Puppy training should begin from the moment you bring your new pet home—it will go much faster and smoother when your pet is young. Early training can help in such important areas as communicating with your pet, training your pet to respond to signals and commands, socializing, and preventing unruly behavior. A great way to get started is to enroll her in a puppy class, many of which begin for dogs as young as eight weeks. Positive training methods are important for successful training. Using punishment during a puppy’s formative months can ruin the bond with your pet. Use positive reinforcement to facilitate—rather than force—the training process. The best reinforcers for training and shaping desirable behavior are food, a favored toy, affection, and social attention.
The healthiest choice for a reward is the puppy’s own food, combined with praise. Training just prior to the puppy’s mealtime can help increase her interest in the food. Special treats may be needed if your pet has a picky appetite.
Initially, the food reward should be given immediately following every correct response. As the pup learns the behavior, stop giving a food reward for less than exact responses, and reward only quick, well-performed responses. Once you reach you goal, continue to give praise for every correct response but begin to provide the food reward on a more intermittent, random basis. This will result in the longest retention of learning.
Hold a piece of dry food between your thumb and forefinger, extend it toward the pup, and say her name. As she approaches you, repeatedly wave your hand toward your chest and say “come.” This gives your pet both a verbal and a visual cue. When she reaches you, give her the food. As she eats, quickly take a few steps back and repeat the procedure. An alternate way to teach this command is to toss the first piece of food six to eight feet away for the pup to chase. After the pup eats it, say “come” to call her back to you for another piece of food.
Start with the pup in the standing position. Hold a piece of food between you thumb and forefinger, place it directly in front of her nose, and say her name. Slowly move the food over her head so her nose points straight up and her rear end is leveraged into the sitting position. Say “sit” as she assumes the position and give her the food. Be careful not to hold the food lure too high above her head or she will jump for the food. After some practice, your puppy should automatically sit with an upward sweep of the hand or when you say the word “sit,” even without showing the food. Also use this lure technique to train your dog to sit up from a lying-down position by simply holding the food in front of her nose and sweeping it up over her head so she rises to the sitting position.
Teaching your dog to lie down on command is easier if you being on a smooth surface with the puppy in the sitting position. Hold a piece of dry food directly in front of her nose. Say her name and, with a swift movement, move the food down to the floor directly next to her front paws. As your dog slides into the down position, say “down” and give the food reward. This command usually takes a little more patience than the first two. Be careful to move the food to the floor right next to the paws. If the food is too far in front of the pup, she may stand and walk to the food. With time, the downward sweep of your hand or the word “down” will cause the pup to go into the down position.
The “stay” command will be the most difficult command for your puppy to learn. Young puppies don;t like to sit still for every long and love to follow people around. Keep this in mind when you begin training. Train when your puppy is calm, possibly after a long walk or play session. Have her sit by using a hand and a verbal signal, but do not give a food reward. As soon as the puppy is sitting, lean toward he, look her in the eye, and extend the palm of your hand toward her. In a calm, firm voice say “stay.” Wait only one second, then lean down, calmly praise her, and give the food reward while she is still sitting. Then say “okay” to release her. Repeat the exercise. Gradually request that the pup stay for longer periods. If your puppy’s eyes wander from yours, calmly repeat “stay” in a serious tone as you lean toward her. Increase your distance, beginning with one step away. Once your pet understands the concept, progress slowly to longer stays and greater distances.
Here are some additional tips to make great progress during basic training. Patience, consistency, and repetition are key!
Start training in a quiet area. When the puppy’s responses to your commands become dependable, move the training to environments with more distractions.
Be sure the pet knows one command before proceeding to the next. Tone of voice is important. When teaching “come,” “sit,” and “down,” use a calm, positive, and consistent tone of voice to command the behavior and a high-pitched happy tone as a reward. “Stay” works better with a slow, deep-toned command.
Avoid repeating commands. If you do not teach your puppy to respond to the first command, she will learn that it’s not necessary to obey until multiple commands are given. If she doesn’t respond, you can gently guide her into the requested position, then be sure to have a few more training sessions before making the command in a non-training situation.
Praise your puppy and say “good dog” whenever you give a food reward. This will reinforce desired behavior and help maintain a strong response, even as the food reward is gradually withdrawn.
A dog is more likely to respond if you use both hand and verbal signals rather than only a verbal command.
Enroll in a puppy class so you can get guidance from the instructors and your puppy can learn in the presence of other dogs.
When your puppy seems fidgety and has a shorter attention span, keep the training session short and stop before the pup begins ignoring commands.
If you have difficulty getting your puppy to be calm and focused, a head halter should be considered to more immediately—but gently—guide her into the desired response.
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