Are you considering adding a dog to your home in Zurich?

Learn how Positive Reward Dog Training can benefit you and your dog.

If you are just arriving in Zurich, you might notice how well-behaved dogs are here, or is there a secret code to becoming a Swiss dog? 

As a dog photographer, I am fascinated by the behaviour of dogs here and the personal interactions between dogs and owners. In Zurich, dogs are welcome almost anywhere and extremely well mannered. The connection between dogs and owners is deep, and there is a reason for this. 

For the good of all, Switzerland has defined what a “Good Dog” is by a set of rules and mandatory training regulations. What might seem tedious, dog training in Switzerland is designed to make sure that your canine companion is a good dog in your eyes and your neighbours.

The training journey begins immediately when you bring your dog home, so having a professional dog trainer lined up will put you one step closer to ensuring a positive transition for you and your dog. With 25+ years of training experience, I spoke with Swiss dog trainer, Birgit H. Hilsbos to learn how her Positive Reward Training can help new dog owners in Zurich become proud dog parents. 

Interview with Birgit H. Hilsbos of Hilsbos Dog Training

1. Leslie Argote: What are the top three benefits of professional dog training even if it is not required in your Canton of Switzerland?

Birgit Hilsbos: First, learning about the laws, regulations, and social do’s and don’ts will allow you and your dog to better integrate into Switzerland and socialize with other dogs and their owners. Second, a well-educated dog trainer is able to read dogs’ behaviors and can act as an interpreter between you and your dog, passing this knowledge on to you. Third, you will learn how to consistently lead your dog and build a healthy bond.

2. LA: What is your approach to dog training in Switzerland and how do you make training a fun experience for the dog and the owner? 

BH: My focus is on Positive Reward Dog Training with an emphasis on teaching you to how to effectively communicate with your dog. The goal of training is to enable the dog owner to lead their dog to positive behavior and develop a strong bond.

We practice Positive Reward Training by giving positive rewards for desired behavior and taking away positive rewards for undesired behavior. Taking away something that the dog may want is a form of punishment to communicate and modify their behavior.

Through this method, we teach the dog that they can earn rewards for doing the right thing, and that these opportunities disappear as a consequence of doing the wrong thing. This form of training helps the owner to recognize good behavior, acknowledge it, and reward the dog for it. 

In terms of fun, the more reinforced positive behavior by the dog, the dog receives more rewards, and the owner is less frustrated and proud. This is fun for both. During each session, we focus on one specific lesson, so the dog and owner are not overwhelmed, and the owner has time to practice until the next session.

Following are some examples of the Positive Reward Training we will practice.

Example #1

Undesired Behavior: Dog pulling on the lead

Punishment: Stop walking to teach no pulling on the lead

Positive Reinforcement Reward: Continue the walk when the dog comes back into heel position

Example #2

Undesired Behavior: Dog eating scraps of people food in the kitchen, such as an onion

Punishment: Saying “No” when a piece of onion drops on the floor to stop them from eating it

Positive Reinforcement Reward: Giving the dog one of their own treats for not eating the onion

You are allowed to spoil your dog, but rules are necessary, consistency is vital, and firmness may be in some cases appropriate. Brutality, however, is never ok. Dominance dog training by using force and physical prompting, such as hold downs and dragging a dog on a leash to show the dog who is boss should never be practiced.

3. LA: What do you use in your training as positive rewards? 

BH: During the dog training sessions, rewards are individualized for the specific dog’s personality. It is important to understand that rewards come in many forms, and a reward is not necessarily an edible treat.  If a dog is driven by affection, I pet him. If he is food driven, I use treats, if the dog is play driven, I use toys. Therefore, it’s essential to know what a reward is for your dog.

When I give a dog a command, I motivate and support the dog to fulfill the task. The reward for fulfilling the task, can be verbal praising or whatever the dog likes most. 

4. LA: What is the ideal age to start professionally training a new puppy in Switzerland?

BH: As soon as the puppy arrives, house training begins. Everyday activities need to be trained, wanted behaviour captured, and unwanted behaviour avoided or at least interrupted. Tricks and special task learning should not be the first priority of the dog owner.

5. LA: What is one training lesson every Swiss dog owner should practice at home with their dog?

BH: The recall! The more fun it is in the beginning, the easier it will be outside with distractions.

6. LA: What should Swiss dog owners do to make their home safe for a new dog?

BH: When bored, puppies will eat just about anything; plastic packaging, tv remotes, books, shoes, and furniture. I even knew a puppy, left alone at home, that ate a light bulb. It is imperative to secure and put away objects that can be harmful to your dog. 

Some items to secure are listed:

• Cleaning products

• Insect and rodent traps as well as other pest controls

• Candy and chocolate

• Knives and other sharp objects

• Medicines, vitamins

• Make-up, nail polish and remover

• Hair spray 

• Soap, Perfume

• Cell phones, electronic devices, remote controls

• Pens and craft supplies

• Gloves and gardening tools

• Fertilizers and other chemicals

• Kids’ toys

• Cushions, umbrellas, and decorative garden items

• Protect pool, cover spa’s electrical cords

• Protect cables, electrical cords, and hoses

7. LA: Which member of the household typically attend your dog training course, and how should all the members of a household from adults to children work together to train their pet?

BH: If the puppy lives with a family, the stay-at-home-person attends classes. However, if you live in the canton of Zurich and the dog belongs to Breed Type I the class is mandatory, and the person whom is on the dog’s registration is required by law to attend the dog training class. The person who attends the dog training class is required to inform the entire family about what has been taught. Additionally, every family member including children should use the same commands and praises learned in the dog training class. Consistent communication is key.

