Here I’ll walk you through many, if not all, of my focus areas when it comes to puppy training. I will also add links to videos and websites I find useful when training, or planning to train, a new puppy. Most of these aspects can be equally important with an adult dog with issues/lack of training.
I will not cover things in great detail here. If you find something you want to learn more about and you’re not sure how to go about it, don’t hesitate to leave a comment and ask a question. Perhaps I’ll make an article about it or can point you in the direction of a good website/video.
Because I’ve had so much benefit from using these principles I’ll show you a video first of all. If you decide to teach your dog just one thing I’d choose this, as once your dog understands this there are so many other things you can teach with hardly any effort at all!
#1 Figure out where you want to go!
You’re sitting there with the cutest puppy in the world – but how do you want your dog to be 1 year from now? 10 years? A few important key words can be
- house manners (what’s okay, what’s not)
- meet-n-greet (what should your dog do when you meet people or go new places)
- walking manners (leash walking and recall are important to most of us)
- any dog sports you want to do
- + anything else you can think of that’s important to you
#2 Find out how you want to get there
You should read up on dog training philosophies and figure out what you believe is the best way of doing it. Personally I’m a firm believer in the use of positive reinforcement and avoid all the old fashioned training methods based on «corrections» and such. Having done things differently in the past I enjoy the relationship you get with your dog doing things this positive way. I’m also sold on the principles behind clicker training. As a biologist I enjoy using a training method based on science rather than various «beliefs». Plus – it’s fast and easy and fun!
It does require you to change your mindset, though, if you’ve trained differently in the past. It can be scary and confusing and I’ve faced several struggles as a so called crossover trainer. But the mistakes I make are my fault, not flaws in the method, and once I get it right it works. It’s not magic, though, it’s training – and both human and canine (or feline) can make mistakes. You can find more resources on training on the clicker training page.
#3 Make lists
Make a list of everything your puppy finds rewarding – and arrange it in order from most rewarding to least rewarding reward. This might seem like a lot of work for nothing – but this will come in handy along the way. In this process you will learn a lot about your puppy and what makes him or her tick – and you’ll need it in the years to come. Does your puppy enjoy sniffing in the dirt? Put it in! Does she love it when you blow in her face? Put it in! Rewards come in many shapes and sizes
- food: what is more rewarding of a piece of steak, a piece of cheese and a piece of kibble? Take two kinds of treats one in each hand and see which one the puppy goes for (first) – you might have to do this somewhere more exciting than your kitchen floor. Gummi will happily work for kibble indoors at home and in our garden – but not if we go to a dog show with lots of dogs around to distract him. He will do anything for cheese anywhere.
- you: hopefully you will find rewards that you can give your puppy using only yourself. Your attention, stroking, blowing on the face, chasing the puppy, letting the puppy chase you, making silly noises.. the more of these you have available the better. You can run out of cheese, but you’ll always have yourself.
- toys: tug toys, sight hounds will often enjoy lure type toys pulled on a long string, balls, stuffies – toys can be used by the dog alone or the two of you together
- the environment: scents, other dogs and people, bitches in heat (for intact males), a crated guinea pig.. all sorts of things around you can be rewarding to a dog. By controlling these «life rewards» you can turn them into an advantage rather than a distraction
- anything I’ve forgotten (or don’t know about) that’s rewarding to your dog
Then make a list of what you want to teach your dog in the next 6 months – 1 year. Take the aspects from #1, but break them down to basic behaviors so you can tackle 1 thing at a time rather than trying to do it all at once. Make it possible for you and your dog to succeed. For instance we can look at a main goal: Walk nicely on lead out on walks.
- walk nicely 1/5/10/50/200/500 meters on leash without distractions
- walk nicely 1/5/10/50/200/500 meters on leash with minor distractions
- walk nicely 1/5/10/50/200/500 meters on leash with massive distractions
- walk nicely past a person (you can start out on long distances here and gradually move closer. Might put that in on the list too if you want.)
- walk nicely past a dog
- walk nicely along a road with moving cars
- walk nicely past moving bicycles/strollers or other strange objects
Or choose a bunch of things you want to socialize your puppy to like:
- walk on different surfaces
- meet different breeds of dog
- meet kids
- meet old people
- go to dog show
- go to shopping mall
- take the train
..and so on.
Now isn’t that going to be a crazy long list? Yes.. And if you don’t have the patience for it you might stick with just listing the final behaviors/abilities you want. But I want you to think about how to break them into smaller, trainable pieces so that you will be able to get there successfully.
HERE you can find a list Diana Dickinson of the Flying Poodles made for her puppy – it’s a very good list, and not the crazy detailed of the trainable pieces.
#4 Get started!
You have all the tools now you need to get started! The benefit of having the detailed lists is that you get the pleasure of ticking the items off the list as you progress. That’s nice and rewarding for the human – a visual record of your progress. And keeping you, the human, motivated will make it all that more likely that you get where you want!
I’m a firm believer in the value of socializing a puppy – the more the better (assuming it stays socialization and not just shocking the puppy with too much stimulation). In some places there is a big risk of contagious diseases and then I can accept a certain level of caution. But – generally lack of socialization can be more likely to cause damage to a dog than germs. You can find a good article about socialization HERE!
Among the places I make sure to take a puppy are
- the vet – also when they are healthy – it’s great if they associate the vet’s with treats and fun rather than uncomfortable exams
- shopping mall and other places with lots of people, like a city center
- elevators/escalators (remember to carry your dog on escalators -they can get their claws stuck between the steps! If you have to get a large dog up escalators and cannot lift it – press the stop button and walk!)
- public transport – bus/tram/train/subway
- dog show
- puppy classes
Try to look for the lessons you have around you at any time – there’s always something you can do! Something to let the puppy walk on (like strange surfaces) or go under/over for instance…
Boat ride and adventuring with Virus
Some puppies can start serious training earlier than others. Gummi had the attention span of a gnat and it took some time before we managed to do any real training at all.. I should probably have started the «it’s your choice» concept sooner, though, that might have helped.
A few early training sessions:
Playing with the kitties