Training your Puppy
Training your puppy is a fun way to bond with your pet, so long as it is done in the right way, for the right amount of time. Training sessions are all about you and your dog learning to ‘speak the same language’, so really, the training goes both ways! Most puppies have a short attention span, so it is best to keep sessions short and fun, so your puppy will want to keep learning. Starting with just a couple of 5 minute sessions a day will give you both a chance to practice some of your new skills. Then you can gradually work up to longer sessions and/or more frequent sessions. Remember, you will need to work up to your pup being able to jump through hoops, so don’t expect too much too soon!
Training should always be based on positive reinforcement. In this type of training, the dog is rewarded for the correct behaviour (or close to it) and not punished for getting it wrong. This is not only best for your pet/parent relationship but is also proven to be the best way of getting consistent results. This is because puppies need to be willing to try new things in order to learn and if they are worried about being punished if they get it wrong, they won’t be so keen to participate.
Rewards can be based on food, play, pats or praise. Food, pats and play are often a good way to start, as puppies may not always understand praise right away. With time, you can practice using praise, for example a word or signal with a hand, or even a “clicker”, in conjunction with the food or play so that they link the praise with feeling rewarded. One thing you will need to work out is what kind of rewards your puppy wants as this will make the training much more successful. Some pups are very food-motivated and a small treat is very appealing to them, while others may place higher value on a pat on the head or a scratch on the chest, so you’ll need to get to know your pup to know what is most valuable to him or her, and use that in your training for maximum effectiveness.
Many people will be familiar with “Pavlov’s dogs” – a scientist called Pavlov would continually ring a bell just before giving his dogs a bowl of food. Over time, the dogs learned to associate the ringing bell with being fed, as the food arriving always followed the sound of the bell. Eventually, the dogs started to salivate when they heard the bell, because they associated that sound with food. You may not want your pup to drool every time you praise him, but the principle is similar! If a reward that the dog values is continually linked with an action, say the pup sitting on command, the dog will learn to make the association that sitting means a reward and will want to perform this behaviour over and over again.
If you are not sure what the puppy would like and a bit overwhelmed by all the choices of treats out there, and which will be best for your puppy, a really simple solution is if you are already feeding Tucker Time Puppy rolls and the pup seems to enjoy them, these can be cut into tiny cubes and used as treats.
Rewards should be delivered as soon as possible after the correct behaviour is shown (as puppies can forget pretty quickly what they did right) to strengthen the association and they should be rewarded very consistently when they are new to training. Later on in the training, rewards should be intermittent at unpredictable intervals to best keep reinforcing the behaviour so your dog remembers what to do.
One of the first things to ‘train your pup’ to do is to be comfortable wearing a soft collar, harness, or halter, so that when you start to take them out and about, you can keep them safely by your side. The other thing which is useful to train early on is to teach the puppy their name. This is as simple as calling their name in a fun and inviting voice and rewarding them when they make eye contact. Once they know their name, you can more easily get their attention and teach them to come when you call.
It is usually best to start training in an area that your pup is familiar with, such as the home, to avoid distractions. Pick a quiet place to minimise surrounding noise. Try not to have too many people participating in a training session, as this can be confusing for a pup, especially if everyone is trying to get them to do something different! When you have things a little more practiced, you can move the training to the yard and eventually to more exciting locations.
At this point, start to work on the training basics: sit, stay etc. With each instruction, use a consistent cue to communicate your request. The cue can be a sound, a hand signal or ideally, both. Use the appropriate cue when you see the behaviour you want and then reinforce with a prompt reward. Remember that everyone in the family who is participating in training must use the same cue for the same action so the puppy doesn’t get confused. From, there, the sky is the limit: drop, shake paws, speak, high five, jumping through hoops and more!
Remember, training is all about building a bond and learning to understand each other. Training is most successful when you give a well-timed and consistent reward which the dog values and keep the training brief and fun. Happy bonding!