Meet Bernie, the newest addition to our family.  We rescued this adorable 3 ½ lb, 3 month old toy poodle mix on Friday in Boerne, Texas.  My grandfather’s name was Bernie as well, so it seemed like the perfect name.

Our whole family, except for our cat Spitz, has fallen in love with this puppy.  We have snuggled, played, laughed, and had a blast with him all weekend.  While I’ve seen countless episodes of the Dog Whisperer, I can already see how I’m making mistakes that could lead to behavior problems later.  Learning how to train Bernie has been a great reminder about behavior in general.  It’s funny that the same techniques used to train puppies also work for children…and adults.

Here are 7 tips to turn around difficult behavior in puppies and people:

1.  What do you want?  We’re quick to say what we don’t want, but we have to explain what we do want.  Bernie is teething and loves to chomp down on  our hands.  While telling him “no” is important, it is equally important to tell him what to bite instead.  If people are biting you, you may have bigger problems, but the same concepts apply.

2.  We train others how to treat us.  As I type, Bernie is whining in his crate.  It feels awful to ignore him, but if I go take him out, I send a message that whining and crying will get him what he wants.  Whether it’s managing interruptions or challenging behavior, we are responsible for setting limits and helping others respect them.

3.  Set expectations.  It’s so easy to get frustrated with others for not meeting our expectations when most of the time, we’re the ones who fail to set them.  Personally and professionally, it is our responsibility to proactively communicate what we expect.

4.  Praise works better than punishment.  When we reward success, we are rewarding the type of behavior we’re looking for. Punishment creates fear and the corrected behavior is generally short-lived.  People, as well as animals,
learn more from reward than punishment.

5.  Leadership is earned.  Just as dogs establish pack leaders, so do people.  Leadership is established by respect and influence.  One of my favorite proverbs says, “he who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk”.  You can force someone into submission, but true leaders inspire, build trust, and earn respect.

6.  Pay attention to nonverbal communication.  You can learn a whole lot about a person, or a puppy, without ever having to say a word.  It is estimated that between 90-97% of communication is non-verbal.  Eye contact, body language, and facial expressions are just the beginning.  Do you know what messages you’re unconsciously expressing to others?  If you’re ever curious, have someone take a video of you when you’re not paying attention and go back and watch it.  It is truly eye-opening.

7.  We all want respect and acceptance.  It’s easy to get frustrated with others when they display difficult behavior, but at the end of the day, we all want to be  loved, respected, and accepted.  Many times, insecurity or lack of feeling accepted creates the very behavior that drives others away.  If you know someone who doesn’t “play well with others”, there’s a pretty good chance that person  is struggling with their own issues.  Sometimes you just have to give people, or puppies, a break.


  1. I love this week’s message. I have a newborn and these steps will definitely help me going forward as he grows. I think this will help with his father as well…..

  2. This is so very true! I will be using these ideas at our staff meeting on Thursday. And thank you for rescuing this little cutie. At the Humane Society here in Waco, we are always appreciative of any animal anywhere that gets adopted by responsible family and finds a loving home (except for Spitz!)

  3. My daughter has worked with the shelters in Boerne She participated by
    taking pictures for email blasts, finding foster homes, forever homes and adopting several that she had fostered.

    Bless you and your family for loving and taking Bennie into your home.


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