How to train a puppy is one of the most common questions raised by new dog owners. You have just brought this new creature into your lives and before too long you realize that unless you do something about it, his boisterous, carefree puppy ways are going to turn into a real headache when he is five times his current size and weight.
With that in mind, the following are what I consider the ten most important principles to take into account when training a puppy.
The Ten Principles of Puppy Training
- utilize the first three months of the puppy’s life to shape the puppy’s behavior. This time should be spent teaching the puppy where it can and can’t go in your house, getting the puppy into a routine so that it knows its boundaries and potty training the puppy.
- Don’t start formal obedience training with your puppy until it has reached at least three months of age. Your puppy goes through drastic change during his first three months where the central nervous system is developing. A puppy will not be able to understand or cope with formal obedience training before then.
- When you do start formal obedience sessions at three months of age do not make the sessions any longer than four to five minutes long. Break the sessions up so that your puppy never becomes bored and ensure that you make the sessions happy so that your puppy is left wanting more. This is crucial.
The Most Important Commands
- At 3 months of age concentrate on the three most important commands, ‘down’, ‘stay’ and the command that I consider is by far the most important-‘come’. (The come command is crucial, it can save your dog’s life). The way to introduce these commands is as follows: “When ever your dog sits or goes into the down position on its own free will, simply state the command ‘sit’ or ‘down’ to coincide with the action”. Likewise, when ever you walk away from your puppy and want the puppy to remain where it is, simply state the command ‘stay’.
You can even do this before the puppy is 3 months old because you are not putting any pressure on the puppy. When the puppy is 3 months old it will then be ready to associate the command with the action in formal obedience sessions.
Praising and Rewarding the Puppy
- Never yell at, hit punish or scold your puppy during obedience sessions, this will only hinder your puppy’s learning by having a negative effect on his confidence. Instead concentrate on positive reinforcement i.e. giving praise and/or a reward for completing the command. If the puppy does not do as you wish, simply withhold the praise and/or reward and move on.
- Use food rewards 100% of the time when you start formal obedience sessions with your puppy. However, slowly withdraw them to around one reward for every twenty commands over the coming six months. That way your puppy will always be motivated because he will never know when the next reward is coming and he will be looking for it.
The two steps forward-one step back principle
- Do not make each training session progressively longer and harder for your puppy. Concentrate on the ‘two steps forward -one step back’ principle. This mean, progress over two training sessions, then regress and make it easier on the third session. For example, you are teaching your puppy the ‘stay’ command. On Monday you have your pup stay for twenty second, five meters away from you, Tuesday thirty seconds seven meters from you and Wednesday forty seconds ten meters from you and so on. When you consistently progress like this you are de-motiving your puppy by making it harder for him every time that you teach the command. The correct way to go about this would be as above for Monday and Tuesday, however on Wednesday take the exercise back to fifteen seconds at three meters. Then progress again on the following day.
- When ever your puppy brings an item such as a ball, stick or any toy to you, do not immediately reach for the item. Instead pat the puppy on any part of his body except his head and ignore the item at first. If you immediately reach for items that your puppy brings to you, he will always feel threatened when ever he has an item in his mouth. This will hinder progress with retrieve exercises and even with games such as retrieve with a ball or stick.
The Collar and Lead
- During the first three months familiarize your puppy with the lead and collar. Do this by introducing the collar first. Show the puppy the collar and let him smell and investigate it before you place it on him. Do this in a positive environment, for instance when you are outside playing with the puppy. After he has investigated it, simply place the collar on the puppy with minimal fuss, give a food reward so that the puppy has a positive association with the collar and continue playing with the puppy as if nothing has happened. If the puppy becomes distracted and starts pawing at the collar etc. distract the puppy with a toy or food item to take his mind off the collar. Very soon, your puppy will have forgotten that the collar is there. After two to three days of wearing the collar, introduce the lead. Again, do this under positive circumstances. Allow the puppy to investigate it and then clip it onto the collar then give a food reward. Allow the puppy to run around an area where he cannot get tangled, with the lead dragging behind him on the ground for around five to ten minutes. Extend this to around thirty minutes over the following week and then start picking up the lead for short periods while slowly walking around with the puppy following you.
Enjoy your Puppy
- Lastly remember to enjoy your puppy. Make learning as stress free as possible. Accept that when you are training a puppy that things will go wrong and when they do move on with minimal fuss. Obedience training is your responsibility as a dog owner. It is well worth the time and effort because the result is a companion that is always under your control and a pleasure to be around.
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