapping your hands loudly, then take the puppy outside to finish going to the bathroom. Never swat your puppy, yell at it, or try to rub its nose in the mess.
Clean up any accidents in your house completely with an enzyme cleaner. This is very important because you do not want your pup to smell somewhere he has previously marked because he will return to that spot again and again. And on that note… If Fido has an accident in front of you, and you scold, yell or punish, you will only teach Fido not to take his potty breaks in front of you – Do not punish for accidents.