8. LA: What are some common mistakes dog owners make with positive rewards and how can they fix this?

BH: Unfortunately, most dog owners use the dog’s name and don’t add a request or a command. For example, if you say “Birgit”, you will probably get my attention, but if you don’t also ask me for something specific, I will continue with whatever I was doing. 

The one-word name call “Buddy!!!” is a common and confusing message from the owner to the dog. For the owner, it might mean one of the following phrases, but to the dog, he only hears his/her name associated with something negative. 

• Come here

• Stop what you’re doing

• Don’t do what you are about to do

• Bad dog

• Don’t eat that

• Get off the sofa

• Get in the car

• Be quiet

• Stop pulling

Name calls are ear openers, but if no command or request follows, the ears close again. The correct approach is to say the dog’s name to mark and get their attention, then give a specific command. 

The best case would be you say with a motivational sing voice “Buuudddyyy!” the dog does not know that his name is “Buddy”, but he looks at you, and that is the moment you capture and mark his attentive behavior. You have fun and praise him unconditionally with “good Buddy” – not “good boy/girl”!!! Next time you may give him a treat, another time cuddle him, next time pick-up his leash and go for a walk, another time play a game.

Once “Buddy” is reliably looking at you in expectation of a reward, you may ask for a request. The easiest request is a sit. Once the dog gains the reward for sitting, you say, “Good Sit” – not “Good Buddy”. Once the sit request is reliable, you may ask for another request. 

Keep it short and sweet, but precise and consistent.

9. LA: What is a physical sign that a dog is stressed during training and what is the best way for the owner to handle this?

BH: Dogs react differently to stress depending on their personality and their hormone composition (cortisol, adrenalin, noradrenalin). Single movements and expressions can all be observed for signs of stress. 

When a dog is stressed, they typically exhibit the “4F” Fight, Freeze, Flight, Fiddle Around. The dog shows barking, bare teeth, hackles, lip lifting, moving in slow motion, not moving at all, running away, hiding underneath something, ducking behind something or somebody. Lip licking, paw lifting, scratching, yawning, mounting, shaking off, sniffing around while looking at the “danger”, etc.

In facial expressions, you need to look for squinting, blinking, cheek puffing, teeth chattering, ears sideways or back/flattened, whale eyes, dilated pupils. 

Physiologically signs are panting, shedding, urination/defecation, hypersalivation, lipstick showing, sweaty paws, vomiting, tense muscles, not taking treats, looking away. 

As a dog owner, it is important to observe your dog, recognize this behavior as stress, then comfort or remove the dog the situation.

10.LA: During the Hilsbos Reliable Handling Course, what do dog owners most appreciate learning?

BH: My clients enjoy learning practical advice that they can use immediately in everyday situations. Based on my testimonials, the training has helped dog owners with the following:

• Helpful solutions to existing behavioral issues

• Class locations in a variety of real-life settings to help the dog and owner know how to approach different situations; including, stairs and elevator heal positions, obstacles, and distractions.

• Set focus per lesson

11. LA: If someone is considering adding a pet to their family in Switzerland, what is the most important factor to consider? 

BH: The most important thing any potential dog owner can do is to research what types of dogs best fit your lifestyle. Some things to consider are 

• Responsibility

• Time

• Money

• Vacation

• Cleanliness

• Permission from the landlord in writing

• Mixed breed or pure-bred dog? (known and unknown conditions)

• Male or female? (size, weight  need to be able to carry)

• Kids and dogs!!!!!!!

• Puppy or adult dog

• Allergies

12. LA: For potential dog owners in Switzerland, do you recommend any specific dog breeders or rescue animal services?

BH: I cannot stress enough how important it is to research dog breeds and match the dog type to your lifestyle before deciding if you look for a pure bred or rescue dog.

If you decide you want a puppy from a specific breed, I encourage potential dog owners to visit as many breeders as possible. You should listen to your gut, and if something about the breeder feels off, then leave, and do not bring a puppy home. 

If you want a rescue dog, I encourage you to select a “Swiss” rescue dog. Dogs that have been “rescued” from the streets in Eastern or Southern Europe generally have serious problems adjusting to living in a home setting. Beyond not knowing the street dogs’ genetic make-up, adult street dogs have learned how to survive without human socialization, not trusting anyone. It is difficult to reverse this.


Book a Training Session with Hilsbos Dog Training Services (

Birgit H. Hilsbos | +41 079 232 0798

Brigit Hilsbos' Qualifications: 

• Approved Dog Trainer by the Veterinary Office of the Canton of Zurich

• Trainer for Search and Detection Dogs (Training dogs to find micro amounts of any substance in any given surrounding. This helps finding missing people, drugs, explosives, wildlife conservation, environment conservation (finding harmful bugs), bed bugs, mould, cancer in people, etc.)

• Trainer for Assistance Dogs

• Temperament Tester for All Breeds

Courses Offered (in English): 

• Puppy Fundamentals (private sessions) *Mandatory in Zurich

• Social Competence *Mandatory in Zurich

• Reliable Handling *Mandatory in Zurich

• Before Getting a Dog (Theory)

• Canine Good Neighbour Program

Group Classes up to 4 persons and Private Classes Available

Pricing: Starting at CHF 450 for 10 classes

Training Locations: Silver Coast – Horgen District | Zurich (K 1, 2, 3, 4, 9) | Zug | Aargau

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