Introduction to Puppy Training
“Without training, the life of a puppy is predictable; chewing, soiling the house, digging up the garden, followed by a trip to the shelter where, if it’s lucky, it gets another try. Without training, that dog will be dead in less than a year.”
– Ian Dunbar
What makes your new puppy the ideal canine companion? Training!
A properly trained dog is a joy to have as part of your life – an untrained dog is a nightmare. It is an absolute necessity of dog ownership. Training is your puppy’s guide as to how she should behave in your home and in her new world. Training can save your dog’s life by preventing her from doing something that would hurt her. Don’t look at training as a chore, but take the approach that it’s something fun for puppy to do and provides bonding time between the two of you.
All members of the household should be involved with training the puppy and should help reinforce her commands. Don’t wait to start training your puppy, you can begin as early as the day she comes home. It’s amazing what puppies can learn even at a very young age. Once you have the basic commands down, then it’s time to move on to learning fun tricks!
Dogs Learn Through Repetition
It’s important to remember that dogs learn through repetition, by performing a command over and over again. Don’t expect that you can issue a command a few times and have your dog perform it reliably. It literally takes hundreds of exposures to a command for a dog to have it down pat. The key is patience and to remain calm while training. Don’t get upset if puppy doesn’t perform as expected. Keep up training sessions and you’ll find that one day, the commands will have clicked in your puppy’s head.
Hold Training Sessions Every Day
It’s important that you devote time every day to training. Dogs are eager to please and love attention – both you and your dog will look forward to your sessions together. Training should be fun and light and will become important bonding time for the two of you. Keep a positive attitude as your dog can sense your mood and you’ll soon find that your puppy will enjoy training sessions!
Keep Training Sessions Short
Training sessions should be short, approximately 5 – 10 minutes in length. A puppy has a very short attention span and you want her to be focused on learning. If she is tired or if you’ve been training too long, she won’t be effectively learning her commands. Several short sessions a day are always better than one big long session. Keep sessions light and cheerful. If puppy is having a hard time grasping what you want her to do and you find yourself getting frustrated, stop the session and try another time.
The ideal time to train is before meals when puppy is a little hungry, that way she will work to get her food treats. As puppy learns her commands, you can gradually phase out the food treats. Praising her and making a fuss over her accomplishments will be reward enough.
Make Sure You Have Puppy’s Attention
Always make sure you have puppy’s attention before give a command. You never want to issue a command that your puppy doesn’t follow. This can be accomplished by saying your puppy’s name or snapping your fingers before giving a command. Make sure your puppy is looking at and focused on you. Only issue a command once and make sure your puppy follows through with it. Issue the command, then pause to give your puppy enough time to respond to the command. Don’t keep repeating a command to try to get your puppy to obey if she hasn’t followed through with it. All you are teaching your puppy is that she can pay attention or complete a command only if she feels like it. Puppy MUST know that she is to complete your command each and every time it is given.
There are a wide variety of things you can use as training treats. If you have a picky eater, you may need to experiment with different things before you find something that gets your dog excited. If you have a naturally food motivated dog, like a Labrador Retriever, this will be easy. Many dog food manufacturers specifically make training treats, but you can even use a handful of your dog’s regular kibble. You can also take dog biscuits, smash them in a plastic bag and use the bits as training treats. Make sure any treats you use are specifically formulated for puppies. You don’t want your puppy’s tummy getting upset from her training sessions!
Treats Aren’t Bribes
Don’t look at treats as bribery. They’re not. You need to be able to get her attention and give her an incentive to complete the task. Instead, look at it as payment for performing her job. After all, if you went to work and did the tasks you were instructed to perform and didn’t receive your reward – your pay – you’d find little reason to keep working too.
Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
Repetition is the key to properly training your dog. Even after puppy has mastered her commands, keep up daily training sessions to reinforce your commands. As your pup gets older, you will need to do training sessions less frequently, but still have them periodically as a refresher, so your pup doesn’t lose everything she’s worked so hard to learn. After all, even we forget how to do things or don’t do them as well, if we don’t practice them on a regular basis.
A Professional Trainer Can Help
It is absolutely possible to train your dog on your own. As a first time puppy owner, I successfully trained my dog on my own, but if you find you’re having difficulties, it’s a good idea to enroll your dog in obedience lessons with a professional trainer. Trainers will actually train you to train your dog.
Remember, there are very few bad dogs in this world, just uneducated owners. If your dog is not performing the she should, it’s not the dog, it’s you. Harsh words, but it’s true. Don’t get frustrated or discouraged. Enlist the help of a professional.
Learn How to Think Like a Dog
Training can be frustrating, but go easy on yourself and your pup. We aren’t born understanding dog behavior – it’s something we have to learn too. Dogs are not little furry humans on four legs. They think and behave completely differently from humans. Having a good understanding of dog behavior will help you to train your dog better. See our Introduction to Dog Behavior.
Remember to keep your training sessions light, short and fun. Don’t get discouraged or frustrated – training doesn’t happen instantly. Small steps every day will produce a well-trained dog over time.
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