Puppy training can be a daunting task. I’m here to empower you, and tell you that YOU can do this! If you’ve been working on potty training and general manners at home, you’ve already learned the important training fundamentals: consistency and positivity. And I’ll add one more: patience. Remember to be patient with your puppy, but also patient with yourself. You and your puppy are learning how to communicate, and you are learning to teach, essentially in a different language.
First and foremost: create a setting for success. As you get to know your puppy, you’ll be able to tell when he’s ready to focus. There are certain points of the day that Skipper just wants to terrorize Lily and others where he’s wandering around the house needing to occupy his mind. Take advantage of those moments when you can, and try to minimize distractions. Separate your training session from other dogs in the house, and work in an area with good traction and minimal background noises.
There are countless YouTube videos, books, puppy classes, and training services that demonstrate how to teach each individual command. Always be sure to select only positive reinforcement training programs; avoid punishing or forceful techniques, as these have no place in puppy training. Dr. Sophia Yin’s material is a wonderful resource. She has countless online videos and has written many books, including How to Behave so Your Dog Behaves and Perfect Puppy in 7 Days.
Keep your sessions short and simple, as puppy attention span is quite brief. Depending on your individual puppy, 5-10 minutes may be his maximum. When he starts to show signs of disinterest, quickly wrap things up on a good note, i.e. one more good sit with a treat, praise all around, and then break for play. I like to introduce a command during a training session, and then reinforce the command sporadically throughout the day. For example, Skipper and I will spend 5-10 minutes at lunchtime learning something like “sit.” Then, at random points during the rest of the day, I’ll ask for a sit and reward him for remembering. During training, you’ll want to maximize the chance of success by minimizing the possibility of failure (like potty training!), so make sure to pick your battles wisely. I don’t ask for a “sit” command in the middle of an intense tug of war session or while he’s running around the yard like a gazelle. The chances my kibble and praise are worth stopping the fun are pretty slim, and it’s important to get the behavior I requested each and every time, or he’ll learn to get away with “forgetting.”
Prepare the treats! Using a handful of puppy kibble is usually sufficient. Dogs don’t particularly care what you’re offering, just that you gave them something! Speaking from experience; be careful offering a bunch of rich food as rewards, as you may find yourself punished by the flatulence later. It’s also a good idea to save the “high value” treats for things like the vet’s office, bath time, and nail trims. We like to spoil your puppy and bribe away their love so next time they’ll come bounding through the hospital doors ready for more! As a veterinary behaviorist once explained it: if you were offered $20 to go to the dentist, you may be inclined to find something else to do that afternoon; if you were offered $20,000 to go to the dentist, you’d be there every Tuesday! For Skipper, the $20 kibble is quite sufficient to learn sit, down, roll over, etc. The $20,000 liquid gold (aka squeeze cheese from the can) has been deemed a fair price for nail trims, vaccines, and ear exams at the clinic.
Be consistent with the terms, hand signals, and the manner in which a command is given to the puppy. All members of the household will need to use the same terms and process in order to avoid confusion. And, more importantly, make sure puppy gets praise and/or a treat each time, to keep him interested in learning and doing the right things!