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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. Puppy 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 handheld 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.
Puppy 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:
- Walk to heel
Once the basics are in place and are consistent, other fun things to teach could be:
- Roll over
- High five
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.
Vet's Kitchen Little Stars 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 in front 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.
Clicker training is a popular new type of puppy training, which can help dogs learn faster as you can be more accurate with telling them when they have performed the correct action.
To train the ‘down’ can be done in 2 ways. The puppy should be shown the treat, and then either the puppy put into the sit as above, and the treat lowered down to the ground, which he should naturally follow. An alternative way is to hold the treat on the ground and wait for the puppy to naturally lay down to get the treat in the enclosed hand. The command ‘down’ is then put in and the treat given as the puppy lays down.
‘Stay’ is a very important command for your puppy’s safety and wellbeing. The puppy can be put into a ‘sit’ or ‘down’ which he should have learnt above. Get the puppy’s attention with the treat and ask them to sit or down. Say ‘stay’ while holding the palm upwards and take a small step backwards slowly and smoothly and return to the puppy and give the treat and praise.
The number of steps taken back can be very gradually increased along with the duration of time away from the puppy. It is important however not to increase this too rapidly as the puppy may be confused. If the puppy moves, return to the puppy put back into the ‘sit’ or ‘down’ position and try again. Make sure you have established a consistent ‘stay’ whilst just one step away, before you increase to 2 steps, 3 steps and so on.
‘Spin’ is a fun trick to teach your puppy. Have the puppy standing up and hold the treats by the puppy’s nose and gradually moved to the side, which should naturally encourage the pup to follow. Start with just picking one direction to start with, so always spin clockwise for instance, otherwise you may confuse the puppy. The other direction could be trained as another trick, such as ‘twist’.
Once the puppy has got used to this, and is following the treats around in your hand, add in the ‘spin’ word. To progress further, move the treat to the other hand, and just use the empty hand luring the puppy the same as when it had the treat in it. Once the manoeuvre has been performed, the treat can be given from the other hand. Eventually, the puppy will be able to perform the spin on just hand or verbal signal alone. It is easier to use the clicker to teach this trick.
'Bow’ is a nice trick to teach your dog. Holding the treats in your hand, hold them under the dog’s nose, and use it to lure the puppy’s head down and between his front legs. As soon as the front end of the dog has lowered, click and give the treats. He does not have to go right the way down straight away. Often your puppy may try and just lay down, so make sure you do not reward this behaviour. Add in the ‘bow’ cue as soon as the puppy has got the right position.
Once established, as with the other tricks, the command or accompanying hand signal should be enough to get the behaviour/trick, without luring the puppy with treats. Always make sure the dog is rewarded at the end though, and do not overwork your puppy! Keep practicing and introduce new tricks to keep them interested. Remember, keep it short and simple and fun!
We've put together a short training video with some tips on some of the tricks we've spoken about.