A new puppy is a wonderful, adorable, precious bundle of fur that will enrich your life; the same new puppy may also be a crazy, frustrating whirlwind of sharp little teeth, slobber and destruction – it’s a lucky dip! Raising a puppy to be a polite, well-mannered adult dog can be achieved with a blend of socialisation, management and training. This article covers the following important questions you need to consider when training your new puppy:
- What do you want him to learn?
- Are you effectively communicating?
- Are you being consistent and patient?
What do you want your puppy to learn?
Which behaviours does he do that you feel are inappropriate? What would you like him to do instead? Take some time to really think about the behaviours you want to teach your puppy; no doubt the list is long and includes house training, appropriate play, sit, stay, to come when called and walk politely on lead to name a few. Write all the behaviours down then sort them by which are the most important to you. Don’t get overwhelmed by all the things you want your pup to learn, start with the top three and figure out how you can incorporate the training into your daily routine. For many, the most important cue to train a new puppy is to come when called, and the perfect time to practice learning to come when called is when you’re ready to feed your pup a meal. Call him to you and give him a meal – he will definitely come for dinner and the meal is the reward. Behaviour that gets rewarded gets repeated so look for small ways throughout the day to reward him for behaviors you love. Never ignore a puppy that is doing something you like whether it is asking to go out, playing with a chew toy or sitting politely. Always take a quick moment to praise, pet, play with or give a small treat to a puppy that is being good!
Are you communicating to your puppy in a way he understands?
Dogs don’t have a verbal language like we do, so we can explain in great detail what we want them to do but it won’t achieve anything. They can learn to associate certain words and gestures with specific actions or items, for example your puppy will associate the word “sit” with the behaviour of putting their behind on the ground, however it takes repetition and practice for the learning to occur. Clicker or marker training is an extremely effective way to train because it allows simple, clear communication; it is also fun and easy for you and your pet. You use the clicker or another sound or word to mark the behaviour as it happens. After you mark the behaviour, immediately give a small treat reward, because the dog has learned the marker predicts a small treat reward he learns exactly what behaviour is being rewarded and wants to repeat it again and again! Once you know the puppy is going to do the behaviour you can add a name like sit or down. Not only can this be used to train any behaviour it can be also be used to redirect a puppy doing something you don’t like to do something you do like, it builds focus on and a strong bond to you, the trainer!
Are you and everyone involved in your puppy’s training being consistent and patient?
Puppies can easily get confused if behaviours are taught differently from lesson to lesson or person to person. Keep training sessions short, 5 minutes at a time, because your pup’s attention span is very short, and decide ahead of time what behaviour you are going to work on and keep it simple. Wait for or lure the behaviour, mark or click when it occurs, then immediately reward with a small treat. If your puppy is not focused, just wants to play or doesn’t seem to understand, be patient. Consider training when he is a little hungry, like right before his meal or when he is calmer after a walk. If several family members are all training, practice together sometimes and check in to see who is making progress. You will also want to ensure each behaviour has only one name or cue. For example while “Get Down” and “Off” may mean the same thing to you as applied to a puppy jumping up, he probably doesn’t understand either. If you have been working on “Sit” you can ask him to sit instead of continuing to jump as a puppy that is sitting can’t be jumping.
The best thing about training a puppy is he doesn’t have any “bad” behaviours yet! You can teach him all the wonderful things you want him to know. There are so many fantastic resources for everything from house training to agility. Look for training resources from certified pet training and behaviour professionals. Checking out a puppy socialisation class is also a great way to get started and to give your puppy positive experiences to other dogs, people and places.
You are always training your puppy whether you realise it or not, so use every moment to your advantage!
Michelle Mullins, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP
PetSafe Training and Behavior Education Manager