Essential Skills for a Brilliant Family Dog: 4 Book Complete Set by Beverly Courtney

There are only 4 skills that every dog needs to learn in order to be a good dog in every situation.  This book series helps you teach your dog these skills in an easy, fun, and 100% positive way.

  • Calm Down! Teaches your dog to relax on a mat no matter what is going on around her.  You can safely bring guests into your home without the dog jumping all over them.  Take her to the local dog-friendly pub.  Even keep her calm and relaxed at the veterinary clinic.


  • Leave It! If your dog is a counter-surfer, or grabs and eats things he shouldn’t like socks or dead nasty critters, he needs to learn impulse control.  And this book helps you teach your dog this helpful skill and prevent bad behaviors like resource guarding.


  • Let’s Go! Walking nicely on a leash without dragging you around, lunging for other dogs, chasing squirrels, and so on is an essential skill.  Even if your dog gets to run free most of the time, at some point she will need to be on a leash and behaving- like at a veterinary hospital.  Plus, it’s so much fun to walk with your dog, but only if she’s being good.  There’s really no trick to getting a dog to walk on a loose leash, and you won’t be choking, pinching, shocking, or digging into your dog’s armpits to accomplish this essential skill.


  • Here Boy! This is all about bomb-proof recall.  For his own safety, every dog should come immediately when called.  This book makes it fun for your dog to listen to you.



This is Annika, the Terrible Dog. 

Don’t let that sweet face fool you!

I got her last year from a family who couldn’t control her bad habits.  First, she tried to eat the family cat, which got her banished to living outside only.  Then Annika kept escaping their yard whenever there was a thunderstorm.  The neighbors were complaining and some even threatened to shoot her if she got on their property again.  Building a better fence wasn’t an option unfortunately.  So with extremely heavy hearts, they decided to re-home her.  

Luckily for me, a friend (not one who complained or threatened to shoot her) lived next door to Annika.  Knowing how much I love huskies, she asked me to take her.  How could I refuse? At the time I had 3 other dogs.  Sergei was the oldest at 11 years, and he had some orthopedic issues that made him pretty grumpy sometimes, especially when other dogs played with him too roughly.  Sergei also absolutely hated Sirella, a 9 year old rottweiler so we always had to keep them separate.  Then there was Natasha, a 4 year old husky who learned how to play nice with Sergei and played also with Sirella separately of course, but she wore them both out by mid-morning.  So I got Annika for Natasha, and to give Sergei and Sirella a break.  

Annika is actually a very nice dog, but she’s a wild child.  She wasn’t house broken when I got her, so that was fun (not).  She also got into EVERYTHING.  She was expert-level counter-surfer; she even pulled dishes out of the sink.  NOTHING was safe.  She got into the garbage and made this nice mess. 

She shredded everything shreddable, including several dog beds.  This was bed #3.  She gnawed on furniture, my popup trailer cover, and my grill cover.  She tore apart a lawn chair.  She was always busy, like she didn’t know how to relax, and had boundless energy, which was unfortunately used mostly for destruction.  



I bought this book series so I could train Annika to be the titular Brilliant Family Dog.  Actually I wasn’t expecting that much because Annika was already a year old when I got her and her habits were pretty set.  I would have settled for a dog that didn’t eat the house and shred everything in it. 

Obviously I started with Calm Down!  This skill is on its face just mat or place training but Ms. Courtney uses modern dog behavior science to also teach the dog to really calm down and truly relax.  Just what Annika needed!  I couldn’t believe that the directions were to do 2-3 minutes of training at a time but I did it anyway, just 1-2 times per day.  There is no commanding the dog to do anything, the training is done in a fun game-like way and using all positive reinforcement.  If the dog does what you want, she gets a reward.  If she does something else, she gets nothing.  


You can see what she did to my pop-up trailer cover!  This was Day 2 of mat training.  We were already increasing the time she stayed on the mat by this point.

Positive training methods are extremely important to me as a veterinarian who does a lot of behavior work.   I treat a lot of dogs with fear aggression and they have almost invariably been made worse by bad trainers who used punishment and pain on these dogs.  The absolute last thing a fearful dog needs is to also become fearful that they will be choked, shocked, yelled at, or otherwise mentally or physically injured.  One of the reasons I chose this book series is from the Amazon reviews saying that there is no punishment allowed.  

Back to Annika.  Within a week, she learned to love her mat (I use a yoga mat- cheap, easy to carry, easy to clean) and just putting it on the floor or ground made her jump to it and lay down right away.  She gots lots of treats for staying down and relaxing but if she got up to do something else, she got nothing.  That’s it.  I gave her a release command (I use OK) and now she just stays on her mat until I tell her OK.  We’ve gone to dog-friendly restaurants and while I can’t say she’s been perfect, she does settle onto her mat.  I bring lots of treats and some busy toys for her.  Sometimes I even give her a little of my food when she’s been exceptionally good.  She gets plenty of attention from strangers too because she’s so pretty and nice.



Annika at a pop-up restaurant.  For whatever reason, she refused to lay on the mat but she was still being a good girl.



Now we’re working on walking nicely on a leash and it’s been going well.  I think teaching her to be calm and relaxed first is key for success.  She’s a much happier dog now.  She doesn’t shred things or eat the house.   I haven’t even done the Leave It! training yet because the Calm Down! seems to have fixed her issues.  Or maybe she’s actually that smart.  I was even able to buy her a nice sofa bed that hasn’t been destroyed.  

The brilliant thing about this training book series is that you’re only teaching your dog 4 universal skills that she needs to be successful in every situation.  It’s all fun and games, and Ms. Courtney uses simple language to tell you how to perform each training method.  Even a kid can help teach your dog these essential skills!

You’ll need some tools to complete the training:

  • Yoga Mat– I like a yoga mat because it is easy to carry and clean, and comfortable for the dog.  You can cut the mat to make a few extras unless you have a Great Dane!
  • Treats- you need non-bouncy treats, so something soft but irresistibly delicious.
  • Treat Holder- keep those treats handy for rewarding your dog whenever she is making good decisions.
  • Leash- 6 feet is the proper length leash for most situations.  I like leather for durability.
  • Harness- nothing that jabs or causes discomfort.
  • Collar- need one that is strong and durable, properly fitted, and if you have a puppy, very adjustable.

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