Puppy training is a very important part of ensuring your new puppy grows up to be a well socialised and trained member of the family. Training can begin pretty much as soon as your new family member comes home at around 8 weeks of age. Yes, your puppy is small, cute and still a baby, so to speak, but now is an important time to set some ground rules, and begin the basics. Everyone knows of someone who owns ‘that dog’ who jumps up, barks at the window, or drags its owner around the park. These are all totally avoidable behaviours, and all it takes is patient training and your puppy can sit nicely when being greeted, and walk calmly to heel.
Training should always be fun and rewarding for your puppy. We use the term positive reinforcement, by which we mean that the action has a positive outcome. For instance when the puppy sits, he gets a treat or a game with his toy. We do not use negative reinforcement, so if the puppy does not sit he gets told off. Positive reinforcement will mean that puppy will be willing and happy to perform that action again, whereas negative reinforcement can lead to delayed learning, and can affect your newly forming bond.
Clicker training is a popular new type of training, which can help dogs learn faster as you can be more accurate with telling them when they have performed the correct action. A ‘clicker’ is a small hand held plastic device that makes a clicking sound when depressed. The dog learns that the click means they have done something correctly, and that a treat will follow. It is a means of marking the good behaviour that the dog has done as soon as it is done, so timing is very important. For instance, as soon as the puppy goes into the sit position, you click and give the treat. This can mean the puppy instantly knows when it has done something correctly, rather than waiting for you to dig out the treat! It is also useful, for what we call ‘shaping’ behaviours. For instance, my dog Binny was clicker trained, and so when he performed a natural behaviour, which was wiping his feet when coming in from outside, I was able to click and treat this behaviour and he learnt that it was desired. I could then gradually add in a command ‘wipe feet’ and we have shaped a natural behaviour with clicker training.
Training sessions should be small and short, for example 5-10 minutes a couple of times a day is plenty. A puppy will only have a short attention span, and will tire quickly. You want to ensure that the session ends on a positive note, and not go on for so long that they lose interest and start getting things wrong. The basic things your new puppy must learn (besides toilet and crate training) are:
Once the basics are in place and are consistent, other fun things to teach could be:
To train your puppy, first you must start off with no distractions, for instance in a room the puppy is used to, with no other people or loud noises. This reduces the chances of the puppy getting distracted. Prepare yourself with some tasty treats which your puppy is used to, so they will not get an upset tummy. Little Star are great as they can be broken up into small pieces, so as not to overload them with too much food. Small pieces of cheddar cheese or chicken are also good, if your dog can tolerate them. Keep some treats which are ‘special’ for training, so if your puppy is already getting chicken with his dinner for instance, he will be less likely to see it as a good reward. A treat pouch is useful, which you can attach to your waist so it is easy to reach.
To train the ‘sit’ the treat should be shown to the puppy, then held infront of the nose, and gently moved up and backwards. This lures the puppy, as its natural reaction is to look at the treat, and this will in turn make the bottom touch the ground. As soon as the puppy has sat, give the treat and some praise, or if your puppy is clicker trained, click and treat. Repeat this a few times, letting the puppy get up and move about in-between. Once the puppy has got the hang of the sit and is quite consistent, you can pair it up with the word ‘sit’ which must be used as the bottom is heading to the ground. If the word is used too early, and the puppy does not sit, the word becomes meaningless. Hand signals can also be used. Remember to keep the training session short and fun, you could end by playing a game with your puppy and their favourite toy. Once the puppy is able to perform the command in an area with no distractions, you can gradually change the location, so you can do it with other people in the room, or out in the park.