Q: I have a six-month old male puppy who is out of control. He is smart as a whip, but will only obey when we are watching or when he feels like it. He has terrorized my cat, ripped up my garden, and stolen a whole pot roast off the counter. The list is endless. Short of going to a zapping collar we have tried everything. Can you help?

A: Actually, everything you mention sounds like typical puppy behavior. Reliable behavior really doesn’t happen until a dog reaches emotional maturity … from 1-1/2 to 3 years of age.

I suggest lowering your expectations. Your dog is at a stage comparable to a grade-school level. What you’re asking for in your question is high-school level reliability, which means your dog will do what you want in distracting situations and will work more for “life rewards” (praise, going for walks, chasing a ball, etc.). That’s impossible for a six-month old puppy.

The most important aspect to work on is the prevention and management aspect of training. This means controlling your dog’s access to the things he wants … including freedom to certain areas of the house. Dogs should earn their freedom in increments. Normally a dog shouldn’t have free run of a house until about the age of one year. We need to create an environment for safety and success. In other words, use baby gates and supervised tethering to control your dog’s access and keep him safe at the same time. But we also need to teach him how to resolve his desire, such as stealing food from the table. That brings us to training.

Positive training is proactive rather than reactive. It has to do with teaching your dog appropriate behavior rather than trying to stop inappropriate behavior. For example, rather than trying to teach your dog to stop stealing pot roasts from the table, teach your dog to lie down whenever you put food on the table. Once your dog is convinced that lying down will actually get him what he eventually wants—a food treat—he’ll gladly stay there until he is finally rewarded.

I’d recommend hiring a professional trainer (who only uses positive methods of course) to show you the step-by-step process to make this work.