When you bring your puppy home, she will have had a considerable amount of human and canine socialization from her litter-mates and from the mother. They will have taught her a certain amount of bite inhibition, how to recognize some canine body language, and how to distinguish and react to canine status. She has been capable of learning from a very young age, so there is no reason not to continue her education from the moment you bring her home or, if she is tired and overwhelmed by her new surroundings, the following day.
The Praise Word “Yes!” and the Release Word “Leave it”
Before you start any training you will need to decide on one ‘praise’ word, and one ‘release’ word, both of which which must be used uniformly by everyone in the household. The praise word marks correct behavior. Examples are: Yes!, good, or clever, or nice, etc. The release word is used to mark the end of the behavior. For example, when you are teaching the ‘sit’ you would use your praise word when the puppy sits and then you need a release word so that the puppy knows that the exercise is completed she is free to move around. A release word might be: leave it, ok, or enough, or right, etc. It does not matter which praise or release expression you use provided that they sound dissimilar and they are used consistently. It is important to remember always to give your puppy her release word when a behaviour has been completed and rewarded, otherwise she will use her own initiative and will not learn to wait until you give permission for her to move.
Always to carry around in your pocket some small, soft, treats such as pieces of cooked meat or bits of cheese so that you can promptly reward good behavior, but be careful not to overfeed your puppy. These training treats should be taken into account when determining her daily food allowance.
House-training should start as soon as you get the pup home. Take her to the designated toilet area immediately and praise her lavishly if she obliges. Take her out to the same area after every meal, as soon as she wakes even if just from a nap, after she has been playing, and whenever you see her circling and/or sniffing at the floor. Always let her know how pleased you are when she performs for you. Never ever rub your puppy’s nose in her mess if she has an accident in the house!
Learning His or Her Name
The first thing that she needs to learn is her name. Use her name frequently to attract her attention. When she looks at you in response to the sound of her name praise her and perhaps play a little game with her or stroke her. When you feed her, call her name and use the word “come” as you put her bowl down – even if she is right beside you. Use her name to precede every command that you give. Play the “name game” where you have a few people sit in a circle and, one at a time, call her name and clap or pat your legs until she comes to you. Then reward her with a small treat and lots of praise!
By using the word ‘come’ in conjunction with feeding time she will soon associate the command with something very rewarding and this early training will be a solid base on which to later build a reliable recall. When you see your pup trotting towards you of her own accord call her name and “come” and give a treat when she gets to you. You can also fill a small plastic container with dried beans, rattle it and call her name and “come”. The pup’s curiosity will draw her towards the sound and you can then praise and reward her with a treat or a toy. The rattle will be phased out as her response to the command improves. Coming to you must always be a positive experience for your puppy so never call her to you in order to reprimand her or to do something she may regard as unpleasant such as nail clipping, bathing, etc. Detailed advice on teaching the recall is available in another separate Dogweb article.
Learning Early Commands
The ‘sit’ and the ‘down’ can also start early. Sitting and laying down are actions which your puppy can naturally perform perfectly but, as she does not understand English, you cannot expect her to carry out any action on command until she learns what the words mean. If I said the word “doip” to you, you would have no clue as to what I meant. However, if every time you sat down I said “doip” and gave you a ten-pound note I am sure you would soon catch on and would sit every time you heard the word in hopes of a reward!
If you happen to see your puppy about to sit down be ready to say “sit” just as her bottom hits the floor, and then tell her “good sit” and reward with a small treat. To teach her to sit on command have her beside or in front of you and have a treat in your fingers. Hold the treat about 2 inches above her nose and bring it slightly towards the back of her head so that her head goes up. Do not hold it so high that she may be tempted to jump for it. As her nose and head rise and tilt backwards her bottom should go down. Give the command “sit”. The instant she sits you praise “good sit”, reward her with the treat, and release her. If she tends to walk backwards rather than sitting try the exercise with the puppy’s rear end against a wall. You may also need to use a very, very, slight pressure on her back end to encourage her into position, but it is preferable to adopt a hands-off approach if possible. Once she understands what ‘sit’ means use the command at every mealtime so that she sits before having her food put down.
Again, with the ‘down’ you can take advantage of the puppy’s normal behavior. If you see her about to lay down put the command “down” on the action, praise “good down” and reward. To teach the drop on command start with the pup in a sit. Hold the treat flat in your hand with your thumb and bring your hand straight down from the pup’s nose. As the nose and head come down slide your hand along the floor out from between her feet so that you are describing an ‘L’ shape. Her front feet should slide forward as she follows your hand with her nose. Slight pressure on her shoulders can be used if necessary, but do not pull her front legs out from under her. As she drops put your command on the action: “drop, good drop”, give her the treat, and release her.
On a roll now..
Teaching your pup to watch you is a very useful exercise. This is best taught initially with you sitting down so that your pup does not have to look up too high. Have a pot of tasty treats and take one piece in your fingers. Make sure that she knows you have the treat and then bring your hand, with the treat, up between your eyes. Tell her to “watch”. The instant that she makes eye contact with you give her the treat. This exercise can be repeated many times throughout the day, very gradually extending the duration of the eye contact.
Teaching your puppy to wait or stay can also commence at a fairly young age, but remember that puppies cannot pay attention for more than a few seconds at a time, so do not be too ambitious when you start this exercise. When you are confident that she understands ‘sit’ and ‘drop’ you can introduce the ‘wait’ into both positions. With the puppy close beside you in the desired position give a very clear hand signal and the command “wait”. Take one small step in front of her, remind her to wait, and then pivot back beside her, praise “good wait”, reward her for not moving, and release her. She must be rewarded before she moves, otherwise she will associate the reward with the action of moving rather than the wait. It is very important that she is solid on a wait with you close to her before you attempt to increase either the distance between you or the length of time that you ask her to wait – and time should be increased prior to distance. If your puppy moves it will be because you have moved too far away or you have expected her to wait for longer than she is capable of at a young age.
A very handy command that your puppy should start learning is “give”. Puppies, and adult dogs, pick up all sorts of objects from your best shoe to stones, sticks, dead birds, etc. and it is useful to be able to remove such prized objects without too much of a struggle. The easiest way to teach your pup to give up something is to offer a trade. If she has your remote control in her mouth offer one of your treats in exchange together with the word “give”. The only problem which may be encountered is that the item offered in exchange needs to be deemed, by her, as of higher value than the object which you wish to remove. Food or a toy will usually persuade her to part with her treasure. This exercise does not have to wait until you find her in possession of stolen goods. Practice by swapping toys with her or swapping toys for treats, and always give back the toy after she has given it and received her reward. Never chase your pup to remove something from her as she will think it a huge game and will run and dodge faster.
Although you will not be able to take your puppy out walking in public places until she has had her final puppy vaccinations, accustoming her to the collar and lead can commence indoors and in your garden. You will need a soft, lightweight collar and lead. Put the collar on for a few minutes at a time to start with. Most puppies will scratch at the collar in an effort to remove it but, if the time that it is worn is gradually extended, they will soon get used to it. Putting the collar on at mealtimes will help the puppy to forget she is wearing it. Next she needs to get used to having the lead hanging from the collar. Attach the lead and allow the puppy to walk around while you hold the lead and follow her. Then, encourage the puppy to follow you on-lead by luring with a treat and praising enthusiastically when she comes towards you. Continue to encourage her to walk with you by praising and giving small treats. Never drag a puppy on a lead as this can make them lead-shy and cause problems later in life. Keep these session quite short to begin with, ending them perhaps with a game that she enjoys. For puppies that ‘fight’ the lead, attaching it and walking them to their food bowl at mealtimes can work wonders. Try not to let the puppy pull ahead of you on the lead, use your voice and treats to keep her close by. As she is moving beside you on a loose lead praise enthusiastically “close, good close”, and give food rewards. The pup that has not learned to pull will be much easier to control when you take her out for formal walks.
Length of Training Sessions
Puppies have a very small concentration span so it is necessary to practise these exercises several times during the day for brief periods of no more than a few minutes, rather than in one or two longer training sessions. Also, it is preferable to train prior to the puppy’s mealtimes when she will be feeling a bit hungry and therefore willing to work for her food treats, instead of after she has eaten when she may be sleepy and less interested in food. Always set your puppy up to succeed. Do not ask for a sit or a drop or a come if you know that she is distracted and is unlikely to take notice of you. Mistakes should be corrected only when you are 100% certain that the puppy knows the command but is choosing not to do it. Ensure that all members of the family consistently use the same signals, praise and release words, and commands. If one person says “drop” and another says “down” when they want the pup to lay down you will have a very confused puppy. Do not try to train a tired puppy, and never train if you are not in a good mood and a positive state of mind.
Some Final Thoughts
Please, always bear in mind that your puppy is just a baby. Her world is a wonderful, new, and exciting place, full of almost irresistible distractions. You will need a great deal of patience and understanding, and it will take several repetitions of an exercise before she comprehends what is required.. Remember how long it takes a child to learn and you will probably be amazed at the relative speed of your puppy’s progress. Also, if your puppy is making errors then look to yourself for possible reasons why. Are you expecting too much too soon? Are you confusing her about what you want? Are your commands and signals clear and consistent? Are you rewarding and praising her when she gets it right? Are you being a bit impatient with her? Are you tiring her or boring her with repetition? Are you keeping your tone of voice light and encouraging? To train successfully all interactions between you and your pup must be pleasant and rewarding for her. Sessions should be kept short and they should be fun for the puppy and for you. Training will build a strong and lasting bond of affection and respect between you and your puppy and she will grow to be a well-mannered dog of whom you can be proud.