Puppy Training, a Positive Introduction to Basic Obedience Exercises Learning How to Learn
Pups are learning all the time and there is no reason to wait for them “to grow up” before you begin training. You can start your pup’s first lessons at seven weeks. Doing some early training will turn on circuits in his brain that will make all later training easier.
The goal for this puppy work is not so much that the pup learns the individual exercises, nor is it reliable obedience to command. Rather, the goal is to have fun with your pup, jumpstart the learning process and to establish early on that good things happen when he is with you, and that good things come from work.
Don’t fret if you don’t teach all the commands—doing any puppy work is better than none. While you are engaged in puppy training you are building a relationship with him. He learns to enjoy working with you as he learns about you.
The great majority of puppy training and raising should emphasize positive interaction. However, your pup does need to learn some manners. He should learn early that there are some things he must not do. There are two reasons for this: 1) so you can stand to live with him, and 2) so that he learns to accept correction and parameters to behavior.
The very short list of Don’ts includes:
Don’t bite humans
Don’t jump on humans
Don’t chew on furniture
House breaking is better taught as a do rather than a don’t. Teach your pup to do his business outside; try to avoid correction for going inside. Get a copy of “Eliminate on Command” by Dr. M.L. Smith. It’s available on line at:
Pups have a short attention span, so keep lessons brief and emphasize action commands. These are commands your pup can complete quickly such as sit, here, and finish to heel. Save the long stays and long heeling sessions for later when his attention is sufficiently developed to stay focused longer.
Puppies learn exactly the same way as grown dogs (and people):
A pup acts.
He experiences the result of his action.
He makes a connection in his mind between his action and the results, creating a memory.
If the result is desirable he is more likely to repeat that action in the future.
If the result is undesirable he is less likely to repeat that action in the future.
Food is a good motivator for puppy training but a weak motivator for grown dogs.
Motivational training is only part of a complete training program. In the end we want a dog that will obey commands, not simply respond to cues when there is nothing he’d rather do. While the principles espoused here and the benefits of puppy training will be an asset to your dog throughout his life, treat training cannot substitute for a formal training program for grown dogs.
We will use food initially both to lure the pup into the action we want and as a reward for the desired action. When he knows the action we will put a cue to the action. When he will perform the action on cue, stop luring but continue to reward with food. After the dog is regularly performing correctly on cue, gradually reduce the frequency of the food reward. At first you are rewarding every correct response, and then go to every other response and then reward on an intermittent schedule. This is an important process—you do not want your dog to be dependant on the food lure, nor do you want him to be tied to a treat for every correct response. When you are rewarding intermittently he never knows which response will bring the treat so he will continue to work hard, hoping that each time may be the time.
Start in a quiet room. I like doing the puppy training first thing in the morning before the pup’s first meal—the pup is fresh, excited to start the day, and hungry! You also don’t want to compete with the other dogs or people in the home for the pup’s attention.
You need a hungry pup and healthy treats that the pup can chew and swallow quickly. All-beef hot dogs cut to puppy-sized bites work well for most pups, although I use regular kibble for some chow hounds.
Sit in Front
Sit or squat on the floor with your legs or knees forming a V in front. This helps funnel the pup to the proper front alignment.
Hold a treat in one hand out in front of you a little above the puppy’s head level. When your pup notices the treat, raise the treat close to and over his head. He should sit, when he does, verbally praise and pet him and then give him the treat. If the pup stands up to wrestle the treat from you, twist your hand to protect the treat and prevent him from hanging on your hand. When he sits give him the treat.
Don’t worry if he jumps up as soon as he gets the treat; you’re only concerned with teaching sit, not stay.
Pause a moment and then repeat. After a few repetitions your pup will be sitting quickly to get his treat. Now let’s put a cue or command to that action. From here on say “sit” as you start the hand movement and just before the pup sits. Continue to praise, pet and treat him when he sits.
As soon as your pup is sitting, begin to work toward the perfect sit. You want to end up with straight sits, not flopped over on one hip. You want the pup in front and aligned facing you correctly.
When you have practiced this for a session or two wean him off the food lure. Without holding the treat out in front of him say “sit” and then verbally praise, pet and food reward him when he does.
After a few sessions begin to wean off treating the pup for every proper response, but continue to praise and pet him every time he sits on cue.
Go out and Here— Dixie Cup Lining Drills
One of the easiest ways to teach your pup to come when you call him is to teach him to go away from you. Hold your pup and making sure he is watching, place a treat on top of a white eight ounce or larger Dixie cup. Put the pup down about five inches from the cup and let him go. After he eats the treat call him to sit in front. Praise, pet and treat for every recall at first.
Do several of these. When your pup is going straight to the treat and is sure of the location, begin to place the treat and then still holding the pup, back away, only a foot or so at first. After you have backed up, hold the pup in front of you to show him the cup and then set him down and release him to get his treat. This sequence will become a pattern and a useful cue for him when you start lining him longer distances. After he eats his cup treat call him “Here” and praise, pet and treat (PPT) him for the sit in front. As you increase the distance, begin to reward intermittently on the return, but continue to praise and pet him heartily on every return.
Be sure to gradually increase the distance you are sending your pup. As long as your pup is running straight to the cup and is not loosing focus on the task keep increasing the distances you back away.
I teach grown dogs to go to a place board, half-crate, or pre-identified area on command. I use the command “Kennel” some like to use “Place.” This serves to balance e-collar pressures because the action requires your dog to move away from you rather than toward you. This “kennel” command is also useful for loading a dog into boats, blinds, and crates. With grown dogs we will do initial force on casts using this command and introductory work on jumps. This is a versatile command.
You can begin work on the kennel command once your pup knows sit. Use a place board about 12” x 12” and 2” high. Your pup will outgrow several puppy place boards so don’t make them too fancy—I bet an old college text book will do to start.
Use a treat to lure him on the board. When he climbs up on the place board or kennel give him the treat. Pause and allow him to explore and then climb off. Repeat.
When your pup is readily climbing up on the board you are ready to add a cue to the action. Say “kennel” just as he begins to climb up.
Begin to tell your pup to sit when he is on the place board. He has enough success now that you can stop giving the treat for climbing up and only treat for the sit when he is up. Very quickly you should be able to drop the sit command and his “kennel” will mean kennel up and sit.
Call him off the place board to sit in front of you near the board and then cast him to kennel again.
When your pup is responding quickly and reliably to your kennel command you can start gradually backing farther away from your place board. To make it easier for your pup walk toward the place board as you cast and cue him to “kennel.”
Introduce Jumps and Avoidable Hazards
Once your pup is very comfortable on his kennel command and is lining out to the visible Dixie cups well you are ready to combine the two responses and introduce your pup to jumps. Start with a kennel close to you. Place your treat on the Dixie cup and back up. Hold your pup with the kennel just in front of you and between you and the Dixie cup. Release him to get his treat he should line right over the kennel to the cup and come back over the kennel on the return.
With practice you can increase the distance between you and the kennel and between the kennel and the Dixie cup. Practicing success at short distances is better for your pup than pushing to increase the distance too fast and teaching him to run around the kennel.
Your pup is only a pup for a very short time; don’t expect him to act or train like a grown dog. Allow your pup to be a pup. In addition to training, spend time with him just going for walks and let him run and play.
In all your puppy training remember your goals:
Have fun with your pup
You want your pup to learn how to learn.
You want to jumpstart the learning process
You want to establish early on that good things happen when he is with you, and that good things come from work.