The 80/20 Principles of Dog Training

The 80-20 Principles of Dog Training

This is a Tim Ferriss and The 4-Hour Workweek inspired article.  In “The 4-Hour Workweek”, Tim Ferriss discusses the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Rule.  The 80/20 Rule states that 80% of results come from only 20% of the efforts.  This is widely proven across many fields and industries.  As a professional dog trainer who has helped hundreds of dogs and owners, I know this principle is directly applicable to raising a dog.

Most people obsess about the minute details of raising and training a well-mannered and reliable dog.  However with 4 million companion animals killed in our U.S. shelters each year and countless owners struggling to just happily co-exist with their four-legged family member, we need not worry about trivialities.  We must create massive and rapid change.

Forget everything else you have heard, read, or thought you knew about raising and training a dog.  These are the 80/20 principles for raising a happy and well-behaved dog:


This step can’t be ignored.  Dogs need daily mental and physical exercise.

  • Walk and play with your dog for at least 30 mins twice per day.


This topic is belabored, ranging from…Raw, Organic, Gluten Free, No Preservatives, Free of Ingredients from China, etc.  There is way too much discussion, so I stick with a tried and true high quality dog food.

Teaching Household Manners:

Dogs run ramped is so many homes – jumping on furniture, stealing food off counters, barking at squirrels and spraying slobber on windows.  Puppies bite furniture, chew shoes, and mouth their owner’s hands and clothes. 

There are many ways to handle these varying issues, but adhere to the “20” listed below and ignore the “80”:  

  • Dog should be crated at night and when left unsupervised.
  • Supervise your dog when they are out of the crate and follow the “Training Principles” below.
  • Dogs should wear a 4ft leash in the home or a 20ft long line when in the yard.  This provides you positive control,  so you can easily diffuse mischief and prevent your dog from ignoring your recall (“Come”) command.  Note:  NEVER leave a leash on your dog when in the crate or when unsupervised.  This is a safety issues, as the dog can consume the leash or become entangled on an object.

Training Principles:

Clickers, using treats, remote collars, prong collars, harnesses, etc.  Those are catalysts for the most heated debates among dog owners and professionals.  Regardless of what you believe, these unequivocal facts are what matters…

  • Consistently reward your dog for doing the right thing.  Consistently discourage your dog for doing the wrong thing.

Obedience Commands:

You can teach your dog 55 different commands and he will look like the puppy of Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, but save yourself the time and energy – just focus on the two that will solve the most…

  • Teach a rock solid and non-negotiable “Come” (recall command) and “Down”.  You can easily control a dog in most scenarios if they are truly reliable with these two commands.

Everyone has an opinion on how to raise a dog, so avoid the misinformation overload and embrace the 80/20 approach.  Focus on the “20”, so you can spend less time, effort & money, and more time enjoying your happy and obedient dog.

Steve Reid is a certified professional dog trainer, speaker and former Director on the Board of New York’s oldest No-Kill Animal shelter.  He the expert dog training columnist for the world’s largest informational dog site. 

Steve specializes in training family dogs for puppy training, behavior issues, and advanced off-leash obedience training.  He works with all dogs, regardless of breed, age, or size.  Steve is an advocate for adopting shelter dogs, and actively works with several animal shelters and rescue organizations.  To learn more about Steve, visit: