Puppy Training

Bringing your puppy home for the first time is naturally a happy and exciting occasion, but it can be a little daunting too – there is so much for both you and your puppy to learn!  The information below should help you on your way to raising a happy and well trained dog right from the start.

KEY PRINCIPLES

  • Start as you mean to go on by setting some ground rules - see the Setting Rules section on the Preparing for Your New Puppy page.

  • Be consistent to avoid confusing your puppy. 

  • Train for short spells on a regular basis - puppies have a very short attention span.

  • Keep it short and keep it simple but, most of all, keep it fun. 

  • Puppies respond better to cheerful voice tones rather than to threatening orders.

  • Gentle play builds trust and a strong bond between you and your puppy as well as making training fun.

  • Patience is the KEY ingredient in dog training - rushing things will only get you frustrated and confuse your puppy.

  • Keep it interesting: cultivate a range of different rewards incorporating play, fuss, praise, treats and toys.

  • Never get angry with, or punish, your dog for getting something wrong - this ALWAYS has the opposite effect to the one desired.

A TRAINED DOG IS A HAPPY DOG
Housetraining aside, every puppy also needs to be taught good manners and have constructive lessons in basic control and social interaction.  This includes:

  • Responding to its name.

  • Learning how to greet and behave politely around other people and dogs.

  • To come back when called.

  • To walk nicely on the lead.

  • To sit down and stay on command.

  • To allow itself to be groomed and examined by you and your vet.

BASIC OBEDIENCE

Some basic obedience training makes dogs more fun to be around.  What many of us don’t know is that it has other, less obvious, benefits.  Obedience training helps your dog see you as their leader, and it also gives them a mental workout – something that many dogs need just as much as physical exercise, to stave off boredom and make them feel useful.  Some commands, like a good recall, may even save your dog’s life one day.

The basics that every dog should know:

  • Sit down

  • Lie down

  • Stay there

  • Come here

  • Walking on a lead

 

TEACHING BASIC COMMANDS

1. Be consistent

Use the same cue for the same command each time.  If you use “come” one week, “come here” the next, and “come here, girl” the following, you’ll confuse your dog.

2. Start simple and gradually make it harder

You want to go step-by-step and give your dog lots of practice getting it right.  Start with an easy command in a familiar place with no distractions.  Once your dog is responding consistently, add what trainers call the three D’s: distance, duration, and distractions.  Stand one step away from your dog, then two steps away; ask for a one-second stay, then a two-second stay; add a bouncing ball, some treats scattered on the ground, or another dog or person to the mix.

Wait until your dog has mastered the current challenge before you add a new one.  If they flub it, just take away one of the challenges and try again, going more slowly this time.

3. Don’t repeat the command

It’s easy to do, but it teaches your dog that they don’t need to respond promptly to the first command.
 

4. Use food treats as lures and rewards

There are many methods for training, but one of the best is to use food treats, both as a lure to get your dog where you want them to go, and as a reward for obeying the command.  If your dog isn’t that interested in food, try offering verbal praise without the treat, a favorite toy, or a physical reward such as a good behind-the-ears scratch or tummy rub.
 

5. Time it right

The praise and reward needs to come immediately after the dog does what you want if they are going to make the connection – If I sit when I hear "sit", I get a treat!
 

6. Make rewards sporadic, then phase them out

Dogs are more motivated by unpredictable rewards.  Once your dog gets the idea of what you’re asking them to do, dish out treats only for the best responses – the quickest sit, the best down.  Then vary the type, amount, and frequency of the reward; sometimes your pup gets a yummy treat, sometimes they get a tummy rub, other times they just get an enthusiastic, “Good boy/girl”.  Eventually, you can phase out the food rewards altogether - if you don't, you'll end up with a very fat dog.
 

7. Keep it short and sweet

Training will be most effective if it’s fun and you stop before either of you gets bored or frustrated.  Keep the mood upbeat, not drill-sergeant serious, and make the sessions short.  Five or ten minutes is plenty to start with, or you can do many mini-training sessions throughout the day, especially if you have a puppy – like kids, they have short attention spans.
 

8. Mix up people and places

If you want your dog to obey your child, your spouse, your dog walker, and so on, and to be as obedient in the kitchen as they are in the garden, practice having different people give commands in different settings.
 

9. Keep your cool

Yelling, hitting, or yanking your dog around by a lead won’t teach them how to sit or come on request.  It will teach them that you’re scary and unpredictable, and that training is no fun.  If you feel yourself getting frustrated or angry, just end the session and try again later.  Fair, calm, consistent training is the best way to get your dog to obey and respect you.
 

10. Once your dog knows a few commands, practice

Always ask your dog to obey a command before you give them a treat, a toy, a meal, a game or walk, a tummy rub, or anything they want.  If they ignore the command, put down the food bowl, the lead, or whatever they are hoping for, and try again a minute or two later.  This helps reinforce your role as the leader of the pack.
 

11. Keep practicing

Don’t expect that once your dog has learned something, they’ve learned it for life.  They can and will lose their new skills without regular practice.

12. Ignore bad behaviour

Just as with kids, dogs will often "play up" in order to get attention.  If your puppy starts misbehaving (e.g. jumping up, or refusing to come when called), ignore them, and turn or walk away.  Do not keep calling them, chasing them, or pushing them down, etc.  This is simply giving them the attention that they desire.
 

Remember: Basic commands not only teach helpful skills, they reinforce your role as your dog’s leader.  Using treats to lure your dog into the correct position or place, and then to reward them for obeying, is one of the easiest and most dog-friendly methods.
 

DOG TRAINING CLASSES
Most owners benefit from attending good training classes, and training in the company of other dogs is very useful, because of the realistic distractions it involves.  Ideally, you should start classes as soon as your puppy’s vaccinations are complete, but classes can be invaluable for older dogs too, and continue throughout the dog’s life.


There are lots of schools of thought on dog training and it is naturally important that you find a class and instructors with the right approach for you and your puppy.

Make sure that classes are attended by everyone who will be responsible for looking after or handling the dog.  The purpose of classes is not only to train the dog - it is also to train their owners in the correct way to handle them.

FINDING A GOOD DOG TRAINING CLUB
Before enrolling with a dog training club it can be beneficial to go and visit several classes first (without your puppy) to make sure you have made the right choice.  Things you may wish to consider include:

  • Are the trainers friendly?

  • Are people happy and enjoying training their dogs?

  • Are the dogs happily focused on their human family?

  • Are the instructors giving lots of encouragement and information to all attendees?

  • Are the instructors maintaining a controlled, safe environment for all?

  • Are instructors treating everyone fairly and meeting the needs of the whole group?

Ask your vet or other dog owners for recommendations, or use the Kennel Club’s Find a Club service.
 

© 2016 Ian Thomas.