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Basic Skills vs Life Skills

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

What are life skills? And why are they so important?

Life skills are abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable humans to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of life.This concept is also termed as psychosocial competency.”

It is important for all dogs to learn basic skills. For this article we will define “basic skills” as “behaviours the dog is trained to perform on cue”. This includes sit, down, stay, go to kennel, and heel on lead for example. Dogs living in the modern world do need these skills.

While this type of training is important, it fails to address a very critical area of a dogs life. Emotional well-being and stability.

I’ve trained a lot of dogs and puppies over the past decade, working with puppies as young as 7 weeks and helping owners with a wide range of behaviour problems. Whether I’m working with an energetic 7 month old, or a reactive 5 year old, there’s one common theme. The inability to self-regulate.

So what does self-regulation mean?

“In the most basic sense, it involves controlling one's behavior, emotions, and thoughts in the pursuit of long-term goals. More specifically, emotional self-regulation refers to the ability to manage disruptive emotions and impulses.

In other words, to think before acting.”

Manage disruptive emotions and impulses. Wow!

The over excited 7 month old dog wants access to something, and they want it now. Whether it’s the food in their bowl, the smells on a walk, the dog across the street. They display impulsive behaviours in order to gain immediate access. They might jump, bark, spin, nip at our clothes.

The reactive 5 year old dog is also acting on emotional impulses. Let’s use fear as an example. They may display behaviours often called ‘distance increasing behaviours’. Barking and lunging at a trigger when on walks in an attempt to get distance from the trigger. Frantic fence chasing. Barking at everything that walks past your front window. These are all emotional responses.

In the case of the fearful reactive dog, we use behaviour modification to change that emotional response.

But how do we prevent these issues?

Enter Level Up Pup! Our newest program for dogs up to 5 months old.

Level Up Pup! addresses preventing behaviour problems before they start, by teaching puppies to focus on their owners, effectively adapt to new situations and changes, self-regulate their actions and emotions, and clear communication between puppies and their humans.


We all want our dogs to focus on us. Without focus, daily routines can become frustrating. Walks are simply not enjoyable when you feel like a weight your dog just drags down the street. Without focus our cues fall on deaf ears the minute we’re out the door, on walks, at the pet store, or in any new environment where everything is exciting.

It’s exhausting to be constantly competing for your dogs attention.

Level Up Pup! teaches focus as a default behaviour. By training it as a default behaviour we don’t need to actively cue our dogs to get their attention. With practice they come to understand that engaging with you is most rewarding.


Daily life presents constant changes and challenges. Our ability to adapt, to pivot, to make choices on the fly, allows us to be successful in changing circumstances.

The same is true for dogs. Adaptability is an emotional skill, and it takes practice.

Being able to adapt quickly can also help reduce our dogs overall stress.

Having an adaptable dog allows you to do more things, as they can settle in any new environment.


Again, a skill that needs practice. Lots of practice.

Young puppies are impulsive. They want what they want, and they want it NOW!

Over time this can often lead to common behaviour problems such as leash reactivity, frustrated greetings with humans and other dogs, and over-arousal. Once our dogs have crossed the threshold into over-arousal or fear, we see a reduction in focus, inability to follow cues, and inability to settle down.

Level Up Pup! teaches self-regulation in a number of ways, in various situations, and in a systematic way so that puppies are always successful. This life skill allows our dogs to move through the world calmly. No more barking and lunging at every dog they want to meet. No more straining at the end of the leash to greet humans.


Communication goes two ways. Level Up Pup! teaches owners how to read their puppies, how to give clean and clear cues to their puppy, and puppies learn how to politely communicate their needs and wants. Clear communication is the foundation of all good relationships.


Level Up Pup! is available in 4 different online formats.


Students have full access to previously recorded group classes, program curriculum, online student community forum to ask questions, post videos, and chat with other puppy owners.

Group Class

This 8 week online class meets once a week. Your instructor goes over weekly handouts, provides extra tips and tricks, and answers any questions asked in class or from the online forum. Students can post videos in the forum for review and feedback from your instructor.


This program allows students to study at their own pace and schedule 4 private video sessions with your instructor. Private video sessions allow your instructor to provide immediate feedback, customized homework, and provide one-on-one coaching and problem solving.

Private Coaching

Schedule 8 private video sessions with your instructor. Train your puppy during live sessions for immediate tips and feedback. Your instructor will send customized homework that suits your lifestyle and schedule.

Do you think self-regulation is an essential life skill? Why or why not?

Are there any other skills you think puppies should be taught?

Let us know in the comments.

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